Guest author: John Taylor*
A nature reserve, the Richmond Park, is of importance for wildlife conservation, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special area of Conservation. It is Grade 1 listed on the Historic England’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. Historically the preserve of the monarch the park is open to all for use, and includes sports facilities, and the Isabella Plantation, a 40 acre woodland garden. Its landscapes have inspired famous artists and it has been a location for films and TV series.
In 1625, Charles I brought his court to Richmond Palace to escape an outbreak of plague in the capital. The area on the hill above Richmond was turned into a park for hunting. Following Charles execution, custodianship of the park passed to the Corporation of the City of London. It was returned to the restored monarch Charles II on his return to London in 1660.
In 1751, Princess Amelia, daughter of Caroline of Ansbach and her husband George II, became ranger of the park, and she caused public uproar by closing the park to the public. This continued until 1758, when local brewer, John Lewis took the matter to court and the court ruled in favour of Lewis, and the public right of way was restored.
Within the park are many buildings of architectural or historic interest. The Grade 1 listed White Lodge was formerly a royal residence and is now home to the Royal Ballet School. The parks boundary walls and ten other buildings are listed Grade 11. Pembroke Lodge was the home of 19th century British Prime Minister Lord John Russell and his grandson the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Within the gardens of Pembroke Lodge is a prehistoric burial chamber, later used as a viewpoint for hunting and falconry. Called King Henry’s Mound, it is though that the king stood in this spot when hunting. There is a protected view of St Paul’s Cathedral from King Henry’s Mound. Between1833 and 1842, the Petersham Lodge estate was incorporated into Richmond Park, and later new drainage improvements were constructed including drinking points for deer. In about 1870, the Inns of Court Rifle Volunteers were using the area near Bog Gate as a drill ground. Edward VII developed the park as a public amenity by opening up most of the previously fenced woods. The public golf course was opened in 1923 by Edward, Prince of Wales. The future king was born at White Lodge within the park in 1894. During World War I, the park was used for cavalry training, and the park also housed a South African military hospital.
An army camp was established there in 1938. It covered 45 acres near to Thatched House Lodge. It became known as Kingston Gate Camp, and was used as a training centre by the East Surrey Regiments. During World War II, an anti-aircraft site was inside Sheen Gate for the duration of the war. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, visited it on 10 November 1940. During the war, Thatched House Lodge was the London home of General Dwight D Eisenhower. Since 1963, it has been the residence of Princess Alexandra. In addition to use of the park for military purposes, approximately 500 acres were converted to agricultural use during the war. In 1948, Kingston Gate Camp was used as a camp for the Olympic Village. It was not until 1965 that the camp was demolished and reintegrated into the park. In the 2012 Summer Olympics, the cycling road races went through the park.
Other buildings within the park include Coopers Lodge built in 1753, later renamed Holly Lodge. It now contains a visitors centre, the parks administrative headquarters, and a base for the Metropolitan Police Royal Parks Operational Command Unit.
Bishops Gate Lodge takes its name from a gamekeeper that worked in the park in the 19th century. Oak Lodge was built about 1852 as a home for the park bailiff.
Richmond Park now has 630 red and fallow deer, with a cull taking place each November and February. The park lost over 1000 mature trees during the Great Storm of 1987, and the Burn’s Day storm of 1990. The subsequent replanting included a new plantation, Two Storms Wood. The Jubilee Plantation was created in1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
During 1979/80, a sink hole caused by subsidence of a sewer. repair work caused the closure of the main road between Richmond and Kingston, and traffic was diverted through the park. About 10 deer a month were killed by traffic while the diversion was in operation. Following a series of boundary changes in 1994/5, the park became part of Richmond upon Thames. The Friends of Richmond Park is a charitable organisation and was founded in 1961 to protect the park. It has a visitor centre near Pembroke lodge.
The park has an interesting international connection. Named after the British park, The Richmond Park in Brunswick, Germany, was created in 1768 for Princess Augusta, sister of George III. It was designed by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. The nearly 10-acre park has been open to the public since 1964.
Ensure that during your visit you leave time to visit the Isabella Plantation, a 40-acre woodland garden, that has an amazing variety of Azaleas, Rhododendrons, and Camellias.
*About the author:
“My home town was Molesey in Surrey, and for the last 45 years, I have been living with my wife in Walton-on-Thames. We have two daughters and three grandchildren. I retired from employment a few years ago, having worked in various occupations, but mainly in administrative roles, both in the government and private sector.
About five years ago, as a hobby, I began writing articles for local magazines. Generally of historic interest. I choose the articles myself and these range from The history of ‘The Trolley Bus and Green Line Bus service,’ The history of Bushy Park’, ‘The Bridges of Hampton Court,’ ‘Local Reservoirs,’ ‘The Great Storm’,’ Legendary islands of the Thames’, ’The Festival of Britain’, ‘Waterloo Station’, and several other articles. I have usually written about three or four each year.