Published: June 14th 2017
Another day, another Richmond. Two weeks after my appearance at the North Yorkshire founding father, we find ourselves in Richmond on Thames. I could now be on a mission to visit all 57 of the places of that name, but this trip is pure coincidence. There is no football this weekend. The Other Half decided on a trip to London and who was I to complain. Summer is officially here. In many senses with the recent terrorist attacks, it is unfortunate timing. I was also offered a Scotland v England ticket the other day. Alas, that is at Hampden later today so I was forced to decline.
Richmond on Thames rose to prominence in Tudor times. Henry VII built a palace here, although nothing of that now remains. The original burned down and the replacement didn’t survive the Civil War. The position on the river made it a handy stopping off point to and from Hampton Court and the royals found good hunting in the expansive Old Deer Park. The current town is very much Georgian in appearance, as the wealthy merchants and bankers remodelled the previous dwellings to display their new found wealth. The result today is
an eclectic mix of architectural styles in an environment that feels more village like than most London suburbs.
The sun was shining at the end of the District Line and a steady stream filtered out of the station to enjoy a day messing about by the river. We settled into Cafe Nero – other coffee stops are available – primarily because we had a freebie to drink. An Irish guy spoke passionately about the quality of the coffee at the adjacent premises. His wife spoke Portuguese to a former Brazilian airline pilot, now resident in the Massif Central in France, who was visiting his son. The cosmopolitan life of London.
We set off towards the Thames. A healthy number were enjoying the morning sunshine on the towpath. The rowing boats remained tied up for the time being. A mum was followed by her daughter on their scooters. A family cycled and a runner was doing his short timed sprints. He frantically checked his stop watch after each burst and looked disappointed. He made me tired just watching him. There were others happy with their cappuccino, just watching the world go by. The boatsheds of
the Richmond Rowing Club were opening and some were already out on the water. The swirling, gusty winds were making their life difficult. Henley awaits. A warning sign suggested various unpleasantness would be bestowed on you, should you dare to swim in the waters. The wind was not against all on the water. The mini wind turbines whizzed round on the houseboats on the far side. Green living. Marble Hill House looked impressive on the far bank.
We cut away from the town boundary following the towpath towards Ham House. Ham House is a space of tranquility away from the bustle. We exercised our National Trust membership. In view of recent events in central London, I was surprised how sparse the visitor numbers were.. I was left largely unhindered taking panoramic shots of the house in the bright sunlight. The one constant in this area of London is the proximity of Heathrow Airport. A plane every minute or so swoops across the sky to make the descent into the airport. Old England meets the 21st Century. I waited my moment to get an incoming jet in my frame just above Ham House. The actual house wasn’t opening
until noon, so we people watched from the peace of the Kitchen Gardens by the old Orangery. The oldest standing Orangery of all the big houses left in the country.
Ham House was built by William Murray, after the lease to the estate was granted to him by Charles I. Mr Murray was educated with Charles and the wealth that followed was an example of the old boys network in action. He set about building the finest example of a Stuart mansion in the 1620s. The house itself is quite modest in size, but decorated to palace standards. The interior was a bit dark and gloomy, as the blinds remain closed to prevent the furniture and paintings from damaging sunlight. The oldest serving bathroom in the country sits in the basement. On his death, the estate passed over to Murray’s daughter, Elizabeth, who along with her husband the Duke of Lauderdale remodelled the gardens much as you see them today. I enjoyed the gardens more than the house.
Ham House today doesn’t have extensive grounds. The wide open spaces of the private Ham Polo Club stands next door. A series of warning signs stress
that mere mortals such as ourselves were not welcome to wander. An Aston Martin roared down the exit drive towards us. There was a polo match the following day and indeed, every Sunday between May and September. We had time in the schedule for it, so the Argentine Open in Buenos Aires over 20 years ago remains our only appearance at this most exclusive of sports. A lone polo player was exercising his pony on the perimeter of the warm up field. The white marquees ere bring readied for the main event on Sunday. We departed in style – on the number 65 bus back towards town. It was a steep incline up the Terrace Gardens to the grandeur of Richmond Hill. In a town of such wealth, it was a shock to see homeless people had setup home under the arches on the top side. All this was only yards away from multi million pound homes. We gazed out over the Thames. Twickenham – the home of egg chasing – towered up into the sky on the far side.
Richmond Green just beyond the main street was a hub of activity. A cricket match was in
full swing. The pub on the edge of the Green was not surprisingly named the Cricketers. A series of small white flags marked the boundary of the pitch. Two small white wooden notices warned of low flying cricket balls and respectfully requested other users of the Green walk round. The near side played host to variety of other activities – sun seekers, picnics, and a birthday party. The yummy mummies of Richmond were busy introducing their City broker husbands to the rest of the society set. “Giles. Are you keeping well? A glass of bubbles, Alice?” There were other groups eating strawberries and nibbles, whilst a steady succession lowered the tone and arrived with carrier bags from the nearest off licence. We dined on our Marks and Sparks picnic and watched the cricket unfold. The game even had a mini scoreboard, nestled in the shade of a tree close to the pub. We left at a respectable 106 for 2 after 22 overs.
The perimeter of the Green was flanked by grand homes from all periods. The Richmond Theatre looked out over Little Green. The grand old lending library was doing brisk business on a Saturday afternoon.
There was no sign of austerity here. A series of grand cars circled hoping to catch a free parking place. I noted the fee on the meter stated £1.25, which I thought reasonable. On a second and more detailed glance at the meter, I realised it would relieve you of a mere £12 for the maximum permitted 4 hours! Perhaps not as reasonable after all! Of course in austerity terms in the fantasy minds of politicians, we are all in it together. I think not.
Old Palace Road led down to the Thames from the Green. Asgill House faced out towards the river at the end on part of the land that was once occupied by the Richmond Palace. Asgill House is a fine and commanding residence, once the home of a Lord Mayor of London. It was constructed in the late 1750s and is described as the last great villas of importance built on the Thames. Couples walked hand in hand by the river in front of Asgill House. The pubs by Richmond Bridge were overflowing with drinkers, who spilled out on to the towpath. We made a brief stop in the Museum to learn more about the
town. Free entry compensated for climbing 2 flights of stairs on a warm afternoon. Small, but interesting, it was the sort of museum that reminded me of a provincial town in Oceania. There was a musty, dated feel.
The 65 bus took us towards Kew. A game was ongoing at Richmond Cricket Club. The expansive ground – known as the Old Deer Park – was a hive of sports and also featured lawn tennis, archery and a rather impressive stand on the far side that I assume doubled up for Rugby viewing. London Welsh played home games here in their final fling at professionalism before their liquidation. The ground has also featured first class cricket games for Middlesex, even though it is on the Surrey side of the river. We passed Kew Gardens. It is always something we talk about visiting, but I suspect hayfever would make it an intolerable day out for me. The view from the upper deck of the bus showed just how big the glass houses are behind those red brick walls. I found a more agreeable habitat by Kew Bridge in the form of the Express Tavern. It is currently
runner up in the Richmond & Hounslow London CAMRA pub of the year. The Tavern was built in the 1860s to serve the rail commuters using Kew Bridge Station next door. Today, it is as good as real ale beer drinking gets in London. I say real ale, although one end of the bar had an extensive range of ciders on hand pull. The customers on a fine afternoon were the mix of the current locals found in Brentford today. The guy in the £2 million flat across the road facing the river chats to the just about managing from the housing association estate behind. The food looked good too. The power of the free Tesco vouchers prevailed and we walked back across the Thames to have a free Italian at Ask.
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