Article

Hyde Park

View of Horse Riders in Hyde Park

The History of the Park

 

Hyde Park is one of London's finest landscapes and covers over 350 acres. King Henry VIII acquired the park from the monks of Westminster Abbey in 1536; it remained a private hunting ground until James I came to the throne and permitted limited access. It was Charles I who, in 1637, opened the park to the general public, and over time it became a venue for national celebrations. In 1814 the Prince Regent organised fireworks to mark the end of the Napoleonic Wars, in 1851 (during Queen Victoria's reign) the Great Exhibition was held and in 1977 a Silver Jubilee Exhibition was held in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's 25 years on the throne. Today it is famous for its concerts such as the Proms in the Park and for hosting charity runs.

 

A Place of Witness

 

Speakers’ Corner is at the north east entrance to the park but this spot also had a notorious past. It was the site of the Tyburn gallows and hanging tree, a place of execution possibly as early as 1108 until 1759 when executions were moved to Newgate prison. And the two are possibly related:

 

“When finally at the gallows, felons might speak to the crowd and these speeches often would be directed right at the heart of the state. Catholics, for example, took advantage of the blurred division between treason and religion in their dying speech by embracing the authority of the monarchy but retaining open opposition to the Church of England. As such these martyrs opened up a public theological debate. Some of those who listened to these last speeches actually became convinced of their authenticity and converted to the Catholic cause.”1

The spot where the gallows stood is now marked by a stone plaque on a traffic island near Marble Arch, and the Tyburn Convent close by has relics (the earthly remains) of Reformation Martyrs from 1535-1681.

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