History at The Athenaeum : Dawn Geddes
This months Mayfair Insider series features Freelance Journalist Dawn Geddes, who tells of her family stay at The Athenaeum
13th February 2018
Despite its pristine and apparently endless stretch of green space these days, Green Park’s very first use was said to be as a burial ground for a nearby hospital. However, by the 16th century, it had become part of the estate of the well-to-do Poulteney family. Part of this land was later given to Charles II, who laid out the main walkways of the park. An important addition for him was an icehouse he had built, so he could enjoy cool drinks in the summer while in the park. How very civilised…
Despite Green Park’s central London location nowadays, it was considered to be on the outskirts of London in the 18th and 19th centuries. As a result of its outlying location, it became a popular spot for thieves to lie in wait for potential victims to rob. The wide-open space also made it a popular spot for ballooning attempts and fireworks displays. The two things came together in 1814, when a Gothic Castle was erected in Green Park to celebrate the end of the war with France. Fireworks were set off from the battlements, after which a hot air balloon was launched over the park.
Classical music fans also love one of our favourite Green Park facts: Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks was composed especially for the 1749 fireworks display in Green Park.
Many visitors notice that – unlike the other Royal Parks in London – Green Park does not have any flowerbeds. Hearsay says that King Charles II’s wife demanded all the flowers were to be removed from the park in the 17th century, after she spotted her husband picking flowers for another woman. While the story of a scorned woman has changed the appearance of the park ever since, yellow daffodils and white narcissus flowers still pop up through the grass at various times of the year.
Despite some of the unexpected Green Park tales of times past, this Royal Park today still has a few tales left to tell. The park’s monuments – the Canada Memorial, the Diana Fountain and the RAF Bomber Command Memorial – are all popular spots for visitors to go to pay their respects. The grand Canada Gate was built in the 20th century as a memorial to Queen Victoria. The path into Green Park leading from this gate – called The Broadwalk – marks the course of the ancient River Tyburn, which now flows underneath the park. On days of special Royal occasions – including the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Birthday Parade – Royal Gun Salutes take place in Green Park. This is where several gun rounds are fired at exactly midday.
Other than these Royal and more formal uses, Green Park also has a modern day quirky side. From March to October, deck chairs are available to rent in the park, giving it into a green city-beach feeling. Last August, a herd of sheep were spotted in the park for a whole week to help graze the wildflower meadows. And throughout the year, a large group of pug dogs can be spotted with their owners at regular meet-up events!
We can see Green Park from many of our windows at The Athenaeum, and it never fails to delight or surprise us. Next time you visit us, make sure you have a wander in the park. You never know what unexpected things you might see.A ROOM WITH A VIEW
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