Regent's Park

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

TOPICS: [Canal] [Colosseum] [Diorama] [History] [Mosque] [Nash] [Sherlock Holmes] [St Katerines] [St Marylebone] [Theatre] [Villas] [Zoo]

A HISTORY OF THE PARK
Originally the Forest of Middlesex the area was taken over by Henry VIII at the Dissolution to become Marylebone Park. Ditches and ramparts were constructed to keep deer in and poachers out. In 1645 it was pledged by Charles I in return for gunpowder and supplies for the Civil War. On his execution in 1649 it was sold for 13,000 and many of the trees were felled for the navy and profit. It reverted to the Crown on the Restoration in 1660 and the men to whom it had been pledged received rents as compensation. It was split into farms which were leased to tenants and supplied London with milk and hay. At the end of the 18th century John Fordyce, a Crown official, instigated a competition for development of the area but he died in 1809. In 1811 when the Prince of Wales became Prince Regent, the leases expired by which time London development had reached what had once been isolated farmland. John Nash put forward a plan to build some 50 detatched villas in a parkland setting with elegant terraces around the sides and a central circle. The park would include a pleasure pavilion for the Prince approached from Portland Place and linked to Carlton House by Regent's Street. Work was delayed by the Napoleonic Wars and not all Nash's plans materialised. The numbers of villas was soon reduced to 26 although only 8 were ever built and nothing became of the Prince's pavilion. Nor were the terraces intended for around the Inner Circle constructed. By 1830 most of the terraces, named after titles held by the Prince's family, and the lake (from the Tyburn River) had been constructed. The north side was left open to protect the views of Hampstead and Highgate and the park was opened to the public in 1835. The 18 acre area within the Inner Circle became the garden of the Royal Botanical Society until 1932 when the lease run out. It was taken over and named after Queen Mary, wife of George V and the Jubilee Gates were added in 1935. During World War II the terraces were bombed and neglected and demolition and rebuilding was considered. Fortunately it was decided to restore them and Lois de Soissons was appointed as architect. Originally coloured and jointed to replicate Bath Stone with oak sash bars and bronze railings they are now cream stucco with white paintwork and black railings. The Avenue Gardens were laid out in 1864 to replace unhealthy trees. Other features deemed necessary in a Victorian park were added, many of which remain for us to enjoy. The park has a programme of events in the summer. [
website]. London Parks & Gardens Trust article

REGENT'S CANAL
This was constructed between 1812 and 1820 to link Paddington Basin with the Thames at Limehouse, a distance of 9 miles. Nash intended the Canal, in which he was an investor, to go through the park but it was decided to site it at the northern edge as it was intended for industrial use. Artisan's dwellings and markets needed to supply the houses were to be built to the east where a branch of the canal had a basin for loading & unloading. This area was bombed in WWII and the basin has now become the site of allotments whilst a square so named replaces Cumberland Market. The Macclesfield Bridge constructed in 1815-6 was destroyed by an explosion in a barge carrying gunpowder in 1874 after which it became known as Blow-Up Bridge. Three men and a boy were killed and houses damaged in the incident. [
website]

THE VILLAS
The Holme was built in 1818 for James Burton and designed by his tenth son Decimus (aged 18). The house is private but the garden is occasionally open under the National Gardens Scheme [
more info]

St John's Lodge was built in 1818 by John Raffield and extended in 1847 by Charles Barry and in 1891 by R W Schultz for the 3rd Marquess of Bute. During World War I it was a hospital for disabled officers and became the HQ of St Dunstans with its workshops from 1921 to 1937. It housed the Institute of Archaeology 1937-1958 and is now private although the garden is accessable from the Inner Circle.

Holford House was designed by Decimus Burton and was the largest of the villas. It became a Baptist College in 1853 but was demolished after WW II bomb damage.
South Villa was built in 1827 by Burton but rebuilt in 1883 and demolished in 1930. London University's Bedford College used the site from 1913 -1985. It has now been re-named Regent's College. The hexagonal lodge survives.
St Dunstans was built as Hertford Villa in 1825 by Decimus Burton for the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, who was responsible for the Wallace Collection. When he acquired the clock of St Dunstan's Fleet Street in 1830 the house was re-named. In World War I it was a hostel for blinded servicemen. It was demolished in 1937 when a new villa called Winfield House was built for Barbara Hutton, daughter of store founder F W Woolworth. When her marriage to Cary Grant was dissolved in 1946 the house was presented to the U S Government for the use of the American Ambassador (as it remains).

JOHN NASH
Nash was born in 1752 in the Isle of Wight and trained as an architect. He set up in London with a legacy but after speculating in the Bloomsbury Square development in 1783 went bankrupt and moved to Wales to begin afresh with country projects. In 1796 he returned to London where he set up with the landscape designer Humphrey Repton until 1802. In 1798 he married the 25 year old Mary Bradley through whom he met the Prince of Wales who was interested in architecture and made use of Nash. In return the Prince may have made use of Mary! In 1806 he was appointed Chief Commissioner of Woods & Forests. He was responsible for designing some of the terraces and approved the plans of other buildings in the Regent's Park scheme. His development of Regent Street as an approach road was also intended to divide lower class Soho from upper class Mayfair and included a flat for himself at number 14-6 (now gone). He was commissioned by the Prince to make improvements to Buckingham House but the mounting costs of the project made him unpoplar and the Prince died in 1830 before it was completed. Nash himself died in 1835 aged 83 having done much of his major work in his 60s. There is a bust of him at the south end of Chester Terrace.

ROYAL FOUNDATION OF ST KATHERINE
This was established in 1148 by Matilda, wife of King Stephen, for a master and 13 poor bretheren near the Tower of London. It was granted a charter by Queen Eleanor, widow of Henry III, in 1273 and remained at the Dissolution of the monasteries with Catherine of Aragon as its patron. The charter set out its aims to care for the old & sick and provide education and hospitality to strangers. It became a Royal peculiar in 1442, separated from the juristriction of the City and the Bishop of London. Under this foreigners were admitted and worked in weaving, glass works and brewing. John Stow described it in the 16th century as being a haunt of seamen and criminals living in divided tenements. Besides the hospital and the 12th century church there was a brewery and some 1250 houses. By the end of the 18th century the population was thought to be about 3000. However when in 1825 the area was cleared for the construction of a dock and warehouses some 11,300 inhabitants were dispossed without compensation. The Foundation was moved to the east side of Regent's Park where they had a chapel, school and houses built in Tudor Gothic stone & brick by Ambrose Poynter. In WWI the Foundation moved back to the East End to Bromley Hall, Poplar and the chapel was granted to the Danes by Queen Alexandra. In the garden is a replica of a Rune Stone from Jelling in Denmark erected by Harald Bluetooth, the first Christian King of Denmark in 980. It depicts Christ and a lion & serpent. During WWII Bromley Hall was bombed as was the church of St James in Butcher Row. However the vicarage of 1796 remained and became the Master's House for the Foundation. Other buildings and a chapel were added in 1950. The Master's House has some unusual murals in the principal rooms and the chapel has the 14th century stalls from the old church. It is now concerned with social and education work. Trade to St Katherine's Dock declined as larger ships came into use and it was closed in 1968. The redevelopment in the 1970s included a Coronarium Chapel (since made into a coffee shop) near the site of the original St Katherine's Church.
To read an article about St Katherines on another site
click here

THE DIORAMA
Located on the east side of Park Square this was built in 1823 by Augustus Pugin senior to house a technique invented by Daguerre. An audience of up to 200 sat in an auditorium which could be rotated mechanically 73 so they could be turned to view either of two stages. Trompe l'oeil scenes were painted on calico cloths 72' high and 40' wide and included Canterbury Cathedral and a Swiss Alpine valley. Special effects were created with music and lighting. Behind the cloths was a dark corridor with skylights and shutters (some coloured) so that it could only operate in daylight. However it was not a great success and closed in the 1851 to become a Baptist Chapel. The three storey glass-roofed octagonal auditorium remains and the building can also be viewed from Peto Place.

THE COLOSSEUM
This domed building with a portico was designed by Decimus Burton in 1827. It housed a panorama of London on 40,000 square feet of canvas which had been painted from sketches drawn from St Pauls. It too was unsuccessful although other attractions were added when it was later sold. It was demolished in 1875 to be replaced with Cambridge Gate in 1880.

ST MARYLEBONE CHURCH
The church dedicated to St Mary by the Bourne (Tyburn) was built in 1400 and rebuilt in 1740. Sir William Chambers submitted six plans for a new church between 1770 and 1774 but it was not built until 1813-7 on the Portland Estate at the Duke's insisitance. The old church became a parish chapel but this was demolished in 1949 after war damage and the site became a garden. The present church has a portico and cupola supported by gilt caryatids. Byron and Horatia (Nelson) were christened there and George Stubbs buried. It also held the marriages of Francis Bacon, Sheridan and Robert Browing/Elizabeth Barrett.

SHERLOCK HOLMES
221B Baker Street was the fictional address of Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson and Mrs Hudson. When Conan Doyle wrote the stories 221 did not exist - Baker Street north of Marylebone Road was Upper Baker Street. Many attempts have been made to identify the house using clues from the stories. 221 is now included in the former Abbey National building where someone had to answer correspondence sent to Sherlock Holmes! To get a better idea of the style of Holmes' house have a look at number 239 which has been made into a Sherlock Holmes Museum. [
website] A statue of Holmes stands outside Baker Street Station.

OPEN AIR THEATRE
Performances of Shakespeare in the park were first given in 1900 by the Woodland Players. The Open Air Theatre started in 1932 with Twelth Night and seating was originally all deckchairs. In 1962 the stage was reconstructed and it became the home of the New Shakespeare Company. It had other improvements made in the 1970s and 2000. It seats 1200. [
website]

LONDON ZOO
The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826 by Sir Stamford Raffles and was granted a 5 acre site in the north east corner of the park. It was opened to members in 1828 and to the general public from 1848 with admission at one shilling. Animals were moved in from the menagaries at Windsor in 1830 and the Tower in 1832-4. A number of noted architects have designed buildings for the Zoo (a title it got from a Music Hall song).
Giraffe House 1827 by Decimus Burton
Mappin Terraces 1914 by Belcher & Joass
Penguin Pool 1932 by Lubetkin & Tecton
Elephant House 1965 by Sir High Casson
Aviary 1965 by Lord Snowdon.
It now covers 36 acres of the park. [
website]

CENTRAL LONDON MOSQUE
The competition to design this was won by Sir Frederick Gibberd in 1974. Built of Portland Stone with a 150' foot high minaret and a dome of plastic-coated copper. Besides the Prayer Hall there is a study and education centre and a library. Visitors are welcome but must observe the dress code. Friday is the holy day. [
website]

Reference sources
Walking London’s Parks and Gardens by Geoffrey Young
Walking London by Andrew Duncan
A Prospect of Westminster by Tony Aldous
London Heritage by Michael Jenner
Buildings and Monuments in the Royal Parks
Buildings of England: London 3 NW by Cherry & Pevsner


london-footprints.co.uk 2008

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