The Queen's Diamond Jubilee isn’t the only 60year old thing to be celebrated this year. 1952 was the year that my favourite London park opened its gates to the public for the first time. Since being wheeled around it by my Mum in pram and pushchair in its early days, to sitting with a coffee and a book, listening to the birdsong and contemplating early retirement in 2012, it’s always been part of my life.
At 54 acres, Holland Park is the only remaining fragment of the original 500 acre estate of Sir Walter Cope which, in modern terms, stretched from Holland Park Avenue to Earl’s Court tube station. The house was built in 1605 and was originally known as Cope’s Castle. It is known that the castle was visited by King James the First on several occasions.
The next owner of the estate, was Cope’s son in law, Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland, who came to a sticky end. His Royalist activities resulted in him losing his head, after which the house became an army headquarters at which Oliver Cromwell was a frequent visitor.
At the time of the Restoration the estate was returned to the Rich family and it was then that the name Holland House was adopted.
During the 19th century, whilst in the hands of the 3rd Lord Holland, the house became a noted meeting place for the prominent social, political and literary figures of the day, including Byron, Macaulay, Disraeli, Dickens and Scott. In the latter part of the 19th century, the land began to be sold off for development until the estate was finally reduced to its present size.
Shortly before the outbreak of World War II the house hosted its last great ball which was attended by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Then in September 1940 the house was largely destroyed by enemy bombing, never to be rebuilt. The estate and the ruins of the house were purchased by the London County Council from the 6th Earl of Ilchester and is currently under the stewardship of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
There are still signs of the estate’s former grandeur to be found in the park. The remains of the house are now part of the YHA hostel and also form the backdrop to the annual Opera Holland Park. The Orangery is a gallery and event space. The adjoining summer ballroom, the Belvedere, is a restaurant, and the Ice House is another small gallery. There is a formal garden, a Japanese garden, a sports field, a decent cafe and best of all a large wooded area which is a haven for a wide range of flora and fauna.
As I said, I have been enjoying the park all of my life. From a baby in a pram, to a boy at Holland Park School, right through to the grey haired sixty year old sitting here tapping out this nonsense.
Check it out for yourself. Visit and enjoy.