In 1625 Charles I brought his court to Richmond Palace to escape an outbreak of plague in London and turned the area on the hill above Richmond into a park for the hunting of red and fallow deer. Charles’s decision, also in 1637, to enclose the land was not popular with the local residents, but he did allow pedestrians the right of way. To this day the walls remain, although they have been partially rebuilt and reinforced.
In 1751, Caroline’s daughter Princess Amelia became ranger of Richmond Park after the death of Robert Walpole. Immediately afterwards, the Princess caused major public uproar by closing the park to the public, only allowing few close friends and those with special permits to enter. This continued until 1758, when a local brewer, John Lewis, took the gatekeeper, who stopped him from entering the park, to court. The court ruled in favour of Lewis, citing the fact that, when Charles I enclosed the park in the 17th century, he allowed the public right of way in the park. Princess Amelia was forced to lift the restrictions. Full right of public access to the park was confirmed by Act of Parliament in 1872. However, people were no longer given the right to remove firewood; this is still the case and helps in preserving the park. The Russell School was built near Petersham Gate in 1851.
Opening up the Park
Edward VII developed the park as a public amenity by opening up almost all the previously fenced woods and making public those gates that were previously private. From 1915 level areas of the park were marked out for football and cricket pitches. A golf course was developed on the former “Great Paddock” of Richmond Park, an area used for feeding deer for the royal hunt. The golf course was opened in 1923 by Edward, Prince of Wales. The future king had been born in the park, at White Lodge, in 1894.
First War Onwards
The park played an important role during World War I and was used for cavalry training. Between 1916 and 1925 the park housed a South African military war hospital, which was built between Bishop’s Pond and Conduit Wood. The hospital closed in 1921 and was demolished in 1925. Richmond Cemetery, just outside the park, contains a section of war graves commemorating 39 soldiers who died at the hospital. In 1938, an army camp was set up near Dann’s Pond. During World War II Pembroke Lodge was used as the base for “Phantom” (the GHQ Liaison Regiment). The Pen Ponds were drained, in order to disguise them as a landmark, and an experimental bomb disposal centre was set up at Killcat Corner, which is between Robin Hood Gate and Roehampton Gate. The Russell School was destroyed by enemy action in 1943 and Sheen Cottage a year later. For the 1948 Summer Olympics, an Olympic village was built near Dann’s Pond
That Sink Hole!
The Petersham Hole was a sink hole caused by subsidence of a sewer which forced the total closure of the A307 road in Petersham in 1979–80. As the hole and subsequent repair work had forced a total closure of this main road between Richmond and Kingston, traffic was diverted through the park and the Richmond, Ham, and Kingston gates remained open throughout the day and night. The park road was widened at Ham Cross near Ham Gate to accommodate temporary traffic lights. About 10 deer a month were killed by traffic while the diversion was in operation. In the 2012 Summer Olympics the men’s and the women’s cycling road races went through the park.