Friends of Regent's Park Newsletter 89

End of Season Review

'The role of the Royal Parks during WW1'

by Michael Fitt OBE Chairman, The Royal Parks Guild & Honorary Historian for the Royal Parks, formerly their Director of Parks.
Thursday 6 October 6.30 for 7pm, St John's Wood Church Hall, Lord's Roundabout, London NW8 7NE

In July it was announced that lifelong arts and heritage enthusiast Loyd Grossman CBE has been appointed to lead the new Royal Parks charity which will be formed from the Royal Parks Agency and the Royal Parks Foundation. The friends welcome this development, and look forward to continuing support for Regent's Park, Primrose Hill and their heritage.



LONDON’S grandest Royal Park and most central green space, Regent’s Park, is to be blighted and polluted for 16 years by construction work on the new HS2 high speed rail project if controversial plans for the project go ahead. Latest estimates show the Park hosts more than 8 million visits each year, who visit the park primarily for its peace and tranquillity.

Chairman of the Friends of the Park, Ianthe McWilliams, went before a special House of Lords Select Committee today in Parliament to try and halt the bitterly contested proposal.

The HS2 project team are currently trying to push a special Bill through Parliament which would give them the power to turn the wooded car park currently used by visitors to London Zoo into a lorry park for construction HGVs and machinery.
Ianthe, a former civil servant, argued that the plan would:

  • pollute, disrupt, and generate heavy additional traffic for the Park,
  • endanger the many groups of school children, and other children and families who walk to the park and the Zoo along Prince Albert Road, some from urban schools with no playing fields who go to the Park for their exercise,
  • stop those visitors to the park and to the Zoo for whom walking long distances causes problems and who need to park vehicles nearby,
  • cut off vital revenue to the Zoo’s charitable trust by stopping coaches bringing in tourists and school classes,
  • clash with cyclists who enjoy riding within the green spaces with the risk of increased accidents,
  • spoil the Park for many of the 8 million tourists who visit the Park annually,
  • threaten wildlife and flora with additional diesel pollution generally but also specifically destroy the habitat of one of London’s last communities of breeding hedgehogs,
  • cut off vital revenue to the Park by stopping it running cash-raising events which depend on availability of parking for event-related vehicles.

Ianthe said: “It is vital Parliament understands the potential consequences of turning part of a historic and beloved public amenity into a construction lorry park.

“Construction is going on all the time in a vibrant capital like ours, but you don’t resort to sweeping the dust and dirt into one of its glorious historic green spaces opposite a Zoo full of children. You need to find a proper urban solution instead.

“This is planning without thinking ahead properly. Even to blight Regent’s Park for one year with construction traffic would be unacceptable. To blight it for 16 years means a generation of young people won’t see the unspoilt peace and beauty of one of the jewels of this city. And restrictions on coach access will mean that for many of them it will be very difficult to get to London Zoo.

“As the Friends of Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill we have been working for over 20 years to protect the beauty and tranquility of these green spaces.
“It’s a big city, let HS2 find a lorry park surrounded by buildings, not by trees, birds, cyclists, children, the elderly and rare hedgehogs.”

Notes to editors

The Friends of Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill was set up in 1991 to help keep Regent’s Park & Primrose Hill unspoiled for present and future generations, despite cuts in the government grant that used to pay for their upkeep.

Currently the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill is before a Select Committee of the House of Lords.

ZSL (the Zoo) are also campaigning on this issue, in particular the threat to hedgehogs. It would be a serious threat to their business and to the education of thousands of children and other visitors if coaches could not access the Park. For more details see:

The latest data for the number of visitors to the Park is from an IPSOS MORI study in 2014 which estimated that the annual number of visitors was over 8 million. See

The Royal Parks have to run fund raising events to bridge their funding gap. For example Regent’s Park runs The Frieze Art Fair, due to start on 6 October this year and the highly acclaimed Taste of London food festival.

Ianthe McWilliams has been chairman of the Friends of Regents Park and Primrose Hill since January 2016. She is Company Secretary of Cebr, the economics consultancy, and is a former civil servant. She can be contacted at

Bicentenary of Regent's Canal to Hampstead Road – 12 August 1816

The 18th century witnessed a transport revolution as canals extended over much of the Midlands and northern industrial areas. Although plans to link London with the Midlands canal system had been around since the middle of the century these were not realised until the Grand Junction Canal was authorised in 1793, linking the Thames at Brentford with the Oxford Canal near Daventry. A branch from Southall to a terminal basin at Paddington was authorised in 1796. A terminus at Paddington provided access to the City via the New Road (now Marylebone, Euston and Pentonville roads).

Construction of the Paddington Branch started at the end of 1796. The canal opened in July 1801, a large trade quickly growing up around the Paddington wharves. A variety of abortive plans followed to link the Paddington Basin with the London Docks either by canal or rail. Early schemes ran into problems both of water supply and opposition from landowners. With Thomas Homer, barge owner, the moving spirit behind the proposals, John Rennie, a leading canal engineer, planned a route for the "London Canal" in 1802, examining a variety of water supply options.

Canal Junction

  Junction of Regent's Canal at Paddington Entrance to Regent's Canal from Grand Junction Canal middle right. Canal to Paddington Basin right foreground, Grand Junction Toll Office on left. T. H Shepherd, 1828, courtesy of Alan Faulkner

Although these plans were shelved, partly because of the rapid advance northwards of the metropolis, they were revived in 1810 when Thomas Homer, who had learned that the lease of Marylebone Park was due to expire in 1811, asked James Tate to carry out a detailed survey.

Marylebone Park was managed by three commissioners of the Department of Woods & Forests. Two permanent staff were architects: John Nash and his colleague James Morgan. They had been entrusted with drawing up plans for the park. Homer approached Nash, and together they planned a route for the canal through the park. Nash meanwhile had attracted the patronage of the Prince of Wales, who became the Prince Regent in 1811, and such prominent support helped persuade the commissioners to accept his over other competing plans.

A meeting of those interested in the proposed canal took place at the Percy Coffee House on 31 May 1811, where it was agreed that Nash and Homer's route be surveyed again. Following this survey, and selection of an improved route by Nash, Morgan, Homer and Tate, Nash was asked to prepare a prospectus. In August Nash announced that the Prince Regent had agreed that the canal could be called the Regent's Canal.

Macclesfield Bridge
Macclesfield Bridge, Regent's Park Named after Company's chairman, the Earl of Macclesfield. Shows the canal in cutting on the north side of Regent's Park T. H. Shepherd, 1828, courtesy of Alan Faulkner

The introduction of the Regent's Canal Bill provoked major opposition from landowners. The Portman estate required the canal to be moved northwards to avoid the estate, whereas other landowners insisted on bridges or set other conditions.

The major change, however, was insisted on by the Commissioners of the Department of Woods & Forests who required the line through the park to be diverted to the northern boundary, presumably to protect the value of the gracious villas to be built in the park. This would require a much deeper cutting. Even this alignment became conditional on constructing a branch canal to a basin proposed on the east side of the park.

The Regent's Canal received Royal Assent on 13 July 1812, with what became the Cumberland Market Branch following on 15 April 1813. At a meeting in August 1812, James Morgan was appointed engineer, architect and land surveyor. Construction started on 7 October, the first spade cut being made in Marylebone Park near Primrose Hill.

Camden Lock
Camden Town Lock - photo Peter Darley

The two mile stretch of canal from the Paddington Branch of the Great Junction Canal to the Hampstead Road Locks, was level, without locks, as was the 1230 yard branch canal to Cumberland Basin. Both were opened to traffic on Monday 12 August 1816, the birthday of the Prince Regent. (The Grand Junction Canal and the Regent's Canal merged in 1929 to become the Grand Union.)

Hampstead Road Lock itself started life as a two stage single lock with a highly innovative hydro-pneumatic mechanism patented by William Congreve, an inventor of repute, intended to be the first of a series of such locks that would enable the Regent's Canal Company to save on scarce water. The system was abandoned shortly after in favour of a conventional double lock, which may be seen today alongside the Lock Keeper's Cottage of 1816.

Above the lock, on the north bank, there were two small basins at the time of opening, both of which have survived, albeit in altered form. These and two wharves were leased by John Semple and Thomas Hubert, and eventually sold to the London & North Western Railway in the 1840s, which also acquired land on the south side of the canal and built the Roving Bridge across the canal. The basins are now known as the Interchange Basin and Dingwall's Dock.

Peter Darley, FRP&PH committee member

Food for thought and more

Taste of London attracted in June some 55,000 visitors to its culinary and alcoholic temptations. Indeed this annual culinary festival tends to become one big rather noisy party as participants roam between pavilions on purple matting designed to protect the grass, pausing here and there to have a quick beer, glass of wine or fashionable spirit. But of course the main point, as well as getting in the mood, is to sample offerings from 40 plus of London's well known restaurants – at a price. Just to get the saliva rising, the icon dish of confit suckling pig, carrot and fennel from Roux was £14 a taster. But other small dishes cost between £3 and £6. In addition to gourmet grazing, a selection of chefs demonstrated their skills to what has become an increasingly interested and knowledgeable public.

Judy Hillman, Patron

Theatre goings on

This year the Open Air Theatre's first two productions were very successful in different ways. Running Wild was a giant animal puppet show from the stable of Warhorse, but a more contemporary story and ecoconscious. A brilliant child lead (played by two boys on different nights) rides a fullsized elephant puppet escaping into the jungle from a tsunami, and having various adventures evading gangsters.

King Henry
Michelle Terry as King Henry - Photo Johan Persson

Henry V by contrast had all the Shakespearean language very clearly declaimed. The young woman who played Henry (see photo page 3) put heart and soul into it, scornfully splitting one of the Dauphin of France's real tennis balls at the start. She led her camouflaged troops (many captains were women) into battle with passion. And battle was very loud - guns and staves not arrows! - but also very aggressively choreographed. A minor caricature was made of the love scene between a tall male playing Princess Katherine of France dwarfing Henry. But altogether a striking interpretation of a classic!

Ianthe McWilliams, Chairman FRP&PH

News from the Zoo

The Snowdon Aviary at ZSL London Zoo is a landmark of historic, cultural and architectural significance. Conceived by Lord Snowdon and realised by the architect Cedric Price and the engineer Frank Newby, the Aviary was built between 1962 and 1964 and was Grade II* listed in 1998.

The Zoological Society of London has been granted development funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to work on a proposal to refurbish and re-purpose the aviary; we plan to carry out essential repairs to its iconic structure, enhance its use as a modern exhibit and maximise opportunities for public enjoyment and learning.

Zoo Aviary
The Zoo Aviary - photo ZSL

What we will do

We will repair the aviary and transform it into a walkthrough primate exhibit, making use of the height and space of the aviary with remarkable effect. The space and complexity of the exhibit will provide a wonderful environment to support a large troop of black and white colobus monkeys, and other species such as parrots and forest antelope, which will create an incredibly exciting experience for visitors. We will use the refurbishment as the opportunity to create a range of new activities, co-designed with target new visitor groups to ensure many more people can enjoy, learn and care about the natural heritage of our planet. This will be the catalyst to put ZSL London Zoo at the heart of the community by offering many more free and accessible activities for everyone to enjoy. We aim to start the refurbishment work in January 2018 and open in the summer of 2019.

  • Education with be considerably increased and there will be more opportunities for volunteers and those seeking work experience. Disadvantaged groups for whom cost is a barrier will be encouraged to visit and the digital platform will also be increased.

We would be delighted to host members of Friends of Regent's Park & Primrose Hill to an 8.15am briefing at ZSL London Zoo on 20 October

If you are interested please contact Judi Gasser at ZSL on Please note that spaces are limited and will be allocated on a first come first served basis.

James Wren, Development Director, ZSL

Meet your committee

Gillian Young
"If you want to get a job done, ask a busy woman".

That is exactly what the chairman Ianthe McWilliams did when she asked her friend Gillian Young to become the secretary of the Friends of Regent's Park & Primrose Hill. Fortunately Gillian thought that the job description "seemed to tick all the right boxes", so the Friends had their new secretary. She was not an active member of the Friends when she became secretary, but, through her children, who had attended school in Camden, Gillian knew the park well. They were frequent visitors to the zoo and to other park amenities, and enjoyed the Open Air Theatre.

Gillian, who was born in Kent, studied art, and was working in advertising when she and her photographer husband moved to London. An only child, living in a house with a large and beautiful Italian designed garden, and frequently visiting National Trust properties with her parents, she had been exposed to some magnificent gardens throughout her childhood. But her great interest in gardening only developed when she gave up working. At first she volunteered to garden for people with spinal injuries, and at the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital, but as her interest and knowledge grew, and she undertook more and more projects, she decided to get some formal training.

At Capel Manor Gillian took three courses - pure horticulture, graphics and garden design. She believes that a garden designer should not make immediate changes to plants and gardens, but should work with the garden and its aspect, getting to know it well by watching it throughout the year, and only then should slowly make any necessary changes. She has worked with several schools in the area to develop gardens on their premises, and is currently active at the three sites of South Hampstead School. She is a tireless campaigner for 'green' issues, and is an enthusiastic supporter and judge for the London Children's Flower Society.

Much of Gillian's time is taken up by the Winston Amenity Gardens, a two and a half acre 'secret' garden in Maida Vale for local residents, and I was fortunate to be shown round by Gillian when I went to interview her.

This garden really does bring town and country together. The boundary wall is hidden by a semi-wild 'woodland' of many varieties of mature, and younger, trees and shrubs through which bark chipping paths meander, and this wooded area extends at intervals into the open area of the garden to break it up, and also provides a coppice in which children can hide and play. Some of the open areas are lawns with beds of cultivated flowers; the roses were magnificent when I visited, while others are left wild for native wild flowers to populate. There is also a pond where wild ducks come each spring to breed, and which provides water for nearby beehives managed by Gillian's husband. The garden is self-sustaining. All garden waste, grass cuttings and leaves are composted, and compost bins are also hidden in the wooded areas into which those living around the garden can put their kitchen waste.

Gillian believes that it is vital to protect the Royal Parks, as the green spaces for leisure and the better air quality they provide are a vital part of a good and healthy lifestyle for Londoners. Pollution in cities cannot be addressed overnight, but it is known that nitrogen dioxide and particulates drop dramatically over the London parks. Their large trees should be maintained, and pollarding of street trees disallowed, to allow nature to play its role in cleaning the air. Most important of all, enough funding must be available to maintain the parks, London's greatest asset, and not be reduced or spent on other new projects.

Gillian's knowledge, enthusiasm and drive will be a welcome addition to the Friends.

Margaret Elliott

In the gardens

Two pairs of kestrels bred successfully rearing three young in the wetland pen and three young on Primrose Hill. Two pairs of little grebes and great crested grebes also bred successfully. Herons are still breeding with at least 18 nests.

Kestrels nesting
Common Kestrels nesting in the park - Photo Tony Duckett

Kestrels nesting

Willow warblers, spotted flycatchers, garden warblers and swifts are some of the migrants which have passed through the park on their way to Africa or the southern Mediterranean. They will hit their peak from the middle of August to late September.

Other unusual birds seen in the park are nuthatch, red kite, peregrine falcon and common terns which hunt fish over the lake.

Migrant birds that have used the park to breed have been blackcap, chiffchaff, whitethroat, reed and hopefully sedge warbler which can be elusive during the breeding season.

There have been a lot butterflies - meadow brown, gatekeeper, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, large skipper, essex skipper and small skipper, small white, large white, comma and speckled wood.

Dave Johnson, Wildlife Officer

The planting in Queen Mary's Garden's Triton Border and Island has been put on hold while we try to clear the ground of bindweed and mare's tail, two tough perennial weeds. The mare's tail will be a problem; hence we will adapt the planting of the more delicate clump-forming herbaceous plants to avoid it. The bay border and main cascade planting are doing well and will continue to improve over the coming years.

We have secured funding to carry out a major renovation of one of the open spaces sports pitches. This will start mid-August with a section fenced off in order to strip off the top layer of soil, re-level the pitch and sow grass seed. It should be ready for play again by November.

There are over 20 state schools using the sports facilities in Regents Park as well as the 2,000 or so children who play here at the weekend so it is important to keep the pitches in a safe and good condition. It is one of the few places in this part of London where school children get to play on grass pitches.

One of the great things about working in a garden open to the public is the appreciation shown and expressed by our visitors. A leading rose breeder mentioned he had heard the rose garden was looking good. On enquiring who had made the comment he replied 'the president of the World Federation of Rose Societies' who was apparently in the UK for a few days and popped in. The gardening staff were pleased to receive such an accolade.

The trials in Queen Mary's Garden using compost tea have been expanded so that a third of the rose beds and half of the delphinium border are now being treated. The wormeries are now producing a good amount of liquid which is used to feed a couple of the rose beds. The comfrey plants are recovering from a slug attack but hopefully will start producing a useful amount of leaves for feed. Since April 2015 the garden has been managed on organic principles which will continue if it proves beneficial.

Watch out for powdery mildew on the roses this year. We are hoping that spraying the leaves with beneficial bacteria and fungi will limit the harmful ones.

Mark Rowe, Assistant Park Manager

For Your Diary

WhatWhenWhere and Info
END OF SEASON REVIEW Thursday 6 Oct 6.30 for 7pm St John's Wood Church Hall, Lord's Roundabout, London NW8 7NE
Frieze London and Frieze Masters 4–9 Oct Tickets via NB There is a discount for Friends - please see your printed Newsletter for details that will give you 25% off an adult ticket on Friday, Saturday or Sunday at both Frieze London and Frieze Masters.
A briefing on the new developments at the Snowdon Aviary Thursday 20 Oct 8.15 am ZSL London Zoo. (see article above - Contact Judi Gasser at ZSL. Please note that spaces are limited and will be allocated on a first come first served basis).
Reimagine London's future as a National Park City Wed 21 Sept 2016 6.30 pm Southbank Centre, London SE1 8XX. Book Tickets Now -25% discount for Friends Groups and campaigners who use the code RIVERTHAMES
Exhibition on Great Fire of London, To fetch out the fire 1 Sept-15 Dec 2016, Royal College of Physicians, 11 Saint Andrews Place Regent's Park, London, NW1 4LE,
Royal College of Physicians: Open House London Sunday 18 Sept 10am-5pm Royal College of Physicians, 11 Saint Andrews Place Regent's Park, London, NW1 4LE - Entrance by prebooked tours only
Royal College of Physicians: Medicinal Plant Lectures Monday 19 Sept 1.30-6pm A Chinese triumph by Professor Elisabeth Hsu and an American awakening by Dr Stephen Harris, Druce Curator of the Oxford University Herbarium Tea and garden tour of relevant plants by the garden fellows
Walking Tour: Fire! Fire! Call the doctor Study day Wednesday 21 Sept & 26 Sept 1pm Explore the history of London's most terrible decade through the eyes of a doctor! The walk commences at The Royal College of Physicians and lasts around 2½ hours including a highlights tour of the Royal College, its museum and collections. Tickets £10
Alcina by Georg Frederik Handel 24-27 Oct 19.00 Royal Academy of Music, Round Chapel, Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, London E5 ONP. Royal Academy Opera Tickets £20 (concessions £15) from the Academy's Box Office: online now, telephone 020 7873 7300 and in person from Thursday 1st Sept
Sir Mark Elder conducts Academy Symphony Orchestra in Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony Friday 2 Dec 2016, 13.05 Royal Academy of Music, Duke's HALL
Open House London 17 & 18 Sept from 1.00-4.00 pm Cecil Sharp House, hourly themed tours, first come first served. Free


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Site created on Friday 25th February 2011, last edited Sunday 4th December 2016.
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