Serpentine (lake) in London

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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

Originally the lake was fed by the River Westbourne entering at the Italian Garden at the north-western end of the Long Water. The Westbourne ceased to provide the water for the Serpentine in 1834, as the river had become polluted, and it is now supplied from water pumped from the Thames. 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, but since 1850, the river has been diverted into a culvert, running underground to join the Thames near Chelsea Bridge.

The lake has a maximum depth of 40 feet (12 m).

There are two lakeside restaurants and various recreational facilities on the shore of the Serpentine, as well as the Serpentine Gallery and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain.


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 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 also 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 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.

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, formally dividing the lake into the Serpentine (east) and the Long Water (west). The "real world" elements of the play and novel were set in the park and in the surrounding streets.

The Serpentine



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.<ref name="RPHist"/> There is a fee for entering the lido, and changing rooms are available. It is normally open only in the summer, typically between 10:00 and 17:30, although members of the Serpentine Swimming Club may swim all the year round from 06:00 to 09:30. The Peter Pan Christmas Day Race is only open to regular participants of the Saturday swimming competitions during the winter.

The Serpentine will be used as the venue for the Open Water Marathon (10 km) Swim and the swimming leg of the triathlon at the London 2012 Olympics.<ref name="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 freezing water, the race is open only to members of the Serpentine Swimming Club.


Rowing boats are available for hire. Until the 1970s pleasure boats were able to use the whole lake. Since that time The Long Water has been separated from The Serpentine by chains and is no longer accessible. In 2002, the Serpentine hosted the World Rowing Sprints, in which several international crews raced over 547 yards (500 m).

The Solarshuttle

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.

There is another fountain, 'The Diana Fountain', on the north side of the Serpentine Road, at the north-east corner of the lake. This, much earlier, fountain is dedicated to the Roman Goddess. It is much eroded and has not worked for many years. It now resembles a bird-bath.

Ranger's Lodge is one of a group of buildings to the north of the lake. The most prominent of these is the 1903 Metropolitan Police Station ('AH'). Hyde Park is/was the only Royal Park policed by this force. The 'Met' were first housed, from 1867–1903 in 'The Magazine' at the north end of the Serpentine Bridge. Policing was,in the 1970s, passed to 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.

On the northern side of the lake, opposite The Lido, is a grass amphitheatre called 'The Cockpit'. It was here that The Rolling Stones played their 'Stones In The Park' concert in 1969. There is a film of the event and, behind the stage, both the Lido and people in rowing boats can be seen. This area can also be seen in the film, 'Genevieve'. It is the starting point for the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.

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.

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