History of Hyde Park
A Hamlet older than the City.
Known until 1963 as Hyde Park Corner, this community developed around the intersection of Gainsborough Road (the former Concession 4 London) and Hyde Park Road. Although this area was settled prior to London itself, it was too close to the city to ever become to anything more than a village.
Settlers arrived in Hyde Park Corner around 1818, about eight years before the first log cabin that marked the beginning of London appeared beside the Thames. That year Thomas Routledge, his wife Margaret, and their nine children arrived from Cumberland, England. They named their new home Hyde Park. One reference says the Routledges named their farm after “their home town” in England. 18 But as Hyde Park is not a town in Cumberland but rather a famous green space in London, the reason for the choice of name remains a mystery.
Another pioneer was Duncan MacKenzie of Ruthven, Inverness, who arrived around the same time and settled the northeast corner, directly across from the Routledges on the northwest corner. There he built his home, Dalmagarry Cottage, in 1836.
Other early settlers were Truman Hull, who settled the southeast corner, and John Barclay, who built a home on the southwest. All these people found it necessary to do their trading in St. Thomas, about 15 miles away, as there was no London yet. The area where the village is today was, at that time, largely swamp, a great place for the children to play on rafts in summer and ice skate in winter. In early times the road to the north was corduroy for at least half a mile as this was the only safe way to create a route through the wet land, which in time was drained to create farmland.
As in many other communities, one of the earliest buildings was a school. Hyde Park School was erected on the southwest southwest corner, on land donated by John Barclay in 1839. Two more schools would follow on this same lot. The fourth S. S. 17 was a frame building set on the west side of Hyde Park Road in 1854, halfway between Gainsborough Road and the United Church. Yet another school, this time of brick, was built in 1867 for $1,500. Originally, it had two rooms but later, when student enrolment dwindled, one was removed.
As early as 1845, Methodist preachers had been conducting occasional services in the schoolhouse, a practice that would continue for thirty years. On May 26, 1870, Edward Attrill donated a site for a church to the east of the intersection on the north side of the road. Then, in 1875, a local merchant, William Lamely died and left in his will a large portion of his estate to build a Wesleyan Methodist Church within three years after the death of his wife, should she outlive him. He died January 28 and his wife died four days later. In September of the next year, the Lamely Memorial Methodist Church opened on the designated site, at a cost of $1,023.
Presbyterian services were also held in the schoolhouse but Gaelic services were held in the home of the Widow Ross. In the winter of 1875–76, plans and materials were gathered for the planned-for Hyde Park Presbyterian. Building began after John Barclay donated a land site on his lot south of the school and, on the first day of November 1876, Hyde Park Presbyterian opened. The first minister, Alexander Henderson, received a free manse and an annual salary of $400. The schoolhouse also hosted Anglican services until land for a church was donated by R. Shaw-Wood in 1888. The Church of the Hosannas opened in December of that year.
The first cemetery at Hyde Park was located on the southwest corner near the school. In 1857, a new cemetery, St. George’s, was opened to the west of the intersection on the south side of the road.
Hyde Park was a quiet intersection until the coming of the railway. In 1854, the tracks for the Great Western Railway (later the Grand Trunk and still later the CNR) were laid within a mile to the south of the hamlet. The arrival of the railway brought land speculation and many of the farms were subdivided into village lots. In 1875, the London, Huron and Bruce Railway line passed to the east of the village. And, in 1888, the CPR went by, running parallel to the CNR; at Hyde Park, the tracks are only a few feet apart. A CNR station was built south of the intersection where the tracks passed over Hyde Park Road. This new status as a railway shipping point and passenger depot transformed Hyde Park into a business centre.
In 1855, Alexander Forsythe built a hotel on the northwest corner. The Hyde Park House, as it was called, had a public hall over its horse sheds that was used for dances. Later, Charles Woods established another hotel on the southwest corner; it became known as the Old Countryman’s Inn. The first merchant at Hyde Park was the aforementioned William Lamely. He was followed by Elijah Lampard, and later by John Reeve. The first blacksmith at Hyde Park was a Mr. Murch, Samuel Sanders being another. Men would gather at the blacksmith shops and discuss everything from politics to farming while waiting for their horses to be shod. It is recorded that a man named George Tremeer had a carriage shop. Also, at that time, a dressmaker went from house to house, earning 25 cents a day sewing.
Before there was a post office at Hyde Park, settlers had to go to Hall’s Mills (Byron) or Kilworth for their mail. But, in the first day of the year in 1859, a post office was finally established for the community.
Hyde Park Corner’s neighbourhood doctor was Henry Hanson. In the early days, two young men named John Bray and Walter Hoare studied under Hanson since there were no medical schools for them to attend. Mrs. George Parkins is identified as a practical nurse at the time. A story is recorded that has Mrs. Parkins and Dr. Hanson being called in the middle of the night by a man with a lantern, to attend a case on the 5th Concession (now Fanshawe Park Road). The man was in such a hurry to return to his house that he left them far behind, lost in the dark. They could not get their bearings until they stumbled into a den of foxes. Knowing that a den of foxes was on a certain sandy bank on Concession 5, they managed to find the way to their patient. 20 It was easy to get lost in the woods in those days. One member of the Routledge family was lost in the woods for three days until he finally thought of climbing a tall tree to see get his bearings. In that way he managed to find a familiar landmark and make his way home. He had slept in a hollow log that night to keep dry. 21
Many clubs and social groups were organized at Hyde Park in the last century and in the early years of the 20th century. A temperance society called the Royal Oak Lodge started in 1859 with 21 members. In 1891, a fraternal society called the Woodmen of the World 22 was organized by William Fuller with Peter McNames as “Council Commander.” The Woodmen are said to have financed the building of a Town Hall for Hyde Park in 1906. The building made a wonderful dance hall since it had no pillars or supports on its ground floor. A Farmer’s Club was founded in 1907 and a Women’s Institute Branch opened in 1909. When an enormous fire engulfed the Hyde Park House in 1911, it and all its outbuildings were destroyed. Although the nearby home of William Routledge was also totally consumed by flame, the members of the Women’s Institute, meeting in another house nearby, managed to salvage nearly everything in it.
Over the years there were many changes at Hyde Park Corner. By the turn of the century, the Old Countryman’s Inn was converted into a home by R. E. Morris, who also built a garage beside it. In 1923, Hydro was welcomed in the village and, two years later, the roads were paved. That same year, 1925, the Presbyterian and Methodist Congregations joined to form Hyde Park United Church. The Presbyterian Church became home to the dual congregations while Lamely Methodist was closed and converted into a house. In 1948, the old Hyde Park School was abandoned and the cornerstone of a new one was laid west of the intersection on the south side of the road. The new school opened in 1949. On February 1, 1963, the word “Corner” was dropped from the name of the community, ostensibly to make it shorter. The old school, which had been relegated to life as a storage shed, burned to the ground in 1974, another building of the past gone.
Today, Hyde Park is part of the City of London. But the place has retained its own sign and a feeling for days gone by. An approach from the south, over the railroad tracks shows that the tracks are still in use, but the station is gone. Next is the Anglican Church of the Hosannas, still active on the east side of the road. Across the street, just to the north, is Hyde Park United, formerly Presbyterian, also still providing worship services. At the main corner, a strip mall stands on the site of the old schools and the Old Countryman’s Inn. Peter Noble Motors is located on the site of the old Hyde Park House. To the north, on the west side of Hyde Park Road, is Routledge Street, built on the former Routledge farm. East of the main intersection, at 1019 Gainsborough Road, is the former Lamely Methodist Church, still a home and in good condition. To the west of the intersection is the newest Hyde Park School and farther west still is St. George’s Cemetery where many of Hyde Park’s nineteenth century inhabitants were buried.
Text From VANISHED VILLAGES OF MIDDLESEX By Jennifer Grainger