Long Water

Lake, existing between the 1730s and now

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Lake · The Underground Map · W2 ·
JANUARY
5
2017

The Long Water is a recreational lake in Kensington Gardens, created in 1730 at the behest of Queen Caroline.


The Long Water refers to the long and narrow western half of the lake that is known as the Serpentine. Serpentine Bridge, which marks the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, also marks the Long Water’s eastern boundary. The Long Water and the Serpentine are generally considered to be part of one lake.

Originally the lake was fed by the River Westbourne entering at the Italian Garden at the north-western end of the Long Water.

In 1730 Queen Caroline, wife of George II, ordered the damming of the River Westbourne in Hyde Park as part of a general redevelopment of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Original monastic ponds may have existing in the location and these were modified as part of the 1730–1732 scheme to create a single lake. At that time, the Westbourne formed eleven natural ponds in the park. During the 1730s, the lake filled to its current size and shape. The redevelopment was carried out by Royal Gardener Charles Bridgeman, who dammed the Westbourne to create the artificial lake, and dug a large pond in the centre of Kensington Gardens (The Round Pond) to be a focal point for pathways in the park.

At the time of construction, artificial lakes were typically long and straight. The Serpentine was one of the earliest artificial lakes designed to appear natural, and was widely imitated in parks and gardens nationwide.

The Westbourne ceased to provide the water for the Serpentine in 1834, as the river had become polluted, and so water was then pumped from the Thames. The water is now supplied by three boreholes drilled into the Upper Chalk. The first borehole is located at the Italian Gardens, the second at the Diana Memorial and the third, drilled in 2012 to a depth of 132m, is within 50m of the Diana Memorial.

The lake achieved notoriety in December 1816 when Harriet Westbrook, the pregnant wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was found drowned, having left a suicide note addressed to her father, sister and husband. Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin less than two weeks later.

The lake formed a focal point of the 1814 celebrations which marked a century of Hanoverian rule and re-enacted the British victory at Trafalgar nine years previously, and of the 1851 Great Exhibition, with the Crystal Palace standing on its southern shore. Following the introduction of more stringent regulations to protect the environment in the park, the relocation of the Crystal Palace, and the construction of the nearby Albertopolis complex of museums and exhibitions, large-scale events ceased to take place on the banks of the Serpentine.

In the 1820s, the park was extensively redesigned by Decimus Burton. At the same time, John Rennie built the Serpentine Bridge to carry the newly built West Carriage Drive along the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, dividing the lake into the Serpentine (east) and the Long Water (west).

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