Our main club run must be one of the most historically interesting in the world. Diana Valk explores the lesser known parts.
If you have taken part in Wednesday night or Saturday morning runs at the Seymour Centre then you are undoubtedly familiar with all or part of our beloved Three Parks. One of the core Serpentine routes, Three Parks follows a 7.2-mile (11.6 km) course around Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St. James’ Park, and Green Park. There’s no doubt that any running route that passes Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards Parade, and The Albert Memorial is special, but I’ve compiled a list of some slightly obscure sights that make this route even more interesting. It is my hope that these bits of trivia will help sustain you when you next venture out on Three Parks.
The Hyde Park Pet Cemetery – 0.5 miles (0.8 km)
Early in your run where North Carriage Drive meets Bayswater Road (where the summer and winter routes part company) you’ll find yourself across from one of the most unique cemeteries in London. Nestled behind the Victoria Gate Lodge is a pet cemetery of surprisingly large proportions. The earliest grave in the cemetery dates to 1880 and is that of Prince, the Duchess of Cambridge’s dog who met his end when he was accidently run over by the Duke’s carriage. By the time the cemetery was closed in 1915 it held over 300 pets. You can take a break from your run and peer at the cemetery through the fence along Edgeware Road, alternatively you can make an appointment to explore the cemetery at your leisure.
Saville Esmé Percy’s Fountain – 2.2 miles (3.5 km)
Directly after you have crossed the Broad Walk in Kensington Gardens having successfully dodged hoverboard riders, Santander cyclists and unpredictable dogs, you will spy on your left the statue of a small bronze terrier in a playful pose. This quaint drinking fountain for dogs was erected in 1961 in honor of London-born actor, producer and dog-lover, Saville Esmé Percy. In addition to numerous George Bernard Shaw plays, Percy also starred in many films including Hitchcock’s Murder! In 1937 Percy lost an eye in an incident with a Great Dane, which some sources described as an attack and others present as a “playful mishap.” You might think such an event would damage Percy’s appreciation for dogs, but it did nothing of the sort and upon his death his friends commissioned this fountain in his memory.
Death comes to West Island – 4.25 miles (6.8 km)
As you’re pushing through the crowds around Buckingham Palace look to your left and you will note West Island in St. James’ Park Lake. This peaceful looking island is home to a rather macabre event. In 2011 a tree surgeon was directed to trim branches on the island in preparation for the royal wedding. While clearing leaves he stumbled upon a human skeleton surrounded by a mass of empty vodka bottles. An American passport and several other forms of ID found with the body suggested its identity was that of Robert James Moore. Because of its secluded nature people sometimes sleep rough on West Island, but Moore appears to have had other motivations for positioning himself across from the palace. The police investigation revealed that he had an intense fixation on the Royal Family. For 15 years he sent letters to the Queen, some of which were hundreds of pages long. Though the discovery of Moore’s body is unsettling, police believe he died of natural causes.
London’s Secret Tunnels – 5 miles (8 km)
We’ve all heard stories of secret passages snaking through the dank depths of London. Though they may seem the stuff of spy novels, there is actually truth to these rumors. During World War II an extensive network of tunnels was constructed around Whitehall. According to Peter Ackroyd’s book London Under access doors to the tunnels are dotted around the area, two of which are located at mile five of our route. The first door is reportedly located in the ivy covered building next to Horse Guards Parade, the second at the base of the Duke of York Steps. Both doors are made to look decidedly dull so as not to attract the attention of passers-by.
Hyde Park’s First Statue – 6.6 miles (10.6 km)
As you re-enter Hyde Park for the last half-mile of the run you’re greeted by Sir Richard Westmacott’s heroic Achilles bronze. Erected in 1822 Achilles was not only the first statue placed in Hyde Park, but also what I like to think of as an early version of photoshopping. The statue was commissioned in honor of the Duke of Wellington by The Ladies of England, a group of patriotic, wealthy women. Westmacott based the muscle-bound body of Achilles on a Roman statue, but clearly modeled the face on the Duke of Wellington. Needless to say, The Ladies of England were appalled when the completely nude Achilles/Duke of Wellington statue was unveiled. In response to the uproar Achilles gained his now famous fig leaf.
A Casualty of Park Lane – 7.1 miles (11.4 km)
It is usually around this time in the run that all focus is placed on a strong finish and a well deserved post-run tea or pint, so you are forgiven for failing to notice the nondescript Portland stone building on your left. Though no hint of its former use remains, this sad little structure used to be part of the handsome Grosvenor Gate Lodge designed by Decimus Burton around 1825. Burton was responsible for numerous structures in the park, most famously the gate and lodge at Hyde Park Corner. What happened to Grosvenor Gate Lodge? The Park Lane expansion happened. In the early 1960s Park Lane was widened to the monstrous dual carriageway it is today. In order to facilitate this transformation the government allocated a large swathe of Hyde Park to the project causing the destruction of Grosvenor Gate and two other Burton gates. Thankfully our Serpie lamp post was spared from the construction or who knows where our run would end?
Diana Valk has been a card carrying Serpie since she moved to London from the U.S. three years ago. When she is not running she is thinking about archaeology, forensic anthropology, or her next knitting project.