A Brief History of Kensington Gardens

Much-loved grounds of a royal residence for over 300 years, profiled by HAZELLE JACKSON

Kensington Palace today Kensington Palace today

In 1690 King William and Queen Mary purchased a large mansion, Nottingham House, on the edge of Hyde Park, to be their London home. They renamed it Kensington Palace and Queen Mary began to create a flower garden with box hedges, in the Dutch style, in the grounds to remind the King of his Dutch homeland. The South Drive, along the side of the Gardens, was ordered by King William to link Kensington and St James Palace.

Queen Anne

Queen Anne, Queen Mary's sister, extended the garden by annexing a further 30 acres from Hyde Park. However, she hated the scent of box (and her late brother-in-law) and set about transforming the grounds into an English-style garden, commissioning her favourite landscape gardeners, Henry Wise and George Loudon, for the job. She added a sunken Dutch garden and an Orangery near the palace, which she used for entertaining.

In 1728, the succession passed to King George II and his wife, Caroline of Ansbach, who was a keen gardener. Queen Caroline annexed a further 300 acres from Hyde Park and set about its transformation, using Charles Bridgeman to produce a new design for the grounds. Bridgeman dug out a Round Pond and planted avenues of trees in front of the Palace, radiating out like the spokes on a wheel to give varied views of the Palace from different directions.

Queen Caroline and Bridgeman arranged to have the Westbourne stream dammed to create a lake, the Long Water. Bridgeman came up with the idea of a ha-ha, or sunken ditch, to separate Kensington Gardens from Hyde Park. The gardens were open on Saturdays to the respectably dressed and it became fashionable for a while to stroll along the Main Path, the Broad Walk.

The Queen had promised the King she would pay for the works herself. After her death he discovered she had diverted over £20,000 of royal funds to her private projects.

Queen Victoria moved the court to Buckingham Palace, so Kensington Gardens changed little during her reign. The ha-ha was mostly filled in and the West Carriage Drive formed the new boundary with Hyde Park. Italian Gardens were added in 1860. To commemorate her late husband Prince Albert and his 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, Queen Victoria ordered the construction in 1872 of the Albert Memorial. In 1909, a new sunken garden was created outside Kensington Palace.

Diana Playground

Today there are a number of features and statues in the gardens, including one of Peter Pan. The Serpentine Gallery, where exhibitions are held, overlooks the Long Water. The park's 275 acres are popular with joggers, tourists and children playing in the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Playground.