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Kensington Gardens - a tranquil calm


Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle

KENSINGTON Gardens covers 275 acres (111 hectares) and, until purchased by William III, in 1689, was part of Hyde Park.

There, unlike other parts of the capital, it was quiet and the air untainted, ideal in fact, for a king who suffered from asthma. And so, William commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to design a home that, when built, was, of course, Kensington Palace; the redbrick building that even today, has royal connections.

Throughout the ages, however, various Queens set their own inimitable stamp on the gardens by instigating improvements. Queen Anne, for example, enlarged them, by 'transferring' a further 30 acres from Hyde Park and, in 1704, was responsible for the creation of the Orangery - now a tea-room.

And it was Queen Caroline, the wife of George II who, in 1728, was responsible for the Serpentine and the Long Water, thereby transforming the park into its present day form.

During much of the 18th century, though, the gardens remained closed to the public. Even when access was finally granted, it was only to the respectably dressed.

Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace, where she lived until she became queen, in 1837. Her contribution to the gardens came in the form of the Albert Memorial (for her beloved husband and consort) and the lovely Italian gardens, still a popular feature today.

Queen Victoria is, in fact, still very much a part of the scene, for her statue, a celebration of her golden jubilee and sculpted by her daughter, Princess Louise, stands outside the Palace.

Other attractions came later; the most popular being George Frampton's bronze statue of Peter Pan which appeared, as if by magic, on May Day morning, 1912.

And in the year 2000, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground and a seven-mile Memorial Walk that also embraces parts of Hyde Park, Green Park and St James's Park, were opened.

There's also the Elfin Oak. Originally from Richmond Park, it's a gnarled, partially hollow stump, carved with the figures of fairies, elves and various small animals.

Kensington's Gardens is quieter than most London Parks and keeping it so is actively encouraged.

Accordingly, birds thrive there and in the 100 years since records began, 178 species have been identified. Even green woodpeckers nest in the trees - a rare occurence in central London.

And lastly, but by no means least, the Round Pond is the home of three-spined sticklebacks, roach, gudgeon and eels.

 

 

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