11 Secrets Of Regent's Park

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 66 months ago
11 Secrets Of Regent's Park
Photo: Laura Gilchrist

1. The borough boundary

Did you know that Regent's Park sits in two different London boroughs? The Broad Walk, the north to south path in the east of the park is the boundary line — to the east of this is Camden, and to the west of this is Westminster.
Read about more of London's borough boundary oddities.

2. AKA Marylebone Park

In 1539, the area that's now Regent's Park became part of the Crown Estate — except then it was known as Marylebone Park. Thickly forested and laden with deer, it was used by Henry VIII as a hunting ground. By 1646, it had passed to Oliver Cromwell, who let it out as small holdings, until it was returned into the regal mitts of Charles II in 1660. In the intervening years, over 16,000 trees had been cut down in the park to allow it to be used as farmland. It has remained part of the Crown Estate since 1660. It only became the Regent's Park after John Nash landscaped it in the early 19th century.

3. Ice skating tragedy

Before the days of pop-up ice rinks, it wasn't uncommon for people to take to iced-over lakes in London's parks for a bit of recreational skating. Sadly, on 15 January 1867, this resulted in the deaths of 40 people in Regent's Park. The thin ice cracked, plunging 200 people into the icy water, and while many osurvived, it took over a week to recover the bodies of all of the victims.

As a result of this disaster, the depth of the lake was reduced to 4-5 feet, to prevent future drownings.

Photo: Tomas Burian

4. Several minor planets were discovered from here

No, not *that* observatory. Astronomer George Bishop (who made his fortune as a successful wine merchant) owned South Villa in Regent's Park, and in 1836, he built himself an observatory nearby (on the site where Regent's College London now sits). Several minor planets were discovered from the observatory.

The observatory closed on Bishop's death in 1861, and the equipment was moved to his son's own observatory in Twickenham. That closed a few years later, and the instruments are now at an observatory in Naples.

5. The secret garden

Queen Mary's Rose Gardens within the Inner Circle is a beautiful area of the park, but for those who explore a little deeper, there's a lesser-known garden just outside the Inner Circle.

St John's Lodge is a private residence in Regent's Park, but the gardens are open to the public to visit for free. The centrepiece is a Grade II listed statue, donated to the gardens by the Royal Academy of Arts, and the garden also has a pergola walk, a fountain and a sunken lawn.

London Central Mosque (details below). Photo: LondonDave

6. The first palm houses

Before the famous Palm House at Kew (completed in 1848), another Palm House existed in London, in the centre of Regent's Park.

The now-defunct Royal Botanic Society, established in 1939, was based in Regent's Park where Queen Mary's Gardens can now be found. As well as an experimental garden, which was open to the public, the Society built palm houses (opened in 1846) and a water lily house in the park, which existed until the Society ended its lease in 1932.

The palm houses were designed by Decimus Burton (also partly responsible for Kew's Palm House and the Giraffe House at London Zoo).

7. Listed

The park itself is Grade I listed but it contains plenty of building, sculptures, monuments, gates and bridges including large parts of London Zoo which are listed separately. Villas designed by John Nash make the list, as well as the footbridge over Regent's Canal to Primrose Hill.

This map from the Historic England website shows how many buildings, structures and sculptures in and around the park are listed. Search the full list for details on each entry.

8. The abandoned canal

You've probably heard of abandoned tube stations, but did you know that Regent's Park has its own abandoned canal?

The Cumberland Basin, home to the Feng Shang Princess Chinese restaurant, used to extend further east, to the site that is now the London Zoo car park, and under Gloucester Gate. This part of the canal fell  into disuse just before the second world war, and was filled in with rubble from the Blitz. If you've ever wondered why Gloucester Gate is a bridge over nothing, this is why — water used to flow below it. Find out more about it on our Secrets of Regent's Canal video.

9. The mosque that took 37 years to build

Most visitors to the park notice the dome of the Regent's Park Mosque (or London Central Mosque as it's officially known) on the west side of the outer circle. The 2.3 acre site was gifted to the Muslim community of the UK by the British Government in 1940, and King George VI opened the Islamic Cultural Centre on the site in 1944, but the Mosque itself wasn't built and opened until 1977.

The canal used to extend beyond the floating restaurant. Photo: Guy Tyler

10. Railings in demand

The park was ringfenced by wooden railings until 1906 when the process to replace them with iron railings began. This process took until 1931... and then a few years later the iron railings were removed for the war effort. They were replaced with chain link fencing, much of which still exists today.

11. It's the reason we have Regent Street

Regent Street was built to link Regent's Park to Carlton House, near Piccadilly. More on that story here.

Last Updated 17 October 2018

Continued below.