There are eight royal parks in Greater London, of which five – Hyde Park, St James’s Park, Regents Park, Green Park and Kensington Gardens are in central London. The other parks are Greenwich, Richmond and Bushy Park.
Much of the land occupied by the royal parks was acquired from the Church following the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1540s. The land was initially kept by the royals as private hunting grounds but was later made accessible to the public – Hyde Park being the first to be opened up.
In 1842, London’s first public park was established at Hackney.
Victoria Park was soon followed by Battersea, Finsbury and Southwark Parks, all created to a similar design of sweeping drives, lakes, bandstands and pavilions. (Many of these features still exist in these parks today.)
In addition to the many parks across London, London also has a number of “commons”. Unlike parks, which are typically gated and enclosed, commons (or commonland) is distinguished by being open access and relatively wild and remote.
The concept of commonland originated with the Normans in the eleventh century, when meadowland was made available by the manor owner to the land workers for use as common grazing land after it had been harvested, enabling the workers to generate their own livelihoods.
As the population increased, more and more land was enclosed for private gain. Public campaigns eventually led to an Act of Parliament in 1866 protecting commonlands such as Hampstead Heath for public access.
A number of commons still exist in London, including Hampstead Heath, Clapham and Wimbledon Common.
Pleasure Gardens and purpose-built Parks
Following the Restoration, which began in 1660, over 50 pleasure gardens were created in and around London for the enjoyment of the general public.
Some gardens were for medicinal purposes and hence created near springs. Others were purely for pleasure and both indoor and outdoor entertainment. Alexandra Palace and Park, created in 1863 – is one such example.
A number of purpose-built parks – being parks created to commemorate or host special events – were also created, for example Crystal Palace – created to be the new home of the 1851 Exhibition building which was originally built at Hyde Park.
London is also home to a number of city farms – such as Surrey Docks Farm – and gardens – such as at Chelsea.
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