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Regent’s Park (officially The Regent’s Park) is one of the Royal Parks of London. It occupies 410 acres (170 ha) of high ground in north-west Inner London, administratively split between the City of Westminster and the Borough of Camden (and historically between Marylebone and Saint Pancras parishes). In addition to its large central parkland and ornamental lake, it contains various structures and organizations both public and private, generally on its periphery, including Regent’s University and London Zoo.
What is now Regent’s Park came into possession of the Crown upon the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500s, and was used for hunting and tenant farming. In the 1810s, the Prince Regent proposed turning it into a pleasure garden. The park was designed by John Nash and James and Decimus Burton. Its construction was financed privately by James Burton after the Crown Estate rescinded its pledge to do so, and included development on the periphery of townhouses and expensive terrace dwellings. The park is Grade I listed on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
The park has an outer ring road called the Outer Circle (4.45 km) and an inner ring road called the Inner Circle (1 km), which surrounds the most carefully tended section of the park, Queen Mary’s Gardens. Apart from two link roads between these two, the park is reserved for pedestrians (with the exception of The Broad Walk between Chester Road and the Outer Circle, which is a shared use path). The south, east and most of the west side of the park are lined with elegant white stucco terraces of houses designed by John Nash and Decimus Burton. Running through the northern end of the park is Regent’s Canal, which connects the Grand Union Canal to London’s historic docks. The 166 ha (410-acre) park is mainly open parkland with a wide range of facilities and amenities, including gardens; a lake with a heronry, waterfowl and a boating area; sports pitches; and children’s playgrounds. The northern side of the park is the home of London Zoo and the headquarters of the Zoological Society of London. There are several public gardens with flowers and specimen plants, including Queen Mary’s Gardens in the Inner Circle, in which the Open Air Theatre stands; the formal Italian Gardens and adjacent informal English Gardens in the south-east corner of the park; and the gardens of St John’s Lodge. Winfield House, the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, stands in private grounds in the western section of the park, near to the capital’s first large mosque.
South of the Inner Circle is dominated by Regent’s University London, home of the European Business School London, Regent’s American College London (RACL) and Webster Graduate School among others.
Abutting the northern side of Regent’s Park is Primrose Hill, another open space which, with a height of 64 m (210 ft), has a clear view of central London to the south-east, as well as Belsize Park and Hampstead to the north. Primrose Hill is also the name given to the immediately surrounding district.
The public areas of Regent’s Park are managed by The Royal Parks, a charity. The Crown Estate Paving Commission is responsible for managing certain aspects of the built environment of Regent’s Park. The park lies within the boundaries of the City of Westminster and the London Borough of Camden, but those authorities have only peripheral input to the management of the park. The Crown Estate owns the freehold of Regent’s Park.
In the Middle Ages the land was part of the manor of Tyburn, acquired by Barking Abbey. The 1530s Dissolution of the Monasteries meant Henry VIII appropriated it, under that statutory forfeiture with minor compensation scheme. It has been state property since. It was set aside as a hunting and forestry park, Marylebone Park, from that Dissolution until 1649 after which it was let as small-holdings for hay and dairy produce.
Although the park was initially the idea of the Prince Regent, and was named for him, James Burton, the pre-eminent London property developer, was responsible for the social and financial patronage of the majority of John Nash’s London designs, and for their construction. Architectural scholar Guy Williams has written, “John Nash relied on James Burton for moral and financial support in his great enterprises. Decimus had showed precocious talent as a draughtsman and as an exponent of the classical style… John Nash needed the son’s aid, as well as the father’s”. Subsequent to the Crown Estate’s refusal to finance them, James Burton agreed to personally finance the construction projects of John Nash at Regent’s Park, which he had already been commissioned to construct: consequently, in 1816, Burton purchased many of the leases of the proposed terraces around, and proposed villas within Regent’s Park, and, in 1817, Burton purchased the leases of five of the largest blocks on Regent Street. The first property to be constructed in or around Regent’s Park by Burton was his own mansion: The Holme, which was designed by his son, Decimus Burton, and completed in 1818. Burton’s extensive financial involvement “effectively guaranteed the success of the project”. In return, Nash agreed to promote the career of Decimus Burton. Such were James Burton’s contributions to the project that the Commissioners of Woods described James, not Nash, as “the architect of Regent’s Park”.
Contrary to popular belief, the dominant architectural influence in many of the Regent’s Park projects – including Cornwall Terrace, York Terrace, Chester Terrace, Clarence Terrace, and the villas of the Inner Circle, all of which were constructed by James Burton’s company – was Decimus Burton, not John Nash, who was appointed architectural “overseer” for Decimus’s projects. To the chagrin of Nash, Decimus largely disregarded his advice and developed the Terraces according to his own style, to the extent that Nash sought the demolition and complete rebuilding of Chester Terrace, but in vain. Decimus’s terraces were built by his father James.
The Regent’s Park scheme was integrated with other schemes built for the Prince Regent by the triplet of Nash, James Burton, and Decimus Burton: these included Regent Street and Carlton House Terrace in a grand sweep of town planning stretching from St. James’s Park to Primrose Hill. The scheme is considered one of the first examples of a garden suburb and continues to influence the design of suburbs. The park was first opened to the general public in 1835, initially two days a week. The 1831 diary of William Copeland Astbury describes in detail his daily walks in and around the park, with references to the Zoo, the canal, and surrounding streets, as well as features of daily life in the area.
On 15 January 1867, forty people died when the ice cover on the boating lake collapsed and over 200 people plunged into the lake. The lake was subsequently drained and its depth reduced to four feet before being reopened to the public.
Late in 1916, the Home Postal Depot, Royal Engineers moved to a purpose-built wooden building (200,000 sq ft) on Chester Road, Regent’s Park. This new facility contained the depot’s administration offices, a large parcel office and a letter office, these last two previously being at the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre. HM King George V and HM Queen Mary visited the depot on 11 December 1916. The depot vacated the premises in early 1920.
Queen Mary’s Gardens, in the Inner Circle, were created in the 1930s, bringing that part of the park into use by the general public for the first time. The site had originally been used as a plant nursery and had later been leased to the Royal Botanic Society.
In July 1982, an IRA bomb was detonated at the bandstand, killing seven soldiers.
The sports pitches, which had been relaid with inadequate drainage after the Second World War, were relaid between 2002 and 2004, and in 2005 a new sports pavilion was constructed.
On 7 July 2006 the park held an event for people to remember the events of the 7 July 2005 London bombings. Members of the public placed mosaic tiles on to seven purple petals. Later bereaved family members laid yellow tiles in the centre to finish the mosaic.
Sports are played in the park including cycling, tennis, netball, athletics, cricket, softball, rounders, football, hockey, Australian rules football, rugby, ultimate Frisbee, and running. Belsize Park Rugby Football Club play their home games in the park.
There are three playgrounds and there is boating on the lake.
Sports take place in an area called the Northern Parkland, and are centred on the Hub. This pavilion and underground changing rooms was designed by David Morley Architects and Price & Myers engineers, and opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005. It won the IStructE Award for Community or Residential Structures in 2006.
The Outer Circle is used by road cyclists. One circuit is 4.45 km. A number of amateur cycling clubs that meet regularly to complete laps of the Outer Circle for exercise and leisure. Prominent clubs include: Regent’s Park Rouleurs (RPR), London Baroudeurs (LBCC), Islington Cycling Club (ICC), Cycle Club London (CCL), Rapha Cycle Club (RCC). Many cyclists track & log their rides using the online social network site Strava. As at January, 2018 – some 22,000 cyclists had completed & logged 1.6mn laps of the park using the Strava app. In 2015, Regent’s Park Cyclists was formed to represent the interest of cyclists and cycling clubs that use the Inner & Outer Circle.
The park was scheduled to play a role in the 2012 Summer Olympics, hosting the baseball and softball events, but these sports were dropped from the Olympic programme with effect from 2012. The Olympic cycling road race was supposed to go through Regent’s Park, as was the cycling road race in the 2012 Summer Paralympics, but the routes were changed.
The neoclassical terraces are grand examples of the English townhouse. Sometimes they are collectively called the “Nash terraces”, but other architects contributed. Clockwise from the north, they are:
Immediately south of the park are Park Square and Park Crescent, also designed by Nash.
Nine villas were initially built in the park. There follows a list of their names as shown on Christopher and John Greenwood’s map of London (second edition, 1830), with details of their subsequent fates:
There are five London Underground stations located on or near the edges of Regent’s Park: