We all know the names of the big London landmarks like Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace, but sometimes we perhaps don’t pay attention to the routes we use to travel between them. In a city like London, those roads and roundabouts are just as historic as the attractions they lead to. Learning their names and stories is a great way to get familiar with London and feel like a local in just a few days. You’ll be able to navigate better and the city will feel less like a disjointed collection of tube stations and photo opportunities, and more like the well-connected place it truly is.
If you’ve been to Buckingham Palace, you’ve probably encountered St James’s Park, Green Park and The Mall (pronounced “mal”) – the long, straight road in front of the palace where the horses trot up and down during the Changing of the Guard. St James’s Park is the park along the side of The Mall, while Green Park is where you’ll find yourself if you stand facing the front of Buckingham Palace and turn right.
If you walk past the palace along the street bordering Green Park, you’ll see a fence on your left – beyond it are Buckingham Palace’s private gardens. Keep walking and you’ll reach Hyde Park Corner to head back towards the London Premier Kensington – but did you know you were just walking on once royal ground?
That road is known as Constitution Hill and it was once owned by King Charles II, who bought it in the mid-seventeenth century. He actually bought the land that is now Green Park as well, and called it Upper St James’s Park. He used the space to entertain guests and to take daily private walks for his health. He called his walks “constitutionals”, and that’s how today’s busy road got its name. Nowadays people use it to get between The Mall and Hyde Park Corner and it sees plenty of traffic – and perhaps too many fumes for a truly healthful walk. As you approach Hyde Park, look out for five stone pillars: these are memorials dedicated to the five million men and women from India, the Caribbean and Africa who served with the British armed forces during the two World Wars.
At the top of Constitution Hill is Hyde Park Corner, where you can find a Tube station to take you back to the Park Grand London Paddington. Here stands an enormous stone arch, all by itself. The reason it looks a little strange is because it wasn’t originally built there! It’s called Wellington Arch and it was completed in 1830 as a grand, impressive entrance from the parks to Buckingham Palace, but it didn’t stay there very long: traffic congestion was so bad that the arch was moved to its present location in 1883. Sixteen years after its completion, a massive statue of the Duke of Wellington on his horse was placed on top of the arch. It was meant to celebrate the Duke’s victories during the Napoleonic Wars and it weighed a whopping 20 tons. People weren’t very enthusiastic about this, either, and the enormous statue was eventually removed to a hill near the town of Aldershot in Surrey. The current statue on top of the Arch is called The Quadriga; it was commissioned by Edward VII and it has been there since 1912. It, too, is unusually large – it’s the biggest bronze sculpture in Europe. It shows the angel of peace atop the runaway chariot of war.
Take note of street names as you wander through London. In a city almost 1000 years old, history lurks around every corner and beneath each paving stone.