The Serpentine Bridge divides Queen Caroline’s lake and her park into Hyde Park to the east (in which the barracks are situated) and Kensington Gardens to the west, ending in Kensington Palace with its Orangerie and its lovely sunken garden. To the north the lake ends in the Italian Gardens, created in the 1860s by Prince Albert who was a keen gardener. You can just see them at the bottom of the lake, somewhat overshadowed by the Royal Lancaster Hotel.
(Depending on your architectural taste you will either bemoan the fact that in which ever direction you look, the skylines of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens have been ruined by 20th architectural excrescences – the Royal Lancaster Hotel, the Hyde Park Barracks and, to the east, the Park Lane Hilton Hotel – or you will delight in London as a living city whose skyline changes with each generation…)
Despite a fine line up of designers and sculptors, Prince Albert’s gardens didn’t find much favour either. To quote The English Flower Garden in 1883: ‘The plan was carried out with the greatest care; the planting &c, was done by experienced men, yet the result, as everybody knows, was unsatisfactory in the highest degree’. I think they are actually rather nice but who am I….
On the bank of the lake looking north is the famous statue of Peter Pan created by Sir George Frampton. Looking on the Royal Parks site for information about the statue I am told that it is now a ‘talking statue’… Swipe your phone on a nearby tag and you will get a call back from Peter Pan!
Sing have commissioned some of the nation’s most celebrated writers and actors to animate public statues. Pass a Talking Statue, swipe your phone on a nearby tag and hey presto: your phone rings. And it’s Queen Victoria on the line… or Peter Pan… or Sherlock Holmes… Using drama, humour and location technology, Talking Statues breathes new life into the statues that surround us all. Can’t wait…
So I am assuming that if Queen Victoria is on call, so will Prince Albert be…. Here he is, well, the back of him at least, looking over ‘his’ Hall.
He is now, as you can see, very gold…. This is a result of a massive 5 years restoration undertaken by English Heritage in the 1990s. (Prince Albert himself, two and a half times life size, took 675 twenty-page books of 24 carat gold leaf costing £50,000 to gild.) If you are interested there are more fascinating details of the restoration here – and loads of info about the monument and all of those who created it on a very comprehensive Wikipedia page.
Prince Albert, sadly for him, has his back to Kensington gardens – although they are not gardens as such at all but open parkland running down to the lake, criss-crossed by paths and shaded by magnificent trees.
Turning east once more the bridge looks particularly fine in the evening light.
And finally. Just across the bridge, close to the swimming pavilions is the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain – rather less politely known by those who prefer more conventional statues as Diana’a Ditch…..
Because Diana was seen as the ‘princess of the people’ with a very close relationship with children the designer, American Kathryn Gustafson, wanted it to be accessible and for visitors to wade in it and contemplate by it. So it is effectively a stream running through Cornish granite carved into steps, curves, rills and ending up in a pool at the bottom.
A great idea but within a month three visitors had slipped in the water and ended up in hospital. And then it was discovered that the grassy surrounds could withstand very little rain and rapidly turned into a quagmire. So it was not till a number of years later, after the area had been drained and resurfaced with hard core and special hard wearing rye grass mixes, that it was finally opened and put to its intended use. You can see and hear it in operation in a video here on YouTube as it was of course closed by COVID when I was there.
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