While Walt Disney was actually talking about Disneyland rather than a park in the sense that we understand it, most of us will have had the feeling of being in another world while in one of Westminster’s many amazing green spaces, now celebrated in Love Parks Week (24 July – 2 August). Westminster residents and visitors have some of the loveliest parks in London including five of the eight Royal Parks and several delightful little squares and other public spaces, providing an oasis of peace in a crowded city.
Most readers will be familiar with some of the more noted features of Westminster’s Parks – the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park, the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens and so on, so let’s have a look at some of the less famous but just as notable features of some of them.
While you’re in Regents Park, perhaps on your way to see a show, why not have a look at the Secret Garden? Officially known at the St John Lodge’s Gardens, it was designed to be ‘fit for meditation’ and you’re quite likely to find yourself on your own there, though it has been open to the public since 1928. The Lodge itself currently belongs to the Sultan of Brunei but he’s unlikely to disturb you as you contemplate the statue of the Goatherd’s Daughter.
Another monument that few people notice is the Esme Percy memorial in Kensington Gardens, near the Palace gate. It is actually a dog’s drinking fountain named after Percy, a once well-known actor perhaps best remembered for his role as Count Karpathy who exposes Eliza Dolittle at the ball in the 1938 film of Pygmalion. This role was specially written for Percy by George Bernard Shaw.
St James’s Park has long been a favourite with nature lovers. Approximately 15 species of water fowl live there, most famously the pelicans (four at the moment) who have been in residence since the Russian ambassador gave a pair to Charles II in 1664.
One particularly charming small park is Victoria Embankment Gardens which runs along the Thames between Westminster bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. There are regular lunchtime concerts held there throughout the summer. The garden also contains various statues of the great and the good including the poet Robert Burns, the Temperance campaigner Sir Wilfrid Lawson and Robert Raikes, pioneer of Sunday Schools. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has more about these three and the other people commemorated by statues in Westminster.
There are plenty of smaller parks and open spaces in Westminster. Some, such as Orange Square are simply an open space (a ‘pocket park’) with some seats (and a market at weekends) but are still a pleasant place to rest and contemplate the London scene. A particularly charming and busy little park is Paddington Street Gardens (2015 venue for Library in the Park) which was originally a burial ground for St Marylebone Church and which has been a park since 1885. One notable feature is the statue of the Orderly Boy who looks very young to be doing the job (it’s an old name for a street cleaner).
You can find more about London’s parks in the many guidebooks in the travel section of your local library. Particularly excellent are Andrew Duncan’s books of London walks (it’s not uncommon to bump in to other travellers clutching copies of Secret London or Walking Notorious London while you’re following one of his routes). Statue lovers will enjoy Walking London’s Statues and Monuments. Time Out have also published some excellent books of London walks while other interesting titles include Bizarre London and Regents Park : From Tudor Hunting Ground to the Present. Why not resolve to check out some new parks in Love Parks Week – there are plenty to choose from!