Regent's Park and Primrose
Hill in Literature and Music
Authors - E to I
Eliot, George (1867)
Elmes, James (1847)
Elton, Ben (P)
Elyot, Kevin (P)
Fage, George H.
Falconer, Helen (P)
Farjeon, Eleanor (P)
Fitz-Stephen, William (1180)
Foscolo, Ugo (c1822)
Fraser, Sir Arthur Ronald
Gay, John (1728)
Ginsberg, Allen (P)
Gissing, George (1882)
Gosse, Edmund (1879)
Greenlaw, Lavinia (P)
Grossmith, Weedon (P)
Guizot, François (1862)
Gwilliam, Jane (1838) (P)
Harford, Henry (1892)
Harrison, M. John
Hawker, Peter (1814)
Hawkes, Jacquetta (P)
Heller, Zoë (P)
Howard, Peter (P)
Hunt, Leigh (1833)
Letters from England, 1813-1844. Ed. Christina
Colvin. Clarendon Press, 1971.
'2 Nov. 1830...Lestock took me last Sunday to the Zoological gardens...I
was properly surprised by the new town that has been built in the
Regent's park - and indignant at plaister statues and horrid useless
domes and pediments crowded with mock sculpture figures which damp
and smoke must destroy in a season or two. The Zoological gardens
charmed me - very fine day' (p.424).
The Irish novelist was on a visit to London and staying
with her sister and brother-in-law, Lestock Wilson. Though best known
for her tales of 'dignified peasantry and country life' she had earlier
displayed a taste for gothic horror: in a novel written when she was
a schoolgirl the villain wore a mask made from the skin of a dead
man's face. This ghoulish streak seems to have re-surfaced on her
visit to the Zoo, where 'eagles and vultures struck my imagination
'The otter fished for live fish thrown into his pool
and bit off the head of one the instant caught and played with it
horribly as a cat with mouse and granched it bones and blood till
I was sick looking and yet could not move my eyes - like the girl
looking at the murder thro the cranny in the wainscoat' (p.425).
Marylebone Park. Fawcett
Crest/Ballantine Books, New York, 1990.
'It was not so fashionable to ride in Marylebone Park, so it was nowhere
near as crowded as Hyde Park. Their ride there would have been interrupted
by constant calls from acquaintances. It gave Sophia no small amount
of pleasure to reflect he might have chosen Marylebone Park just because
they could enjoy each other's company the better' (p.177).
Sophia's companion is not her fiancé, about
whom she is beginning to have doubts, but the dashing Lord Manville.
Her worst fears are realized when she spots 'a familiar yellow phaeton
coming toward them' and is 'assailed by a feeling of unreality on
seeing Felix riding with Manuela Malliende in Marylebone Park' (p.178).
A 'Regency Romance' website summarizes the plot for
us: 'Held up by ruffians, then secretly kissed by the mysterious gentleman
who came to her rescue, recently engaged Sophia Kingsland feared the
gossip-starved ton would milk the incident for all they could.' The
author has more than thirty Regency romances listed; this appears
to be one of the less popular, since no copies are available in the
ELIOT, GEORGE (pseudonym of
Eliot and G.E.Lewes lived at several addresses
on the west side of the park between 1860 and 1880.
George Eliot's Life As Related In Her Letters and
Journals. J.W.Cross. Blackwood, 1885, 3 vols.
Returning from the Zoo 'about five o'clock I could not help pausing
and exclaiming at the exquisite beauty of the light on Regent's Park,
exalting it into something that the young Turner would have wanted
to paint' (letter dated 25th September 1868, Vol.3, p.60).
An earlier letter describes their plans for employing
'a system of viva-voce mutual instruction...for giving new interest
to Regent's Park' when they resume their walks there (16th March 1867,
Vol.3, p.4). Her real interest seems to have been the Zoo, 'my one
outdoor pleasure now and we can take it several times a week, for
Mr. Lewes has become a fellow' (Vol.2, p.288). Other mentions of the
park and zoo in Vol.2, pp. 311 & 320, but no descriptions.
Metropolitan Improvements Or London In the Nineteenth
Century. Jones & Co., 1847.
'What a prospect lies before us. Splendour,
health, dressed rurality and comforts such
as nothing but a metropolis can afford are spread around us. "Trim
gardens", lawns and shrubs; towering spires, ample domes, banks
clothed with flowers, all the elegancies of the town, and all the
beauties of the country are co-mingled with happy art and blissful
union. They must surely all be the abodes of nobles and princes! No,
the majority are the retreats of the happy free-born sons of commerce,
of the wealthy commonalty of Britain, who thus enrich and bedeck the
heart of their great empire' (p.21).
Elmes walked around the
park in 1827, when it was still under construction. Pausing for a
breather at the 'north east boundary' (the Zoo grounds were still
being prepared), the prospect before him confirmed his belief that
'the public are beholden' to Nash 'for the most picturesque improvements
that ever were bestowed upon their metropolis' (p.17). As a practising
architect his particular interest was the buildings; the scenery was
there to provide an attractive setting, as with Sussex Place:
'The lake spreads its tranquil bosom before the facade,
and reflects its eastern-like cupolas with pleasing effect. The varied
plantations of the park, group with singular felicity, and the delightful
season, that we are now enjoying, gives a double relish to the natural
beauties of the place' (p.48).
'I trod in this huge turd the moment we entered the park. Huge. No
mortal dog could have passed such a turd. Honestly, I went in almost
up to my knees. Any deeper and I would have had to call for a rope.
London Zoo is situated at the bottom of Primrose Hill and I was forced
to conclude that an elephant must have escaped' (p.115).
Sam has been persuaded that a midnight coupling at
the summit, surrounded by candles and a sprinkling of primrose oil,
is the only way that Lucy is going to conceive: 'the most positively
powerful ley line within this, our ancient and magical land of Albany,
runs right across Primrose Hill!' But there are worse dangers than
dog shit. A squirrel finds its way into Sam's discarded trousers,
with predictable results when he puts them on again. The police, alerted
earlier by a nocturnal dogwalker convinced there are satanic practices
afoot, appear as Sam leaps about screaming.
Lucy concludes the tale:
'Sam got into an awful mess trying to pull his trousers
up...the sight that he must have presented to them in the torchlight
could not have been pleasant. I should mention here that Sam's Donald
Duck pants were also round his knees so that there was a second moon
shining on Primrose Hill tonight. I think we were very lucky that
they didn't do us for indecency' (p.119).
Mouth to Mouth. Nick Hern Books, 2002.
'Scene: The Kitchen.
Dennis: One day, very shortly after we'd first met, in fact...This
particular day, an afternoon, we were sitting on top of Primrose Hill
- it was the height of summer - and saw the most extraordinary thing:
at the foot of the hill was a layer of snow, a vast expanse of thick
white snow glistening in the sunlight. The middle of summer, it was,
a hot July afternoon, and we were amazed. And I looked at her and
thought, this is the most remarkable woman and I love her more than
- more than...well... The snow - so strange. I thought we were blessed...
Frank: What was it? A freak snowstorm or - ?
Dennis: A trick of the light. That's all it was' (p.44).
The play was first performed at the Royal Court Downstairs,
1st February 2001. 'The fascination of Elyot's accomplished play is
that it shows the London suburbs to be every bit as much filled with
pain, passion and guilt as Proust's Paris or Combray' (Michael Billington,
The Guardian, 8th February 2001).
FAGE, GEORGE H.
My Old Man Was a Barrow Boy and Gran Was a Piccadilly
Flower Girl. Published by the author. Revised edition 2007.
'Dad took us to Regent's Park where there were as yet no lights and
no railings around the Park. I was allowed to fire the [Very] pistol
and down came the flare on a small parachute. The flare lit up the
field for some hundred yards radius and suddenly there were couples
jumping up everywhere clutching their underwear and clothes and beating
a hasty retreat!' (p.52).
In 1945 Dad had just been demobbed from the RAF, returning
home with 'a big pram' full of WW2 souvenirs. The family was living
in North Gower Street, then called George Street, a few minutes walk
from the park. It was 'a paradise for local people...The mums often
took some bloater paste sandwiches and Tizer and we would have a picnic...plenty
of room to run about and play games, such simple pleasures' (p.95).
'There were some fearsome tales of the canal circulating
amongst the local kids. The most popular was that of people drowning
by being pulled under by monster weeds. That did not stop us, in the
summer we would often dive for pennies at the Primrose Hill end. There
were several bridges over the canal inside the Zoo and it is the people
crossing the bridges that we solicited. We only ever caught half the
money thrown as the bottom was covered with scrap metal. (No supermarket
trolleys!) If we did not catch it on the way down, it was gone for
good. There must be hundreds of pounds buried in the mud' (p.86-87).
Accounts of other youthful exploits in the park on pages 95-96.
Primrose Hill. Faber&Faber,
'It wasn't like being in London at all - not down in London where
you couldn't see shit, but up here, closer to the sky, like we'd been
living down a manhole and climbed up and pushed off the cover. You
could imagine you were right out of it, maybe on a mountain top somewhere,
real air and a sky you could see' (p.5).
Si just wants to hang out
with 'the crowd on the hill, the peace and love types, all growing
our hair...we were doing the hippy thing', and much of the action
takes place on or around Primrose Hill. But his mate Danny has decided
to kill his mother's junkie boyfriend, and needs Si's
help; the summer of love is put on hold.
A Nursery in the Nineties. 1935. Oxford University Press, 1960.
twelve o'clock it was time to go for a walk. "Let's go to Regent's
Park," said Joe. "And take some bread," added Bertie, giving the show away. Bread meant the delight of
ducks and water. "Wouldn't it be nicer, dears, to go to Primrose
Hill? It is such a clear day, and I can show you St. Paul's from the
top." We disliked Primrose Hill, the grass was so bare, and the
trees were so dull, and you never got away from the feeling of iron
railings, and however clear it was I couldn't see St. Paul's and,
even if I could, I didn't want to. However, when Miss Milton said
firmly, "Yes, we'll all go for a nice walk to Primrose Hill,"
we knew there was no hope' (p.384-385).
the 1890's the Farjeon children and their
governess were living in nearby Adelaide Road. Miss Milton was one
of those people who 'seemed to go against everything I wanted to discover...
However, if we took our hoops we could play the game of Greeks and
Trojans which Harry had invented for us, after the Iliad had been
shared out fairly among us.' Miss Milton, predictably, 'thought we
had better leave our hoops at home.'
Primrose Hill from Junior Modern Poetry,
selected by Richard Wilson (J.M. Dent & Sons, 1922), p.73.
'Primrose Hill is green,
Primrose Hill is yellow.
As I walked over Primrose Hill
I met a pretty fellow.
We went up the Hill,
We went down the Valley,
We went through the Primroses,
And he said, "Will you marry?"...'
A Description of the City of London, newly translated
from the Latin original. c.1180.
B. White, 1772.
'On the north are corn-fields, pastures, and delightful meadows, intermixed
with pleasant streams, on which stands many a mill¹, whose clack is
so grateful to the ear. Beyond them an immense forest² extends itself,
beautified with woods and groves, and full of the lairs and coverts
of beasts and game, stags, bucks, boars, and wild bulls. The fields
abovementioned are by no means hungry gravel or barren sands, but
may vie with the fertile plains of Asia, as capable of producing the
most luxuriant crops, and filling the barns of the hinds and farmers.
1. Hence Turnmill Brook,
which ran under Holbourne Bridge.
2. The forest of Middlesex, which was not deforested till A 1218,
in the reign of King Henry the Third'
Regent's Park and Primrose Hill were still part of the Forest of Middlesex
when this description of London, a century after the Norman Invasion,
was written. The author was Thomas Becket's chaplain, and had witnessed
the murder of the archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. He subsequently
wrote a Life of Becket, and this Description formed the introduction
to it. His translator, Samuel Pegge the
elder, conjectures that the work was written between 1170 and 1182.
Brothers. Serpent's Tail,
'Joey decided as an experiment that, instead of hovering over Paul,
as he had on the previous occasions they had come alone together to
the park, he would let the boy get on with it by himself...Paul seemed
to react not at all; he seemed not to notice he had been abandoned.
Instead, he just squatted down amidst the swans and geese and ducks,
with his plastic bag full of breadcrumbs, as if he were finally in
his element...' (p.121).
Lulled by a false sense of security, Joey becomes
absorbed in his book; when he looks up again the boy has disappeared.
'He gazed at the geese and swans still pecking crumbs off the ground
as if they were hiding Paul; he looked through the birds, out into
the lake, as if expecting to see that someone had offered the boy
a ride in a row-boat. Then, seeing no-one, he jumped to his feet and
rushed forward: to flap the birds away and make sure that they were
not concealing anyone...' (p.122)
Eventually the boy is discovered, sitting on a bench
and chatting to a sinister figure from Joey's past. For a moment he
feels 'blind with hate...I sort of in one movement grabbed Paul, lifted
him into the air and held him. And then, then I could see again. I
was standing in Regent's Park with an angelic-looking child in my
arms, and there were people all around, and - and it was all normal
again, just a regular afternoon...it all seemed so normal that looking
at Timmy I couldn't ever believe that he had any evil designs on Paul'
You Only Live Twice.
1964. Penguin, 2002.
At a low point in his life, James Bond, hitherto 'more or less oblivious
to…the wonders of nature', sits in Queen Mary's Rose Garden,
'ten minutes away across the park' from his office, and muses. 'It
was all right here really. Lovely roses to look at. They smelled good
and it was pleasant looking at them and listening to the faraway traffic.
Nice hum of bees' (p.23-26). Unsurprisingly, 007's communion with
nature doesn't last long.
According to John Pearson's James Bond: The Authorised
Biography of 007, Bond first reported to 'British Naval Intelligence
HQ, Regent's Park' in August 1939; he was based there until 1965.
In You Only Live Twice it is described as a 'tall grey building
whose upper storeys showed themselves above the trees.' There are brief
mentions in other novels, e.g. 'the triste
winter twilight of Regent's Park under snow' (On Her Majesty's
Lady of Desire. 2003. Piatkus, 2006.
'At the base of the slope, he left the curricle with the groom...Together
they walked up the flowery meadows to the summit. The sun was setting.
Near an old, massive, whispering oak tree they sat side by side in
the overgrown grasses and gazed at the prospect of London in the distance.
A chubby shopkeeper's family was picnicking near the bottom of the
hill. They had a blanket laid out upon the grass with countless baskets
of food and a trio of children tumbling riotously down the hill. Their
screeches of laughter floated to Jacinda and Rackford faintly on the
evening air. Other than that, they had Primrose Hill to themselves'
Rackford is Lady Jacinda's bit of rough, leader of
a criminal gang now posing as a lord. Snuggling up, she confides that
she's grateful to him for '"stopping me from running away from
home...and doing permanent damage to my relationships with my family."'
Rackford takes the cue and 'eased her back into the deep, soft grasses,
laying her upon a bed of daisies, primroses and tiny buttercups' (p.250),
but she won't go any further: someone might see.
'Together they watched the sunset's glow fading where
its swirling colours reflected on the lazy river. As night fell, London
disappeared amid the stars. The crickets sang around them in the field...With
a most touching degree of reverent solicitude, he walked her back
down the long hill' (p.252-253).
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Lady's Maid. Penguin
'We reached the Park and then I found a pretty path near the pond
that lay under the trees and we stayed there a good while, Miss Elizabeth
being delighted with the shade and it did her good to be cool and
have so much to see that was different' (p.30).
In this retelling of the Elizabeth Barrett-Robert
Browning romance Elizabeth's personal maid, Lily Wilson, is writing
to her mother about the first visit that the semi-invalid poet makes
in her wheelchair. More outings follow; Lily also makes numerous visits
on her own to meet her male 'followers' or walk the dog. (See the
Woolf entry for what the dog thought of it all.)
A Publisher and His Friends: Memoir and Correspondence
of the Late John Murray. Samuel Smiles. John Murray, 1891. 2 vols.
'20th August, 1822
...Since I must be buried in your country, I am happy in having insured
for me the possession during the remains of my life of a cottage built
after my plan, surrounded by flowering shrubs, almost within the turnpikes
of the town, and yet as quiet as a country-house, and open to the
free air. Whenever I can freely dispose of a hundred pounds, I will
also build a small dwelling for my corpse, under a beautiful Oriental
plane-tree, which I mean to plant next November, and cultivate con
amore' (vol.2, p.139-140).
The exiled Italian patriot and man of letters was
writing to his publisher, John Murray, about Digamma Cottage, the
property he had purchased on the South Bank of the Regent's Canal.
(See the Anonymous A Seven
Years Absentee entry.) The following year his fellow countryman,
Count Pecchio, paid a visit and 'found him lodged in his new cottage,
with all the luxury of a Fermier Générale [a
wealthy financier], promenading over rooms covered with beautiful
Flanders carpets; with furniture of the rarest woods, and statues
in the hall; with a hothouse full of exotics and costly flowers; and
still served by the Three Graces (I believe more expensive than everything
else).' (Quoted in Saint John's Wood: Its History, Its Houses,
Its Haunts and Its Celebrities. A.M. Eyre. Chapman & Hall,
The Three Graces were his maidservants; two of them
turned out to be prostitutes, and one of them ran off with his former
translator. This led to a duel, whether in Regent's Park or Primrose
Hill is not clear; fortunately no blood was shed. But the extravagance
Pecchio had noted soon led to financial ruin, and that same year everything
was sold to meet his debts. He died not long after and was buried
at Chiswick; later his remains were moved to Florence where, 'with
all the pride, pomp and circumstance of a great national mourning,'
he was interred alongside monuments to Michelangelo and Galileo. In
England however his only lasting fame is at one remove: Wilkie Collins
appropriated the name for the villainous Count Fosco in The Woman
The narrator, a supermarket trolley with a diploma in agnosticism,
is taken to the park 'against my will' by truanting children and has
to make its own way home (p.23). No descriptions.
Spanky. 1994. Warner
'The park was closed. Spanky slipped his hand through the wrought-iron
bars and gently lifted away the lock, swinging the gate open wide.
We walked into a gravelled avenue of rain-heavy plane trees, dimly
lit by the street lamps outside. I noticed that my new acquaintance
threw no shadow...We had reached the fountain at the centre of the
park. The June night was cool and pleasant, with the tang of rain
still in the trees, but I was growing increasingly uneasy. There was
an ozone-scented voltage in the air. The wind felt strange on my skin.
The park was empty and full of noise. I think I began to feel once
more that I was in the company of a madman' (p.27-28).
Martyn's companion claims to be a daemon - 'the link
between God and man' - and can transform his life: 'fill your mind
with the sentience of harmonic world order and your body with the
mobius-chords of hedonistic fulfilment.' But like all Faustian pacts
the full import only becomes clear later.
'Finally, we had reached a recognizable landmark.
The gates of Regent's Park, where Spanky had first shown me his illusions...By
now the hours had crawled nightmarishly to lunchtime, and a few hardy
office workers had braved the inclement weather to sit in shelters
unwrapping sandwiches and opening bags of crisps. I had decided that
if Spanky didn't kill me within the next few hours, pneumonia would..."You're
thinking aloud," he said, turning aside and looking off along
the misted green avenue of trees...As I followed his gaze, a figure
emerged through the drizzle, walking uncertainly towards me' (p.308-309).
Disturbia. 1997. Warner
'The cab...reached the park and entered the first of the gates into
the Outer Circle. Here the government departments were hidden behind
trompe l'oeil mock-Grecian temples, painted a glaring white and set
back from the road. Bedecked with posturing statues, they reminded
Vince of over-iced wedding cakes, the apotheosis of good taste to
some, the ultimate in kitsch to others. Smearing a path through the
steamed-over window with the back of his hand, he could make out the
parade of security cameras mounted on grey steel poles. The curving
park road bristled with them' (p.308-309).
In an ominous future London Vince and his friends
are pitted against the League of Prometheus in a deadly game involving
a series of challenges contained in envelopes. The clues this time
point to the Lubetkin penguin pool, one of the few surviving features
of an almost-bankrupt Zoo where 'a carnival-yellow bouncy castle and
fast food kiosks lined the once-grand central square.'
'The white oval of the sunken pool, dazzling even
in rain and darkness, was in sight...Vince ran up to the edge and
peered in. A handful of bedraggled penguins stood around the lip of
the cobalt pool, sheltering from the downpour. Across the centre,
two sweeping white ramps curled around each other in an elegant descent
to water level. On the top one stood a figure dressed in black and
white motorcycle leathers, holding a pale envelope' (p.315).
The Magus. 1966. Jonathan
Cape. Revised version, 1985.
'The park was full of green distances, of countless scattered groups
of people, lovers, families, solitaries with dogs, the colours
softened by the imperceptible mist of autumn, as simple and pleasing
in its way as a Boudin landscape' (p.646).
Nick confronts his elusive lover, in the final scene
of the novel, under the suddenly sinister gaze of 'the Regency facade,
bestatued, many and elegantly windowed,
of Cumberland Terrace'; an echo of the scene where a World War One
deserter confronts his girlfriend 'by the gloomy canal that runs through
the north of the park' (p.151). The two are connected, but the plot
is far too complicated to explain how.
Forfeit. 1968. Pan Books,
'The Rolls leaped across the pavement and on to the grass. The bank
sloped gently and then steeply down to the Canal, with saplings and
young trees growing here and there. The Rolls scrunched sideways into
one trunk and ricocheted into a sapling which it mowed down like corn...
I let go of Ross. It was far too late for him both to assess the situation
and do anything useful about it. He was just beginning to reach for
the hand brake when the Rolls crashed down over the last sapling and
fell into the canal' (p.176-177).
Sports writer James Tyrone
has managed to escape from his second abduction, but is nearly drowned
in the process. 'You could see the silver rim of the rear window shimmering
just below the surface...the water sliding shallowly through the gaping
hole my rescuers had pulled me through' (p.178). Earlier he had been
brought to the Zoo to be questioned inside the Big Cats' House about
a missing racehorse; 'the strong feral smell seemed an appropriate
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FRASER, SIR ARTHUR RONALD
A House In the Park.
Jonathan Cape, 1937.
'A horseman leaving the Botanical Gardens on his right hand would
see through the trees and thickets on his left an aloof, shapely house,
painted cream…beside its own water'. Kent House, where the Stokes
children live in the years before and after the First World War, is
clearly The Holme. 'On Sundays and Bank
Holidays the lake fairly swarmed with boats' (p.1).
Ann Saunders, in Regent's Park From 1086 To the
Present, says of it: 'Not a good novel but worth reading for its
evocation of a leisured life in idyllic surroundings.'
Lived at 8 Cambridge Gate from
1887 to 1899.
The Man Of Property.
William Heinemann, 1906 .
'He decided to commence with the Botanical Gardens, where he had already
made so may studies, and chose the little artificial pond, sprinkled
now with an autumn shower of red and yellow leaves, for though the
gardeners longed to sweep them off, they could not reach them with
their brooms. The rest of the gardens they swept bare enough, removing
every morning Nature's rain of leaves... The gravel paths must lie
unstained, ordered, methodical, without knowledge of the realities
of life' (Part 3, Chapter 3, p.299-300).
It is Autumn, 1887, and as Young Jolyon
starts to set up his easel he realizes that the woman sitting on a
nearby bench is Irene Forsyte, waiting for
her lover. Her striking beauty has not gone unremarked by other visitors.
'Two young gentlemen of that peculiar breed, at once
forward and shy, found in the Regent's Park, came by on their way
to lawn tennis, and he noted with disapproval their furtive stares
of admiration. A loitering gardener halted to do something unnecessary
to a clump of pampas grass; he, too, wanted an excuse for peeping.
A gentleman, old, and, by his hat, a professor of horticulture, passed
three times to scrutinize her long and stealthily, a queer expression
about his lips' (p.301).
Another rendezvous in the park, Young Jolyon
and his children meeting grandfather at the Zoo, is depicted in Part
2, Chapter 6.
1915. Thomas Nelson & Sons (undated).
policeman put them right for Portland Place. Half past one! And it
would be dawn soon after three! They walked soberly again now into
the outer circle of Regent's Park; talked soberly, too, discussing
sublunary matters, and every now and then, their arms, round each
other, gave little convulsive squeezes. The rain had stopped and the
moon shone clear; by its light the trees and flowers were clothed
in colours whose blood had spilled away; the town's murmur was dying,
the house lights dead already.'
an evening at the opera Derek and Nedda
have set out to walk to Hampstead, timing themselves
to catch the sun rising over the Heath.
came out of the park into a road where the latest taxis were rattling
past; a face, a bare neck, silk hat, or shirt-front gleamed in the
window-squares, and now and then a laugh came floating through. They
stopped to watch them from under the low-hanging branches of an acacia-tree,
and Derek, gazing at her face, still wet with rain, so young and round
and soft, thought: "And she loves me!"' (p.209).
Saint's Progress. 1919.
'Coming off duty at that very moment, Leila Lynch decided to have
her hour's walk before she went home. She was in charge of two wards,
and as a rule took the day watches; but some slight upset had given
her this extra spell... In this desert of the dawn she let her long
blue overcoat flap loose...Though she could not see herself, she appreciated
her appearance, swaying along like that, past lonely trees and houses.
A pity there was no one to see her in that round of Regent's Park...
walking in meditation, enjoying the colour coming back into the world,
as if especially for her' (Part 1, p.82).
Leila is working at a VAD hospital in St. John's Wood,
nursing the wounded of World War One. Twice married but now on her
own, she has been looking over some old love letters which have 'sharpened
to poignancy the feeling that life was slipping away from her while
she was still comely.'
'Her wheel of Regent's Park was coming full circle,
and the sun was up behind the houses, but still no sound of traffic
stirred. She stopped before a flower-bed where was some heliotrope,
and took a long, luxurious sniff: she could not resist plucking a
sprig, too, and holding it to her nose. A sudden want of love had
run through every nerve and fibre of her; she shivered, standing there
with her eyes half closed, above the pale violet blossom' (Part 1,
The Flight of the Maidens. Chatto & Windus, 2000.
'"I've known for a long time I can't go through with this, Lieselotte.
College is asking too much of me. Please." They paid, retrieved
the suitcase and went out into Baker Street, where, across from the
Regent's Park, they could see the College lights shining through the
trees. "Could you just make this one, last try?" asked Una;
and Hetty, as they stood amid traffic on an island in the middle of
the road, thought, She does look tired.'
It's 1946 and the three friends are about to go up to university.
But Hetty has been devastated by the recent death of her mother, and
is now reluctant to embark on a new adventure far from home.
'And so they walked on, and reached the park in the blue and golden
autumn evening with transparent smoke going up from the piles of bonfire
leaves in the grass, other leaves drifting down, scratching the paths.
Along a side road, the traffic noise faded and black-painted iron
gates stood before them wide open, joined overhead by a black and
gold scroll, that made Una think of the coal cart. But on this scroll
were Latin words...Down an avenue of flowering plane trees they went...The
trees were very high above them with clusters of black round fruits
dancing against the night. Side by side the three marched on, up two
shallow steps between the urns; and here were the College doors' (p.276).
The Family from One End Street. 1957. Puffin Classics, 2004.
'At last they reached an entrance to the Park...There seemed to be
hundreds and hundreds of carts and horses of all kinds drawn up in
a line that stretched far out of sight. Coal Carts, Railway Vans,
Brewers' Wagons, and last, but certainly not least, Dust Carts: and
dust carts of every description, and all horses and carts
looking more like something out of the most expensive toy-shop than
anything in real life!' (p.262-263).
The Ruggles family has come to see the London Cart Horse Parade, held
every Easter in Regent's Park (it has since been moved to West Sussex).
Waiting for it to start, the children go off to the 'Play Park' near
the Lake. Their long absence causes some concern and mother sets off
'As Mrs. Ruggles neared the crowd, Kate ran to meet her. "Oo,
Mum, come quick!" she cried, pulling her mother by the hand and
stuttering in her excitement. "P-Pamela's in the Lake and a p-policeman
says our Peg's been s-stealing!"...Sure enough, there was Peg,
howling in the arms of a policeman, and Pamela, not in the Lake, but
dripping on land and howling too, while Lily Rose and a Park-keeper
did their best to wring the water out of her pink silk flounces!...
"This your little girl?" inquired the policeman, indicating
Peg. "You'd better teach her can't pick flowers in Public Parks,"
he added sternly, and deposited the howling Peg in her mother's arms;
to her horror Mrs. Ruggles beheld a large bunch of choice pink roses
in one of Peg's fat hands' (p.277-280).
Some Book-hunting Adventures from Blackwood's Magazine.
Vol. CCXXIX, January-June 1931.
As I say, Lucile Vavasour early one morning is swimming in the waters
of the Regent's Canal, when a villain who has watched her sweetly
innocent movements...slides down the bank, and...privily steals and
conveys away in a bundle all her apparel...At length she gracefully
emerges, dripping (of course), looks wildly round for her garments,
and seeing a barge with two drunken bargees approaching...rushes up
the bank and takes refuge in a thicket in Regent's Park. Presently
a handsome golden-moustached young lancer, from the almost adjacent
Albany Street Barracks, passes the thicket. Lucile, chastely ensconced
behind a bush, voices an appeal to him to lend her his regimentals'
The lancer is at first 'uncertain whether to accede to her desires,'
but on catching a glimpse of flesh 'the whiteness of Parian marble...his
'Calling to the maiden not to look, he straightway strips himself
of his outer garments, helmet and boots, and...returns to Albany Street...His
Colonel...naturally demands an explanation of him...and dismisses
Raoul to his quarters. But no sooner has he saluted and turned his
back than the Colonel (he is a bad roué) makes a bee-line for
the park. There, on reaching the thicket, he finds in the snow not
only the prints of Lucile's lovely bare extremities (she wears "twos"),
but unmistakable traces of the departure in the direction of Portland
Place of her regimental boots. He follows those traces out of the
park, across the Marylebone Road, and so up Portland Place, even to
the very portico of the Langham Hotel' (p.141).
At six o'clock one October morning I found myself sitting up in my
little bed under the night nursery window awakened by a light of extraordinary
brilliance...The historic explosion...had just wrecked our neighbourhood,
that of the North Gate, Regent's Park. Then divers reports filtered
in from outside. The bridge at the North Gate and the porter's lodge
had been blown up...Before the morning was over we children were taken
out by Chapple [their nurse]. The first thing we noticed was a quantity
of nuts brazils and almonds lying about' (p.272-273).
The explosion had occurred at 5am on 2nd October 1874, when a barge
carrying gunpowder had blown up as it passed beneath North Bridge
(now rebuilt as Macclesfield Bridge), killing the crew of three. (This
is a fictional account; for an eye-witness report of the aftermath
see the Campanella entry.)
'Deeply versed as we were in the manifold experiences of the Swiss
Family Robinson, we were not surprised (though Chapple was), and we
hastened to pick the nuts up without, I think, connecting them with
the explosion. Proceeding to the North Gate, we found there a large
crowd of people, and saw that the bridge had vanished, while the canal
banks adjoining had gaps...Fortunately for us all, the height of the
banks prevented the demolition of all but the nearest houses. As for
the nuts, they had been placed over the several tons of blasting gunpowder
for the purpose of hoodwinking the 'Customs' (as I believe)' (p.273).
The Beggar's Opera.
1728. Reprinted in The Beggar's Opera and Other Eighteenth Century
Plays. Intr. David. W. Lindsay. Everyman/J.M.
'Macheath: There will be deep play tonight
at Marybone, and consequently money may be picked up upon the
road. Meet me there, and I'll give you the hint who is worth setting...There
is a certain man of distinction who in his time has nicked me out
of a great deal of the ready. He is my cash, Ben; I'll point him out
to you this evening, and you shall draw upon him for the debt...So
gentlemen, your servant. You'll meet me at Marybone.'
(Act 3, Scene 4, p.191)
Macheath is briefing his
gang of highway robbers for a sortie to Marylebone Gardens, a resort
popular with gamblers. (And with criminals at one time the
proprietor had to hire a guard of soldiers to protect his customers
on their way to and from London.) But Peachum, whose daughter Macheath
has secretly married, thinks 'the captain keeps too good company ever
to grow rich. Marybone, and the chocolate-houses,
are his undoing.' (Act 1, Scene 4, p.153). The 'author', a beggar,
comes on stage at the end to point the moral: 'It is difficult to
determine whether (in the fashionable vices) the fine gentlemen imitate
the gentlemen of the road, or the gentlemen
of the road the fine gentlemen' (Act 3, Scene 16, p.205).
The success of The Beggar's Opera meant that Gay could
indulge in the fashionable vices himself, including dog-fighting.
In his Fables (1728-1738) he wrote, 'Both Hockley-hole and
Mary-bone / The combats of my Dogs have known' (Fable XXXIV
Numen Adest: A Novella. Lapwing, 2005.
'Adjacent to the miniature pond, and in the shade of the willow, sat
a very old and rather dilapidated park bench...The previous night
an old homeless man well known in the area, had passed the night on
that very bench...He had no blanket and used a retracted arm to cushion
his head. But spring had arrived, signalling the end of the bitter
cold of winter and when the night watchman had moved him on he gave
only token resistance. Dawn was breaking on the horizon and as the
old man shuffled out onto Baker Street, though weighed down by his
baggage, the sweet smell of the morning dew filled his nostrils' (p.15).
Later on a young man arrives to sit on the same bench beside the pond,
and starts to feed bread to the ducks.
'He stared apologetically at a small brown duck that floated on the
water's surface, so serene, so unthinking, just hungry. He felt hungry
too, but for what he did not know yet. Like the ducks he had lived
his life on the surface, had taken care to thread only the shallower
waters without any need for a life beneath the surface...He was probably
beginning to understand for the first time that the desire for constancy,
for the familiar, a desire that had brought him to Regent's Park to
feed the ducks at an hour when he should have been working, could
never again be enough' (p.16).
Guru from Selected
Poems 1947-1995. Penguin Books, 1997.
'It is the moon who disappears
It is the stars that hide not I
It's the City that vanishes, I stay
with my forgotten shoes,
my invisible stocking
It is the call of a bell
Primrose Hill, May 1965'
In the summer of 1965 the author had made a trip to
England with several other Beat writers, and had given a reading at
the Albert Hall. In a note to the poem he says that it was 'occasioned
by a nap at dusk on the site of Druid mysteries, the grassy crest
of London's Primrose Hill, overlooking London's towery skyline' (p.421).
See also the Sinclair entry.
A Tale. 1887. Harvester Press, 1974.
'And so they went to the ice in Regent's
Park, and Mr. Emerson put on his skates, and was speedily exhibiting
his skill amid the gliding crowd. Clara and her companion walked along
the edge. Thyrza, regarding this assembly of people who had come forth
to enjoy themselves, marvelled inwardly. It was so hard to understand
how any one could enter with such seriousness into mere amusement.
How many happy people the world contained! Of all this black-coated
swarm, not one with a trouble that could not be flung away at the
summons of a hard frost!' (p.468).
A perfect winter's day 'fog
had vanished; the ways were clean and hard; between the housetops
and the zenith gleamed one clear blue track
of frosty sky' has persuaded Thyrza,
still grieving over a blighted love affair, to join the Emersons
on their outing to the park.
'Just before them, on the ice, a little
troop of ducks was going by, fowl dispossessed of their wonted swimming-ground
by the all-hardening frost. Of every two steps the waddlers
took, one was a hopeless slip, and the spectacle presented by the
unhappy birds in their effort to get along at a good round pace was
ludicrous beyond resistance. They sprawled and fell, they staggered
up again with indignant wagging of head and tail, they rushed forward
only to slip more desperately; now one leg failed them, now the other,
now both at once. And all the time they kept
up a cackle of annoyance... Thyrza had thought that nothing in the world could move
her to unfeigned laughter. Yet as often as she thought of the ducks
it was with revival of mirth' (p.468-469).
New Grub Street. 1891. Penguin, 1968.
The principal characters live close to the park, and walk round it
in moods of gloom or despair (p.86 and 530). The odious Jasper, disappointed
in his fiancée's financial prospects, arranges to meet her at Gloucester
Gate; in the 'tree-shadowed strip of the park which skirts the canal'
he manipulates her into breaking off the engagement (p.506-510, 535-540).
The Odd Women. 1893. Oxford World's Classics,
Monica Madden meets her suitor Mr. Widdowson
at 'the south-east entrance' to the park for a pony and trap ride
to his villa at Herne Hill (p.83). Another
rendezvous there later but no descriptions.
The Collected Letters of George Gissing.
Ed. Paul F Mattheisen, Arthur C. Young, Pierre Coustillas.
Ohio University Press, c1991. 4 vols.
'29 Dorchester Place, Blandford Square NW.
March 8, 1882
My Dear Madge,
...Last Monday Alg. and I, following in the track of the somewhat
ridiculous excitement prevailing here now, went to the Zoological
Gardens to see the famous elephant Jumbo - of whom you have doubtless
heard. There were 16,000 people in the Gardens that day, and as, on
the average, every person gave Jumbo three biscuits or buns, judge
of the animal's size and appetite. They have sold him to an American
showman for £2000, and now find it absolutely impossible to
fulfil their bargain; Jumbo refuses to stir. A monstrous box has been
made for him, but he can't be persuaded to enter...' (vol.2, p.74).
The author had just moved into lodgings near Regent's
Park and was writing to his sister about an outing with their brother
Algernon. In July he was writing to 'Dear Alg...Splendid weather since
you left...Went to hear the band in the Park last night. A change
happened to be made in the order of the music, and No.4 was put up
when No.11 should have been. Curious old fellow by me shouted out:
"Now, I objec' to that; I object on principle. It leads the public
astr'y. Now men'll go about tellin' their friends as they've eerd
Number 11, when they haven't eerd no such thing!"' (vol.2, p.95).
In May 1884 he moved to 62 Milton Street (now Balcombe
Street), also close to the park, and was still enjoying the concerts:
'Every Sunday evening we have a really good band there, which plays
excellent music. Last Sunday we had a capital selection from Iolante.
The concert lasts from 5 to 8. By paying a penny you get a chair inside
an enclosure, and another penny purchases a programme...' (vol.2,
By Christmas he had moved again, to a block of flats
in Allsop Place, near Clarence Gate. Despite frequent complaints about
the fumes from the Metropolitan Railway's Baker Street Station, which
stood opposite, he was to remain there for five years. Subsequent
letters contain only brief references, e.g. 'A fair amount of sunshine.
I have dinner at 12, and then walk exactly round the park, returning
by Marylebone Road. I have tea at 3.30, and am at work by 4' (April
3, 1887, vol.3, p.99-100).
Flight. Scribner, 2002.
'Julie was waiting at the ornate gates of the rose gardens when he
arrived...They began to walk around between the beds of roses, not
speaking...He thought the roses were hideous. Coarse oranges and reds,
brash and fleshy...He watched a three-generation Asian family preparing
a picnic in a glade just beyond the roses - women in saris spreading
out rugs and unpacking food, men in dark trousers and white shirts
fooling around with little children. They had hung the children's
jackets on the overhanging branches of trees. He would have liked
to ask Julie why she thought that people from the sub-continent used
London's open spaces so much better, and so much more decorously,
than anyone else did. He'd often noticed it. But it wasn't the moment
to discuss comparative cultures' (p.231-232).
Martagon has arranged the meeting to explain why it's
all over between them, but his 'can't we just be friends' line gets
'"Don't say it. I don't want to hear it."
She turned aside and ran from him, lightly and fast, not through the
wrought-iron gates but in the opposite direction, back through the
rose gardens and towards the wide open area of the park. He watched
her disappear, her backpack bobbing behind her. "I'm sorry,"
he said, knowing she could not hear. "I'm so sorry."' (p.235)
top of page
The Great Regent's Park Swim. Spike Milligan
and Larry Stephens. The Goon Show, Series 8, Episode 4. First broadcast
21st October 1957.
'Seagoon: Well, what's that long parcel you've got
in your long brown bathing suit?
Bloodnok: Ah, it's something that I have invented...
Bloodnok: Regent's Park Canal.
Seagoon: What a stroke of luck! With that canal, and this bottle of
green liquid, I can swim across it without using a bridge. Any revenues
from it, I'll split in two and keep both.
Bloodnok: Well, one doesn't get an offer like that every day! Very
well, at dawn tonight, you start training for the Great Regent's Park
1830 seems to have been a bonanza year for inventions:
Neddie Seagoon, following an experiment with a green liquid, has invented
swimming, and Grytpype-Thynne has invented the word "Help".
Realizing that Neddie's invention will render his own invention worthless,
he is determined to stop the Great Regent's Park Swim taking place.
'Bloodnok: Right, Neddie, now drink your green liquid
Grytpype-Thynne: Hands up, all of you! Bloodnok, drop that Regent's
FX: (iron bar drops)
Grytpype-Thynne: ...and I warn you, nobody shout "Help".
That is a word I've just invented and will cost anybody five hundred
pounds to use. Now, give me that green liquid. Right, Neddie, into
Seagoon: But I can't swim without that green liquid. Aarrggh.
Seagoon: You swine, you pushed me in! Help!
Grytpype-Thynne: Out you come, Ned. To using the word "Help",
five hundred pounds.'
My thanks to John Mathews who transcribed this episode.
The full text can be seen at
Lived at 17 Hanover Terrace from 1901 to 1928.
Father and Son. 1907. William Heinemann, 1948.
'My Father, after a little reflection, proposed to take me to Primrose
Hill. I had never heard of the place, and names have always appealed
directly to my imagination. I was in the highest degree delighted,
and could hardly restrain my impatience...I expected to see a mountain
absolutely carpeted with primroses...'
The author, a biographer and critic best known now
for this autobiography, was born in 1849 and aged about six at the
time of the incident he is recounting. After 'a sort of fit of hysterics'
brought on by his attempts to discover the secrets of 'natural magic',
he had convinced his father that he needed to 'go into the country'
'But at length, as we walked from the Chalk Farm direction,
a miserable acclivity stole into view surrounded, even in those
days, on most sides by houses, with its grass worn to the buff by
millions of boots, and resembling what I meant by "the country"
about as much as Poplar resembles Paradise. We sat down on a bench
at its inglorious summit, whereupon I burst into tears, and in a heart-rending
whisper sobbed, "Oh! Papa, let us go home!"' (p.39-40).
The Life and Letters of Sir Edmund Gosse.
Evan Charteris. William Heinemann, 1931.
'The horse-chestnuts, vast candelabra crowded with creamy candles
and the grace of the leaves, and the flash of the waters, and
the soft blue sky, and the pink blouses of the far-away young ladies
disporting on the lake! Talk not to me of your rural scenes. Regent's
Park beats the lot of them' (22nd May 1918, p.427).
Gosse is describing the
view from his favourite writing place, a 'capacious balcony' overlooking
the lake. Earlier, while living in Delamere
Terrace W2, he had written:
'I stepped across the Park this morning in an ecstasy.
There was a silver bloom upon the grass, the sun was walking through
real blue sky…' (13th November 1879, p.124). This must have inspired
him to move there: on 8th April 1901 he wrote, 'I have bought a house!
It is a large solid house in an old Georgian Terrace jutting into
and overlooking Regent's Park. It is a good deal out of repair… The
situation and outlook are delightful; there is no view in London more
beautiful than from our upper windows. There is a vast balcony where
we hope to live entirely in summer, where I shall work by day, and
sit on fine nights with the electric light delicately shaded, and
enjoy long talks…' (p.272).
Describing one of his 'usual Sunday walks' in a letter
to his wife: 'Tessa [his daughter] took me into the garden of South
Lodge, which we explored in every corner…it
is charming, and at the back there is a deserted walk, most romantic,
like a beautiful lane somewhere deep in the country. When we came
back, the nursery-maids and Sunday walkers had all disappeared, so
we sat quite alone on that bench in the further enclosure where you
and I sit, close to the water, and opposite the sparrows' new [illegible].
There we had the delight of seeing a kingfisher! He was fishing further
up the water, where the foliage is so thick, and we saw him dive down
on the water from the over-hanging boughs at least thirty times. He
was in brilliant plumage, and seemed perfectly at home. Where can
he have come from?' (20th September 1909, p.317-318).
(See the Noyes
entry for a warning against having Gosse
as a neighbour.)
Keeping Bad Company. Headline,
''I went down to the canal. It was a visit I had to make. Albie's
body had long been removed, of course. All that remained to mark his
demise at that spot was a fluttering blue and white tape that had
cordoned off the area. And even that was broken down. The strip of
mud and straggly grass beside the concrete towpath was strewn with
cigarette stubs and sweet wrappers and trampled by police-issue boots.
But the visitors, both official and simply ghoulish, had all gone
for the moment and I was alone.'
Fran has come to place flowers at the spot where Albie,
an alcoholic tramp she had befriended, had drowned; an earlier incident
makes her doubt that it was an accident.
'As I came to the end of my short act of memorial,
it seemed to me I wasn't alone after all. I looked up quickly, thinking
someone might be watching me from the railings atop the steep bank,
or had come along the towpath unheard, or was even in one of the quiet
houseboats. But there was no-one. The canal itself was covered with
a scum of debris, everything from waste paper to discarded condoms.
Water slapped against the houseboats as they groaned and creaked.
Yet I still felt that tingling between the shoulder blades that you
get when someone is watching' (p.117).
On a second visit to the scene her own life is threatened
when a motorcyclist tries to run her down. 'Behind me a deafening
crash had shattered my ears, a final screaming roar from the engine,
which was abruptly cut off and followed almost at once by a mini tidal
wave as the surface of the canal lurched and splashed up over the
towpath and my fleeing feet' (p.208).
The Clothes on Their Backs. Virago, 2008.
'I ran out of the kitchen and out of the flat, turned up the High
Street, crossed Marylebone Road and went into Regent's Park. The park
was ringed by white palaces, lions roared in the distant zoo. Crossing
the road, I came almost at once to a boating lake, with birds
geese, like the ones Alexander had studied and written his poems about...The
birds were making a big noise in the early summer morning, and they
demanded my attention. I sat down on a bench to look at them...Their
small eyes watched me, their webbed feet padded across the grass,
they clustered round crusts of bread' (p.69).
Alexander dies in a bizarre accident on their honeymoon, choking to
death on a piece of meat in a restaurant. When Vivien discovers she
is pregnant she decides on an abortion, but later comes to regret
'If I'd kept that baby, she would have most of the things she needed
to become a real person by now...This time next year I would have
been wheeling her in a pram through Regent's Park, past the rose garden.
I would have showed her the lake with the water birds and explained
the inner life of a goose, as her daddy understood it' (p.251).
GREEN, CHRISTOPHER (with Carol
Hughie and Paula. Robson
'There were few tender moments between father and son back then, although
one spring day when I was about ten, he truly amazed me. I had taken
a tiny duckling, which had followed me through Regent's Park, back
to the lake, only to see a female duck kill it. Hughie listened sympathetically
to my heartbroken story and talked to me gently, kindly, and reassured
me that there was nothing we could do when Mother Nature decided to
take her course. He acted towards me as I always hoped he would one
day - with loving attention' (p.100).
Father was the hugely popular TV star Hughie Green
(his talent show Opportunity Knocks ran for 22 years), but his son
depicts a miserable childhood dominated by an 'explosive and unpredictable'
man whose rages were often frightening. In later life his daughter
publicly denounced him as a monster, but she wasn't much comfort either.
'Linda and her best pal took me to the children's
animal enclosure of London Zoo, bought me petting food to give the
goats and chickens, and then disappeared when a thunderstorm broke
overhead, leaving me panicked, surrounded by a pack of jostling, smelly
llamas, drenched through, and facing the journey home on my own' (p.101).
The family lived close to the park and there were
'many happy, childhood visits', but the occasions recorded here are
all unhappy ones. 'Papa had bought a magnificent, clock-work submarine
and taken me into Regent's Park to try it out. After one abortive
voyage, Hughie accidentally kicked the motor key into the water, to
the amusement of some onlookers. He strode off towards Chiltern Court
seething with rage, and on entering 169, told Claire, "Your fucking
cretin of a son lost the key of my submarine and humiliated me."'
(p.152). On another fateful day, 'damp and overcast...I sat with Mama
beside the Regent's Park tennis courts while she filled out the [divorce]
papers...In my favourite park that day, I was a naive thirteen-year-old,
wounded and confused. Parents are not supposed to behave like this'
Minsk, Faber & Faber, 2003.
'"That girl's uncomfortable just being inside
her own skin." Wolves comforted me.
I grew up within earshot.
Their howls would climb the hill
like tall spikes of blue flowers,
as if the zoo's iron railings
had unfurled beneath their spell.
Traffic gets up across the canal.
Some slip through lights
like golden baby tamarisk monkeys.
Others wait, baffled clownfish
The author lived near Primrose Hill as a child and
remembers hearing the wolves when she walked there with her father.
The Zoo is the subject of A Strange Barn, a sequence of seven
poems that relate individual buildings to what was going on at the
time of their construction (p.21-27).
An Irresponsible Age.
Fourth Estate, 2006.
'Like others walking towards the hill that night, Juliet imagined
that she and Theo would be alone up there. She envisaged the pale
green slope up to the black bushes and the steeper green beyond where
they would stand at the top and declare themselves to the city. Theo
might build a fire. As she crossed the footbridge she saw a group
of people ahead, and beyond them more people. From every side of the
hill, they were converging...There were several fires already and
those who had found the spot they wanted, settled firmly into place...At
five to twelve, she was at the front of the hill and stopped to look
where everyone else was looking, across the city. She would not give
up. Theo was back down here on earth and coming towards her (p.326-327).
New Year's Eve, 1990: Theo, back in England after an absence abroad,
has phoned from the airport, and they have arranged to celebrate their
reunion on Primrose Hill. (It isn't named, but in an interview with
the author it was mentioned as one of the locations in the novel.)
Midnight strikes, but Theo has not appeared.
'Juliet lingered, wanting to know what it might have
been like had they been alone, had Theo been there. There are not
many people left on the hill now. She turns and climbs further, looks
down and sees him running...They stand at the top, alone as she had
imagined - above the city, below the sky. It is one o'clock. "An
hour west of here it is midnight and you made it on time," she
From Studio to Stage: Reminiscences of Weedon Grossmith.
John Lane, 1913.
'I had arranged with a boy from a school in Mornington Crescent to
go to Primrose Hill, and when on our way there I picked up sixpence
on the pavement, our delight was unbounded...We marched into the next
sweetstuff shop, and I bought the whole round [of French Almond Rock]
for sixpence. We went over Primrose Hill and round the side, where
there was a pond, and bushes and fields...
I suddenly felt curious pains that compelled me to
sit down for a while. The pains increased. The bitter almonds (and
there were many) in the French Rock were doing their work; my friend
commenced to cry, he too was suffering, but I couldn't be bothered
with him. My thoughts were entirely concentrated on myself. I rolled
on the grass in agony, I drew my knees up to my chin, and shot them
out again...At last...I ran home, crying all the way, and confessed
all to my dear mother...As for the other boy, I never saw him again;
perhaps he died behind the bushes' (p.6-7).
The author is best known now for his collaboration
with his brother George on The Diary of a Nobody, for which he did
the illustrations. As the title of his autobiography indicates, he
had also pursued a career as an actor. Hard up after returning from
a tour of America, he agreed to appear in a revival of Woodcock's
Little Game but came to regret it: 'I laboured under the great
disadvantage of making my first appearance in London in a silly old-fashioned
play.' It features an off-stage duel on Primrose Hill, which proves
no more fatal than the French Almond Rock.
An Embassy to the Court of St. James's in 1840. Richard Bentley,
'Regent's Park particularly pleased me. It is separated from the crowded
districts; the space is immense, the verdure fresh, the waters clear,
the clumps of trees still young. I found there two qualities combined
which rarely associate, extent and grace. I seldom encountered or
recognized any one. In complete solitude and in presence of nature,
we forget isolation. On Sundays, Regent's Park was more animated; there were many promenaders,
generally all silent; open air preachers, surrounded by thirty or
forty listeners, expounding a text of the Bible, or a precept from
the Gospel' (p.168).
The author was ambassador for less than a year, returning to France
to become Foreign Minister and later Prime Minister. He is probably
best known for the saying, 'Not to be a republican at 20 is proof
of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.'
'I paused one day before two of these groups. In one, the preacher
held a book in his hand, Travels in Africa, from which he read an
account of a missionary who had cured himself from a long illness
by living soberly and drinking water: "You see plainly from that,"
concluded he, "that drinking water cannot be injurious to health."
The other orator, a rigid Calvinist, maintained, against an opponent
who argued with him, that man is not a free agent, and has no free
will; "Look at this tree," said he, "you would like
to think that it is a house; you cannot think so; you have therefore
no free judgement." The common sense of his auditors was confounded,
but they still continued to listen attentively. These do not include,
by a great number, all the people of London, and all their recreations;
but amongst them there are many families who have no other' (English
Society in 1840, p.168-169).
Primrose Hill, a Poem: to which are added, The
Queen's Jubilee, and other metrical effusions. Printed
for the author, London, 1838.
The book was published anonymously: the copy held by the British Library
has 'Jane Gwilliam' added by hand on the title page. The name is not
listed anywhere else and may well be a pseudonym of John Gwilliam,
who appears as an 'added name' in the catalogue. He published several
volumes of verse: one is dedicated to Punch magazine, without which
'the double-faced rogues of society would carry on their schemes of
imposture unmolested.' The rogues in this poem would have been clearly
identifiable, which may be why he chose anonymity. After a conventional
apostrophe to the beauties of Primrose Hill there is a sharp change
'Beauties which, I'm griev'd to say
Seem to lessen day by day,
As thy foes, with head-long speed,
In their guilty plans succeed;
Foes that nature rightly fears,
Builders, lawyers, engineers...
And, though last not least in crime,
Members wanting cash, or time,
By the devil shrewdly sent
Into Melbourne's parliament,
Just to aid their damn'd intent' (p.3).
Conservationists will warm to this, but may feel the
later verses a bit excessive:
'Primrose Hill! There was a time
When thy scen'ry look'd sublime,
Ere they marr'd thy verdant ridges
With their ugly locks and bridges,
Or the dull canal became
Honor'd with the Regent's name...' (p.12).
The Regent's newly opened park is not spared either:
'Where the rosy children play'd,
And their lively nurses stray'd,
Chattering nonsense with their beaux,
We have nought but ugly Rows,
Lines of terraces that make
Contemplation's vision ache,
As the light of Phoebus falls
On their beastly stuccoed walls...' (p.9)
The new landscape, 'plann'd for empty fashion's sake',
has swept away the old taverns and farm houses and now excludes the
'Have we not, for many a year,
Seen the Jew's Harp gardens throng'd
With the people Might had wrong'd
Of each green suburban shade...
Primrose Hill! When I survey
The Regent's Park, I sigh and say,
Can this conceit presume to claim
The shadow of improvement's name?' (p.10-11)
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Selected Poems, 1965-1990. W.W. Norton, 1994.
'The Regent's Park Sonnets
"That was in another country," but the wench
is not yet dead, parks the red-striped pushchair
near the Rose Garden and turns loose her fair
Black Jewish Woman Baby; picks a bench
scoured by warm winds...
squints, focusing on the child, not yours,
who plays explorer.
...Above the play-
ground, like a capsuled world, a plane
heads, fortunately, north. Fresh after rain
the sky is innocently blue. Away
from frisking kids, including mine, I write
stretched on a handkerchief of pungent dry
grass, wishing I could take off my shirt...'
From Sonnet 1 in a sequence of eight, previously published
in Taking Notice, 1980. There are brief mentions of the park
in some of the later sonnets.
The Dirty Squad. Little, Brown. 2000.
'My second outing with them was on the afternoon following the IRA
bomb explosion in Regent's Park, in July 1982. The bomb went off under
the bandstand while the Band of the Royal Green Jackets were playing.
Several people were killed and many were injured. We were called in
to help the Anti-Terrorist Squad to search the park and recover evidence.
When I arrived with fifty cadets I briefed them as well as I could
about what they were going to deal with, and I tried to prepare them
for the terrible things they would see. I kept the briefing as dispassionate
as I could' (p.90).
The author was later to become head of Scotland Yard's Obscene Publications
Branch, known as the Dirty Squad, but at this time was in charge of
the Police Cadet School at Hendon. They had previously assisted in
searching for the dismembered remains of the serial killer Dennis
Nilsen's victims. This was to prove even more gruesome.
'It was a scene of absolute carnage. There were limbs and chunks of
bloodied flesh in all directions for a distance of 100 yards from
the bandstand. There was a crazy jumble of chairs, hats, tree branches
and people's clothing. The cadets formed a line across the park, then
they knelt, and began a fingertip search...They crawled through pools
of congealed blood, holding their hands up when they found anything
and passing it back to the officers with their plastic bags...The
cadets also performed a sweep of the bushes at the side of the park
and found more evidence, including a leg from one of the dead. None
of them showed any sign of distress. They acted impeccably' (p.90-91).
Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky:
A London Trilogy. 1934. Hogarth/Chatto
& Windus, 1987.
Bob, barman at a nearby pub, goes for 'eighty-pound strolls' in the
park on his days off, absorbed in his dreams and his savings (The
Midnight Bell, p.44-47). Ella, barmaid at the same pub, goes reluctantly
for a walk with her monster-bore of a suitor, 'up the main avenue
towards the Zoo amidst the winter-gripped flowerbeds and the rippling
murmur of a post-prandial Sunday crowd disporting
its undistinguished self in the sun' (The Plains of Cement, p.439-445).
There is a similarly dyspeptic view of the park during an evening
walk (The Plains of Cement, p.413-424).
HARFORD, HENRY (pseudonym
of W.H. Hudson)
Fan: the Story of a Young Girl's Life.
Chapman & Hall, 1892. 3 vols.
'They were now close to the southern entrance to the Zoological Gardens.
"Let's go in through this gate," he said...He had tickets
of admission in his pocket, and passing the stile Fan found herself
in that incongruous wild animal world set in the midst of a world
of humanity. A profusion of flowers met her gaze on every side, but
she looked beyond the variegated beds, blossoming shrubs, and grass-plats
sprinkled with patches of gay colour, to the huge unfamiliar animal
forms of which she caught occasional glimpses in the distance' (Vol.2,
Chapter XVI, p.250).
Fan Affleck has agreed to meet Mr. Eden in Regent's
Park to discuss the strange behaviour of some mutual friends.
'"Do you know that it is beginning to rain?"
he said, holding his umbrella over her head. "We must go in there
and wait until it pauses." It was one o'clock, and the refreshment
rooms had just opened. Fan was conducted into the glittering dining-saloon,
and was persuaded to join her companion in a rather sumptuous luncheon,
and to drink a glass of champagne' (Vol.2, Chapter XVI, p.254-255).
Readers will be relieved to know that Mr. Eden's intentions,
on this occasion at any rate, are fairly honourable; but Fan is in
for a nasty surprise on a subsequent outing to Kew Gardens.
HARRISON, M. JOHN
Settling the World (1975).
Reprinted in Things That Never Happen. Gollancz, 2004.
'Regent's Park was full of cool, laconic breezes, but beneath them
there moved a heaviness, a languor, a promise of the Summer to be.
In my absence, cherry blossom had sprung in every corner, the waterfowl
had put on a fresh, dapper plumage and were waddling importantly about
in the white sunlight that scoured the newly painted boards of the
boat house' (p.20).
God has been discovered on the far side of the Moon
and brought back to Earth 'to start His reign anew...a period of far-reaching
change.' The narrator has just been discharged from hospital after
an intelligence-gathering mission in one of the Realm of God's forbidden
zones. Venturing into the Insect House at the Zoo, he has a disturbing
'It was resting on a twig, almost invisible and quite
immobile, and perhaps this very quality of stillness - this perfectly
alien perception of the passage of time - was sufficient; as I stared
into the hot yellow recesses of the vivarium, I remembered the Mystery
that lies at the end of God's Motorway, and I thought: what possible
emotion could this thing have in common with us?' (p.21). A final
scene in his chief's office, a place 'that it frightens me now to
visit', provides the answer.
Instructions to Young Sportsmen in All that Relates to Guns and Shooting.
1814. Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, 11th edition,
'I sent a dozen French ducks to the Regent's Park; and, three winters
ago, I observed that they had there decoyed at least thirty wildfowl:
wigeon tufted ducks and dunbirds. This was of course
a great novelty in the very smoke of London. But on my return to town,
after the following winter, I do not remember to have seen any. Perhaps
the skating may have driven the wild birds off or perhaps the following
winter was too severe for them to remain in fresh water' (p.445).
In his Preface the author tells us that 'the original edition, which
led to the publication of the following pages, was hastily written,
and printed in the year 1814, at the particular request of some sporting
friends of the Author.' He had retired from the army the previous
year after being severely wounded in one of the Peninsular War campaigns.
A keen musician as well as a sportsman, he later studied harmony and
composition at a London academy and wrote several pieces himself.
'The only note I ever heard from the wild swan in winter is his well-known
hoop. But, one summer's evening I was amused with watching and listening
to a domesticated one, as he swam up and down the water in the Regent's
Park. He turned [sic] up a sort of melody, made with two notes, C
and the minor third (E flat), and kept working his head as if delighted
with his own performance' (p.269).
A Land. 1951. David and
'When I have been working late on a summer night, I like to go out
and lie on a patch of grass in our back garden... Not far below the
topsoil is the London Clay which, as Primrose Hill, humps up conspicuously
at the end of the road' (p.7).
The author an archaeologist and historian
was living at 39 Fitzroy Road when she wrote this story of Britain
from the geological shaping of the land to the development of its
civilization. Summing up at the end of the book she writes:
'I began to ponder these recollections lying in darkness
on the empty tray of my garden. Now I have left a hollow for an eminence.
On Primrose Hill I command the heart of London, a grey-blue morass
of trees and houses, and, thrusting through it, many of the buildings
whose creation I have recalled...' (p.221).
Notes on a Scandal. 2003. Penguin Books, 2004.
'Afterwards the group split into two one lot in my car, the
other in Richard's and we drove to Primrose Hill. As I say,
I have never been a big fan of firework displays. All that brightness
falling, the sad, smoke smell, the finale that is never quite as magnificent
as it should be...I suspect that only the tiniest fraction of the
crowd gathered on the top of Primrose Hill was genuinely invested
in the spectacle, but we all stayed there for a full frigid hour,
dutifully manufacturing sharp intakes of breath and other symptoms
of ingenuous wonderment' (p.157).
Barbara had been invited to a large family dinner
but had 'expressed some reservations about participating in the second
part of the evening.' Her hostess however had insisted, not anticipating
that it would lead to the discovery of her affair with a 16-year-old
'At the end of the display there was a terrible crush
as the crowd surged towards the park exits. Richard got panicky and
tried to get us to stay at the top of the hill until the crowd had
dispersed. But it had grown extremely cold by then and everyone was
eager to get home, so he was overruled. We descended the path on the
north side of the hill without too much trouble, but when we got to
the flat where the people on the paths were attempting to move in
two directions, the congestion was a lot worse...The long snaky line
moved slowly. We were about two hundred yards from the Regent's Park
Road exit when off to my left, between the trees, I glimpsed Sheba.
She was standing with a young male' (p.157-158).
Irish Days: Oral Histories of the Twentieth Century.
Kyle Cathie Ltd., 2002.
'Our hospital was in St. John's Wood...One day we went down, another
sister and myself, went down to Regent's Park to study. We were heading
for our final. And this bobby came along and he said, "I'm very
sorry, now, sisters," he said (he knew we were from the hospital),
"but I must ask you to leave because the people in the flats
are unhappy about you here." This was the time people came down
dressed as nuns...they were dropped from the 'plane...D'you remember
that? Germans disguised as nuns. The people in the flats were naturally
very frightened. They saw us and they thought, "Here's more of
it. Here's two more," you see.'
Sister Carmel Walsh, born in Kerry in 1918, was sent
to London in 1944 to train as a nurse. Germans disguised as nuns was
one of the many rumours that circulated in wartime Britain, but it
was a shock to find oneself under suspicion. 'I had my textbook open
and I was studying the heart and the other nun had the kidneys, and
I said, "Gracious! We're only studying." But he said, "Sister,
I know exactly what you're doing, but the people in the flats, they
don't understand. So I'd be very grateful if you'd move." So
we did move - out of their way, anyway; we went for a walk.'
The nuns had the last laugh though. 'That night there
was an incendiary bomb fell at the hospital gate...He was on duty,
and he got a broken ankle. And he was admitted to my ward!..I looked
at him, and I said, "D'you remember me? "God," he said,
"I do and I don't." "Well," I said, "you
were the man that sent us out of the park yesterday!" Well! "Well,"
he said, "Sister, I hope you won't take that out on me"'
Beyond Seduction. Jove
Books, New York, 2002.
'Thomas led Merry and the horse through the gate to Regent's Park.
From there they clumped past St. Dunstan's chapel and around the boating
lake. Finally, on a quiet stretch of lawn near the wintry remains
of the botanical gardens, Nic directed them to stop. Even now, with
a frosting of snow on the ground, visitors strolled the park. Workmen
hurried to jobs, servants walked dogs, and nannies from Cumberland
Terrace guided their bundled charges towards the zoo.'
Nicolas Craven, 'London's most sought-after artist',
is about to start on his portrait of Lady Godiva. '"This spot
will do"...He jerked his head at the bright, ice-skinned lake.
"Plenty of ambient light." By now, she was used to this
being important' (p.143-144). The painting is a succès fou
- '"When Alma-Tadema finishes turning green, he's going to slap
your bloody back"' - though Ruskin advises him to "cultivate
a bit more spiritual meaning."
The spiritual is not much in evidence in this mix
of Regency Romance and erotica: 'super steamy' in the words of the
author, who likes to make jokes about 'the thrust of the plot (haha).'
Return to Groosham Grange. Originally published as The Unholy
Grail, Walker Books, 1999. Reprinted in Groosham Grange.
Walker Books, 2004.
'He glanced behind him. Although the pavement had been empty before,
there was now a single figure, staggering about as if drunk...He was
beginning to feel uneasy but he still didn't know why. The path he
was following crossed a main road and then continued over a humpback
bridge. Suddenly he was out of the hubbub of London. The darkness
and emptiness of Regent's Park was all around him, enclosing him in
its ancient arms' (p.237-238).
David has stolen a statuette from the British Museum,
following the clues in a competition set by the masters at Groosham
Grange School. The 'drunk' who is following him turns out to be a
waxwork of Adolf Hitler, leading a posse of fellow escapees from the
Chamber of Horrors. David realizes that the other contestant in the
competition, Vincent, must have followed him from the museum 'and
conjured up the spell as he walked past Madame Tussaud's. Of course,
he had cheated. Vincent had broken the single rule of the contest
not to use magic.'
'The field was dotted with trees and he made for the
nearest one, grateful at least that it was a dark night. But even
as he ran, the clouds parted and a huge moon broke through like a
searchlight...In the white, ghostly light, the whole park had changed.
It was like something out of a bad dream. Everything was black, white
and grey....Another half dozen waxworks had somehow found their way
to the park and were spreading out, searching...David crouched behind
a tree, trying to lose himself in it. He was surrounded and knew that
it was only a matter of time before he was found' (p.241).
The coup de grace is delivered by a handbag wielded
by a waxwork Duchess of York, which knocks him to the ground. 'David
wrenched the statuette out of his pocket and tried to stand up. The
park was spinning round him, moving faster and faster' (p.246).
Primrose Hill from Dulwich Poetry Competition
'The name's too good to be true.
For a start, Superballs were banned...
The supersonic boom was exciting
at first, but broke no windows, so
the boys went back to playing Zulu
and the girls showed their knickers
doing handstands on the other side of the wall...
Cochineal was made from crushed
beetles, as everyone knew,
but we still went around with red mouths.
They were probably right about the Superballs:
mine broke a blue and silver vase in Flat 5,
7 Prince Albert Road. GULliver 2770.'
I have not been able to find a copy of the Anthology
but the full text of the poem can be seen at the author's website,
Low Probability of Racoons: http://www.hphoward.demon.co.uk/poetry/petepoem.htm
Faber & Faber, 1989.
In the title poem of this volume (p.13) a young wolf, with 'Asiatic
eyes, the gunsights / Aligned effortless
in the beam of his power', lies 'bored easy' in the Zoo enclosure
beside the Broad Walk:
For the chance to live, then he'll be off.
Meanwhile the fence, and the shadow-flutter
Of moving people, and the roller-coaster
Roar of London surrounding, are temporary...'
Birthday Letters. Faber & Faber, 1998.
In February 1963, soon after moving to a flat in Primrose Hill, the
author's estranged wife, the poet Sylvia Plath,
killed herself. She left two small children. The poems in this collection
are addressed to her. This is from Life After
'We were comforted by wolves.
Under that February moon and the moon of March
The Zoo had come close.
And in spite of the city
Wolves consoled us. Two or three times each night
For minutes on end
They sang. They had found where we lay...'
Hughes evidently felt a strong affinity with wolves.
Earlier in the poem he speaks of
'your son's eyes, which had
With your Slavic Asiatic/Epicanthic fold, but would become
So perfectly your eyes...'
an echo of the 'Asiatic
eyes' of the young wolf in Wolfwatching.
Leigh Hunt's Political and Occasional Essays.
Ed. L. and C. Houtchens. Columbia University Press, 1962.
In a series of essays for the Weekly True
Sun, reprinted here, the author, writing as The Townsman, described
a 'Ramble Through Marylebone', and reminisced about 'the dear
old fields that once occupied the site of Regent's Park, where we
made verses, and saw visions of mythological beauty, from morning
till night...In those fields we speak of was Willan's Farm, where
we have eaten "creams and other country messes". There it
was that the path ran from the New-road [Marylebone Road] all the
way to Hampstead through beautiful meadows' (8th September, 1833,
In a second essay, 'Mr. Nash is a better layer-out
of grounds than architect, and the public has reason to thank him
for what he has done for Regent's Park. Our gratitude on that point
induces us to say as little as we can of the houses there...It is
at all events a park, and has trees and grass, and is a breathing-space
between town and country' (15th September, 1833, p.290).
Hunt had previously edited
his own highly regarded journal, The Examiner, which had first brought
Keats and Shelley to public attention. As a poet he is perhaps best
remembered for Rondeau ('Jenny kissed me when we met') but he was also
an outspoken political reformer. In 1812 he was prosecuted for libelling
the Prince Regent, in an article attacking him as 'a man who has just
closed half a century without one single claim on the gratitude of
his country, or the respect of posterity', and jailed for two years.
Not surprising that he had mixed feelings about Regent's Park.
in The Idler, and Breakfast-Table Companion, Saturday, May
'There is talk of enclosing Primrose hill, and converting it into
a cemetery! Primrose hill! The first green step, north-westward, for
the pavement-and-shop-tired-foot of this great metropolis; the first
pleasant-sounding word one meets with, that way, better even than
"Regent's Park"; a place that once had primroses, and doubtless
trees, of which latter there are three or four remaining, or were
lately; a hill that plays the part of footstool and introducer to
the beautiful hill of Hampstead, first bit of the country outside
the town; a spot, in short, beloved by all cockneys, illustrious and
obscure, from the times of Geoffrey Chaucer (whose field and daisy-loving
eye of course it could not escape), to those of Charles Lamb...
Pleasant indeed...to feel that in this green altitude
of Primrose hill, higher than Ludgate, they can enjoy, as it were,
home and country together - the sight of their great hive, full of
action at least, if not of greater sweets - and at the same time the
consciousness of the Sabbath flower, from which they may bear back
to it a little sweeter sweet, something like the honey of health,
or the notion of it; at least a passing breath of it; a glimpse of
the country, if they can go no further; a hovering on the borders
of a sensation of ease and retirement' (p.23).
Regent's Park from Nightbus. Adelphi Publishing, 2008.
'...Love does not have to cross my brow,
for a few moments together,
is enough, to feel more right
when everything else is wrong.
It is a small picnic on the grass
set under a shaded tree,
on a hot summer Sunday
in Regent's Park.
It is the quick kisses of a child
before squirrels are chased,
and you lie there, letting the sun
take away the thought of wasps...'
Once Aboard the Lugger: The History of George and
His Mary. 1908. Hodder & Stoughton, 1924.
'In Regent's Park he saw her produce a brilliant pair of scarlet worsted
reins, gay with bells; heard her hiss like any proper groom as tandem-wise
she harnessed David and Angela, those restive steeds. The equipage
was about to start she had cracked her whip, clicked her tongue
when with thumping heart, with face that matched the flaming
reins, hat in hand he approached' (Book 3, Chapter 2, p.93).
George has been smitten by Mary since their first
encounter, when her hansom cab had stopped abruptly and she was thrown
into his arms. The next day, keeping a discreet watch outside the
house in St. John's Wood where she works as a 'mother's help', he
has followed her and the two children to the park.
'George said they were fine horses; felt legs; offered
to buy them. His words purchased their hearts, which were more valuable.
After the drive they would return to the stable, which was this seat,
Mary told him; she could not stay to speak to him any longer. George
declared he was the stable groom and would wait. Away they dashed
at handsome speed, right round the inner circle; returned more sedately,
a little out of breath. There had been, moreover, an accident: leader,
it appeared, had fallen and cut his knees. "I shied at a motor,"
David explained, proud of the red blood now that the agony was past'
Further meetings in the park follow, in which George
proposes and is accepted (Book 3, Chapter 3, p.108-119); George thrashes
a cad who has been forcing his attentions on Mary (Book 3, Chapter
5, p.129-137); and the couple decide that Mary must leave her job,
since the cad was the son of her employer (Book 3, Chapter 6, p.140-145).
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