Did someone actually mention the 'Serpentine River?'

The Serpentine River in London’s Hyde Park? There’s just no such thing in Hyde Park! How dare someone make any claims that there’s a ‘river’ in Hyde Park?
Well, actually its very BRAVE these days for someone to mention things like rivers in Hyde Park!
In tonight’s The London Standard‘s Susannah Butter says: “Across the river from the Serpentine Gallery, an undulating white structure is taking shape. Next Saturday, the £14.5 million Serpentine Sackler Gallery will open to the public, giving London a new cultural destination.”
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A river? Wait, where did this come from? Did she actually say ‘river?’
Few, if any, would consider the Serpentine a river these days. But that is what it was in the old days – a river! It was the former Westbourne (or sometimes the Kilburn) River. This led down from Whitestone Pond on Hampstead Heath through Kilburn, Maida Vale, Paddington, Bayswater, Knightsbridge, Sloane Square and the Thames at Chelsea.
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John Rocque’s 1846 map showing the Serpentine River. Link
In the 16th Century this land, with its steeply sided valleys & flowing river was a hunting park used by Henry the Eighth . By 1730 the valley had become a recreational lake for Queen Caroline who lived nearby at Kensington Palace.
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Serpentine sailing ships, with Crystal Palace in background. Brannan 1851. Link
The Serpentine was created by damming the River Westbourne. Nevertheless the river itself continuned to flow through and for this reason was known as the NewRiver, or Serpentine River.
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The Fleet at anchor on the Serpentine River in 1814. Link
Little known to many, tall ships used to sail along the Serpentine River. During 1814 a Naval Flotilla was paraded on the Serpentine using half full sized ships to re-enact the Battle of Trafalgar. The Great Exhibition made full use of the Serpentine also – clearly as a ‘river’ the Serpentine was deep enough for sailing ships!
Unfortunately after the Great Exhibition London (in view of issues with health and the fact that London’s rivers were essentially no more than open sewers) the capital decided that all last remaining traces of this once proud river should be swept away. The Serpentine River was replaced by a clinically shallow, concreted bottomed replacement lake called simply ‘The Serpentine.’
The river itself the Westbourne, was diverted away and deep underground through tunnels. For anyone wating to know of its current existence, it’s known these days as the Ranelagh Sewer. Many pictures of the sewer can be found via Google.
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One of the last reminders of the River Westbourne in Kensington Gardens.
The picture above shows one of London’s greatest unknown monuments. Despite being several centuries old, and clearly the remants of a bridge over the River Westbourne, the struture’s existence is neither acknowledged nor publicised. It’s not even a listed structure and so must be a bane to the authorities repsonsible for it.
Clearly it takes some linguistic bravery to even use the word ‘river’ in discussing matters pertaining to the Serpentine/Hyde Park!

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3 thoughts on “Did someone actually mention the 'Serpentine River?'

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