Comprising an expanse of 166 hectares (410 acres) of green space, Regent’s Park is a simply outstanding place to visit for all the family. It’s most famous for containing London Zoo (in its north-easterncorner), as well as the Open Air Theatre, an ornate bandstand, a large boating lake (with a heronry and waterfowl), a huge mosque and a 100-acre sports field. The remaining 161 hectares (395 acres) of the park are given over to open parkland peppered with landscaped gardens, while Queen Mary’s Gardens always prove to be a pleasant haven for quiet reflection.
The park’s history
Appropriated by King Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 15th Century, the land that would eventually become Regent’s Park has been under Crown ownership ever since, except in the 11 short years between 1649 and 1660 (when there was no monarchy because England and Wales were under the control of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell). Until the time of Cromwell, it was a hunting park (Marylebone Park) and, thereafter, was let out as small holdings for hay and dairy produce, until in 1811 the Prince Regent(later King George IV) commissioned architect John Nash to redevelop the area.
Originally planned as a space for a palace and grand detached villas for the Prince’s associates, this idea obviously didn’t come to fruition, butNash did complete the construction offine terraced houses around the park’s sides and integrated theproject into others he had on the go for the Prince, including Regent Street and Carlton House Terrace; the result making up a majestic arcof town planning that stretched from St. James’s Park to Parliament Hill and stands as one of the first ever examples of a garden suburb. Originally opened to the general public in 1835, the park could first be visited by pedestrians and perambulators twice a week.
A fantastic day out, London Zoon is the world’s oldest scientific zoo, thus run by the Zoological Society of London, and houses a staggering 19,178 individual animals of 806 different species. Spread across 15 hectares (36 acres), the zoo was established by Sir Stamford Raffles and Sir Humphry Davy (famous for inventing the Davy Lamp) and opened in 1828; it was granted a Royal Charter the following year and opened to the public in 1847. Among the zoo’s most popular attractions today is ‘Gorilla Kingdom’, ‘Land of the Lions’, ‘Tiger Territory’, ‘Penguin Beach’, ‘In with the Lemurs’ and its Komodo dragon enclosure.
Famous former residents include the only living quagga (a now extinct breed of plains zebra) ever to be photographed, Osbaych the hippopotamus (the first of his species to set foot in Europe since Roman times) and Guy the western lowland gorilla, whom lived in the zoo for 31 years up to 1978. In 1991, facing the threat of closure, London Zoo made its plight public which generated a huge amount of financial support ensuring it could remain open and eventually reach its present state of enormous popularity. Going forwards, thanks to its ‘Tiger S.O.S’ programme (launched in 2011), the zoo aims to raise funds to help save the Sumatran tiger; it will use these funds to extend its three Sumatran tiger projects in Indonesia.
Open Air Theatre
First opening in 1932, the park’s Open Air Theatre is one of the most popular ‘alternative’ attractions in the capital – a must visit stage venue in the spring and summer months, being that it’s genuinely entirely open to the elements (the only sheltered part of the site is the bar – one of the longest in the city, incidentally – which runs the length of the tiered auditorium). Attracting top UK thesping talent every year to its seasonal mix of Shakespeare, classic plays and musical productions, the theatre is dependent on information from the Met Office, whom it contacts prior to every performance for an immediate forecast, in order to determine whether the performance might go ahead lest it be spoilt by the notoriously changeable British weather. A delightfully warm and breezy way to spend a cultural afternoon or evening in London, especially for visitors to a Montcalm luxury hotel, whether it be one in the Marble Arch area or a hotel in Chiswell Street in the City.
Home to the Open Air Theatre, Queen Mary’s Gardens are located in Regent’s Park London’s Inner Circle, and are particularly noted for their outstandingly tendered rose gardens thatfeature more than 30,000 flowers. Created in the 1930s,the site was originally used as a plant nursery and was later leased to the Royal Botanic Society, before Queen Mary (consort to King George V), in an ambassadorial role, oversaw its development into a refuge of beautiful foliage for all, ensuringthis part of the park opened to the general public for the first time.
In addition to Queen Mary’s Gardens, there’s also the formal Italian Gardens and, next to them, the informal English Gardens in the park’s south-eastern corner, as well as the gardens of St John’s Lodge.
Near the park is the modern landmark that’s the enormous, domedLondon Central Mosque, which is actually better known as Regent’s Park mosque, while the south, east and most of the west side of the park are lined with the John Nash-designed whitestucco terraced houses (as mentioned above). Additionally, Regent’s Canal, which connects the Grand Union Canal to the old London docks, runs through the northern end of the park, which itself backs on to Primrose Hill. Reaching a height of 256 feet (78 metres), this hill gives a clear view of Central London, while Belsize Park and Hampstead also border the park to the north.
In addition to three playgrounds and the famous boating lake, the park’s 100-acre sports field offers visitors the chance play the likesof tennis, athletics, cricket, softball, rounders, football, hockey, netball, rugby, ultimate Frisbee and Australian Rules football. Belsize Park Rugby Football Club also host their home games in the park.