London Stories and Tips

Walking Tour of Richmond and Hampton Court, Part 1

Richmond alleyway Photo, Richmond, England

September 24, 2001

Today I decided to take the full day tour of Richmond and Hampton Court through the Original London Walks. This is an excellent company with top notch guides. You meet them at various tube stations, though this one was in the Waterloo Train station as we were taking a train out to Richmond for the start.

We are a group of about two dozen, which was a pleasant surprise to our guide, a short, perky woman named Hillary. Seems last week she only had 3 or 4 on her tour and in the wake of the Sept. 11 events, thought it might take a few more weeks for the numbers to rebound. The cost for the full day tour is £25 which includes £10 for the all day tour (normally £5 for a 2 hour tour, and these are 2001 prices, slightly more now), the cost of the river boat from Richmond to Hampton Court Palace and the entrance fee to the Palace itself. Most major attractions seem to be in the £9-£11 range so this was not out of line. We take a commuter train to the town of Richmond to start out walking tour.

A bit of history about Richmond: Richmond used to be called Shene and a Royal hunting lodge was built here first by Edward III in the 14th C. Richard II lived here until his wife, Anne of Bohemia died and in his grief, he tore the manor down. Henry VII built it again but it burned so he rebuilt a fine palace and renamed it for himself. (He was the Duke of Richmond before he wrestled the throne from Richard III in 1485 at Bosworth, thus ending the Wars of the Roses and establishing the Tudor dynasty). The palace was used by royalty for the next century until Oliver Cromwell tore it down during the Civil War. The palace was never rebuilt although many fine estates and manors were founded here, Richmond being a prestigious place to live then as well as now. Charles II gave the green to the town and it's been a public greenspace ever since. There is also a large old Deer Park where the monarchs used to hunt and where some royalty still lives. (It is either the Duke and Duchess of Kent or Prince and Princess Michael of Kent)

Hillary recounted the history of the town as we walked along the edge of the green. She pointed out the Victorian theatre where a theatre has stood probably since Elizabethan times and described how the green used to be part of the palace grounds and was partly used as a tilt-yard for games of jousting. We were allowed a short break to walk through some of the narrow cobbled lanes and find something to take with us for lunch on the river boat. She pointed out a café where she had an arrangement whereby you could order a sandwich and pastry and the staff would bring the orders to the boat in time for the sailing. You aren't restricted to that, you are free to do what you like and make your own arrangements but it seemed just as good as anything to me. After I placed my order, I resisted the urge to poke around inside a lot of the small shops nearby so that I could find a bank machine on the high street. On the way back, in one of those little lanes I passed by a florist where I spied three canny little wooden men propped outside amidst the bouquets and garden implements. They were made of spools and flower pots! After a stop at a shop along the green that made homemade chocolates, I arrived at the meeting place for the next leg of the tour.

We made our way to what remains of the old Tudor palace, a gate and gatehouse. Henry VII's coat of arms watches over the red brick gate and you can still see the black brick pattern in the building that used to store the Royal Wardrobe, that's the linens, bed and wall hangings and tapestries. There used to be arches on the ground floor that are since filled in. This was to keep air circulation so that the fabrics wouldn't become damp and moldy. This courtyard also contains some elite manors and cottages, one of which was owned by a former favourite of Queen Anne, Abigail Hill.

We followed a path to the river, passing a manor once owned by an 18th C. Lord Mayor of London, Lord Asgill. The Thames here is narrower than in the city, dotted with small islands called Aits or Eyets and lined along one side here with houseboats, reflecting in the calmer waters of the river. There is a nice park along the waterfront, a town project to beautify the area. We came across a marine repair shop under an arch by a bridge where a fellow told us he was building a wooden submarine. There was a brief silence as we all wondered if he was having us on but it turns out it's very true! In 1620 there was a wooden submarine that
made a successful underwater journey to Greenwich and the BBC is doing a documentary on it. This man was commissioned to build a replica!

The Hampton Court part is in another review

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