History of Hyde Park
Hyde Park is bounded by Elizabeth, Liverpool and College Streets and Prince Albert Road in central Sydney.
It is in the area reserved by Governor Phillip in 1792 for the use of the town of Sydney on an elevated and comparatively level site adjacent to the town, and is therefore Australia’s oldest park.
It was used as a common (for gathering firewood and grazing animals) until its proclamation by Governor Macquarie in 1810. He named it after the park in London which was formerly the Manor of Hyde, a possession of Westminster abbey seized by King Henry VIII for a forest hunting reserve in 1536.
Although architect Francis Greenway envisaged it as the ‘grand quadrangle’ of a neo-classical town plan, Hyde Park’s first use was as a course for horse racing. By the 1820s it had become a popular venue for cricket matches and informal children’s games.
In the 1830s Governor Darling proposed to sell off the park for houses, but his successor Governor Bourke decided against this plan and re-affirmed its status as a park.
College Street was built in 1832 which divided off part of Hyde Park, in the area which became Cook + Phillip Parks. In 1837 a new water supply known as Busby’s Bore brought water to Hyde Park where a raised pipe was used to fill the town’s water-carts.
With the building of Sydney College (1832), nearby Lyons Terrace (1841) and the Australian Museum (1849-51), the southern end of Hyde Park attracted significant and imposing buildings which increased its importance as a planned open space envisaged by Francis Greenway.
The park remained without grass or trees until 1854, when the Hyde Park Improvement Committee was established. The cricket ground was moved to the Domain and the park was formalised with paths and plantings. Civic monuments were also installed in the park. The first in 1857 was the obelisk facing Bathurst Street, which is actually a vent for the underground sewer.
A bronze statue of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, was erected in 1866 five years after his death. This statue was moved to the Botanic Gardens in 1922 and was relocated in front of Hyde Park Barracks in 1987. Another statue, erected in 1879, depicts Captain James Cook.
During the 1850s, with the coming of responsible government, Hyde Park became a venue for Sunday oratory on political and civic topics, and later election meetings. It was also used for processions and official gatherings such as the ball to welcome Queen Victoria’s son in 1868. Its nineteenth century layout featured straight paths rather than curved ones, with the central avenue of Moreton Bay fig trees continuing the line of Macquarie Street. Elsewhere lawns were interspersed with clumps of trees and shrubs, water features and a bandstand.
The park was handed to Sydney City Council in 1904 and a programme of upgrading began, but all this work was swept away with the coming of the city circle rail line in the 1920s. The whole park was dug up to build the lines, and two stations (St James and Museum) were located within it. Work began in 1919 with the felling of the fig trees, and it was 1926 before reconstruction of the park could begin.
The 1926 design competition for Hyde Park was won by Norman Weekes, an engineer who was influenced by the ‘City Beautiful’ movement. Weekes’s design was heavily modified by the assessment committee, although the basic work of importing fertile soil was the first priority.
As the re-establishment of the park began, its two major monuments were erected. At the northern end of the park the Archibald Fountain was completed and installed in 1932. The Anzac Memorial to Australia’s World War 1 soldiers was opened in 1934 at the Liverpool Street end of the park.
In the 1950s, as the replanted trees matured, more changes were made to the park, with the demolition of the bandstand near the corner of Park and College Streets and its replacement by the Sandringham Garden.
In 1964 the Nagoya Gardens were built at the northern end of the park, and the giant chess board near St James Station was installed in 1972.
Anzac War Memorial under construction, 1932. (City of Sydney Archives, SRC8770)
Anzac Memorial and Pool of Reflection
This memorial to Australia’s World War 1 soldiers was designed by Bruce Dellit with sculptures by Rayner Hoff. It was opened in 1934 and consists of an Art Deco ziggurat in red granite. In front of the memorial along the line of the park’s central avenue is the Pool of Reflection.
This war trophy stands at the south-east corner of the park facing Oxford Street. It is a four-inch naval gun from the German cruiser “Emden” which was sunk off the Cocos Islands by HMAS “Sydney” on 9 November 1914, the first Australian naval victory. It was installed here in 1917.
The obelisk, irreverently known as “George Thornton’s scent bottle”, was erected in 1857 opposite Bathurst Street. It is an air outlet for the underground sewer cleverly disguised as a full-size replica of Cleopatra’s Needle (the Egyptian antiquity now displayed in London).
Captain Cook Statue
The statue of the English explorer of Australia’s east coast was erected in 1879 to mark the centenary of his death. It stands near the corner of Park and College Streets, the highest point in the park. Its sculptor was Thomas Woolmer who was prominent in the English pre-Raphaelite movement and spent several years in Australia.
This sandstone fountain on the College Street frontage opposite Sydney Grammar School is one of two donated by merchant and MLC John Frazer. It has been moved three times since it was first installed in the park in 1881.
Hyde Park Family Centre
Sydney’s first women’s public lavatory was built in 1910 in the park near the corner of Park and Elizabeth Streets. It was considered a ‘failure’ by council due to low usage and was replaced in 1955 by the Hyde Park Family Centre to provide facilities for women and children visiting the city including child care. The centre was demolished and the area grassed over in 2000.
J F Archibald, founder of the “Bulletin” magazine who died in 1919, left money for a fountain to commemorate the association of France and Australia in World War 1. The fountain was designed by François Sicard and completed in 1932.
This bronze statue stands at the northern end of the park near Prince Albert Road. It was erected by public subscription in 1897 to commemorate the populist politician William Bede Dalley (1831-1888).
This elaborate drinking fountain commemorates members of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows who served and died in World War 1. It stands on the corner of Park and Elizabeth Streets.
This terraced garden was designed by Ilmar Berzins, the first qualified landscape architect in Australia. It is a memorial to King George V and George VI and was opened by the Queen during her first visit to Australia in 1954. It is named after the Royal family’s residence in Norfolk, England.
Erected in 1961 facing Elizabeth Street, this fountain was presented by the family of Frederic Joseph Walker to commemorate farming pioneers of Australia. It was sculpted by Gerard Havekes.
Helen Proudfoot, “Hyde Park Sydney: Statement of Significance and Historical Analysis”, 1987
McDonald McPhee Pty Ltd, “Hyde Park South Conservation Plans for Culturally Significant Items”, 1990
Ian Kirk, “Heritage Assessment Report and Heritage Impact Statement of Hyde Park Family Centre”, 1999
DPWS Heritage Group, “Anzac Memorial Proposed Vertical Lift Screens and Roof Repair Works: Heritage Impact Statement”, 1999
Last updated: Wednesday, 27 March 2013