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Richmond

Photograph copyright ©1999 Denis Waugh.


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RICHMOND

Richmond is an interesting mixture of the majestic and the bijou; of the ancient and the new. Or newish. It has a fine little museum on the second floor of the old town hall where, as I peruse the model of Richmond Palace, as rebuilt in 1509 by Henry VII, I am suddenly blasted by `Roll Over Beethoven.' There is a temporary exhibition at present of the Rock 'n' Roll Years. It makes it hard to concentrate and as I leave and the voluntary custodian hopes I enjoyed my visit I am torn between honesty and politeness. Honesty wins.

`I wish you had said,' she tells me, `I could have turned it down.' But what was there to say? It would be unreasonable for me to expect everyone to share my taste for silence and it's not that I'm not a bit of an old rocker myself. `Do tell your friends when they visit to ask to have it turned down,' she says. So I'm telling you now.

The model is a good one, though. It shows the palace built by Henry VII to replace the manor of Shene destroyed by fire at Christmas, 1497. And even that was not the original Shene Manor. Before that stood the manor where Edward III died, deserted even by his servants who, led by his mistress Alice Perrers, had snatched the rings off his fingers. Edward's grandson, Richard II and his wife, Anne of Bohemia, used Shene as their favourite summer residence and it is recorded that each day they fed ten thousand guests, which hardly seems possible. But she was an extraordinary woman and much beloved of Richard, which is conveniently forgotten when people talk about his sexuality. He destroyed Shene after she died of the plague here in 1394. In the Undercroft Museum of Westminster Abbey there is a painted wooden funeral effigy of her, showing a very serious, perhaps rather sad looking woman with a long face and a rather endearing double chin.

Before he set out for Harfleur and Agincourt, Henry V founded two religious communities near Sheen. One was a Carthusian monastery on the site of the Old Deer Park, and the other was Sion monastery for the Bridgettine order of monks, nuns and lay brothers. In the centuries following the Dissolution, Shene's priory buildings became dilapidated and in the eighteenth century George III demolished those remaining to use the area as pasturage. The hamlet of West Shene was also demolished and now Shene is remembered only in the names of North and East Sheen and Sheen Common.

But back to Henry VII. Having rebuilt it, the king was so enamoured of his brainchild that he renamed it his `Manoyr of Richmount' or sometimes `Rychemonde' after his earldom of Richmond in Yorkshire. In fact, though, it was now a royal palace. His sons, Princes Arthur and Henry (later Henry VIII), were brought up here, where the court was famed for its culture and the surrounding country (Richmond Park) for hunting. Henry VII preferred this to all other royal residences and when he died here in 1509 it was rumoured that he left hoards of gold hidden all over the palace. Quite possibly - he was a notorious miser. You can still see parts of the palace: the gate still survives in Old Palace Yard as does the wardrobe, now used as private housing.

There are numerous attractive buildings in Richmond. Also on the green of Old Palace Yard with an imposing facade towards the river is Trumpeter's House, built in the early seventeenth century, probably by John Yemans, successor to Christopher Wren as Surveyor of Works. Metternich lived there in 1849 when Disraeli described it to his sister as `the most charming house in the world'. Also admired (though not by me) is Asgill House, in `honey-coloured stone', also facing the river and also on the site of the old palace. It was built in 1758 by Sir Robert Taylor for the banker Sir Charles Asgill.

Architectural purists describe Quinlan Terry's Richmond Riverside complex of offices, shops, restaurants and flats as pastiche whereas Prince Charles reckons it `an expression of harmony and proportion' and I would have to agree with both. That is pure Richmond.


Text copyright ©1999 Priscilla Waugh.


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