Monday, February 5, 2018

The Serpentine - Hyde Park's River/Lake

Hyde Park once contained a river--the Westbourne--which formed ponds (originally possibly monastic fish ponds) in the Park. In 1730 Queen Caroline ordered that the Westbourne be dammed to create a long, narrow artificial lake as part of the Park redevelopment.
Detail of the 1746 Rocque map showing the newly constructed Serpentine. (Wikipedia)

The Serpentine quickly became a focal point for the Park and a centre, during the Regency, of newsworthy activity. At the beginning of the century the news was all bad.

Morning Chronicle - Saturday 30 May 1801
Saunders's News-Letter - Friday 03 December 1802

Oxford University and City Herald - Saturday 05 December 1807
 Skaters on the Serpentine in Hyde Park by Julius Caesar Ibbitson (1786)

 In 1808, however, some pleasant stories about the Serpentine appeared.
Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal - Friday 15 April 1808

Globe - Tuesday 27 December 1808
View of the Serpentine River, Hyde Park, looking from Kensington Gardens 1787
 The Serpentine's walk was the site of sporting events
Morning Post - Thursday 17 June 1813
 And research was aiming to make the Serpentine and other urban bodies of water safer places.
Bury and Norwich Post - Wednesday 08 December 1813
 Frost was always a problem and the lure of ice skating and sliding created many issues in 
Morning Post - Saturday 03 February 1816
Morning Chronicle - Monday 23 December 1816
The great tragedy of the Serpentine was its use as a method of suicide. The desperate, too often young women, chose drowning as their escape from their troubles. 
Oxford University and City Herald - Saturday 25 June 1814

Sussex Advertiser - Monday 04 April 1814
In December 1816 Harriet Westbrook, the pregnant wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was found drowned in the Serpentine. I cannot discover that the newspapers had anything to say about that event.

Despite its checkered past, the Serpentine is still a lovely feature of Hyde Park and a tribute to the vision of our Georgian forebearers.

'Til next time,