Richmond Park: our secret guide to visiting
Are you considering buying or developing property in the borough of Richmond Upon Thames? One of London’s wealthiest boroughs, it is also one of the most verdant with approximately half of its geography dedicated to parklands. Since we all know that access to plants, trees and beautiful scenery are intrinsically linked to our mental health and wellbeing, it’s no surprise that in a 2006 study by a major mortgage lender Richmond Upon Thames was revealed to be the best borough in London for quality of living.
Thus, if you’re considering moving to the area or have property interests there, you can’t get a true taste for the borough without paying a visit to Richmond Park. This historically rich and astonishingly beautiful Royal Park is the largest in London at 2,500 acres and far predates the borough itself (which was only formed in 1965).
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Let’s take a look at Richmond Park’s rich history, marvellous architecture and incredible sights…
The origins of Richmond Park
While the areas of human habitation around it have changed a great deal in the 380-odd years since Richmond Park was first established, the actual grounds themselves have changed refreshingly little with their topography of hills, woodland and grasslands home to some stunning natural sights and a multitude of intriguing wildlife. It remains a site of great interest for both national and international conservation efforts.
Generations of royals going back to Edward the First have been connected with this park, although it was in 1625 when Charles I brought his court to Richmond Palace that the park began to take the shape it retains to this day. The king originally came to Richmond Palace to escape the plague in London. However, he became so enamoured with the site that he turned it into a hunting park for red and fallow deer.
In 1637, the king arranged to enclose the land, a move that provoked uproar among the local residents, although they were still allowed entry to the park. The walls built by Charles I still remain to this day, although they have been fortified and partially rebuilt throughout the centuries.
As well as its expanses of natural beauty (and a superb view of St. Paul’s Cathedral from its heights), the park is also home to a plethora of architectural wonders including…
The Butler’s Pantry at Pembroke Lodge
The Grade II Listed Georgian mansion of Pembroke Lodge became the home of the then Prime Minister, Lord John Russell in 1847 and would later become the childhood home of his grandson, the celebrated philosopher, mathematician and essayist Bertrand Russell. This magnificent building with exquisite gardens is not just a great feast for the eyes (especially for aficionados of architecture) it’s also a great place to fill the belly. The Lodge now contains the popular restaurant The Butler’s Pantry with stunning high ground views along the length of the Thames Valley.
From the first glance, Ham House presents an intricate and imposing depiction of old English opulence. This stunning 17th century manor is maintained by the National Trust and can be explored by visitors all year round. The house also has stately gardens and kitchen gardens which can also be roamed and events are held here all year round. From the opportunity to visit Father Christmas in winter to outdoor theatrical productions in the summer there’s always something to see and do at Ham House… if you can tear your eyes away from its architectural beauty, that is.
Originally called Cooper’s Lodge, Holly Lodge was built in 1735. It has undergone several name changes in the intervening years including Lucas’s Lodge and the less than flattering Bog Lodge before being changed to Holly Lodge in 1993. While perhaps not the most imposing architectural wonder in Richmond Park (though it remains a modestly pretty example of an English country house), the Holly Lodge Centre is dedicated to providing hands-on experiences for visitors to engender a love of nature.
The imposing White Lodge was built in 1730 by famed architect Roger Morris and originally served as a hunting lodge for George II. It remained in royal hands until Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 when it was occupied by the wealthy society widow Eliza Emma Hartmann before returning to royal occupation in the 1920s. Since 1956, however, it has been the home of the Royal Ballet School.
Thatched House Lodge
This impressive Grade II listed building was built in 1673 and was originally two houses intended for two of the park’s keepers. The house gets its name from the two-room thatched summer house added in the 18th century. The lodge was used as a grace-and-favour residence for numerous royals until the 20th century where it housed a variety of high profile residents. It was famously the London home of US General Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II.
The impressive glasshouse that is the Petersham Nurseries may not have the grand history of some of the other buildings listed here but it is nonetheless an exquisite location that’s well worth investigating while you’re in the area. Equal parts garden centre, restaurant and cafe, the relationship between the natural and architectural worlds are keenly felt here. A terrific place to pick up some plants and get a bite to eat while also scratching one’s itch for architectural and interior beauty.
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Okay, so this may not be the work of any architect (unless you count Mother Nature). Nonetheless, the vividly coloured beauty of this woodland garden really cannot be accurately captured in any photograph. It has to be seen in person to be truly appreciated. This 40 acre plantation goes back to the 1830s and contains an astonishing collection of evergreen azaleas brought over from Japan by the famed plant collector Ernest Wilson in the 1920s.
King Henry’s Mound
Finally, don’t leave Richmond Gardens without stopping to take in one of London’s most famous views. Climb King Henry’s Mound at the park’s western edge (the site of a prehistoric burial ground) to catch the legendary uninterrupted view of the distinctive dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.