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In pictures: see the secret histories of London’s Royal Parks at this new exhibition

Alexandra Sims

Half of London is green space, and the Royal Parks are some of the best grassy patches of it. Nowadays they provide Londoners with festivals, art and picturesque sandwich-scoffing spots, but 500 years ago most of us wouldn’t have been allowed to enter them at all. Launching this Thursday, ‘Parks: Our Shared Heritage’ is a two-week long multimedia exhibition at Mall Galleries, exploring how our Royal Parks have transformed from monarchical hunting grounds for a privileged few into the public spaces we enjoy today.

Artefacts spanning three centuries will uncover unknown stories in the Royal Parks’ histories. Here’s a sneak peek of what you can expect to see: 

A woman walking Michael the leopard through Kensington Gardens in the ’60s

Crowds gathered by the Serpentine in Hyde Park to admire a flotilla that re-enacted British naval triumphs during the Peace celebrations of 1814. 


The Temple of Peace in Green Park commemorated peace after the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748). Its opening night on 27 April, 1748 began with the ‘War and Peace Overture’, commissioned from Handel, but just ninety minutes later the structure was destroyed by fire. At a cost of three lives and £90,000 (that’s over £18m today), it was a very expensive ninety minutes. 

Hyde Park as a salvage depot, 1941. Wood and other property salvaged from bomb-blitzed sections of London are piled up in the park. 

A party of American soldiers, wearing battle kit, swim across the Serpentine during a military demonstration in 1943. 

 Police hold back Oswald Mosley’s fascist rally in Olympia in 1934 

Parks: Our Shared Heritage is at Mall Galleries from Jul 27 to Aug 11 from 10am to 5pm each day. Entry is free. 

Images: ACME Photo and The Hearsum Collection

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