The Serpentine (also known as the Serpentine River) is a 28 acre (11 ha) recreational lake in Hyde Park, London, England, created in 1730. Although it is common to refer to the entire body of water as the Serpentine, strictly the name refers only to the eastern half of the lake. Serpentine Bridge, which marks the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, also marks the western boundary of the Serpentine; the long and narrow western half of the lake is known as the Long Water. The Serpentine takes its name from its snakelike, curving shape.
Geography of the lake
Water enters the lake from the Italian Garden at the north-western end of the Long Water, where the (now buried) River Westbourne feeds a set of four ornamental fountains, which in turn flow into the lake. The Long Water runs south-east from this point to Serpentine Bridge, where the lake curves sharply to the east. At the eastern end water flows out of the lake via a sluice in the dam, forming a small ornamental waterfall. Historically, the river flowed due south from this point marking the boundary between Westminster and Kensington; since 1850, the river has been diverted into a large pipe, running underground to join the Thames near Chelsea Bridge.
The lake is relatively shallow, with a maximum depth of 40 feet (12 m).
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.
At the time of construction, artificial lakes were 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 lake achieved notoriety in December 1816 when Harriet Westbrook, the pregnant wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was found drowned in the Serpentine Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin less than two weeks later.
The lake formed a focal point for the 1814 celebrations commemorating the British victory at Trafalgar, 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. However, it was the location for the 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations, and will serve as a venue for the London 2012 Olympics.
In the 1820s, the park was extensively redesigned by Decimus Burton. At the same time, John Rennie the Younger built the Serpentine Bridge to carry the newly built West Carriage Drive along the boundary between Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, formally dividing the lake into the Serpentine (east) and the Long Water (west).
The Long Water
At the northern end of the Long Water, the Westbourne River feeds the four fountains which in turn feed the lake. Surrounded by classical statuary and sculpture, the area is officially known as the Italian Gardens. A large bronze memorial to Edward Jenner, the developer of modern vaccination, dominates the area; it was originally located in Trafalgar Square in 1858, but four years later was moved to its present site. In recent years there has been an ongoing campaign for the memorial to be moved to the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square.
The Long Water is surrounded by dense overgrowth for much of its length, and is relatively undeveloped in comparison to the Serpentine. Due to its undisturbed nature, it forms a significant wildlife habitat and is designated as a bird sanctuary. The "real world" elements of the play and novel were set in the park and in the surrounding streets.
A rectangular swimming area on the southern bank was opened in 1930. It is known as Lansbury's Lido, and is partitioned off from the rest of the lake by a perimeter of buoys. There is a fee for entering the lido, and changing rooms are available. It is now normally open only in the summer, typically between 10:00 and 17:30.
The Serpentine will be used for the swimming leg of the triathlon at the London 2012 Olympics.
The Peter Pan Cup
Since 1864, the Serpentine has hosted a 100 yard (91.4 m) swimming competition every Christmas morning at 9 am. In 1904, author J. M. Barrie awarded the Peter Pan Cup to the winner of the race, a tradition which has continued ever since. Due to the hazards of swimming in frozen water, the race is open only to members of the Serpentine Swimming Club.
Rowing boats are available for hire. In 2002, the Serpentine hosted the World Rowing Sprints, in which several international crews raced over 547 yards (500 m).
In the summer months, the Solarshuttle solar powered boat ferries passengers between the northern and southern banks of the Serpentine. At 48 feet (14 m) long and carrying 42 passengers, it is the largest wholly solar powered passenger boat currently operating in the UK.
London's Holocaust Memorial is situated at the eastern end of the Serpentine, immediately beyond the dam, and a memorial on the northern shore of the lake commemorates the Norwegian Defence Forces' role in World War II.
The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is sited on the southern shore of the Serpentine near West Carriage Drive. It currently receives approximately one million visitors per year.
Ranger's Lodge, immediately to the north of the lake, was the former head office of the Royal Parks Constabulary. Following the RPC's abolition in 2004, it is now the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service's Royal Parks Operational Command Unit, although as with the rest of the MPS, command and control of day-to-day incidents has been centralised to the Metcall complex.
The Serpentine Gallery, one of London's leading art galleries, is not in fact located on the Serpentine, but in Kensington Gardens, on the western side of West Carriage Drive immediately south of the Long Water.
The Rose Gardens at the southeastern corner of the Serpentine have in recent years become a popular meeting place for London's gay community.
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