On this day in history….25th December 1864

On this day in history : 25th December 1864 – The first traditional Christmas Day swimming race in London’s Hyde Park Serpentine Lake takes place….

The Serpentine had been formed between 1730-33 and was the idea of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II…. as she had wanted an ornamental lake in Hyde Park…. There is some evidence that swimming races had been held informally since the 1830s as swimming clubs such as the London Swimming Club had been using it…. However, it was the Serpentine Swimming Club who first brought some structure to the proceedings….

The first 100yd Christmas Day race was won by H.Coulter – and it is an event that has been held every year since…. In 1904 it became known as the Peter Pan Cup as in this year a trophy was presented to the winner by James Barrie, author of Peter Pan…. It was the first time a trophy was given – as previous winners had received a gold medal…. Barrie lived in nearby Bayswater and was a regular visitor to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park – he would undoubtedly have watched the swimmers from time to time…. In 1904 his play Peter Pan made its debut on the London stage….

The Serpentine Swimming Club holds a race in the lake every Saturday throughout the year…. The Christmas Day race is only open to club members and to take part swimmers need to qualify by participating in 7 out of the 9 Winter races…. The December 25th race starts at 9am sharp and the swimmers wear just their bathing costumes, wet suits are not permitted – and the water is usually below a very chilly 4 degrees C…!!

On this day in history….30th July 1991

On this day in history : 30th July 1991 – To celebrate thirty years in opera, Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti gives a massive free concert in Hyde Park….

It was set to be the biggest outdoor music event in Hyde Park since the Rolling Stones had performed there in 1969…. Some 250,000 people were expected to attend Pavarotti’s celebratory concert…. Some had camped overnight to get the best vantage points in the 50 acre site…. Although billed as a free concert it was possible to purchase VIP tickets at £400 each….

Luciano Pavarotti – Image credit : Pirlouiiiit CC BY-SA 2.0

However, the weather was not on the side of the concert goers…. Between 100,000 and 150,000 turned up and stood in the pouring rain to watch and listen to Pavarotti’s performance of twenty arias, including Verdi, Puccini, Bizet and Wagner…. The VIPs, among them Diana Princess of Wales, Prime Minister John Major and Michael Caine, got just as wet as everybody else…..

By the end of the evening 193 people had received treatment from St. John’s Ambulance after suffering the effects of the wet and cold….

On this day in history….18th June 1822

On this day in history : 18th June 1822 – An 18ft bronze statue of Achilles is unveiled in Hyde Park, London…. Originally it was nude and caused outrage – so a small fig leaf was added….

The statue was made by sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott, who was an enthusiast of the Ancient Greeks and it was to commemorate Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington…. Achilles was the Greek hero of The Trojan War and the statue used 33 tonnes of bronze repurposed from captured French canons…. The body was modelled on a Roman figure found on Monte Cavalio in Italy – and the head was based on the Duke of Wellington himself…. It was cast in Westmacott’s foundry in Pimlico….

The statue, which is located close to Queen Elizabeth Gate at Hyde Park Corner was the first statue to be installed in Hyde Park – and London’s first nude statue! It had been commissioned for £10,000 by the upper class society of ‘Ladies of England’ and was installed on the orders of King George III…. People were shocked and disgusted by the statue’s nudity – especially as it was a tribute from the ‘Ladies of England’…. A fig leaf was quickly added for modesty….