HYDE PARKCategory: Land + People
At five o’clock in the morning, Hyde Park begins. The gates open, and while “London” sleeps, part of London enters them. The all-night coffee-stall at Hyde Park Corner becomes suddenly
deserted and closes. “Toffs” in tails, strengthened for an arduous night’s sleep with strong tea and hot dogs, retire to bed, abolishing the sun with drawn blinds. Suburbans, having missed the last train, disperse on the first Piccadilly. Corner-boys, the luckless, and the unwanted, who have made up the free-masonry of the night, drift into Hyde Park.
Hyde Park becomes the forgathering place and dormitory for that other London. In the winter it is dark and cold. Space and time, with a thousand years of history are blotted out. Hyde Park is Saxon forest again. The wolf prowls, and unemployed men and women huddle together by that instinct which has preserved man and which man, through forty generations, has preserved.
In the spring dew is on the ground and gossamer where the sheep have not grazed. While the shadows of trees, and of the new luxurious “modern” buildings of Park Lane, shorten, the Park takes on its morning colours, in the gentlest harmony. At no other time is Hyde Park like this. The scent of awakening nature is in the air. The roads around are silent, and the only sound is of birds. Sometimes at this hour sheep are. driven in when they have grazed the Green Park enough, straight across what must be the most complicated traffic system in the world. Life itself returns to such simple rules.
Now they graze in Hyde Park, among recumbent figures who might have completed the pastoral scene. But these shepherds and shepherdesses are tattered and urban, defending themselves grotesquely against the chill.
Some of them are habitues whose trade does not bring them sufficient for lodging. One, who must be familiar to many Londoners, is an old woman, draped in wrappings of shoddy velvet, asleep upright on a bench, head on chest, her matches by her side. Others more nondescript lie on the grass, protected from the magic dew by newspapers and sacking.
Few can sleep at this hour, and most will await the warmth of the later morning. Some ply their morning trade — the gathering of “toppers”, or, for the Another glimpse of Hyde Park uninitiated, cigarette-ends.Where
they dispose of them they will not tell: it is said that a gentleman in the East End thrives on this booty, and that after a good Sunday as many as forty pounds of sodden fragments are brought to him from Hyde Park. Stranger things than these are to be found in the mornings. An odd shoe or sock, a handkerchief, an imitation brooch, a button — each of these has its market value. One may be sure that there is not a litter-bin in the Park but comes under several expert proddings before final condemnation.
The remaining contents of the litter-bins fulfil an important and cheerful function in early morning Hyde Park life. For these, and whatever other refuse is found in the Park are taken to incinerators to be burnt. Several of these are put up on the ground near the Marble Arch made barren by the crowds round the daytime curators. Little groups gather round them to gain warmth, several women among them. Contributions, such as wood and even lumps of coal which have been carried into the Park, are gratefully burnt for the common enjoyment. [...]
Next, in the distance there is a sound of hooves. Guardsmen are exercising their horses along the roads and the soft-soiled rows. The horses nod to one another in nervous excitement, their lines and their paces distinct in dust and. sun. They are soldiers and in the morning in Hyde Park “a soldier’s life is grand”. A few guardsmen attendant to these exercises wander about at ease smoking an early cigarette. Where there are soldiers there are girls, and romance begins in the bashful morning.
It is the horses’ time, and in the summer, even before the guardsmen have returned their horses to stable, riding in Rotte;n Row begins. Traditionally this early morning exercise is one of the principal institutions of London Society, in Season and out. There is an etiquette strictly to be observed, although out of Season it relaxes somewhat. The riders who “belong” wear strict habit, and their horsemanship shows little to reproach. They are fewT, but regular, riding generally in groups. WThen they exchange salutations, and there are ladies riding with them, the men raise their hats and lower them with a deep movement one would hardly see elsewhere in this century.
Besides Mayfair, several of the Diplomatic Corps take their regular ride before breakfast. There is also the time-old Liver Brigade, so called because they have galloped their livers away. [...] The early morning exercise of dogs is simultaneous with that of horses. The dogs of Knightsbridge exercise themselves near the Row. Very few of these either are of the vulgar breed. Generally they are taken out by butlers or by servant girls, but some people in Knightsbridge are so fond of their dogs that they take them out themselves.
For these animals Hyde Park is a Paradise. There is no injunction that they must be taken on a lead, as in most gardens. They are at liberty to romp and disport at their will, and they exchange the morning’s greetings with much greater readiness than their owners, who appear at times embarrassed by such canine gallantries. [...] Until quite recently a dog could be buried in Hyde Park, in the little Dog Cemetery near the Victoria Gate. This’ is so crammed with small tombstones, about 350 of them, that there has been room for no more for thirty-five years. Many a tale of woe is told on these. Thus:
IN SORROWING MEMORY OF OUR SWEET LITTLE JACK MOSTLOVING AND MOST FONDLY LOVED
Jan. 28 1895 — May 3 1901
COULD LOVE HAVE SAVED THOU UADST NOT DIED
Nowhere else in Europe.
But to return to the living, here in the heart of London we are at one with nature and with English nature, in Hyde Park. [...]
The architectural treatment of Hyde Park, is unique in Europe. Simplicity itself, strait and narrow paths dissect it. There are no artificial winding ways to guide the wanderer into its secret groves. We would call the paths “functional”: the wanderer himself is the artist, and the seeker finds. Hyde Park is quite English: those responsible for its plan knew as wTell as the modern travel writer the value to the Englishman of “unknown” and “off the beaten track”.
In another natural sense Hyde Park is unique in Europe. One can walk or lie on the grass, play games, take one’s exercise, and disport. The freedom of our ancestors is restored, and one can bathe and row in the Serpentine. No such liberty is to be enjoyed in the Luxembourg or the Berlin Tiergarten.
A friend of mine, a Mr Patrick Power, went into the Luxembourg to find out what he would be allowed to do. He discovered from the regulations that he would not be allowed to light afire, play a trumpet, a clarion, or a drum, shoot at people, beat a carpet, write comments on the monuments, hand people tracts “or even manuscripts”, play cards, drive in sheep, fly a balloon, or be drunk. As he wished for the moment to do none of these things, but only to sit on the grass, he was prepared to observe all these regulations. The regulations would allow him to do this, except at such places, where the grass was paled off. Looking, however, for a nice place to prostrate himself in the sun, he found that there was no grass, and that he could sit nowhere.
Hyde Park is nature’s own plan, London’s heritage from the prehistoric forest which surrounded Londinium.
In parts, particularly between the Dell and Hyde Park Corner, nature is cultivated to display of colour, but subject to the wThole nature scheme. This corner in particular is the delight of many who visit it every day. [...]
Many Londoners of the upper classes must have formed their first vivid impressions of life among colours. For every , morning the perambulator brigade of nursemaids forgathers here with its little titled charges to talk the morning away among themselves or with red-uniformed Guardsmen — “England’s Devils”, as Scandinavians call them. [...]
Hyde Park is the greatest People’s Park in Europe. But its aristocratic tradition is maintained. It remains a Royal Park. Hyde Park is just four hundred years old as a Royal Park, and three hundred as a People’s Park.
(From Hyde Park by E. Dancy)