Monday, March 5, 2012


Because it features so often in my books, I thought I’d take a look at the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London.
It is a 28-acre (11 ha) recreational lake created in 1730

The Serpentine takes its name from its snakelike, curving shape. Detail of the 1746 Rocque map showing the newly constructed Serpentine. The paths converging on the Round Pond to the west of the lake are also visible.

Although it is common to refer to the entire body of water as the Serpentine, strictly the name refers only to the eastern half of the lake. Serpentine Bridge, which marks the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, also marks the western boundary of the Serpentine; the long and narrow western half of the lake is known as the Long Water.

Sluice gate of the 1730 dam at the eastern end of the lake. The lake has a maximum depth of 40 feet (12 m).
Originally the lake was fed by the River Westbourne entering at the Italian Garden at the north-western end of the Long Water. The Westbourne ceased to provide the water for the Serpentine in 1834, as the river had become polluted, and it is now supplied from water pumped from the Thames. The Long Water runs south-east from this point to Serpentine Bridge, where the lake curves sharply to the east. At the eastern end, water flows out of the lake via a sluice in the dam, forming a small ornamental waterfall. Historically, the river flowed due south from this point marking the boundary between Westminster and Kensington, but since 1850, the river has been diverted into a culvert, running underground to join the Thames near Chelsea Bridge.

In 1730 Queen Caroline, wife of George II, ordered the damming of the River Westbourne in Hyde Park as part of a general redevelopment of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. At that time, the Westbourne formed eleven natural ponds in the park. During the 1730s, the lake filled to its current size and shape. The redevelopment was carried out by Royal Gardener Charles Bridgeman, who dammed the Westbourne to create the artificial lake, and also dug a large pond in the centre of Kensington Gardens (the Round Pond) to be a focal point for pathways in the park.
At the time of construction, artificial lakes were long and straight. The Serpentine was one of the earliest artificial lakes designed to appear natural, and was widely imitated in parks and gardens nationwide.

The Long Water from the Italian Garden. Large numbers of mute swans nest in this area.
The lake achieved notoriety in December 1816 when Harriet Westbrook, the pregnant wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was found drowned in the Serpentine having left a suicide note addressed to her father, sister and husband. Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin less than two weeks later.

Serpentine Bridge
The lake formed a focal point for the 1814 celebrations commemorating the British victory at Trafalgar, and of the 1851 Great Exhibition, with the Crystal Palace standing on its southern shore. Following the introduction of more stringent regulations to protect the environment in the park, the relocation of the Crystal Palace, and the construction of the nearby Albertopolis complex of museums and exhibitions, large-scale events ceased to take place on the banks of the Serpentine.
In the 1820s, the park was extensively redesigned by Decimus Burton. At the same time, John Rennie built the Serpentine Bridge to carry the newly built West Carriage Drive along the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, formally dividing the lake into the Serpentine (east) and the Long Water (west).

The Long Water
At the northern end of the Long Water are five fountains surrounded by classical statuary and sculpture, the area is officially known as the Italian Gardens. A large bronze memorial to Edward Jenner, the developer of modern vaccination, dominates the area; it was originally located in Trafalgar Square in 1858, but four years later was moved to its present site.
The Long Water is surrounded by dense overgrowth for much of its length, and is relatively undeveloped in comparison to the Serpentine. Due to its undisturbed nature, it forms a significant wildlife habitat and is designated as a bird sanctuary. A 2005 survey showed it as home to 90 species of moth alone. On the western bank of the Long Water, deliberately hidden in foliage, is a bronze sculpture of Peter Pan by George Frampton. The "real world" elements of the play and novel were set in the park and in the surrounding streets.

Rotten Row is a broad track running for 1,384 metres (4,541 ft) along the south side of Hyde Park. It leads from Hyde Park Corner to the Serpentine Road. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Rotten Row was a fashionable place for upper-class Londoners to be seen. Today it is maintained as a place to ride horses in the centre of London, but it is little used.
Rotten Row was established by William III at the end of the 17th century. Having moved court to Kensington Palace, William wanted a safer way to travel to the previous St. James's Palace. He created the broad avenue through Hyde Park, lit with 300 oil lamps in 1690– the first artificially lit highway in Britain. This was called Route de Roi, French for King's Road, and this became "Rotten Row".
In the 18th century, Rotten Row became a popular meeting place for upper-class Londoners. Particularly on weekend evenings and at midday, people would dress in their finest clothes in order to ride along the row and be seen. The adjacent South Carriage Drive was used by society people in carriages for the same purpose. In 1876, it was reconstructed as a horse-ride, with a brick base covered by sand.
The sand-covered avenue of Rotten Row is still maintained as a bridleway and forms part of Hyde Park's South Ride. It is particularly convenient for the Household Cavalry, stabled nearby at Hyde Park Barracks in Knightsbridge, who exercise their horses there. Members of the public also ride there, although few people have stables close enough to make use of it. However, there are commercial stables nearby, Hyde Park Stables, that offer horse hire and riding lessons to the public.

The Peter Pan Cup
Since 1864, the Serpentine has hosted a 100 yard (91.4 m) swimming competition every Christmas morning at 9 am. In 1904, author J. M. Barrie awarded the Peter Pan Cup to the winner of the race, a tradition which has continued ever since. Due to the hazards of swimming in freezing water, the race is open only to members of the Serpentine Swimming Club.
Rowing boats are available for hire. Until the 1970s pleasure boats were able to use the whole lake.
A rare snowfall.

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