Gentle Readers, It may please you to know that frequent contributer, Tony Grant (London Calling), lives near Richmond Park, a wilderness that has kept its pristine nature for centuries. Enjoy these beautiful photographs.
Richmond Park is situated 12 miles south west of St Pauls Cathedral in the city of London. It just happens to be two miles from where I live on the edge of Wimbledon and abuts Wimbledon Common that stretches for a few miles on the other side of the Kingston Road.
The Kingston Road is a very old road running between Kingston upon Thames and the City of London. It bisects Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park on it’s way. Jane Austen would have travelled often along it on her way from Hampshire by way of Kingston upon Thames to her brother Henry’s house in Henrietta Street or to one of the other houses Henry owned at different times.
The park has always been an untouched piece of wilderness. It has never been adapted or changed by agriculture. It has always been as it is to this day. It covers 2,500 acres. King Edward I who lived from 1272 to 1307 and who was also called Longshanks and The Hammer of the Scots, formed the park in the Manor of Sheen beside the Thames outside of London, as a hunting park stocked with red and fallow deer.
There are six hundred deer in the park to this day. Under Henry VII, who built a palace at Sheen beside the river, the park and the local town was renamed, Richmond. There is a mound or small hill in the park called, Henry VIII’s Mound, where the Tudor king reputedly would spy out likely deer to be hunted. In 1625 Charles I removed the whole of his court to Richmond Palace because of the Black Plague raging through London.
He used the park for hunting too. In 1637 Charles had a wall built around the park, which is still there. The local people were obviously chagrined. Charles passed strict laws about the King’s deer being poached and the wall was an extra deterrent.
Richmond Park has a strong emotional connection for Marilyn and me. Not only does one of the campuses of Kingston University, where me met as undergraduates, back onto the park and on numerous occasions we scaled the brick wall between Kingston Hill Place, my halls of residence , to get into the park at night but it has great significance to the birth of all our children. Now I know what you are thinking, but you would be wrong. By the way, Kingston Hill Place used to be the home of Lilly Langtry or Jersey Lill, as she was known, the mistress of Queen Victoria’s eldest son Edward VII.
Getting back to the great significance to the birth of our four children. Well, it first happened with Sam, our eldest. The day he was due to be born, 1st July 1986, Marilyn showed no signs of going into labour. We sat around and sat around waiting for something to happen and obviously it wasn’t going to.
We decided to drive to Richmond Park and go for a walk beside Penn Ponds, two beautiful small lakes right in the middle of the park with reed beds and groves of massive ancient oak trees nearby. The ponds have a large variety of water birds, swans, mallards, Canada Geese, coots and many other varieties of ducks inhabiting them. They nest in the reed beds along the edge of the ponds. Richmond Park has been classified as SSSI status. That means it is a site of special scientific interest. Sam was born a week later on the 8th July.
When Marilyn [Tony's wife] was pregnant with Alice we followed the same routine, a day beside Penn Ponds and then after that, we did the same with Emily and Abigail in later years.
All of our children were born late. You might think, weren’t you taking a chance? What if Marilyn had gone into labour on the predicted date? Ah well you see, Kingston Hospital is right next to Richmond Park. All we needed to do was climb over the wall. No sorry, let me get that right; drive a short distance to the maternity department.
There are a number of beautiful houses inside Richmond Park. White Lodge,in the centre, is the home of The Royal Ballet School. All our great ballet dancers train there from an early age. In the film Billly Elliott, that is where he went to train as a dancer. White Lodge is an elegant 18th century pile that used to be a country house belonging to Edward VII.
Pembroke Lodge, situated on a high hill overlooking the River Thames and Kingston upon Thames is situated on the edge of the park. It used to be the home of Lord John Russell, a prime minister during the reign of Queen Victoria. He was the grandfather of Bertrand Russell, the philosopher. Bertrand Russell spent much of his childhood at Pembroke Lodge.
Pembroke Lodge is now a café and restaurant. It is a great experience to sit on the terrace of Pembroke Lodge on a summers afternoon looking out over the Thames sipping Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong, and eating a scone with clotted cream or homemade strawberry jam.
Richmond Park is wonderful to take long walks. There are many massive ancient oak trees. Some must be four or five hundred years old. A few have been scarred by lightning strikes.
You will see deer grazing in amongst the vast areas of bracken. An unexpected sound and sight are the flocks of green parakeets that have inhabited parts of Richmond Park.
The story goes, whether myth or reality , is that in the 1940’s Treasure Island was being filmed at Pinewood Studios. They had parakeets on the film set and some escaped and began breeding in Richmond Park. A similar story centres around the making of The African Queen with Humphrey Bogard. It too was being filmed partly at Pinewood. Again the story goes that parakeets escaped from that film set too. I don’t know how much truth there is any of these stories but there is, without doubt, a colony of green parakeets living and breeding in Richmond Park. I have had a few land and rest in the branches of the apple trees in my own garden.
There are a number of plantations that are fenced off from the rest of the park so deer cannot eat the shrubs and trees growing in them.
The Isabella Plantation is the most wonderful example of them all. It is a woodland garden at it’s best. In the spring when the bluebell woods are carpeted in blue it lifts the spirits and is a joy to behold. Many of the bushes and shrubs situated in glades and beside the sparkling stream that runs through the plantation create an emotional and spiritual experience.
The Isabella Plantation is one of those places on earth that sooths the spirit and fills your eyes with beauty. To sit on the grass and listen to the birds and look at the camellias, magnolias, azaleas and rhododendrons is wonderful. The plantation is run on organic principles and because of this it is home to a great variety of insects and mini beasts.
Here is a quote from the web site dedicated to the Isabella plantation.
“In spring, visitors can see camellias, magnolias, as well as daffodils and bluebells. From late April, the azaleas and rhododendrons are in flower. In summer, there are displays of Japanese irises and day lilies. By autumn, guelder rose, rowan and spindle trees are loaded with berries and leaves on the acer trees are turning red. Even in winter, the gardens have scent and colour. There are early camellias and rhododendron, as well as mahonia, winter-flowering heathers and stinking hellebore.”
The present plantation was developed by George Thomson , the park superintendent from 1951-1971.
Some recent news for you Hollywood A list watchers. My local paper had a small news item. Brad Pitt has been spotted taking pictures of the deer in Richmond Park recently. He is over here filming at the moment. He and Angelina are living in a house, a grand house I am sure, by the Thames at Richmond.
Outside the Richmond gate is a large elegant brick building called The Star and Garter Hospital. It is a special hospital for aged military servicemen and women from all wars. They also have the poppy factory next to it. We celebrate the dead of our wars on November 11th every year which was the First World War Armistice Day. The fields of Picardy, in Northern France, where much of the terrible deadly trench warfare took place, were covered in wild poppies in the Spring. Somebody thought the poppies represented the drops of blood from the dead who lay in those fields so the poppy was taken as the British symbol to remember the dead.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below. – John McRae
Just down the hill from the park, in Richmond town, there is a house called Hogarth House. It was in this house that Virginia Woolf lived with her husband Leonard for many years and began The Hogarth Press, named after the house. Virginia Woolf, in her diaries, often mentions going for walks with Leonard and friends in Richmond Park.
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