The Regent’s Park and the Royal College of Physicians.
Updated by Natalie 02 Dec 2016
I am a car driver so until recently this is what I knew about Regent’s Park, or, as it is actually named, The Regent’s Park:-
- Travelling west along Marylebone Road after Great Portland Street station there is a very elegant curved Nast terrace on the left, and the start of a park on the right.
- Somewhere on the west of the park is a large mosque
- The Zoo is somewhere in the north of the park.
I now know that to the east of the park there is a 50 year old grade 1 Listed building which is open to the public and well worth visiting. It is the home of the Royal College of Physicians.
Background about the park
Henry VIII decided that the area of the park belonged to him, and in the early 19th century the Prince Regent and the architects Nash and Burton redeveloped it. This is why we have the lovely stucco buildings in and around the park.
During the war a Nash building to the east of the park was badly damaged and the Queen agreed that it could be demolished and replaced with a modern building.
Background about the Royal College of Physicians
Henry VIII authorised the founding of the RCP – a sort of guild or trade union for physicians.
They obviously prospered but during the Great Fire of London their 2nd headquarters were burnt, their money was stolen, and they almost became bankrupt.
But they survived, and accumulated another set of interesting objects, and in the 1950’s decided that they needed to build their 5th headquarters.
In 1958 they appointed the modernist architect Denys Lasdun to design their new headquarters.
Denys Lasdun 1914-2001
The Lasdun building that Londoners know is the National Theatre built in 1976. This is a typical brutalist building, with its exposed concrete.
In the RCP building (1960-1964) the modern brutalist shapes are clothed in small ceramic tiles and special dark bricks.
Before the RCP building Lasun had been mainly involved in large residential estates and afterwards he was responsible for a lot of university buildings, so it is not easy to see all his work.
The RCP building is his masterpiece and was in some ways made possible by the Wolfson foundation which said it would pay for whatever was necessary to make it a great building.
Getting to the RCP
The RCP is in Park Avenue East, and this is more or less half way between Great Portland Street Station, and Regents Park Station.
Great Portland Street station is on the Circle, Hammersmith and Metropolitan lines so it is probably the easiest station for us. Turn left along Marylebone Road, cross the road and enter the park through some special gates.
Regents Park Station is on the Bakerloo line. Turn right and cross Marylebone Road at the traffic light. While walking to the traffic light if you look down into the park you will glimpse a path. This was specially built so that nannies could safely wheel their prams from the main park in the north to the crescent shaped private gardens to the south of the road.
Once you are through the gates walk past a bock of Nash terrace houses on your right.
The next little road on the right is part of the RCP.
The Nash Terrace.
Each little house in the terrace has a garden devoted to a different category of plants listed in an ancient pharmacopeia. The labels of some of the plants give Shakespearean quotes mentioning those plants.
The elegant Nash building at the end of the terrace is accommodation used by some people attending conferences.
The small garden to the side of the main RCP building is a very interesting physic garden with about 1000 different plants. During the spring and summer guided walks of the gardens are available. I discovered them on the Open Gardens day, and I actually did 3 separate tours with the same guide. He managed to hardly repeat himself, and I bought a couple of his books which keen gardeners may borrow.
The main RCP Building.
This building is a very busy conference centre. On the day I visited I sneaked into some of the rooms during the lunch hour while the delegates were eating in the wide galleries which surround the spiral staircase. If the rooms are not being used for conferences they can be visited at any time.
At all times the small museum is open and the galleries have very interesting artefacts and pictures. Everything is very well labelled. Among the artefacts are large wooden planks on which are mounted dried body parts. They were used for teaching and only 2 sets exist in the world.
The only disadvantage the building has is that it does not have a café which is open to the general public. Conference organisers arrange catering for their guests.
I know there are other good links but I have lost them. There is certainly a link telling us what we should see. The same information is available in the free leaflets available from the college
Please let me know of any links or errors that you find.
Lasdun was born in 1914 and died in 2001 so the RCP (1960-1964) building was built when he was 46-50. At the same time he was designing Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge (1959-1963) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitzwilliam_College,_Cambridge#The_Hall_Building_.281963.29
In 1979-83 he designed the IBM building next to the National Theatre