While Kensington Gardens are open to the public, there was a time when this wasn’t so. The gardens were originally part of Kensington Palace, a royal residence that was once home to King William III and Queen Mary II (now home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge). Today, Kensington Gardens are one of four Royal Parks in London along with Regent’s Park, St. James’s Park, Hyde Park, Greenwich Park, and others. Of course, this pedigree means there are a number of interesting facts about the gardens that are worth exploring as we will show you.
Well before there was even Kensington Palace, what would become Kensington Gardens was part of a vast hunting ground owned by King Henry VIII. In 1728, Queen Caroline asked that it be separated from Hyde Park and it was redesigned into a landscape garden by Charles Bridgeman and Henry Wise. In 1733, the gardens were first opened to the public, but only on Sunday evenings, before eventually opening to the public on the rest of the week in the early 19th Century.
Kensington Gardens covers 265 acres and features a number of different types of gardens such as the Italian Gardens, the Sunken Gardens, and the Allotment, which is a garden run and maintained by volunteers.
The Tail of the Snake
Or the Serpentine, rather. Bridgeman designed the Serpentine lake that runs through much of Hyde Park, but the very end of it runs into Kensington Gardens. Here it changes names and is instead referred to as the “Long Water”. Perhaps the best view of the Long Water can be taken in at the Italian Gardens where you might also see a number of mute swans that like to nest there.
It’s Not Very Funny
One of the markers acting as the border between Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park is the “Ha-Ha”. A ha-ha was designed as a ditch to separate the two parks from one another. The name allegedly comes from the exclamation people would make when they accidentally stumbled into one, since the ditches often went unnoticed until it was too late.
As with its neighbor, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens is home to plenty of statues and memorials. The largest is unquestionably the Albert Memorial, which sits as the southern edge of the gardens. It was unveiled in 1872 and is a Gothic Revival design from architect Sir George Gilbert Scott. The Albert Memorial is quite the towering monument to the late Prince Consort, standing at 175 feet with a statue of a seated Albert at the center.
Orange You Glad to Be Here?
Another of Queen Caroline’s contributions to Kensington Gardens was the Orangery, a building that is over 300 years old and is still used for events and gatherings today.
Never Grow Up
As mentioned, Prince Albert isn’t the only person with a statue in Kensington Gardens. The Gardens were part of the inspiration for J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan, and so there is fittingly a statue of Peter located there. It can be found near the Long Water in a spot where Peter lands in the book The Little White Bird. The bronze statue was made by Sir George Frampton, and several recastings exist throughout the world. Installed in 1912, it has been Grade II listed since 1970. Interestingly, Barrie didn’t seek permission to have it installed, though it is now such an important part of the park that people got rather upset when Royal Parks replaced the plinth last year.
In the Movies
Kensington Gardens has been a popular place for filming over the years, and plenty of movies take place there including Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Bridge Jones: The Edge of Reason, Wimbledon, and appropriately enough, Finding Neverland, the film about Barrie’s creation of Peter Pan.
While King Henry used it to hunt deer, Kensington Gardens has seen many transformations and additions in its time. Queen Caroline transformed it into a landscape garden; Queen Victoria turned it into memorial to her late husband, the Diana Memorial Playground was added in 2000 after Diana’s work for children all over the world. If you visit the playground today, you’ll notice Peter Pan as a major influence in its design as it includes teepees and a pirate ship.
Not One but Two
The Serpentine Gallery is actually two galleries: the Serpentine Sackler and the Serpentine Pavilion. Each has a distinct artistic flavor, and they are rarely open at the same time