Friday, 21 February 2014

Richmond upon Thames

Richmond Green

I had learned that Richmond boasted no less than six sets of almshouses and so it seemed a natural choice for a walk on a sunny Friday afternoon. I found this walk on the invaluable London Footprints website. You begin at the railway station and loop around towards the magnificent Green, passing the Richmond Theatre of 1899 by Frank Matcham. Pevsner calls it a "remarkably self-assured contribution to The Green". I pictured only the upper storeys because a large delivery van was blocking the rest.

Richmond Green is "one of the one of the most beautiful [surviving] urban greens" (Pevsner) and was originally the jousting field for Henry VII's nearby palace of Richmond. It is a large almost diamond shaped area of grass, surrounded by roads with many large and impressive houses facing it. In the south west corner there is a group of early 18th century houses and a little further on Maids of Honour Row, built in 1724 for the Maids of Honour of the then Princess of Wales.

At the end of this block a plain Tudor gateway (Henry VII's arms are above the arch) leads into Old Palace Yard, what remains of Richmond Palace.

In front is The Trumpeter's House of about 1708 and off to the right is The Trumpeter's Inn a skilful Georgian pastiche of 1954-6.  Old Palace Lane leads down to the river Thames. You turn right to pass under the 1848 railway bridge.

Now immediately on the right is Old Deer Park, where I used to watch London Welsh play rugby when I was a teenager. It was established as a hunting park by James I in 1603. The two obelisks were sighting marks for an Observatory built for George III, a keen amateur astronomer, in time for the transit of Venus in 1769.

You now follow the tow path to Richmond Lock, cross the river there, walk back on the opposite side and cross Twickenham Bridge to rejoin the towpath and walk back towards Richmond. This is Richmond Lock from Twickenham Bridge. The structure, which is both lock, weir and slipway as well as a footbridge, was built in 1894 and is the furthest downstream of all the locks on the Thames.

Soon you reach the lively area around Richmond Bridge, completed in 1777 and now the oldest bridge on the river.

You carry on along the riverbank, eventually taking a left to cross the road and enter Terrace Gardens, where you climb up to join Richmond Hill. Just before the viewing terrace at the top there is an amusing statue of Aphrodite by Allan Howe. It was erected in 1952 to replace a cast iron fountain which was melted down during the war. It was thought by some to be in bad taste and was soon christened Bulbous Betty. I was put in mind of the Floozy in the Jacuzzi (official name The river) that we recently saw in Birmingham.

I enjoyed the well-known view from the terrace, although as it was into the setting sun, no picture was possible, and headed down Richmond Hill. On the right is an extraordinary castellated building which was once called Ellerker House, the home of the Houblon sisters, of whom more in a moment. It is now a school.

Turning right into The Vineyard I soon found the first of the almshouses which had drawn me here: Michel's Almshouses were founded in 1695, rebuilt in 1811 and extended in 1858.

A little way along the street on the other side side are Bishop Duppa's Almshouses. Brian Duppa was variously Bishop of Chichester, Salisbury and Winchester and had been tutor to Charles I. He founded almshouses in Richmond in 1661 and they were rebuilt in their current location in 1852, having fallen into disrepair. Happily the fine original main entrance was retained, with various inscriptions over it including one to God and Charles.

Next along The Vineyard are Queen Elizabeth's Almshouses dating originally from 1600, but rebuilt in 1767, 1857 and 1955 in a sort of neo-Geo style. You follow The Vineyard along the winding route to its end and then walk some various alleys and small streets to reach Sheen Road. Here you find the Houblon Almshouses of 1758.

They were founded by Rebecca and Susanna Hoiublon, the daughters of Sir John Houblon, the first Governor of the Bank of England. On his death in 1712, his widow and daughters came to live in Ellerker House.

At this point the London Footprints walk route heads back to Richmond Station, but I turned right along Sheen Road in search of the two further sets of almshouses that my research had located. After a few hundred yards I reached the Church Estate Almshouses on the left hand side.

The charity was established in 1558 by the will of Thomas Denys who gave some properties to the church to provide for the poor of Richmond and by 1844 the Trustees had decided they had enough assets to build 10 almshouses. They are a lovely group in yellow brick with red brick detailing.

A few feet further along Sheen Road is the final set of almshouses: Hickey's Almshouses, built in 1834 with the accumulated income of the legacy of William Hickey who in 1727 left his property in trust to provide pensions for six men and ten women

There is a an imposing gateway with cottages either side and two ranges of houses at right angles to each other, with a central chapel in the main range. Now, finally, it was time to return to Richmond station and head home.

Conditions: bright and sunny, though cool.

Distance: about 4.5 miles.

Rating: four and half stars. Remarkably interesting and varied.

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