Lady P is back! She stayed a bit longer with her grandchildren than expected, but hey, who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas with the little ones? But she became weary of cold English winters and couldn’t resist the temptation of spending the winter with Susana here in central Florida. Mrs. Barlow, who came for an interview in a previous post, had already spoken enthusiastically of the palm trees and alligators and orange trees, so she arrived post-haste this morning—Twelfth Day—following a lovely Twelfth Night celebration with her family in the 19th century.
Over a quick breakfast of coffee from Susana’s new Keurig (which fascinates her), yogurt and boiled eggs, they discussed the new story Susana is working on, which features Lady P herself and her daughter’s family. It’s a bit out of the usual thing for Susana, being a time travel with a heroine who travels back to the 19th century to find her family, and Lady P’s advice has been invaluable. For one thing, the heroine lands in 1817 Hyde Park, and right from the beginning Susana ran into problems trying to find out what Hyde Park looked like in 1817. For example, the Marble Arch wasn’t built until 1827.
Lady P: No rose garden either. Although that does seem a nice touch. I must mention it when next I encounter His Royal Highness.
Susana [sighing]: No, I’m going to have rewrite the entire first scene! I’m thinking she’ll have to land somewhere near Hyde Park Corner and the Rotten Row.
Lady P: Be sure to keep her well out of the way of the horses and carriages, then. Tattersall’s is there too, you know.
Susana: What about Sister Ignatia? Would a religious reformer be hanging about in Hyde Park, do you think?
Lady P: Generally, you don’t see the riffraff there. Hyde Park is primarily for the upper classes. But there are exceptions…servants who accompany their masters and mistresses, and there are Tattersall’s employees, of course. I have seen a few do-gooders handing out tracts from time to time.
Susana: Is it likely an unaccompanied young lady might be attacked by ruffians there?
Lady P [frowning]: An unaccompanied young lady might be attacked by ruffians anywhere, Susana! I regret to say that even gentlemen might try to take advantage. It’s not common, but crime in Hyde Park is not completely unknown.
Susana: Ah, so I won’t have to change the scene completely, then.
Lady P [peering out the window]: Are those ostriches out there? Do let us go for a stroll, Susana. And oh, what are those funny little vehicles with the canvas roofs? Can we ride in one?
Susana: Golf carts. People use them here to get around the park. I don’t have one myself, but I’m sure the neighbors will give you a ride. Oh, and the birds are sand hill cranes. Aren’t they pretty?
Regency Rites: Hyde Park
Originally, the Manor of Hyde was part of the Roman estate of Eia, and included what is now Green’s Park and Kensington Park. About 600 acres until the establishment of Kensington Park, it was given to Geoffrey de Mandeville by William the Conqueror. De Mandeville left it to the Holy Fathers of Westminster Abbey, where it remained for five centuries until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.
It was a great hunting ground, rich in deer, boar, hare, otter, wildfowl, and game birds.
Under Charles II, the route was called “the Ring” or “the Tour”. A French visitor said:
“They take their rides in a coach in an open field where there is a circle, not very large, enclosed by rails. There, the coaches drive slowly round, some in one direction, others the opposite way, which, seen from a distance, produces as rather pretty effect, and proves clearly that they only come there in order to see and be seen.”
Samuel Pepys wrote (of Charles II):
“After dinner to Hyde Park. At the Park was the King and in another coach my lady Castlemaine , they greeting one another every turn:”
William II bought the manor at Kensington and Kensington house grew into Kensington Palace, and the western end of Hyde Park was taken for the Palace estate, which would one day become Kensington Gardens.
William III and Queen Mary used to drive along the road, and it became known as La Route du Roi, which became corrupted into Rotten Row.
“For showing off coaches and their teams, Hyde Park remained the place to be.”
In 1730, George II laid down a radius of paths and his wife Queen Caroline had the Serpentine constructed by widening the Westbourne brook and draining its pools.
Hyde Park was also a popular location for duels, military floggings, and suicides (drownings). The gallows at nearby Tyburn was used for hangings until 1783, when it was moved to Newgate.
There were soldiers’ camps and military parades, and in 1814, 12,000 men marched past the Prince Regent, the Duke of York, the King of Prussia, the Emperor of Russia, General Blücher, and Lords Beresford and Hill. A reenactment of the Battle of Trafalgar was performed on the Serpentine.
In 1821, Hyde Park was the scene of an elaborate celebration of George IV’s coronation. There were Chinese lanterns, clowns, conjurors, swords swallowers, fire-eaters, acrobats, swings, roundabouts, fireworks, military bands, boat races, elephants, and dancing donkeys and dwarfs.
After John Loudon McAdam improved roads with stone broken small enough to make a hard smooth surface, all sorts of carriages appeared in Hyde Park, and being a good whip became a mark of social distinction. George IV was known to be an excellent whip, as was his daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales. The Four-in-Hand Club made its appearance, with only the very best whipsters allowed as members.
Horse & Carriage: The Pageant of Hyde Park, J.N.P. Watson, London: The Sportsman’s Press, 1990.