A Regency Primer on London Parks

When talking about the Royal London Parks in the Regency, the first thing to remember the word “park” held a different meanings from how we (especially Americans) typically think of them today.

So get those visions of benches, swing sets, picnic tables and those box-shaped grills on metal posts out of your head, because our Regency folks would say a “park” refers to a large open tract of land that is often used for grazing cattle or a place where deer were hunted. You’ll often see the land surrounding a country manor house referred to as a park as well and the author just means that there is a lot of open land surrounding the place that may or may not be landscaped or fenced off.

London Parks in the Regency Era

Today, we’re going to talk a bit about some of the parks that Regency Era heroes and heroines might have visited. And I’m using Regency Era to mean the long Regency, which continues through the reigns of George IV, William IV and ends when Queen Victoria was crowned.

Hyde Park

London Parks: Hyde Park section of "Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace"

Hyde Park section of “Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace”

  • The entirety of the park encompasses nearly 400 acres of land, so finding someone there was by chance or a prearranged meeting in a particular location.
  • The Fashionable Hour: 4:30 to 7:30 pm during the Season (late January or February until May). This is when riders and people drove around the park in their carriages, preferably open ones so they could see and be seen.
  • Rotten Row; a corruption of route de roi or King’s Route in French. Known for fast riders.
    Rotten Row was the famous stretch of road in the park notorious for speed demons on horseback.
  • For the fairer sex, the Ladies’ Mile promised a more sedate bridle path.
  • Driving one’s fanciest carriage around the graveled pleasure-driving roads known as the Ring.
  • The Serpentine — really a man-made ornamental pond that wound through a section of the park. Very shallow.
  • Known location for illegal duels & quite attractive to thieves and ruffians.

St. James’s Park

  • 57 acres
  • Near St. James Street — location of the gentleman’s clubs… not the safest for women who wished to keep their reputations intact
  • Pedestrian except for a few select notables with Royal dispensation to drive carriages there
  • John Nash was commissioned by George IV and remodeled the park in 1826-1827.
London Parks: Green Park, St. James's Park and Buckingham Palace section of "Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace

Green Park, St. James’s Park and Buckingham Palace section of “Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace

Green Park

  • 47 acres
  • John Nash landscaped the park in 1820, as an adjunct to St. James’s Park.
  • The park has no buildings or lakes like many of its neighbors.
  • Readers familiar with the Victorian era may recognize it as the location of an assassination attempt upon the Queen by Edward Oxford on June 10, 1840.

The Regent’s Park

London Parks: The Regent's Park section of "Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace",

The Regent’s Park section of “Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace”,

  • a 410 acre site on the North side of London – formerly Marylebone Park and very marshy.
  • Prince George commissioned John Nash to redevelop the park in 1811 — terraces, geometric layout with an outer circle and an inner circle, cultivated flowerbeds and classical statuary.
  • The terraces — housing for the very wealthy – each situated so as to overlook the park in such a way they might each perceive the park was theirs alone.
  • Nearby Regent’s Street, one of the first planned developments of London, was designed and built as a commercial area separating the less than respectable Soho from the posh and fashionable Mayfair.
  • Regent’s Park wasn’t open to the general public until the late 1830′s and then only for two days a week.

More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

6 Responses to A Regency Primer on London Parks

  1. I’ve set a book in Regent’s Park, right after it was commissioned for development. I wish I could go back in time to see how it really looked.

    Great post, Kristen!

  2. This was a really interesting post. Thanks for sharing. And yes, I agree that it would be fun doing a spot of time travel to see the fashionable hour in person!

  3. I have a question. If fashionable people were riding around between 4:30 and 7:30 in February, how could they be seen? Wasn’t it dark?

    • Good questions, Lil!

      As I understand it, by the Regency the height of the Season wasn’t until after Easter (late March or April) and ran until late June or July when Parliament was out and those who could escaped the heat of the city by dispersing to their country estates. For various reasons, the dates when Parliament sat had also been shifting later so instead of everyone hunkering down in London for the winter, the existence of more accessible roads meant the social season was in the Spring and early Summer. A lot of it also depended on when the Royal household was in residence in London as well.

      Maybe I should clarify above that the Fashionable Hour wasn’t EVERY day from 4:30 to 7:30, but a feature of the Season when society’s elite were in Town. =)

  4. Great blog! One question I can’t find an answer to: Were there benches or places for ladies to sit down in Hyde park during the regency? I figure there must be, but I can find no references to any. If anyone knows it would be a great help!

    • Hi, Ava. Great question! I suspect it depends on which part of Hyde Park one was in. I suspect they’d be more welcome around the Serpentine and other walking paths rather than along the carriage paths and bridle paths. I did a fairly quick google search last night, but the period paintings I found for Hyde Park showed many people walking, riding or in carriages, but none seated on benches. If anyone else knows, I hope they’ll chime in! But definitely something to look into deeper. Thanks!

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