Crystal Palace Park

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One of my favourite pieces of the puzzle that is London history is the Crystal Palace, so it’s high time Crystal Palace Park – its last resting place – made an appearance in this blog. Designed by Joseph Paxton (immortalised in the stone bust pictured below), and made from plate glass and cast iron, this huge greenhouse-like structure was the former home of the the 1851 Great Exhibition, held in Hyde Park, and later moved south to Sydenham.

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This move followed a heated debate about the future of the Palace at the end of the temporary exhibition. At this point it was re-designed and rebuilt on a much larger (and I personally think more attractive) scale – the move and rebuilding costing a massive £1,300,000. This new version opened in 1854 and was to host numerous concerts, fireworks displays, exhibitions, and feature a Natural History Collection and a number of ‘Fine Art Courts’, where visitors could walk amongst replicas of architecture, sculpture and decorative arts from various eras and cultures.

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The 1911 Festival of Empire was held in the park, and saw the construction of three-quarter size replicas of all of the Commonwealth countries’ parliament buildings, as well as an Australian vineyard, an Indian tea plantation and a south African diamond mine. A miniature railway was built to transport visitors between the various sites.

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Tragically, despite the efforts of 89 fire engines and 381 firefighters, the Palace was lost in a massive fire on the night of 30th November, 1936. The two giant water towers – designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to cater for the massive amount of water required for the Palace’s extensive water features – were the only Palace buildings left standing. These were later demolished during the Second World War as it was thought that German aircraft might use them as landmarks. The base of one can still be seen just outside the Crystal Palace Museum.

IMG_3358And there are plenty of other remains still scattered around the park: many of the terraces, a number of the sphinxes, several of the statues, including the particularly striking headless one above, to name but a few. These now languish in a rather splendid state of decay and are my favourite feature of the park.

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A hugely popular feature of the park today is the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs – life-sized models designed by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, arrayed around a lake in the south-east corner of the park. These constitute the first ever sculptures of dinosaurs, unveiled in 1854 as part of the renovation of the park. In fact, they are not actually all dinosaurs – some are extinct animals. In true Victorian style, Hawkins threw a dinner for 21 guests inside one of the models on New Year’s Eve in 1853. At one point the models were so neglected they were covered with foliage, but were restored in 1952 and again in 2002.

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The park is also home to London’s largest maze, first built in 1879 and then re-created in 1987 and refurbished in 2009. There are of course other newer features of interest within the park, not least of which is the ultra-modern Concert Platform, designed in 1997 by Ian Ritchie Architects:

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The Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, in the middle of the park, is probably not generally considered to be the its most appealing attraction, but I feel it has a certain brutal, modern appeal:

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If you’d like to learn more about the Crystal Palace, drop by the Crystal Palace Museum in the south-west corner of the park. Housed in the former Crystal Palace Company’s School of Practical Engineering, this museum may contain only one room but the information within it is comprehensive: if you visit here knowing nothing about the Crystal Palace you will leave knowing just about everything you should! It’s open Saturdays and Sundays, 11-4 summertime and 11-3:30 in winter.

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The Crystal Palace is back in the news again of late due to plans by a Chinese company to rebuild it (in its massive, original size) in the park. I don’t feel well equipped enough to comment too much on this highly controversial project (please feel free to leave your own thoughts below) but it would be a huge loss if the remaining statuary was not preserved and if too much of the park was lost to public access. On the upside, the plan would reinstate Paxton’s Grand Central Walk, a promenade that once ran along the centre of the park and was later obstructed by the sport centre. A petition raising concerns about the development can be found here. In the meantime, these photographs capture the park as it is now – and may not be forever…

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Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare

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Undoubtedly one of the prettiest sites that The Londonphile has visited, Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare stands alongside the Thames at Hampton. This Palladian temple was built in 1756 by actor-manager David Garrick in the riverside gardens of his home, Garrick’s Villa, as a monument to the Bard.

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While the original life-size statue of Shakespeare by Huguenot sculptor Roubiliac moved to the British Museum some time ago under the terms of Garrick’s will, a reproduction was installed as part of the major restoration of the temple that took place from 1997-1999. Also found inside the structure today is an exhibition about Garrick himself, featuring a number of reproductions of works by major 18th century artists, including Gainsborough, Reynolds, Hogarth and Zoffany.

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Even in Garrick’s time, his villa (pictured below) was separated from the temple by the road – though it was presumably much less busier back then… A tunnel under this road was used by the Garricks to gain easy access to their garden – it still exists but is not accessible to the public. Today, the villa – which narrowly avoided demolition at the start of the twentieth century – has been converted into apartments and was badly damaged by fire in 2008.

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The riverside land surrounding the temple was sold off by the villa’s owner in 1923, separating temple and villa. The temple’s new owner built a house directly adjoining it – happily, this was demolished in 1932 following a public outcry that caused the council to purchase the land. It is still owned today by Richmond Council.

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The garden – originally designed with assistance from Capability Brown and now known as Garrick’s Lawn – has also been restored along 18th century lines and includes many plants that would have been seen in Garrick’s time. It also features a serpentine path that reflects Hogarth’s line of beauty (seen below). Bring a picnic and sit awhile and watch the rowers pass…

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The temple is open to the public – free of charge – on Sunday afternoons (2-5pm) from April to October, and will also feature in the year’s Open House event on Sunday 22 September from 11am – 5pm. From Hampton Court Station take the R68 bus, from Hampton the 111 or 216, or from Hammersmith the 267 (from May to September only).

http://www.garrickstemple.org.uk/

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Summer Pavilion

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One of my favourite annual London events is the emergence of a brand new Summer Pavilion each year in the grounds of Kensington Garden’s Serpentine Gallery. Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto provides the 13th iteration of this project, with his cloud-like grid of white steel poles arising from the green grass. But this a cloud you can sit in, with transparent steps creating seats and producing an interactive feel to his installation  – and also making visitors appear as if they are suspended in space.

IMG_2891Fujimoto has spoken of how his installation contrasts the natural environment of the park with a ‘constructed geometry’ – and there is a decidedly digital look to the grids of which it is composed.

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This is the fourth Summer Pavilion that I have visited and photographed – to celebrate, this post will also look back briefly to the last three designs in this unique series.

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The 2010 Summer Pavilion by French architect Jean Nouvel (shown above and in the following two images) holds a special place in my heart given that it is pictured across the top of The Londonphile’s website. Yes, that green and red image I use everywhere was taken looking through the bright red, transparent walls of the pavilion through to the gallery beyond. Like this year’s version, Nouvel’s design included a cafe inside the pavilion itself.

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The black, almost forbidding exterior of the 2011 pavilion (shown in the three images below) – designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor – belied the fact that it contained a very pretty surprise on the inside, in the form of a fully planted garden. The garden was surrounded by seats, so visitors could soak up the tranquility.

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The 2012 design (pictured in the following three images) also boasted some pretty unique qualities. Ai Wei Wei designed the pavilion in conjunction with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron via Skype whilst under house arrest in China. The design itself referenced all the previous pavilions by integrating their outlines and contours into the design of the floorplan, which was clad in cork. It also featured a rather lovely floating platform roof built across the structure.

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To return to the present day, the 2013 Summer Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto is open until 20th October. It can be found in the grounds of the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, and is free to visit.

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Written in Soap: Final

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So as the Written in Soap project nears its ends, just how well did the statue made from soap stand up to one of our most bitter winters on records? But just to recap slightly, artist Meekyoung Shin created a statue made of soap (with a metal armature) of the controversial Duke of Cumberland in Cavendish Square. The idea was to see how it would fare over the four seasons.

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Erected in July 2012, I first visited in August and by my second update in November not much had changed really, bar a bit of cracking. Almost twelve months on – and a lot of snow and rain later – it is a bit of a different story. The Duke has now lost his left leg below the knee, exposing a metal rod. Nearby, the horse on which he sits is losing some of the ‘skin’ on its left foreleg, exposing yet more metal.

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The Duke’s right hand is also separating from his jacket sleeve and looks to be dangling somewhat precariously. Needless to say, all the cracks are now much more emphasised – the Duke has also developed an unusual collar, whose rusting colour looks appropriately like blood (the Duke became known as ‘Butcher Cumberland’ after putting down the Jacobite Rising during the 1746 Battle of Culloden). So maybe history is showing through somewhat here…

Overall though, I’d say the statue has weathered the storms remarkably well. If you’d like to see it for yourself it will be in position in Cavendish Square until the 30th of June.

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Garden Barge Square

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Last weekend I visited some floating gardens on the Thames, as part of the annual Open Garden Squares Weekend. Garden Barge Square – also known as the Floating Barge Gardens – is built across the top of a number of boats on the Downings Roads Moorings, which boasts a pretty spectacular backdrop in the form of Tower Bridge.

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There have been moorings in this area – close to the old Jacob’s Island site – for around 200 years or so, though the gardens themselves are a relatively new innovation having first appeared in the late 1990s. I was surprised to learn that the moorings’ continued existence is only due to a vigorous fight against moves by Southwark Council to shut it down in 2003 and 2004. But clearly that’s another story…

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I regularly catch boats past these gardens but had no idea just how extensive they were until I ventured onboard. There are trees up here! Much of the gardens are built across the top of the barges in metal trenches on either side of central pathways. The various boats are then connected via a series of walkways and bridges. It’s very easy to forget that you are walking right across the top of someone’s boat – which is often their home as well, with over 70 people residing or having a studio on the 30+ boats moored here.

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The waters along the Thames here are very rocky – much more so than on canals or marinas. You will definitely find yourself swaying with the motion for some time after you get back to dry land. The good news is that once you get over the initial narrow walkway that leads to the barges you feel much more secure in the garden areas themselves.

And it’s worth it to visit this unique environment, though you’ll have to wait for the next Open Garden Squares event, scheduled for June 14th and 15th 2014. In the meantime, a good view of the barges can be gained from the Thames Path around Bermondsey Wall West.

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New Paddington sculptures

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Some delightful new sculptures popped up recently in Paddington. A short stroll from the revamped canal areas around Paddington Basin, you can find these striking iron depictions of Michael Bond (and his famous creation, Paddington Bear), Alan Turing and Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole. Part of Sustrans’ nationwide Portrait Bench project, these new additions are well worth a quick diversion.

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And after visiting the Paddington Bear statue in Paddington Station, obviously you’ll be wanting more! While all three individuals lived in the area, Paddington creator Michael Bond is still a resident today. The Portrait Bench project sees the creation (along cycling paths) of groups of three life-size characters selected by the local community for the contribution they have made to local life, culture or history. They also provide a wooden bench, so you can stop awhile and admire the pieces.

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This series saw Sylvia Pankhurst, a towpath horse and a footballer immortalised in steel in Mile End Park in 2011, with Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B featuring among the freshly unveiled set outside Finsbury Park station. The sculptures themselves are two-dimensional, and made from Corten steel – the same material used for the Angel of the North – which is designed to rust nicely over time. Their style of outlined features reminds me of some street art, and I found the works often became better defined the further you moved away from them.

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Alan Turing was of course the computer science and artificial intelligence pioneer – generally heralded as the father of the computer – who also worked at Bletchley Park cracking German codes during the second world war. His country rewarded his immense talent by persecuting him for his homosexuality, leading to his suicide in 1954, aged just 41. He poisoned himself with cyanide – thought to be injested via an apple, and the day I visited someone had left several green apples at this feet (you can just make these out in the picture below). It’s fitting to see him immortalised here and standing proud against the ever-expanding skyline of modern London. The Science Museum is also currently holding an exhibition on Turing’s life and work.

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In a somewhat serendipitous moment, I just happened to notice some similar, silhouette-style sculptures across the road – which may soon be lost to London. These two figures below are languishing in a rather lonely state in the former campus of the City of Westminster College, currently a deserted development site. I can only assume they are former campus public art – and it seems a great shame they will probably be destroyed. If you want to see them while they are still there, take a peek through the fence along North Wharf Road, near the corner of Harrow Road. It may be a case of losing one set of sculptures just as we gain a new one…

The Sustrans’ Portrait Bench sculptures can be found in the small park to the east of the church of St Mary, Paddington Green.

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Orleans House Gallery

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If you’ve ever thought about visiting Twickenham’s Orleans House Gallery, now is a great time to go while it is hosting Arcadian Vistas: Richmond’s Landscape Gardens. Given that the English landscape garden movement was first nurtured here along the banks of the Thames, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting locale for this exhibition.

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Neatly divided into sections focusing on some of the more influential gardens, gardeners and garden designers of the movement – including Alexander Pope, Horace Walpole, William Kent, Kew Gardens and Chiswick House – the exhibition features mostly illustrations and paintings from the Richmond Borough Art Collections, nicely supplemented by some loans. A smaller collection of objects is also on show, including John Serles’ guide to Alexander Pope’s garden and grotto, alongside A Description of the Villa of Horace Walpole (describing nearby Strawberry Hill).

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Two large paintings depicting Arcadian Thames – Leonard Knyff’s A View of Hampton Court and Peter Tilleman’s The Thames at Twickenham – are also highlights. Don’t miss the gallery upstairs, where slightly more esoteric topics – follies, Chinoiserie, orangeries, water features and grottos – are featured, accompanied by some lovely examples of blue and white porcelain.

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Sadly, Orleans House’s beautiful Octagon Room, a few adjoining buildings and the Stable block out the back are all that remains of what was once an extensive estate built in the early eighteenth century for James Johnston, Secretary of State for Scotland. The Octagon Room was actually a later addition, designed by James Gibbs (who also designed St Martin-in-the-Fields church) as a separate garden entertainment space for Johnston. The house acquired its name after it was rented to Louis Philippe, Duc d’Orleans, during his exile from France.

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After passing through a number of hands, the main house was finally demolished in the 1920s by a firm of gravel merchants. They failed to find any gravel on the site. Today, Orleans House Gallery and its Octagon Room are worth a visit – their interesting program of exhibitions is free and open to the public on most afternoons except Mondays (check online here, as times vary throughout the year). Marble Hill House and Grotto are just next door, and Ham House is but a scenic ferry ride across the Thames.

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Criminal London

Criminal LondonSurely a sign of a good guide book is that it helps you discover new places and inspires you to visit them. And this being the case, Kris and Nina Hollington’s new tome on Criminal London must be a good one indeed as it’s already spurred the Londonphile to set off to explore a new site. And so this is the book review that turned into a blog post…

Criminal London: A Sightseer’s Guide to the Capital of Crime – to be published on March 14th – is an extensive (336 pages!), well-researched guide to the darker side of London, which is well illustrated with strong photographs (and the odd drawing of sites no longer in existence). It includes a nice mix of the historical (Bedlam, King’s Bench Prison), the gruesome (good old Jack and numerous other spillers of blood), and the downright odd (The Murder Bag – actually both gruesome and odd) – with a touch of espionage thrown in for good measure (Litvinenko). Neatly divided into south, east, north and west London, all up 124 sites are covered, along with three extensive walks following in the footsteps of the Krays, Arthur Conan Doyle and Jack the Ripper.

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As soon as I saw number 11 (south) I knew I would be heading off to visit what remains of Southwark’s Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison. Marshalsea is most famously known as the place of incarceration for Charles Dickens’ family when father John could no longer pay the bills, an event which meant a twelve-year-old Charles had to take work in a blacking factory. Dickens’ time visiting his family (who were all staying at the prison, as was the practice) and the lengthy walk he took across London each day to do so, had a lasting impact on the author, to say the very least. These experiences inspired his social conscience and the prison itself features in Little Dorrit. Dickens later secured accommodation closer to his family, in nearby Lant Street, where a plaque commemorates his stay.

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While all that remains of the complex – which closed in 1842 – is the south wall, it is still an evocative place, with its old bricks and lamps (I doubt the authenticity of these as they now light the alleyway leading – rather appropriately – to Southwark Coroner’s Court, but they look good). Two memorials inscribed on the ground in the alley commemorate the site and John Dickens. The wall is today situated within St George’s Churchyard Gardens on Tabard Street – a former burial ground that is now decorated with some of the old gravestones.

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Kris Hollington has been writing on London crime for a number of years – and his expertise really comes through in this guide. It’s already had me out on the streets exploring London’s darker history and will hopefully leave you similarly inspired. Criminal London is published by Aurum Press and will retail at £10.99.

WIN A COPY: And thanks to Aurum I have a copy to give away! Just post a comment below or send a tweet to @londonphile to enter. Competition closes 1pm Saturday 30th March 2013. A winner will be selected randomly and contacted directly.

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Eel Pie Island

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Just twice a year Twickenham’s Eel Pie Island opens its doors to the general public when the normally private island holds open studio weekends for its artists. I availed myself of the the opportunity to visit last weekend for the pre-Christmas opening and crossed the bridge to this most exclusive island, which boasts 26 artists’ studios, only 50 or so houses and around 120 residents.

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It’s thought that the island was originally in three parts and may have once been connected to Twickenham by a prehistoric causeway. The footbridge which now connects the island to the mainland was only built in 1957. Once across and on dry land again, one main walkway (pictured above) runs much of the length of this very narrow island, with houses, studios and boathouses along either side. Housing styles vary immensely – from the cute and rustic to the surprisingly modern – and there was even a new house in the process of construction and one to let in case you’re tempted to move in. Despite its extremely narrow nature, views were only available back across the Twickenham side of the river (see below) during the open studios as private houses line the other side.

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Eel Pie Island has a long history as a place of leisure and entertainment – its name derives from the pies once served there to visiting boating parties and day trippers. Sadly this taste sensation died out on the island along with its eel population. The Eel Pie Island Hotel was long a top musical destination – particularly for jazz and blues – and also saw one David Jones play there before metamorphosing into David Bowie. The hotel closed in 1967 when the owner was unable to afford necessary repairs – squatters moved in and it has been claimed that by 1970 it had become the largest hippie commune in the UK. The hotel burnt down in mysterious circumstances in 1971 while it was being demolished.

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The island is also home to both the Richmond Yacht Club and the Twickenham Rowing Club as well as working boatyards. In keeping with this boating theme, several of the artists studios are housed in old boats, including one with a fantastic roof terrace composed of the old ship’s deck. There are nature reserves at both ends of the island, including a bird sanctuary, but these are not accessible to the public.

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Open Studios events are held twice a year, generally once in summer and in the lead up to Christmas. Keep an eye on the Eel Pie Island Artists website for future events. They’re free but do bring some cash as the artists don’t have credit/debit card facilities.

For more historical detail and images see Twickenham Museum’s Eel Pie Island page.

2013 update: another open weekend will be held on Saturday 22nd & Sunday 23rd June from 11am until 6pm.

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The view from Richmond Hill

If you had to guess the location of the only view in England that’s protected by an Act of Parliament, somewhere in the Lake District would possibly spring to mind, or perhaps the white cliffs of Dover. In fact it’s right here in London – the view from Richmond Hill. Sir Walter Scott (Heart of Midlothian) and Wordsworth (Sonnet June 1820) wrote about it, and Reynolds and Turner painted it. The view from the hill looks up the Thames towards Twickenham, and includes tiny Glover’s Island. And all to be found in zone four no less!

Turner – who lived nearby at Sandycoombe Lodge for a number of years – returned to this theme time and time again. A number of his paintings and numerous sketches show this view, or views of Richmond Hill itself – many of which can be easily viewed in digital format here on Tate Britain’s website. Reynolds lived on Richmond Hill itself – his 1788 work The Thames from Richmond Hill, can be seen here.

My photographs of the view were taken from the top of Terrace Gardens, which itself is also Grade II* listed and is on land that was originally three large private estates. The local authorities had been buying up various properties – including Glover’s Island – over the years in order to preserve and protect this area and its view. The view from Richmond Hill was officially protected in 1902 by an Act of Parliament known as the Richmond, Ham and Petersham Open Spaces Act. The National Trust took over the protection of the Petersham Meadows (at the bottom of the hill, on the left of these photographs) – and its languidly grazing cattle – in 2010.

Nearby: You are indeed spoilt for choice in Richmond and surrounds. Next to Richmond Hill is the lovely Richmond Park (pictured below), where you can watch wild deer roam and take tea in Bertrand Russell’s childhood home, Pembroke Lodge. Turner’s old house, Sandycoombe Lodge, will re-open for visits on the first Saturday of the month in April 2013. Nearby grand houses include Ham House (open some weekends in winter) and Marble Hill House (closed until late March 2013, but you can still visit its grounds and grotto).