London Parks and Monuments

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain for the public Hyde Park London

The royal marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles in July 29, 1981 was broadcast around the world. I lived outside in a tent much of that summer of 1981, yet I remember watching the wedding ceremonial spectacle on TV at a person’s apartment in Burlingame, Vermont. That night I was back into the marsh fields beside Lake Champlain in a tent. That wedding had little impact on my life at the time.

Princess Diana’s death I remember too. The major news stories in June and July 1997 when we were hanging out vacationing in the north of Ireland and some UK bits too, were 16-year old Anna Kournikova’s knickers on front page news and derision of Princess Diana for attending the movie The Devil’s Own with her 12 and 15 year old boys. Harry was underage for the film rating in the UK. The film sported a Northern Irish IRA fighter in the accented Brad Pitt.

August 31, 1997 Princess Diana was dead. Paris. Car crash.

Indelible funeral imagery, concrete in my head. Miles of concrete on London streets covered deep in flowers. A kaleidoscope of dazzling colors lined the funeral procession carrying away the People’s Princess.

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain – Hyde Park, London

Kelley and I were both unaware of the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain until walking through Hyde Park, London last month and seeing the memorial listed on the park map.

Hyde Park is one of the larger Royal Parks of London. The park at 350 acres is adjacent to Kensington Gardens to form a total park space of 625 acres in the center of London. Hyde Park has been a public park since 1637. This sentiment of Hyde Park as a public space in central London provides part of the rationale for the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain to be located in an easily accessible location for visitors.

Princess Diana Memorial
Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park, London at dusk 15:45 in late November.

We were two of those visitors to Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park on two different days. The memorial fountain is gated in a space beside the Serpentine, a long lake in Hyde Park. The fountain is a long flowing oval construction of 545 bocks of Cornish granite, with varying surface shapes creating water ripples, rapids and calm pools along a stone waterway varying in width.

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain gates are scheduled to be open 10:00 to 16:00 in the months from November through February. We arrived at 15:45 to find the gates being locked. In summer months from April to August the fountain is open until 20:00.

Princess memorial gates
Diana, Princess of Wales,Memorial Fountain gated fence.

Reaching the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain to find it closed early was a disappointment. The let-down inspired us to return to Hyde Park the next day with added benefits of slightly better weather and light for photography.

Bare tree in late November, Diana, Pricess of Wales Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park, London.

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain designed by U.S. landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson.

Beside the Serpentine in Hyde Park, Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park, London.

The memorial cornerstone was laid in September 2003 and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain was opened on July 6, 2004 by Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Charles, and children William and Harry in attendance, along with Diana’s Spencer family members.

Fountain walkway
Waterfowl enjoying the Princess Diana fountain stream.

A few bridges cross the fountain, allowing the public to walk along the interior section of the fountain on paths lined by grass.

Originally the concept was the shallow water would allow the public to step into and play on the granite slabs of moving and calm water. There were injuries from people slipping in the fountain water within one month of the fountain opening in July 2004 and the memorial was closed while a fence was built around the fountain.

From calm pool to falling water along the bumps in the path.

There are no signs posted stating access to playing in the water is restricted. The first day we stopped by the fountain, when passing the nearby historic swimming baths on the Serpentine outside the Lido, a woman in a bikini entered the lake water at 4pm when the air temperature was chilly in the low 40s (7C). The late November water temperature was not a deterrent to some members of the public.

Fountain bridge
Several footbridges span the flowing water fountain to access the interior space of the oval fountain.

There was controversy in choosing the final design for the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. The committee tasked to pick the design deadlocked at 4 to 4 with half favoring Kathryn Gustavson’s design and half favoring a four-sided curved dome of water in the middle of the Serpentine designed by sculptor Anish Kapoor. A selection committee member described the process in this piece from The Telegraph August 1, 2002.

Gustafson sees the form of the oval ring of water as symbolic, essentially maternal and inclusive, a space open to all, not a distant object to be admired from afar as was the case with the Kapoor’s fountain in the middle of the Serpentine.

At times, where the water rushes down the hill, the design suggests the princess’s impulsive character; elsewhere, where the water slows down, her reflective side. With children splashing in the water, it will, above all, be joyous. It should be a very Diana-like memorial.

While the fountain sculpture is atypical of so many monuments in London in its simplicity, the accessible nature of the landscape sculpture, the green grass and trees and birds surrounding the basic elements of nature and time represented by the permanence of granite stone and the impermanence of flowing water creates a pleasant space to reflect in the center of London.

Fountain Ibis
Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park opening dedication by Queen Elizabeth II July 6, 2004 inscribed in stone.