From the rose garden to the Nash terraces, Regent’s Park remains a high-net-worth haunt, says Rebecca Nayler
HENRY VIII’s APPETITES stretched beyond a groaning banqueting table; indeed, with the Dissolution of the Monasteries, he swallowed up vast tracts of England, including the 166 hectares then known as Marylebone Park. The land was used as a hunting chase, favoured by the King because of its abundance of wild deer.
In 1806 John Nash (pictured left), architect to the Crown and a close friend of the Prince Regent, was drafted in to design a sumptuous landscaped park, at the centre of which would stand the Prince Regent’s second home. Nash’s initial plans for the park included palatial terraces, a lake and 56 luxury villas, which were to be surrounded by trees to give residents the illusion of living in a private estate. However, the Prince Regent soon abandoned the idea of a second home in favour of improving Buckingham Palace. As a result, it was never built, and only eight of the villas were ever completed; many of the terraces were, however.
Regent’s Park was closed to the public until 1835, when William IV allowed access to the gardens for two days a week. In 1851, ownership was transferred to the government, allowing the public total access.
An 1854 map of Regent’s Park’s Zoological Gardens
Local societies eventually leased the space provided by the unbuilt villas. One of the first was the Zoological Society, closely followed by the Royal Botanic Society, which laid out the inner circle with lawns and a lake. In the 1930s the RBS decided not to renew its lease and Queen Mary’s Gardens were built in its place. The Rose Garden within has more than 30,000 roses of 400 varieties.
Today Regent’s Park contains a number of attractions, including a zoo, various sporting grounds, and Britain’s oldest permanent outdoor theatre, which attracts 140,000 visitors each year during its summer season.
Above: St John’s Lodge, Below: Reception room in redeveloped 9 Cornwall Terrace
Properties in and around Regent’s Park, especially in the Nash terraces, are an established part of London’s super-prime market, with prices stretching to £45 million. Significant numbers are now lateral conversions, but original or even double-fronted terraces are available. Important new developments include the Grade I listed Cornwall Terrace, named after the Prince Regent’s father, the Duke of Cornwall, on the south-west of the Outer Circle.
Various authors have acknowledged the charms of Regent’s Park. Virginia Woolf wrote in her diaries that ‘there is no doubt that the greatest happiness in the world is walking through Regent’s Park on a green, but wet — green but red pink and blue evening’.
In an essay entitled London, 1940, Elizabeth Bowen wrote about the park in wartime: ‘I had always placed this park among the most civilized scenes on earth; the Nash pillars look as brittle as sugar — actually, which is wonderful, they have not cracked; though several of the terraces are gutted… The RE “suicide squad” detonate, somewhere in the hinterland of the park, bombs dug up elsewhere.’
Rebecca Nayler was an editorial assistant at Spear’s