Richmond Palace

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Between Richmond Green and the river Thames a royal palace once stood proudly alongside the water, its turrets thrusting into the sky. A 100-foot long great hall, a 200-foot long open gallery, a chapel and a library were all contained within its walls. Once a favourite haunt of Elizabeth I – who hunted in the nearby Old Deer Park – you will be called upon to use your imagination when visiting this site today as only traces remain.

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But there is certainly enough here to warrant a visit: the gatehouse in particular is well preserved. Although now privately owned (on land rented from the Crown Estate), you can still walk amongst the buildings, pass directly underneath the old gate, and see what remains…

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Built in around 1501 for Henry VIII (formerly the Earl of Richmond), royalty lived in Richmond Palace until 1649. The nearby town felt it sensible to obey Henry’s edict and change its name from Shene to Richmond. Tragically, the bulk of the Palace was demolished in the mid-17th and early eighteenth centuries.

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The street names themselves are evidence of the site’s former life –  today you can still traverse along Old Palace Yard, Old Palace Lane and The Wardrobe. Keep an eye out for the Royal bollards. As well as the five-bedroomed Gate House, you can see the Wardrobe (which was joined up to the Gate House in 1688-9), and the Trumpeters House (built in 1702-3, replacing the Middle Gate). Maids of Honour Row, just to the left of the Gate House along The Green, was built in 1724 for the women attending the Princess of Wales, though it was only used for this purpose for a few years. The Victorian explorer Richard Burton – whose tomb I visited last year – lived at number two as a child.

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The closest station to the Richmond Palace zone is Richmond, which has all bases covered with tube, overground and National Rail services. Head to the southern side of Richmond Green to find the site. There are some very informative signs in the park just across the road from the Gate House; I recommend a quick read of these first to glean some basic history and to orientate yourself within this unusual site.

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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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Raising Tower Bridge

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Last weekend I was lucky enough to be asked to ‘open’ Tower Bridge – that is, to perform what is known as a bridge lift. Ian Visits has also written about what a surprisingly exciting experience this is and I thoroughly agree – I was on a real high afterwards.

I’d had this idea that opening the bridge would involve pressing only one button, but no, numerous buttons and a lever were involved. The buttons operate functions such as the traffic lights, the pedestrian gates and generally getting the bridge ready to be opened. The lever is surprisingly small and looks suspiciously like one you might find on a 1980s games console. You actually have to hold this lever down until the bridge fully opens, then hold it up for it to close. Such a small lever with such power!

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The more high-tech computer pictured below was also involved, changing screens to track the progress of the bridge lift:

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I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I took a real pleasure in holding up both pedestrians and traffic. You can see them all queuing up here:

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Bridge lifts are booked in advance by writing (though email is also acceptable these days) for boats whose height means the bridge must be opened to allow them through. They can take place at any time of the day or night, 365 days a year, and are free of charge. I was happy that the two boats I was opening the bridge for were lovely multi-masted, vintage sailing yachts, SB Will and SB Kitty. You can see them approaching from the East below:

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Many thanks to the City of London and Chris Earlie for organising my lift, and Bridge Driver Peter Brown in the cabin for his patient instructions and friendly conversation. Although you may not get a chance to open Tower Bridge yourself, you can always visit Tower Bridge and its incredibly scenic walkways. I also highly recommend their Behind-the-Scenes Tour, which normally runs several times a year between October and March, on which you will get to visit an old control cabin and descend into the bascule chambers that lie below the Thames.

Finally, here is the lovely certificate I received to commemorate my bridge lift:

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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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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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City views

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For the Londonphile’s Christmas special this year I will share with you some photos of our pretty city. These were the result of a super day out for bloggers organised by the good folks at the City of London. We lucky participants gained access to one of the turrets on Tower Bridge and down into its bascule chambers, and took a trip along the Thames at sunset in a London Port Authority Boat, amongst other treats.

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Tower Bridge’s turrets are located just above its walkways – and while the former are not accessible to the public the latter can be visited as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition. We visited the northern turret, whose narrow ledges are accessed via a number of tiny doors on each side of the small room seen above. While the views are quite literally breathtaking, they are certainly not for the faint-hearted – the only barriers being the turret wall and an iron post in the crenel (the photo below gives you some idea of the set up). Given my former fear of heights these photos are nothing short of miraculous!

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While the views from Tower Bridge’s walkways are similar, I’d have to say that those from the turrets are superior, especially as they afford more side views from the bridge. However the good news is that your viewing pleasure will be vastly improved in 2014 with the addition of glass flooring in the walkways – something that IanVisits has written about in more detail here. This innovation will enable visitors to look down upon the bridge itself and to view the bridge lifts from above. Those less fond of heights will be relieved to hear that the entire floor will not be made of glass – there will be a narrow strip of glass flooring only, so that people can still walk across a non-transparent surface should they prefer.

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We were also taken down to visit Tower Bridge’s huge bascule chambers underneath the river bed – where the counterweights that balance the bridge swing down when the bascules are opened. I’ve written about these previously after taking one of the bridge’s excellent Engineering Tours. Tours for early next year are almost fully subscribed so you’ll need to be very quick to get on one of those – otherwise if you can get together a group of at least six people you can book a behind-the-scenes private tour of these subterranean areas for £29 per person.

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While there is no way for the public to organise outings on a London Port Authority Boat – from which the rest of these photographs were taken – I would highly recommend a trip on the Thames Clippers to those looking for a cheap and easy way to access London’s spectacular river views. The bridges are looking particularly special now at night with the coloured lighting. The clippers have an outside deck area from which you can take photographs, but you may want to avoid peak hour as people do use the service to commute.

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The Londonphile is on holiday until the second week of January – wishing you all a fabulous festive season!

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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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Rotherhithe Tunnel cupolas

At similar points across the Thames in Wapping and Rotherhithe – like sentinels along the river – stand two rather mysterious identical circular red-brick structures. Surely many a passerby over the years has wondered exactly what these buildings are. They are in fact twin ventilation shafts – more romantically known as cupolas and sometimes referred to as the Rotherhithe Rotunda or Rotherhithe Tunnel Shafts – for the Rotherhithe Tunnel, which allows vehicles to travel under the river at this point between the north and south banks.

The cupolas were not built to deal with the noxious fumes produced by cars – as one could be forgiven for assuming – but with those produced by the horses that at the time of the tunnel’s construction were still very much the main form of transport. Likewise, the pathways along the edge of the tunnel itself were not designed for pedestrians but for the men who used to walk the length of the tunnel shovelling horse manure off the road – surely a contender for inclusion in The Worst Jobs in History TV series.

The Rotherhithe cupola in the foreground – you can just see its Wapping twin on the far left on the north bank.

The Rotherhithe Tunnel was constructed between 1904 and 1908 and both the tunnel and the cupolas were designed by the engineer Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice. Made from red brick and Portland stone, each contains a staircase down to the tunnel and four ventilation fans. Their surprisingly ornate iron grilles on the windows spell out the letters ‘LCC’ – for the former London County Council. The cupola on the Rotherhithe side is a little isolated and is fully fenced off with thick red metal bars.

The Wapping cupola is located in the King Edward VII Memorial Park and is more easily viewed as it is not hidden away behind bars. It is signposted as ‘Rotherhithe Tunnel Shaft 3’ – I’m only aware of the two shafts so please get in touch if you know the whereabouts of the other one! You can walk all the way around this cuploa, and enjoy the pretty twin entry doors on the north side (see detail above). Also located on this side is a ceramic and stone memorial erected by the LCC in 1922 to commemorate the sixteenth-century navigators whose voyages into the unknown started from this part of the Docklands.

Thames beachcombing

It’s amazing what you can find along the Thames. The Londonphile has been beachcombing around Rotherhithe and is developing quite a collection of blue and white china. The Thames foreshore is truly a treasure trove, and the best part is that it is constantly being refreshed as the tide washes in and out twice a day, both bringing with it new items and revealing new finds as the water rolls back. I collected the items above over just two short trips to the foreshore at Rotherhithe (along stretches near the Mayflower pub and Surrey Docks Farm respectively). Here are a few more photos of what I have found so far:

I particularly like the pattern on this one:

This one has almost – not quite – washed away; possibly it’s an older piece:

These pieces are tiny (around two centimetres) but come out well in a photograph (if I do say so myself):

But it’s not just about blue and white – here are some brown and cream items:

Clay pipes are also a popular find along the Thames. These can date as far back as the 16th century and were indeed used for smoking. Jane from Jane’s London makes jewellery out of clay pipes she finds along the Thames. Here are some pipe stems I found:

If you want to do your own spot of treasure-hunting you should check the tide times to determine when there will be a low tide – the lower the tide the better as more of the foreshore is exposed. BBC Weather has a webpage showing tide tables for London, which I think are easier to understand than the one published by the London Port Authority. I would also recommend some hardy gloves, wellies (or at least sensible shoes – the mud can be surprisingly thick) and a bag for finds. Just remember that while you can pick up anything from the surface (i.e. without any digging, scraping or lifting or rocks) without a licence, if you do find anything that may be of archaeological value this must be reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer at the Museum of London on  020 7814 5733 or flo@museumoflondon.org.uk.

If you don’t feel like going it alone there are a number of groups that run organised walks or fossicking tours along the Thames. Thames Discovery and Thames Explorer Trust run a number of archaeology and beachcombing walks on various sites along the Thames. I wrote about Thames Discovery’s Rotherhithe Winter Walk earlier this year; the Thames Explorer Trust will hold a free Custom House Walk on Friday 22nd June 2012, 9:30am to 11:30am – there are currently seven places left so be quick! Keep an eye on Thames Discovery’s Events page as new walks are listed regularly. London Walks also hold Thames Mudlarking walks guided by an archaeologist. The Surrey Docks Farm holds irregular foraging sessions along their foreshore – there will be one this Sunday 10th June at midday – no booking is required and it’s free.

Book review: Thames Path in London

It seems fitting that the Londonphile’s first book review features two of my very favourite things: London (naturally) and the Thames. As many Londonphiles out there would undoubtedly be aware, there is already a guidebook that leads us down the Thames Path. But Phoebe Clapham’s new publication – Thames Path in London – is unique in that it focuses on the areas within London, starting at Hampton Court and taking us all the way downriver to Crayford Ness, on the Thames Path Extension. That’s 50 miles (or 80kms if you prefer) of good guidance!

Just like David Sharp’s Thames Path guide – published in the same series by Aurum Press – Clapham’s tome contains top notch Ordnance Survey maps. A yellow line is superimposed onto these maps to clearly demarcate the Thames Path (which as fellow Thames-lovers would know, can be surprisingly meandering in places). It is further designed for ease of use by having each of the eight sections that the path is divided into begin and end near a station. Practical tips on essentials such as eating and drinking are also provided at the start.

One of the best aspects of Thames Path in London is the semi-regular break-out sections featuring information on various historical sites, events and themes found along (or in) the Thames. These vary from the well-known (Tower Bridge and London Bridge) to more esoteric themes such as Arcadian Thames and the pleasure gardens of a bygone age. Not only are they interesting and well-researched but they serve to break up the constant direction-giving necessitated by such a guide. Clapham’s book is also interspersed with historical images – including illustrations, photographs and paintings – ensuring a publication that goes above and beyond the call of the average functional guide, and one which helps to bring to life the fascinating (and often lost) history found along the Thames.

Although the guide has no index – as is also the case with Sharp’s guide – the main map at the front shows how the full route is divided up into the eight sections, and the main areas included in each of these. It’s tricky writing a guide to a path that is found on both sides of the river for much of its duration. The guide gets around this by dividing the text up into the North Bank and South Bank according to colour (purple and green respectively, just so you know). Two substantial circular walks diverting off the path (in Richmond and Limehouse), written exclusively for this publication, are also included.

You will certainly be in safe hands following Clapham’s directions along what is the section of the Thames Path most densely packed with sights, history and, well, just about everything really. And as the publishers note, it will also come in handy for anyone attempting to follow the Jubilee flotilla on foot in June!

Thames Path in London, by Phoebe Clapham, will be published by Aurum Press this Thursday 24 May. RRP is £12.99, but thanks to Aurum I have one copy to give away to a lucky Londonphile follower out there.

WIN A COPY: Twitter followers can tweet me via @londonphile to enter; Facebook followers can add their name to the list I will create on www.facebook.com/thelondonphile. New followers are welcome to join in too! Competition closes 5pm Tuesday 29th May. A winner will be selected randomly and contacted directly.