Most Londoners will be familiar with Regent’s Park. It’s expansive, has elegant flower gardens, water fountains, a lake perfect for boating, excellent sports facilities, is home to a zoo and even a university. It’s the perfect place for the quintessential British picnic in the park. But what you may not know is that the park hides a gorgeous secret garden brimming with history.
Located along the Inner Circle of Regent’s Park is St John’s Lodge and Gardens. Whilst the residence is currently private, luckily for us the garden is open to the public.
The garden became open to the public in 1928 after a government decision that more of Regent’s Park should be accessible to the public. Now you can explore the garden to your heart’s content.
The garden really took shape under the occupancy of Lord Bute when in 1888 he commissioned Robert Weir Shultz to create ‘a garden fit for meditation’, and it certainly is. Enter the garden through Arbour Walk, an arched pergola tunnel that blooms wisteria flowers come spring as you head towards a garden wonderland. Do beware as the entrance is very discreet although this definitely adds to the allure and mystery of the garden.
Arbour Walk leads you to the stunning rose garden that is centered around a statue of Hylas proudly perched in a fountain pond, who in Greek mythology served and was the companion of Heracles. The flowers are already in full bloom and mark that spring has finally sprung in London. St John’s Gardens is the place to stop and smell the roses.
The garden features a sunken lawn with hedge borders leading up to the villa itself where you can get a view of the top of the villa, and maybe a cheeky glimpse through the hedge. With a sunken lawn lined with benches on either side, it allows you to hunker down on a sunny day with a book or for a meditative moment, just as Robert Weir Shultz intended.
There are a few twists and turns around the garden that lead you to giant urns brimming with flowers and impressive statues. It’s a private spot to have a tranquil moment in the heart of London and to get away from the busyness of Regent’s Park as Londoners descend upon the parks in the warmer months.
The garden was originally part of the villa of St John’s Lodge which was built in 1812 and was the conception of John Nash, a British architect best known for his development of Regent’s Park. Only St John’s Lodge and The Holme remain as the two villas from Nash’s original plans for the park, which even included a royal palace.
The villa was originally designed for Charles Augustus Tulk, an English Swedenborgian politician but the villa was constantly redesigned with new wings added and interiors redecorated as new occupants came and left. With each new resident, the villa became grander and grander. Other owners have included Lord Wellesley, the first Governor-General of India, and Sir Isaac Goldsmid, a financier and a key figure in the Jewish emancipation in the United Kingdom.
It remained a private residence until 1916 but has since become private again as the royal family of Brunei have taken residence in the villa after purchasing St. John’s Lodge in 1994.Prior to its royal residents, the villa was used as a hospital for disabled officers during World War One and was later leased by St. Dunstan’s Institute for the Blind. From 1937 to 1959, the residence was occupied by the University of London’s Institute of Archaeology, and by the history and classics department of Bedford College in 1959 and 1983.