It was not until 1492 that the town of Richmond came into being. Until that time, the whole area had been known as Shene and its history extended back to the early 12th century when the Manor of Shene was created by Henry I and given to the Belet family. It was not until 1316 that the Crown formally took over the property and what we now know as Old Deer Park became part of the Crown estate. Kings lived and died at Shene, ever larger palaces were built and by the end of the 14th century, Shene Palace was home to the Queen’s court.
However, when Queen Anne, wife of Richard II, died of the Black Death in 1394, so overcome with grief was the King that he tore down the palace and lands were neglected. It was Henry V who revived them by building a great monastery alongside the river (on the land that is now the 14th hole of the Royal Mid-Surrey’s Outer Course) and the revival of Shene began. Henry VI rebuilt the palace and laid out a New Park for his leisure. Some areas were turned into gardens, the larger part remaining as a Park for the King and his courtiers to hunt in. Whilst Edward IV and Richard III had some interest in the lands, it was not until Henry VII seized the throne that Richmond began to flourish.
After staging a Grant Tournament in the parks, Henry decided to build his grand palace on the bank of the Thames. It was said that his plan was to make Richmond Palace the most magnificent in the land and illustrations suggest that his ambition was fulfilled. Henry Tudor was born Henry, Earl of Richmond, and having decided to make Shene his home, he also decided to change the name of the area and so Richmond was born. During Henry’s reign, Richmond was very much the centre of royal life.
More formal gardens were set out – in the area that is now Richmond Green and town centre – and the hunting parks extended north to the river at Kew. Henry VII died at Richmond and his son, Henry VIII, also used Richmond extensively particularly during the early years of his reign. The celebrations of his wedding to Catherine of Aragon included Royal Tournaments and Jousts, with encampments erected across the parks to house the many retainers of the royal potentates.
Henry’s interest in Richmond waned when he was given Hampton Court by Cardinal Wolsey – Wolsey being allowed to live at Richmond in return - and in 1540 he gave Richmond Palace to Anne of Cleves as part of their divorce settlement. However Anne did not much care for the opulence of Richmond and so the palace and the pars were much neglected until Elizabeth I came to the throne. Of course the monastery had also been seized during Henry’s time and so the entire estate now belonged to the Crown. Elizabeth called Richmond ‘her warm winter box to shelter her old age’ and she increasingly spent time there. Indeed it was at Richmond Palace, on 24th March 1603, that she died.
Following her death, Richmond fundamentally changed from a place of residence to a place of leisure. Neither James I nor his son Charles I used Richmond as a home but they both enjoyed the Parks for hunting. It was Charles who decided that a New park should be created and he enclosed the area that we now know as Richmond Park. It became known as the New Deer Park and the old one therefore became the Old Deer Park.
Richmond Palace was destroyed during the period of Cromwell’s Commonwealth – hence there are few traces of it today – but following the restoration of the monarchy, Richmond began to return to royal favour. As the palace in Richmond no longer existed, the Lodge in Old Deer Park became the Royal residence. Its location was around 800 yards south-west our ground but it would have enjoyed uninterrupted views of the and around it. Queen Caroline, wife of George II, was responsible for introducing Charles Bridgman, a celebrated landscape gardener and the man who designed Richmond Gardens and introduced the HaHa to British landscape design in the early 18th century.
Richmond Gardens was distinct from Kew Gardens, which were attached to Kew Palace, the home of Frederick Prince of Wales and great cricket enthusiast, despite his German origins. The land that we occupy sat in the north-west corner of Richmond Gardens, bordering Kew Gardens to the North. It was his daughter-in-law, Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, who introduced the Pagoda to Kew Gardens in 1761 and demolished Richmond Lodge in 1770. A year earlier she had also demolished the 18 homes that made up the hamlet of West Shene and all traces of the old monastery were removed.
In 1785, the King closed the main route from Richmond to the ferry at Kew, Love Lane, which extended from Kew Foot Road between what is now the Golf Club and our own ground and through the centre of Kew Gardens, and developed an old bridle path into what we now know as the Kew Road.
George III had little love for the works of his grand-mother and was also known to be a lover of agriculture, to the extent that his nickname was “Farmer George”. So, he systematically destroyed the formal garden created by Queen Caroline and, increasingly, the Old Deer Park became open pastures. He was also a great lover of sheep and among the first people to introduce merino sheep to England, importing them from Spain. His flocks were legendary and every year sales took place “in a paddock on the south side of the Pagoda and separated from the Kew Road by a Ha Ha”.
It is that paddock that is now our home.
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