The Manor of Eia (consisting of Ebury, Neate, and Hyde) was held by Geoffrey de Mandeville (d.1100) after the Conquest. He was one of the ten richest men in England at the time and it was he who gave the land to Westminster Abbey. (I believe it is his grandson who is buried in the Temple Church, in the City.)
Henry VIII ‘acquired’ the Manor in 1536, selling Ebury and Neate, but retaining Hyde which he fenced and used as a private park for hunting deer. He dammed the Westbourne River to provide drinking ponds for the deer and this was the start of The Serpentine. (This excellent post gives an account of the history of the Park, with pictures, and the painting below is the earliest known painting of Kensington Palace.)
The Park changed quite dramatically in the 17C. James I allowed the aristocracy limited access and it became fashionable, particularly on May Day. Charles I created The Ring, the circular carriageway, and opened the Park to the general public in 1637. The Park was restocked with deer which were eventually confined to an area in the north-west, Buckdean Hill. (The last deer were hunted in c.1768, and by 1840 there were no deer left in the Park.) In 1642 fortifications were built around London to protect the City from Royalist attacks. The walls cut through a corner of the park with a checkpoint near the current Hyde Park Corner. The Park was sold in 1652 by order of Parliament (it was Royal property). After the Restoration, in 1660, Charles II took control of the Park again and it has remained in Royal ownership ever since.
The Park was the haunt of highwaymen and so William III (1689-1702) hung 300 oil lamps from trees along the route du roi, now Rotten Row, between Kensington Palace and St James’s Palace, the first artificially lit road in the country. The Park was also well-used as a duelling ground!
Today there are several entrances to the Park, but perhaps the most impressive is at Hyde Park Corner, adjacent to Apsley House, the London home of the Duke of Wellington, who is also commemorated in the statue of Achilles by Westmacott, 1822, cast from the cannon used at the Duke’s victorious battles and paid for by the ‘Women of England’. (Fabulous early photograph via The Anglophile and Peter Berthoud.)
The Serpentine ”.. was formed in 1733 by Caroline, Queen of George II, who caused the bed of a stream to be enlarged that flowed through the park..’. The ‘..stream was cut off in 1834 and the Chelsea Water-works company now supply the deficiency..’. The resulting ‘lakes’ the Serpentine and the Long Water, dived the park into Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.
‘..In the height of the season [the park] presents every fine afternoon a lively appearance..’. (Here)
And the Park ‘..has often been chosen for reviews of troops..’. (Here)
It was the site of the ‘..National Exposition of 1851 [which]will not only show the dawning of a brighter era, but convince the word that it is still better adapted for exhibiting the blessing of peace than developing the arts of war..’. The full name was ‘The National Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’ and it was the first World Exhibition. Prince Albert was the driving force. (And it was held in the Crystal Palace.)
‘..12,000 persons have been known to bathe here of a Sunday, and in the winter the frozen surface is a favourite resort of skaters..’. On the northern bank was the receiving house, one of the first depots, for the Royal Humane Society, founded by Dr Hawes in 1774. The Society was concerned with saving life, particularly through artificial respiration. The receiving house was demolished in 1954, having been damaged in WWII.
‘..In 1860 flowers were first planted in the Park by William Nesfield, the architect and landscape gardener..’, according to the Encyclopaedia of London, ‘..and in 1861 the Italian Water Garden at Victoria Gate was made..’.
Kensington Palace started as Nottingham House, a Jacobean brick house built in 1605. ‘..It was bought [in 1689] by William III from Heneage Finch, Earl of Nottingham, ..and has ever since belonged to the Crown..’. (Good article with photographs here.) Mr Bradshaw says that ‘..a small douceur will prevail upon the housekeeper to grant admission..’; well, time moves on and that ‘douceur’ is now £15!
An unusual view of Kensington Palace, with allotments in the gardens during WWI
The gardens were originally laid out by William Kent but have changed over the years.
Thereafter Mr Bradshaw feels we would be rewarded by a stroll to Holland House, ‘..which is one of the finest Elizabethan structures we have left, was erected by Thorpe, in 1607, for Sir Walter Cope….The stone gateway was designed by Inigo Jones; the raised terrace in front of the house was made in 1848; and the mansion altogether…is invested with the highest interest..’, whether for architecture, context, or inhabitants. (Several fascinating photographs and images here.)
‘..At the beginning of the 20th century, Holland House had the largest private grounds of any house in London, including Buckingham Palace. The Royal Horticultural Society regularly held flower shows there…’. (It was one of the first gardens to successfully grow dahlias.) The House was bombed on 27 September 1940 and mainly destroyed.
The remains of Holland House today form a backdrop for Holland Park Opera, and the remaining wing is a Youth Hostel. The gardens are still beautiful, although I failed to visit the Kyoto Garden on my visit.
Henry Richard Vassall-Fox, 3rd Baron Holland (1773-1840) was a significant Whig politician and his statue is in the woodlands behind the House.
You might be interested in –