Stage 22 - Walton Bridge to Hampton Court Palace Maze (8.6 miles)
The area around Walton Bridge has good facilities. There are public toilets, ample parking, a café and lots of outdoor seating. If you have time you can even have a paddle in the river or go on a boat trip.
The sixth bridge was opened on 22nd July 2013. On YouTube you can watch a video of Walton Bridge being built in 3 minutes, plus another showing the opening ceremony. The two older, downstream, bridges are presently in the process of being demolished.
You can read the whole history of Walton Bridge on the Surrey County Council Website. There are also many paintings, sketches and photos of the different bridges on the Thames.me.uk website.
I have already written the history of Walton-on-Thames, the six different bridges built over the River Thames at this site through the centuries, and the earlier ferry, in stage 1 of the walk around London. If you have not previously read this, you can do so by following the link.
The route crosses the River Thames, going firstly north for half a mile to the Fordbridge Roundabout, then east through Lower Sunbury, past the Hampton Waterworks and through Hampton Village. We then follow a scenic route through Bushy Park and finish in the middle of the maze in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. It’s a bit of a strange way to finish the walk, but you’ll enjoy the scenery and the places you pass on route.
Start on the towpath just east of Walton Bridge. After just a few yards turn right onto a path across the grass and away from the river, then turn right to climb steps. On reaching the top turn right and over the old bridge (now pedestrian) and over the River Thames. Once over the river go straight on along the pavement parallel to Walton Bridge Road and follow it as it turns right and then left.
Just after where the main road turns left Penny Lane goes off to the right. I assume this is named after a charge for using it or led to the old ferry across the Thames which may have cost a penny. It’s a shame there is no public right of way along it as it leads back to the river and then through Shepperton Marina to Felix Lane and past the Swan Sanctuary to rejoin our route at about 0.9 miles. This would cut out over half of a mile walking along a main road and would add much interest to our route.
At 0.5 miles, at a large roundabout, stay on the RHS and then turn right along Fordbridge Road. After 30 yards, as the pavement comes to an end, cross straight over the road and turn right continuing east along Fordbridge Road.
The route for the next 3.35 miles, to a T-junction with Upper Sunbury Road on the north side of the Hampton Waterworks, is really easy to follow – it’s basically straight. However, I will provide the odd instruction along the way, just to keep you comfortable knowing you are still on track.
After another 0.25 miles to the right is Felix Lane. This leads to the London Shepperton Holiday Inn, Shepperton Marina and a Swan Sanctuary.
After another 300 yards, to the left, is Watersplash Farm with its large Bafta mask on the wall of the building looking out towards the road. This is the home of a number of companies including Pro Stage Europe Ltd.
The route continues along the pavement, soon passing over a small creek named the River Ash (at 1 mile into the route), then past fields, a small industrial estate, a nursery and after just over half a mile enters the village of Lower Sunbury.
Where the road passes over the River Ash was previously the site of a ford with a footbridge next to it and it is from the splash of vehicles going through the ford where Watersplash Farm gets its name. This also explains the origin of the road name “Fordbridge”.
To the right, shortly after crossing the River Ash is Beasleys Ait Lane. This leads past a Fordbridge Mobile Home Park and Sunbury Riding School (both overlooking fishing lakes) and then onto a private residential road overlooking the Thames and Beasley’s Ait Island.
650 yards further along our route, another small residential road, named The Creek, once again goes off to the right and down to the Thames, this time overlooking the south west tip of Wheatley’s Ait. The island is owned by the Environment Agency which has works and moorings here. Just past the entrance to The Creek and on the right of Fordbridge Road you can see some more of the Agency’s works. A road bridge and adjacent footbridge on the south side of these connect the mainland works to those on the island. On the south west corner of the island there are some small chalets with a private footbridge over a small weir providing access for the inhabitants. Wheatley’s Ait is somewhat unique in having a weir at both of its ends. The second is Sunbury Weir; this diverts the main stream of the River Thames past Sunbury Locks and can be seen later in our route by looking back up the river from the centre of the village.
Shortly after entering the outskirts of Lower Sunbury to the right is a decent sized car park next to public open space going down to the Thames and overlooking the north eastern part of Wheatley’s Ait. However the island obscures the main stream of the river which flows behind it. Just after this we cross over Loudwater Close (to our LHS) with a four storey, white block of flats set back from Fordbridge Road, almost hidden by some trees and on the RHS of the Close. This was once the site of Sunbury House and I’ll refer back to this later.
At 1.71 miles go straight on past Halliford Road to your LHS - Fordbridge Road becomes Thames Street.
As our route enters Thames Street we also enter the Lower Sunbury Conservation Area. This was developed in the early 1990s when pressure was put on the local council by the Lower Sunbury Residents Association to introduce measures to preserve the history, old buildings and open spaces of the village. You can read the original document entitled “Lower Sunbury Conservation Area Preservation and Enhancement” and view a map of the area on the Spelthorne Borough Council website.
Sunbury as a settlement dates back to at least the Bronze Age. Evidence comes from funerary urns and other artifacts found here dating from about 1000 BC. It is also obvious the Romans had influence in the area due to the important Roman settlement of Ad Pontes just upstream on the River Thames at Staines. However, after the Romans left this island in around 450AD things became more hectic. The original inhabitants the Britons had to fend for themselves against the Irish, the Scots and the Picts. The Britons (made up of the Angles, the Jutes and the Saxons) chose to settle in areas of fertile land where they could grow and harvest their crops. The Saxon Chief Sunna chose to establish himself next to the Thames at Sunbury. This place took on the name Sunnanbyrig (or Sunna’s burgh, meaning Sunna’s stronghold) and it is from here the name Sunbury is derived.
Twice during the 9th Century the residents of Sunbury would have looked on to see Viking long boats make their way up the River Thames, on their way to pillage the nearby influential Benedictine Abbey at Chertsey.
In later Saxon Times came a document entitled “The Sunbury Charter”. This dates from 962AD and is in Latin. It uses Anglo-Saxon place-names and is now preserved in Westminster Abbey.
According to www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22249:
“The boundaries of the manor of SUNBURY are described in a charter of 962….. The Sunbury Charter is a grant of Sunbury from King Edgar to his kinsman Earl Ælfheah. A slightly later document shows that it had come to Edgar by a complicated series of events arising from the misdeeds of one Athelstan, whose brother Edward had inherited it from their parents. About six years after Edgar's grant St. Dunstan bought the property from Ælfheah. According to charters forged at Westminster Abbey about 1100 he then gave Sunbury to Westminster, and there seems to be no reason to doubt the substantial truth of this story, the earlier stages of which, up to his purchase, are corroborated by contemporary evidence.”
In the Domesday Book of 1860 the Manor of Sunbury is recorded as “Suneberie”. It is listed as having 21 residents with all its assets as agricultural. The neighbouring Manor of Charlton and Royal Manor of Kempton and were listed as having 8 and 19 residents. In 1894 all three were merged to form the Sunbury Urban District. Historically, Sunbury was part of the County of Middlesex. However, in 1965 when most of the Middlesex was absorbed into Greater London, Sunbury-on-Thames Urban District and its neighbour Staines Urban District chose to transfer to Surrey instead. In 1974 both urban districts merged to form the Borough of Spelthorne. Today, many of the local residents still address their homes as Middlesex, this is probably due to the Royal Mail not adopting the change and the postal county remained Middlesex.
The Sunbury we see today grew up on the site of the early Saxon settlements. There were four main tracks which led to and through the area. One followed the north bank of the River Thames (now Thames Street). The other three ran north from the river and are now Green Street, The Avenue and French Street. It is most likely all three led from wharfs as the river would have been the main method of transport at the time. The village grew up in the area around the triangle of Thames Street, Church Street and Green Street in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. During the 18th and 19th Centuries, Sunbury was little more than a small riverside village, with large mansions and their parkland in the surrounding area. In recent times, however, the area has seen housing development to the north and the riverside area at Lower Sunbury remains physically distinct as an area of character with many buildings of interest. In order to preserve the important character of this old village, Thames Street remains very narrow in places and thus discourages large volumes of traffic.
At 1.81 miles go straight on at the mini roundabout and past Green Street to your LHS.
To the left on the corner of Thames Street and Green Street is The Flower Pot Hotel and just before this to the right is Flower Pot Green a small public park which overlooks the Thames and gives good views of Sunbury Weir. The Flower Pot was rebuilt in about 1800 but dates back much earlier. According to Sunbury Millennium Embroidery website the hotel’s present name was “adopted in Cromwellian times because the previous name, The Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, was unacceptable”. The current name comes from the original sign which hangs over the door. The hotel was once a posting house for coaches between London and Chertsey, and has links with Theodore Hook (1788 – 1842) writer and composer.
A short distance north along Green Street is the timber framed Three Fishes pub which dates from the 16th Century. This is one of Lower Sunbury’s oldest surviving buildings. 100 yards past the Three Fishes is the Admiral Hawke pub, this was built in 1862 in anticipation of the railway coming to Sunbury and was originally named the Railway Arms. Just further along Green Street on the opposite side is Hawke House, dating from 1703. The house takes its name from Admiral Edward Hawke (1705 - 1781). He was an officer in the Royal Navy who is best remembered for his victory against the French at the Battle of Quiberon Bay on the 20th November 1759, thus preventing a French invasion of Britain. He was made First Lord of the Admiralty in 1766 and retired to Lower Sunbury in 1771. In 1776 he was created 1st Baron Hawke and died here in 1781. The nearby pub remained as the Railway Arms even though the railway was (thankfully) never extended to Lower Sunbury. It was not until 1965, when the pub was appropriately renamed The Admiral Hawke.
As we continue along Thames Street it narrows with old buildings on both sides. After just a few yards the right hand side opens out across the narrow and pleasant Riverside Gardens looking down on the main stream of the Thames and over to Sunbury Lock Ait. Behind the Ait hides Sunbury Locks and the Sunbury Lock Cut with its footbridge from the south bank of the river to the island which we passed on stage 1 of our route around London. The original lock was built in 1812 with the newer, smaller lock added in 1925.
The gardens between Thames Street and the river are only a few yards wide but continue for 250 yards with benches, lawns and paths. They are well placed on a bend in the river with the view going upstream to Sunbury Weir and long way downstream. There seems to be so much happening here which blends in with the scenery, the greenery of the backdrop and the history of the surroundings which makes this one of the most gratifying stretches of any along the Thames.
At 1.89 miles go straight on past Church Street and then Sunbury Church, both to your LHS.
St Mary’s Church was designed by Stephen Wright, master mason at Hampton Court Palace, and completed in 1752. It was extensively remodeled by S S Teulon in 1857 and more changes were made in 1892 by Heywood Sumner. The church replaced an older medieval church which was known to be on the site in c1400. Before this there is evidence of a Saxon church here. The church has literary associations. Nikolaus Pevsner wrote that here Teulon descended on a previously "guileless building and recast it vigorously". He claimed "the effects of his steamroller sensitivity are here particularly revolting: a heavy chancel with round-headed windows, multi-coloured brick decoration everywhere, even, to add 'interest,' to the tower. A gloomy, depressing interior with iron-ornamented gallery". . . .
In the novel “Oliver Twist” (1838) written by Charles Dickens, Bill Sykes and the boy Oliver pass through here at night on their journey from London to Shepperton and then on to burgle a house at Chertsey the next day. Sykes arranges a lift as far as Halliford from the drunken owner of a horse and cart at an inn at Hampton. Oliver did not know their destiny or purpose, he was scared to death and the quote below, taken from the book are his thoughts.
“As they passed Sunbury Church, the clock struck seven. There was a light in the ferry-house window opposite: which streamed across the road, and threw into more sombre shadow a dark yew-tree with graves beneath it. There was a dull sound of falling water not far off; and the leaves of the old tree stirred gently in the night wind. It seemed like quiet music for the repose of the dead.
Sunbury was passed through, and they came again into the lonely road. Two or three miles more, and the cart stopped. Sikes alighted, took Oliver by the hand, and they once again walked on.” . . . . . .
“'The water!' thought Oliver, turning sick with fear. 'He has brought me to this lonely place to murder me!'”
Dickens’ would have known this area well at the time of writing Oliver Twist and would have travelled along the route to get his facts right. For the novel he most likely used the same route from Hampton to Shepperton as we do in reverse. Also, from Shepperton to Chertsey would have, in the main, followed the same as we did in stage 1 of our walk. You can read this chapter (XXI. The Expedition) from the book (or even the whole book) at Project Gutenberg. On “The Victorian Web” there is a great photo taken of the church from the river, photos of the interior and more.
To the left, immediately past St Mary’s, is the wall of Sunbury Park. The park dates back many hundred years. It is known a Tudor Manor House was built here sometime between 1559 and 1563 for Nicasius Yetswiert, French Secretary to Queen Elizabeth I. This seemed to have survived to at least 1664 as records from the Hearth Tax Returns show the house at Sunbury Park as having 27 hearths and being the largest in the village. In 1712 a large mansion was built here for Sir Roger Hudson and the historic walled garden within the park most probably dates from the same period. In Colen Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus there is a drawing showing Sunbury Park House in 1714 (see copy at Albion-Prints).
In 1851 the Arden family acquired the site and built a large double winged house, which eventually became dilapidated during World War II and was pulled down in 1946. Part of the site of the house can be seen in the wild garden to the west of the car park (from Spelthorne Council website – I’ll use more of this source below).
According to the ThePeerage.com, Henry White, 1st Baron Annaly of Annaly and Rathcline (born 1791) died at Sunbury Park on 3rd September 1873.
I have been unable to yet find a complete time-line for Sunbury Park as much of the history seems to be very sketchy and not uniform. Many sources seem to confuse the manor houses at Sunbury Park with Sunbury House which was large in its own right, but was a few hundred yards back along the route where there is now a block of white flats at Loudwater Close – I did mention this earlier. According to misterbebb.com in an article entitled “Sunbury Military Institution” from the London Illustrated News 1856, where the flats are now was once the site of Sunbury House. It was “a noble residence, surrounded by luxuriant grounds substantial” and dated from the 17th Century. It overlooked the River Thames and often played host to royalty including George IV and William IV. Captain Lendy opened a military academy here during the Crimean War (1853 – 1856). The website goes on to state in “Background” and “Postscript”:
“Sunbury House has always had its fair share of royal visitors. Built in the mid 17th century on the site of an older building, its tranquil setting on the banks of the Thames proved a magnet to King George III, who set affairs of state aside to enjoy its seclusion on numerous occasions as did his son, the Prince Regent, who shared his attraction to the estate.
When the house became the Military Academy, it was due to the sponsorship of the duc d'Orleans - Louis Phillippe, King of France - who had fled Paris after the Revolution of 1848 and been provided shelter by Queen Victoria. Her Majesty naturally became a frequent visitor when the Orleans family were in residence. Many eminent people received their training here, including the Comte de Paris and the Duc de Chartres both graduated from the Academy, as did their sons Louis Phillipe and Henri.
By the end of the century, the Military Academy had ceased to function and the house had been turned into flats.
On the 31st December 1915, a terrible fire raged through the property with devastating effect. The Middlesex Chronicle of 1st January 1916 gives this account”:
"Yesterday afternoon Sunbury House Mansion was destroyed by fire, which broke out shortly before four o'clock and was not subdued until half-past seven. In addition to the local fire brigade, firemen from Hampton, Kingston and Surbiton and the Metropolitan Water Board attended. Despite their efforts in which they were assisted by a good supply of water from the flooded river, the historic building was completely gutted."
The centre of the building, famously decorated with carvings by Grinling Gibbons and paintings by Antonio Varrio (court painter to Charles II), was lost forever, although the two wings were repaired and became separate houses. Only one of them remains today, standing on the corner of Loudwater Close, and as a reminder of past glory it bears the proud name of Sunbury House.”
In the centuries after Sir Roger Hudson, and especially during the war years, the historic walled garden and the rest of Sunbury Park declined. However, in 1975 Surrey County Council bought the park from the then private owners. In 1985 the park was leased to Spelthorne Borough Council and together the two councils got together to restore it. According to the Spelthorne website:
“A Management Plan was agreed between the two Authorities which included the development of the walled kitchen area as a formal garden. Work on the garden commenced in the autumn of 1985 following an original design by Mr G P Stancliffe, the Council's then Parks and Amenities Manager.
The garden has been designed on formal lines and includes various styles of garden types from past centuries, including knot gardens, parterres and a Victorian rose garden. There are also four large areas of island beds in which are displayed collections of plants from all parts of the world, and representing numerous plant families and species.
The knot garden is a style of gardening popular around the 15th and 16th centuries and the intricate inter-weaving of the dwarf hedges displays evidence of Italian influences on English gardens at that time. In a similar manner the French influences around the 17th century can be seen in the parterres, which are areas of geometrically designed flower beds, enclosed by clipped dwarf hedges.
The Victorian Rose garden is composed entirely of rose species and varieties which were either introduced or widely planted during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Generally speaking, these roses have a shorter flowering period than our modern introductions, but are renowned for their classic flower form and strong fragrance. Varieties especially worthy of mention are the Bourbon Rose, Souvenir de la Malmaison and the Damask Rose, Marie Louise.
In contrast the modern rose garden contains many of the varieties which have proved to be firm favourites with the home gardener in recent years. Established roses like Peace and Iceberg are joined by the first ever 'Rose of the Year' Mountbatten, and a number of its successors.
One variety worthy of special note is Violet Squire, named after the wife of Mr D J Squire, of Squire's Roses, Shepperton, who very generously donated all the roses within this section.
The garden contains two architectural features of local interest and significance, the Lendy Memorial, and the 'portico' of the now demolished Benwell House. The Lendy Memorial is a re-creation of structure which until destroyed during World War II, stood on the riverside in Sunbury. The Benwell House 'portico' was preserved following the demolition of the house in 1984, and now frames the northern gate of the garden.
Throughout the development of the garden, natural materials have been used as far as possible, with brick edge paths being surfaced with 'Breedon gravel', quarried in Derbyshire, and rockery stones from Westmorland, Kent and the West Country.
Since its establishment, the garden has become a popular venue for exhibitions and band concerts, the latter being held on several Sunday afternoons throughout the Summer. It is also used for the annual Sunbury Fayre in early July. Toilet facilities are provided close by and a wheelchair can be borrowed for use by the less mobile.”
You can see Spelthorne are very proud at what they have achieved at Sunbury Park as they also state:
“The Borough is very proud of all its parks and open spaces, but perhaps the jewel in the crown is the Walled Garden in Sunbury Park, which offers quiet seclusion amongst a vast array of plants from all corners of the world and features several styles of English gardening through the ages . . . ”
In the early 1990s David Brown, a local resident, suggested that Lower Sunbury should produce an embroidery, along the lines of the Bayeux Tapestry, as a permanent memorial to the historic village of Sunbury and its residents, at the Millennium. John Stamp produced the design. In 1996, around 150 locals set to work on it. The embroidery was completed in 2000 and was visited by Her Majesty the Queen in 2001. The following year it was displayed at the Palace of Westminster. Overall it consists of a central panel, 8 side panels and over 100 insignia of local organisations and companies. In 2006 the “Sunbury Millennium Embroidery” was put on permanent display in a new purpose built gallery with adjacent café at the Walled Garden in Sunbury Park. This is now visited by tens of thousands of people each year who come to enjoy this wonderful work of art, stroll through the historic walled gardens and go for a longer romp through Sunbury Park.
As we travel east along Thames Street you will really understand why Lower Sunbury village became a conservation area and how the real character of the place has been preserved for hundreds of years. Thankfully, in the second half of the 19th Century when the railway came to Sunbury it did so a mile north of here at Sunbury Cross, where a large modern commuter and industrial area grew up around and north of the station on what was once Sunbury Green – there’s not much green there any longer. It’s at Sunbury Cross where the A316 crosses over the A308 and becomes the M3 motorway – it’s a busy place. The latter is a main artery from south west London to Heathrow and the former the main road from London to the south coastal cities of Portsmouth and Southampton. The area to the south of the station and north of Lower Sunbury was developed, but only with tasteful commuter belt housing. Most of them leafy suburbs with lots of open space preserved. The ancient Royal Manor of Kempton has now been replaced by Kempton Park Racecourse. This is to the east of the station and just south of the A316. The first horse race here took place on 18 July 1878. Immediately north of the racecourse and south of the A316 is a museum owned by the Kempton Great Engines Trust. This houses the two largest steam engines ever built in the UK. They date from 1926 – 29 and the engine named “The Sir William Prescott” has been restored by the Trust and is the world's largest fully operational Triple Expansion Steam Engine
On the left, past the entrance to Sunbury Park, car park is Orchard House. The house backs onto the park, dates from 1717 and still has its original gates. Immediately after Orchard House there is public access to the park as it fronts onto the road. To the right Thames Street is lined with old buildings backing onto the river. The Magpie Hotel dates from 1820 and is where the first meeting of the Grand Order of Water Rats took place in 1889. The Order started as a bunch of music hall stars, one of whom owned a trotting pony called "Magpie" who was winning races around the London area. The winnings were used to help less well-off artists and other good causes. The name of the order came about when on a rainy day in London the driver of a horse-drawn bus recognising two well-known artists with the pony, compared it to a "bloomin' water rat". Their first meeting was held at a pub on the river in Sunbury-on-Thames. The pub has since taken the name of the pony and still bears the plaque placed on its front wall.
Shortly after the Magpie, and on the same side of the road, is The Phoenix public house, dating from the 18th Century and owned by the Brakspear Brewery. Directly opposite, on the corner of Thames Street and The Avenue, is The Village Bakery which also doubles as a café.
At 2.14 miles go straight on along Thames Street and past The Avenue to your LHS.
The Avenue lives up to its name. This tree-lined road of smart residential houses goes in a straight line northwards from Thames Street for almost a mile to meet the A308 (Staines Road East) between Kempton Park Racecourse and Sunbury Cross. This road has been the home of London Irish Rugby Club for almost 80 years, although since 2000, and just four years after the game went professional, London Irish 1st Team has played their home games at the Madejski Stadium – home of Reading Football Club.
According to British History Online, in the 18th Century “The Avenue” was no more than a track which formed the boundary between Sunbury and Kempton manors. It ran from the Thames and also extended as far as Feltham. However, this track seems to have a longer history dating back many hundreds of years. The Avenue only became a road in the last Century (c1913) and today is one of the most important routes between Lower Sunbury and its poorer neighbour at Sunbury-on-Thames – although a fallacy as Lower Sunbury is on the Thames and Sunbury-on-Thames is a mile or more to the north of the river.
On the eastern corner of Thames Street and The Avenue is The White Horse (FaceBook Page)which has been a pub since 1729. Shortly after this on the same side is the Riverside Arts Centre which was opened in 1982 and occupies the old Victorian Assembly Rooms. In 2003 the Centre also acquired the ex-Barclays Bank building next door.
Soon to our right is a large detached house named Monksbridge. This is a grade II listed property and has an interesting history. It was built in 1760, the year George III became king. The house and gardens face onto the Thames with a large wall secluding them from the road. It was once home to English painter Edwin Edwards (1823 – 1879). Edwards was a friend of French painter Henri Fantin-Latour (1836 – 1904) who often visited and painted a portrait of Edwin and his wife which is now on display at the National Gallery of London. American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903) stayed in 1861. Another well known close friend was French artist Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), however I cannot find if he ever visited Edwards at Sunbury. In the 1920s Monksbridge was home to William Dudley-Ward, Liberal MP and sportsman. His young wife Freda was mistress and first love of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII). They first met in 1918 at a party in a house in Belgrave Square when they were made to take cover in the air raid shelter. The young Prince immediately fell in love and this would be the start of a 15 year relationship. According to the Surrey Hearld “During the 1920s, the Prince rented 'Pomfet Cottage' in Thames Street and was a regular guest of William Dudley Ward, MP and Privy Councillor. The Prince rented the cottage so that no one could accuse the Prince of staying at Monksbridge, this could have proved troublesome due to the love affair he was carrying out with the strikingly attractive Freda Dudley-Ward”. For a short period in the 1950s as “Le Club De Clio” it hosted West End celebrities such as Diana Dors. It also featured in the 1956 film “Three Men in a Boat” and in the original series of “The Avengers”.
David Gilmour of rock band Pink Floyd bought Monksbridge in the 1980s. The current owners are Della & Alan Pascoe, both former athletes who represented GB in the Munich Olympics of 1972. Alan’s specialty was the 400m hurdles and won a silver medal in the 4x400m relay.
As we continue along this narrow street we pass some more old houses with more moderns ones built to blend in. The right hand side soon opens out to a narrow strip of green with some benches and a stream of the Thames on the other side. A footbridge and ford gives access to Rivermead Island.
Rivermead Island is uninhabited and open to the public for everyone to enjoy. Up until 1980 there an open air swimming pool on the island. The Sunbury Amateur Regatta, established in 1876, is held on the river here in August each year. The island covers a large area and its other side gives access to a secluded and peaceful picturesque part of the main stream of the River Thames. Rivermead was originally two islands; the other Swan's Rest Island was on the downstream side. However, they are now joined to form one larger island.
At 2.37 miles, at the mini-roundabout, go straight on past French Street to your LHS - Thames Street becomes Lower Hampton Road.
French Street gets its name from the French connections associated with Sunbury – we have seen some of these earlier. However, according to British History Online,
“During the 18th century the population was diversified by the richer people who lived in the new and larger houses by the river and elsewhere. Notable among this group was a colony of Huguenot refugees. The first of these to be mentioned is Isaac St. Eloy, who owned Sunbury manor by 1703, and it has been suggested that the colony first gathered between 1703 and 1708 around the Dowager Duchesse de la Force. In 1709 24 names of persons assessed to poor relief were French. It is possible that French Street and the former French Place were named from the Huguenot settlers. French names occur in the parish registers until 1748 and it is possible that others found as late as 1820 may be attributed to the Huguenot settlement.”
There are some old houses on French Street, two of which are very notable. The first is the William & Mary House (17th Century) which is 150 yards along on the right. The second is Ivy House dating from c1690 just a short distance further along on the same side. Directly opposite Ivy House is Rope Walk, an old walled footpath joining French Street to The Avenue. This dates back to at least the 1700s when the rope-making industry thrived here.
On continuing along Lower Hampton Road, Darby Crescent is crossed over twice and immediately after it, on the left, is Darby House. This was built in the 18th Century and was once home to Admiral George Darby (1720 – 1790), appointed Lord of the Admiralty in 1780 and best known for breaking the joint Spanish & French siege of Gibraltar in April 1781.
At 2.58 miles go straight on across the entrance to Sunbury Court Mews and then past the entrance to Sunbury Court to your LHS.
Sunbury Court is an imposing mansion, built in 1723 by John Witt. In 1755 it became home to wealthy heiress Anna Maria Draycote (1726 – 1787) who married the influential George Fermor, 2nd Earl of Pomfret (1722 – 1785) in 1764. Fermor was also Lord of the Bedchamber and Ranger of the Little Park in Windsor. At this time the grounds of the mansion covered hundreds of acres and owned frontage onto the Thames plus two river islands. The Fermors enjoyed entertaining high society here and commissioned the young, aspiring Swedish artist, Elias Martin (1739 – 1818), to paint the frescoes which still adorn the main dining room.
Sunbury Court remained in the Fermor family until 1799. For the next 61 years it passed through various owners with many alterations and additions. In 1860 the mansion was bought by Francis Jack Needham (1787 – 1880) for £16,500 – a very large sum of money at the time. He was Member of Parliament for Newry from 1819 to 1826 and became 2nd Earl Kilmorey in 1832. Needham built a tunnel under the road to provide private access to his boathouse on the river. The entrance to this has long since been sealed, but can still be seen.
The last private resident was “Colonel” William Horatio Harfield who lived here for many years until his death in 1910. It was during this time a fire caused some damaged to the mansion, but the central core and most of the contents were saved. However, Harfield restored the building and is credited with the way the east and west wings are now laid out.
For a short time after Harfield’s death the property became the “Sunbury Court Club” before closing and then left derelict. However, in 1921 Sunbury Court was saved from certain destruction when it was purchased by the Salvation Army. They fully restored this wonderful building to its former glory, redeveloped the grounds and turned it into a conference centre. It was here their first Army High Council was held in 1929. Today Sunbury Court is a Grade 1 listed building, it is still owned by the Salvation Army, and it is where they elect their General each year. You can read a fuller history on their Sunbury Court website, and from the extract below it is easy to see how proud of what they have achieved here:
“It is a tribute to the foresight of the Army that Sunbury Court stands today not only as it living monument to its rich national heritage, but also as a working institution providing unexcelled conference and meeting facilities for thousands of delegates from all over the world.
Visitors recline in the mansion's 250-Near-old drawing room, surrounded by the artistry of Elias Martin, the Swedish painter who came to study in London and found himself decorating the homes and palaces of the wealthy. Restored in recent years to their original brilliance through the co-operation of the Swedish Institute of Stockholm, these priceless frescoes with their pastoral settings and gothic landscapes are just as they were seen when Martin painted them directly upon the plastered walls more than two centuries ago. . . . “
Across the road from Sunbury Court a row of detached houses back onto the river. Many of them appear to be bungalows, but this can be deceptive as some of them have steps down to their entrances on the ground floors hidden below road level. Also between two houses, directly opposite the Court, a narrow footpath leads to a footbridge which gives access to Sunbury Court Island. This is only separated from Rivermead Island by a narrow channel, and although only about 40 x 300 meters in area it supports a river community with over 30 private dwellings.
Before leaving Lower Sunbury, I will direct you to the Daphne Clement website which has some tasteful water colours of Lower Sunbury and the surrounding areas.
At 2.7 stay straight on past Harfield Road to your LHS.
At 2.87 stay straight on past Kenton Avenue to your LHS.
On the RHS of the Lower Hampton Road, immediately after the last house on the left, is pedestrian gate which is usually locked. This leads to a footbridge to Grand Junction Island. The island is named after the Grand Junction Water Company who once owned it. Currently it is owned by Thames Water, has a few holiday homes on it and some boats moored around it.
At 2.97 miles a footpath goes directly away to the left and north towards Kempton Park Racecourse. This footpath marks part the boundary between Spelthorne and the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. Immediately past this, a fence marks the western end of Hampton Reservoirs & Waterworks to LHS. The fence keeps us company and on track for most of the next mile to a T-junction at Hampton Village.
350 yards further along a fence to the RHS of the road with a bank beyond hides Sunnyside Reservoir.
At 3.31 miles Lower Hampton Road becomes Lower Sunbury Road and filter beds of the Hampton Waterworks are now to your LHS.
To your right after another 350 yards is the Millennium Boat House. This is jointly owned by Hampton School & Lady Eleanor Holles School. It was opened in 2000 by multiple Olympic rowing champion Sir Steve Redgrave and his wife Dr Ann Redgrave.
Shortly after the boat house the RHS opens out for a short distance with views onto the River Thames. A large footbridge next to a car park crosses over to Platts Eyot. Like many islands on the Thames osiers were once grown here. In the 1860s it became known for its boatbuilding, which still continues today. The island is part of the River Thames Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation and part of it is listed as green belt. The current owners wish to develop the site, but because of its status, permission is almost impossible to attain. The island has many trees and the upstream side is much higher than the other. This is because when the nearby Sunnyside Reservoir was dug its extractions were dumped here.
At 3.9 miles, on approaching T-junction, turn right to cross Lower Sunbury Road then go east on the pavement along the RHS of Upper Sunbury Road.
As we approach the junction the large and imposing Victorian builds of the Hampton Waterworks are to both sides. The works were a consequence of the Metropolis Water Act of 1852 which stated all water used for human consumption must be filtered and also prohibited using water from the tidal Thames – below Teddington Lock. By 1855 The Grand Junction, Southwark & Vauxhall and West Middlesex water companies had all built waterworks at Hampton. In 1903 the companies merged to form the Metropolitan Water Board, later to become Thames Water Authority and now Thames Water. After the completion of the London Water Ring Main in 1993 some of the filter beds were no longer needed and are still not used today. The current owners, Thames Water, are trying to get permission to redevelop the disused areas but face many hurdles as the land is designated “green belt” and most of the buildings are Grade 2 listed. The Hampton Society has information on the waterworks and you can keep up to date with current proposals for this area.
Just 100 yards to the left, along Upper Sunbury Road, from the T-junction is a large house named Rosehill which overlooks the road and the water-works and dates from the 18th Century. You can read about its history on the London Borough of Richmond website. However, two tenants are well worth a mention and the two extract below are taken from the Borough’s website:
“John Beard (c1717-1791) was the celebrated tenor vocalist who sang tenor parts at Covent Garden which were specially composed for him by Handel. Beard was married twice, first, in 1738/9, to Lady Henrietta Herbert, who was the only daughter of James, 1st Earl of Waldegrave and widow of Lord Edward Herbert and died in 1753. In 1759, Beard married Charlotte whose father was John Rich, the manager of Covent Garden Theatre and producer of Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera in which Beard played the part of Captain MacHeath. Beard retired from the stage in 1767 when he began to lose his hearing and probably moved to Hampton sometime after that.
He died in the house on 5th February 1791 and was buried in a vault in Hampton Church . . .”
The second was William Ewert (1798 – 1869), godfather to William Ewert Gladstone, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and a person who brought the opportunity of knowledge and learning to the masses in this country and possibly around the world.
“Ewart was the parliamentary reformer who played a part in the repeal of the Corn Laws and was responsible for the 1837 Act which abolished capital punishment for horse, cattle and sheep stealing, letter stealing and stealing in a house worth less than £5. In 1850 he carried a bill for establishing free public libraries supported by public rates. He had married his cousin, Mary Anne, in 1829 and it is possible that, after her death in 1837, he moved to Hampton with his four small daughters. Sadly two of them died at Rosehill – on 2nd March and 7th May 1842.”
In 1902 the Hampton Council took up home in Rosehill, as did the local library. The Council remained here until 1937 when Hampton was joined with Teddington and Twickenham. The library remained, and Rosehill is aptly still home to Hampton Library. I don’t believe William Ewert would complain if he knew how his former home was now occupied. A blue plaque on the library remembers both Beard & Ewart.
At 4.04 miles our route enters old Hampton Village and Upper Sunbury Road becomes Thames Street. To the right is the old clock tower of the Southwark & Vauxhall Water Company. The road, although still classified as an A-road (A308), narrows greatly between old buildings. This section has recently been lowered to a 20 mile per hour speed limit and there are speed cameras to check on the motorists. To the left the Old Fire Station has long since closed down but the facade of the building has not changed. It is now occupied by a broadcast video and sound equipment company. Many old houses overlook the road, a couple of which may have once been coaching inns as there are still evidence of coaching arches.
Hampton as a settlement dates back thousands of years. It extends for many miles from Kempton through this old village, on through Hampton Court and onto Hampton Wick, on the Thames just opposite Kingston. The name is derived from two Anglo-Saxon words, “Hamm” meaning bend on a river and “Tonne” meaning settlement. At the time of Edward the Confessor it was held by Earl Algar. Later in the Domesday Book of 1086, Hampton is recorded as the “Manor of Hamntone” and is held by Walter de Saint-Valery (or Walter Fitzother, Keeper of Windsor Forest). The Manor also included Teddington. The settlement we see here now seems to have (much like Lower Sunbury) grown up in a triangular area around the church and what we now know as Thames Street, Church Street and High Street.
Thames Street still resembles an old narrow village thoroughfare; however many of its older buildings have been replaced through the centuries. Some of which were once occupied by historical figures. The buildings to the right block the Thames from view, but there are some gaps providing slipways and access to the river.
At 4.14 miles stay straight on past the entrance to Hampton High Street to your LHS. After another 30 yards, turn left and cross over using the zebra crossing, then turn right along pavement and past the Bell Inn and St Marys Church.
The slip road to the right of the zebra crossing descends to a car park next to the Thames, the Hampton Ferry and Hampton Sailing Club. For over 500 years a ferry has carried passengers across the Thames at this point. The ferry was probably at its busiest during the 18th & 19th Centuries & first half of the 20th Century when Hurst Park (or Moulsey Hurst), on the opposite bank, held many sporting events such as horse racing, cricket, bare-knuckle boxing, pistol duels, golf, archery, rowing, ballooning and cockfighting – you can read the full history of these sports on stage 1 of the walk. However, the racecourse at Hurst Park closed in 1962 and a housing development was built on much of the land. Luckily, the lands bordering onto the river remain as parkland and the Thames Path still runs along the southern riverbank. Today the Hampton Ferry still operates from near the Bell Inn on the north side of the river carrying passengers and cycles back and forth between the Middlesex and Surrey banks.
Hampton Sailing Club is just upstream from the ferry on Benn’s Ait Island. It was built in 1962 and is connected to the riverbank by a hand operated chain ferry. The club formed in 1944 and before building their current clubhouse, on the island, their headquarters was based in a boat moored to the riverbank.
The Bell Inn pub, I assume, takes its name from the ferry bell, however the open space across the road from it and sloping down to the river (Bell Hill) takes its name from the pub. The Bell has a long history going back to at least 1557 when the then owner, Robert Hammond, bequeathed an acre of land and a dowry to fund a free school next to the church. This laid the foundations for what is now Hampton School, and since relocated to just over a mile to the northwest of here. The old inn burnt down in 1862 and was replaced by the current one. There are no records to confirm, but it seems plausible, the Bell may well have been the inn where Charles Dickens set a scene in his novel “Oliver Twist” (1838).
“They turned round to the left, a short way past the public-house; and then, taking a right-hand road, walked on for a long time: passing many large gardens and gentlemen's houses on both sides of the way, and stopping for nothing but a little beer, until they reached a town. Here against the wall of a house, Oliver saw written up in pretty large letters, 'Hampton.' They lingered about, in the fields, for some hours. At length they came back into the town; and, turning into an old public-house with a defaced sign-board, ordered some dinner by the kitchen fire.
The kitchen was an old, low-roofed room; with a great beam across the middle of the ceiling, and benches, with high backs to them, by the fire; on which were seated several rough men in smock-frocks, drinking and smoking. They took no notice of Oliver; and very little of Sikes; and, as Sikes took very little notice of them, he and his young comrade sat in a corner by themselves, without being much troubled by their company.
They had some cold meat for dinner, and sat so long after it, while Mr. Sikes indulged himself with three or four pipes, that Oliver began to feel quite certain they were not going any further. Being much tired with the walk, and getting up so early, he dozed a little at first; then, quite overpowered by fatigue and the fumes of the tobacco, fell asleep.
It was quite dark when he was awakened by a push from Sikes. Rousing himself sufficiently to sit up and look about him, he found that worthy in close fellowship and communication with a labouring man, over a pint of ale.
'So, you're going on to Lower Halliford, are you?' inquired Sikes.
'Yes, I am,' replied the man, who seemed a little the worse—or better, as the case might be—for drinking; 'and not slow about it neither. My horse hasn't got a load behind him going back, as he had coming up in the mornin'; and he won't be long a-doing of it. Here's luck to him. Ecod! he's a good 'un!'
'Could you give my boy and me a lift as far as there?' demanded Sikes, pushing the ale towards his new friend.
'If you're going directly, I can,' replied the man, looking out of the pot. 'Are you going to Halliford?'
'Going on to Shepperton,' replied Sikes. . . .”
As we pass the Bell Inn the pavement becomes elevated above the road with views to the right across the river to Hurst Park. On the right a railing also protects us from falling onto the road. Immediately after The Bell, to our left, are the wall and railings to the churchyard of St Mary’s. The church towers over the whole village proclaiming a huge statement to those who built it and giving a great spectacle to people looking across to Hampton from the opposite riverbank. The Parish Church of St Mary was built in 1831 and sits on high ground overlooking the river. It replaced an earlier church on the same site which dated back to at least 1342. When the old church was razed to make way for the current one, so also was an ancient yew said to be over 1,000 years old. This suggests there may also have been a much older place of worship on the site, possibly going back to Saxon Times.
Immediately after the church are three old cottages, River Cottage, Feathers Cottage and Garrick Cottage at numbers 6, 4 and 2 Thames Street. Collectively these make up the oldest surviving building in the village. In 1548 this was Church House and was later leased as an inn called The Feathers.
At 4.27 miles stay straight on past the entrance to Church Street on your LHS. Thames Street becomes Hampton Court Road and after another 100 yards past Garrick Villa (formally Hampton House), again to your LHS.
Hampton House (aka Garrick Villa) faces across the road and onto the river. This is where actor David Garrick retired to in 1754. Garrick employed the Adam Brothers to improve the house on two distinct phases (1775-6 and 1772-4). Capability Brown was consulted over the grounds and suggested building the still existing, grotto-like tunnel under the road, joining the house to the riverside gardens. In 1756 the octagonal Temple was constructed as a tribute to Shakespeare and to entertain visitors. Garrick commissioned Louis-Francois Roubiliac to make a statue of the Bard to be housed in the Temple. In 1779 Garrick died and was buried next to William Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey. Nowadays the Temple is open to the public on Sundays between April and October and contains a replica of the statue. The original is in the British Museum.
In October 2008 Garrick Villa went up in flames, with the roof and many other parts of the building being destroyed. Seventy fire-fighters fought the blaze and luckily the foundations and most of the walls were relatively undamaged. This historical Grade 1 listed building is now being painstakingly restored. You can read about the fire and watch a video of it at the BBC website.
Across the river from Hampton House is Garrick’s Ait. It was once, like all other islands along this stretch of river, covered with willows and osiers used for the local basket making industry. Although some willows still remain, in the 1920s the island was divided up into plots and developed as residences. There are now about 20 houses on the island and many boats surrounding it.
Immediately downstream from the Temple and moored to the riverbank is the Astoria. It is hidden by the wall on the right of the road, but can be seen from the opposite bank of the river. The Astoria is the grand houseboat built by Fred Karno in 1913 at a cost of £20,000. Originally, it was moored to Taggs Island which was also owned by Karno. However, after Karno was declared bankrupt in 1927 the Astoria was sold to Vesta Victoria, a music hall singer and entertainer who made “Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow-Wow” famous. She lived in it till her death in 1951. It was then sold to a businessman who didn’t like all the attention the houseboat attracted, so he moved it the short distance up the river to where it is moored today. In 1986 the Astoria was bought by Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour and turned into a recording studio. He had previously seen it whilst doing a gig with Pink Floyd at the Karsino in his early days with the group. A lot of the later Pink Floyd work was recorded here as well as some of Gilmour’s own work. His solo album ‘On An Island’ was recorded here in 2005. Close to the houseboat is the entrance to Garrick’s grotto-like tunnel which has now been closed off by a large gate.
Before we leave Hampton Village, I will mention a few other well-known people who lived here plus a very special outdoor swimming pool.
Alan Turing (1912 – 1954), mathematician and computing pioneer, lodged at Ivy House in High Street, Hampton from 1945 – 47, when he worked at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. During World War II his work at Bletchley Park proved vital in breaking German Enigma codes. He was marathon runner and regularly trained in Bushy Park. He is recognised as one of the “Fathers of Computer Science”, but committed suicide after being persecuted for his homosexuality. After a petition in 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown released a statement apologising and describing Turing’s treatment as “appalling”. A blue plaque on the front of Ivy House remembers Turing.
Dr John Blow (1649 – 1708), composer and organist, lived at Beveree in High Street. His pupils included William Croft and Henry Purcell. In 1685 he was named as one of the private musicians to King James II and in 1687 became Master of the Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Henry Fauntleroy (1784 – 1824) lived at Riverdale in Thames Street (now demolished), was the last man to be hanged in England for forgery. He worked as a clerk and then a partner in the London bank of Marsh, Sibbald & Co., of which his father was one of the founders. For more than a decade he forged signatures on hundreds of cheques to finance his debaucheries lifestyle. He was convicted of forgery of £170,000 and was executed at Newgate on 30th November 1824. The case caused such a scandal in the press of the day, that over 100,000 people turned up to watch the execution. The bank also collapsed and was left with huge debt.
David Daniel Davis MD (1777 – 1841), lived at The Moorings in the High Street. He attended to the Duchess of Kent when she gave birth to Queen Victoria in 1819. In 1827 he was elected the first professor of Midwifery at the University of London.
May French Sheldon (1846 – 1937), lived at Riversdale in Thames Street (now demolished). She was born in the USA to affluent parents and at the age of 29 married an American banker who worked in the city of London. She travelled much through her childhood and in 1891, at the age of 41, set out on a remarkable journey of discovery through East Africa. The lady was a feminist and determined to do as she wanted in the face of much opposition from men who believed Africa was not a place for a white woman to explore. Her flamboyant dress, clever planning, respect for the natives, her huge entourage, and determined nature earned her the name “White Queen” from the tribes she encountered. She returned to Africa for further expeditions in 1903 and 1905. Sheldon set up a publishing house and wrote books on her adventures. She was often visited at Hampton by Henry Morton Stanley (1841 – 1904), another famous African explorer.
Jessica Matthews (1907 – 1981), lived at Old Farm in Old Farm Road (now demolished). She was born in Soho, one of seventeen children of a fruit and vegetable stall-holder – only eleven survived. In her early life, through elocution lessons, she got rid of her Cockney accent and developed a very posh one. During the 1920s she found fame on the stage at Broadway and went on to become a successful actor, dancer and singer. By the 1930s she was one of the biggest stars in the world. However, with three childless marriages, miscarriages and many publicised affairs she fell from favour. Though in later life she made a comeback and was awarded an OBE in 1970. She also featured on the BBC’s This is Your Life in the 1960s and had a posthumous biography in BBC’s “40 Minutes” in 1987 entitled “Catch a Fallen Star”.
Brian May, musician and astrophysicist was born in Hampton in 1947. He was educated at Hampton Grammar School (now Hampton School) and Imperial College London. Whilst researching for his doctorate in astrophysics his band Queen became very successful and he embarked on a musical career. In 2007, and almost 30 years after he started, he went back to Imperial College and completed his doctorate the following year.
Hampton Open Air Swimming Pool is just a few hundred yards north along the High Street from the river and sits within the western edge of the boundary of Bushy Park. It was completed in 1922 and remained opened till 1981 when Richmond Council decided to close it and give the land back to Bushy Park. However, a local community action group was formed and took ownership in 1984 under a charitable status as Hampton Pools Ltd. It remains open to the public till this day, is still run by the locals as a charitable company and has been much redeveloped under their management. The pool is heated, a delight to swim in and open 365 days a year. It is one of just a few Lido type pools within London which has been thankfully saved by the voice of the local community and not closed down because a paid public body feels it easier to stop providing a local service than to spend a few pounds and do some extra paperwork.
Just a thought from me: We have reached an age when people are hindered by health & safety measures introduced by national and local government; when 200 page risk assessments and liability insurance are asked for community events which have taken places for years; when you are told not to go out of your house because it’s snowing or raining; when you can’t hold a village fair, charity walk or fun run; when companies of solicitors are allowed to advertise with “no win no fee” and steal the monies these events make for charity. In writing this today, I listened to a Government Health Officer being interviewed on the radio on my way home from work. He said “if only people could get out at least five times a week, just say for 30 minutes, cycling, running, brisk walking, swimming or any other sport which increases their heart rate and makes you more active . . . then we would have such a more healthy population, people would live longer, the NHS would not be under so much stress.” He also said being inactive is a bigger problem than people who smoke, take drugs and drink a lot. It is the biggest cause of heart disease, diabetes, and more. I don’t really know where we are going, but can a person who takes part in a sports, where he or she should be able to look after themselves (as we all should) be stopped from doing this and getting fit (as we are asked to do by the Government for our own well being). I’m sorry to go on, but I have read about many things closed down that never should have, only because of paperwork, worries about liable or an elected body withdrawing its support. I have only praise for the brave people who stood up against authority and kept this very special pool at Hampton open.
Before leaving Hampton, I will direct you to the www.ourhampton.org.uk website. This has been well researched and contains much more information about the village, the people who lived here and some great photos.
At 4.36 miles, stay straight on past the entrance to Hogarth Way to your LHS and then soon past the entrance to the Stockyard to your LHS. After another 270 yards turn left through a metal gate (Hampton Gate) into Bushy Park then straight on along main path and stay with it after 30m as it turns right on a wide metalled path between a long avenue of trees (Limes Avenue).
Along this section the view to the right opens out and you can see the River Thames and across to Hurst Park. In the centre of the river, immediately south of Hampton Gate, is the western tip of Taggs Island. It is joined to the north bank by a road bridge just 250 yards further east along Hampton Court Road. The island has a very colorful history which you can read in stage 1 of your walk. In 1980 one of the island’s residents, Gerald Braban, formed Taggs Island Limited in order to protect and regenerate it. He funded the road bridge from the Middlesex side and constructed a lagoon in the centre. He lived on the island for 23 years and died in 1993. A few years later the New Millennium Sundial was erected in Terrace Gardens next to the bridge as a memorial to him. It incorporates the eight cardinal points of the compass and a series of concentric rings representing the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, the Equator and the Polar Axes. At present there are about 60 boats moored around or on the island, twenty of these are moored on the lagoon in the middle. The island also has its own website www.taggs-island.com.
Limes Avenue stretches for a kilometer from White Lodge in the south west of the park to Diana Fountain. White Lodge dates from the 18th Century and is home to the Park Office and Information Centre. Access to White Lodge and other Stockyard buildings is 270 yards back along Hampton Court Road.
Bushy Park is the second largest Royal Park in London covering an area of 1,099 acres and was royal hunting ground during Tudor Times. The history of people who settled here can be traced back over 4,000 years. A Bronze Age barrow and burial mound was excavated near Sandy Lane (to the north of the park) and the contents are now in the British Museum. There are clear remains of medieval settlements. The finest example is just south of the Waterhouse Woodland Gardens, where there are traces of the largest and most complex field system of the time in Middlesex.
The park as we see today was laid our in 1529, after Henry VIII relieved his friend Cardinal Wolesey of Hampton Court Palace for not securing permission from Pope Clement VII’s for an annulment of his marriage to his first wife Catherine of Aragon so he could marry his new love, Anne Boleyn. He also took over three nearby parks, Hare Warren, Middle Park and Bushy Park, and joined them up to form a larger Royal Park where he could enjoy one of his favourite pastimes, hunting. Presently, there are about 320 deer roaming freely within its walls keeping the grass in check and the tree branches above a certain height. These include, Red Deer, the largest mammal native to the UK, and smaller Fallow Deer (of the Bambi kind) introduced to this country by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. Their presence helps maintain the quality of the park grasslands and the diversity of wildlife which thrives here. There are no longer hunted, but during certain times of the year they are culled to keep their numbers manageable.
Henry’s successors did not enjoy his same appetite for hunting, but they did make alterations to the park, all of which are still visible today and are still there for all of us to enjoy.
The man-made Longford River flows through the park and is the main source which feeds all the water features here. It was commissioned by King Charles I, designed by Nicholas Lane and built in 1639 to provide a source of water for Hampton Court Palace. The river flows for 12 miles, from its source, fed by the River Colne just north of Heathrow Airport, through the park, on through the palace grounds and into the River Thames, just downstream from Wren’s Banqueting House. It was dug by hand and took nine months to complete at a cost of £4,000.
Chestnut Avenue is a mile long running from Teddington Gate to Loin Gate, with the Arethusa “Diana Fountain” as its centre-piece, and dissects the park in two. It was laid out by Christopher Wren, in 1713 during the reign of William III and Mary II, was originally named “The Great Avenue”, and was created to provide a fitting approach to Hampton Court Palace. The avenue is flanked by a single line of chestnut trees planted by Wren and as an addition to the four rows of limes planted earlier in 1622. The Diana Fountain sits in a large circular pond in the southern section of the avenue. This sculpture was originally commissioned by King Charles I for his Queen, Henrettia Maria, and first stood at Somerset House in London. It was moved to the Privy Garden at Hampton Court by Oliver Cromwell in the mid 17th Century and was later moved by Wren to where it now stands. It is named the Diana Fountain after the Roman Goddess of Hunting, but actually represents Diana’s nymph, Arethusa. The gilded central figure on top of the fountain is circled below by a collection of bronzes by the French sculptor Hubert Le Sueur. During World War II the whole avenue was hidden from German Bombers under camouflaged netting.
The two fence-protected Woodland Gardens cover an area of 60 acres and are off-bounds to the deer. The River Longford flows through both and there is much here to be enjoyed. They offer a contrast to open grasslands of the surrounding park and provide an environment for many rare species of plant to thrive. There is a Totem Pole and Canadian Glade to remember Upper Lodge as a home to Canadian Convalescents during World War I; many other sculptures to gaze at and benches to rest on; a smaller enclosed garden for exotic trees and plants; many miles of footpaths through beautiful and tranquil areas; wildlife to sit and watch; places to have a relaxing picnic and during the spring and summer concerts to relax and enjoy.
The Upper Lodge Water Gardens at the north east of the park have been recently restored and opened to the public. They were originally built in 1710 for Charles Montagu, 1st Earl Halifax who lived at Upper Lodge and was park keeper from 1709 – 1715. He also built a Brew House to provide ale for his estate workers, as at the time ale was safer to drink than water. The Brew House has been restored and is classified as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. A new footbridge across the River Longford links the Brew House to the Water Gardens. During World War I the Upper Lodge and the Water Gardens were used as a hospital for Canadian soldiers, then as open air swimming pools to treat East End Boys with respiratory diseases. The site was used as a US barracks during World War II and afterwards by the Ministry of Defense in the development of Cold War defense technology. For years they lay derelict and fell into disrepair. You can read a more detailed account of the history of Upper Lodge on the Twickenham Museum website.
At 4.65 miles stay straight on over a small brick bridge with a river to your RHS and after 25 yards turn left and onto a path across the grass to a wooden gate. Go straight on through a gate and into Waterhouse Woodland Garden then straight on along footpath with a stream on your LHS. After 90 yards at Y-junction of paths take left fork and gently uphill to Waterhouse Pond.
Waterhouse Woodland Garden was laid out in the 1920 as a job creation project. It takes its name from the small brick house on the edge of the pond. This once housed a pump to control the flow of the water. The pond was initially dug in 1536 and was fed by nearby springs and acted as a reservoir to feed fountains at Hampton Court. After the construction of the Longford River some water was diverted from the river to help keep the pond full. The pump-house was rebuilt in the 19th Century as a mess room for workmen.
At the top of the hill an ornate bench and surrounding frame face out across the pond and is a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery and wildlife of the pond and its surroundings.
Continue along the path next to the pond, soon descending to T-junction of paths with a small waterfall to your LHS. Turn left to follow the path north.
60 yards after the waterfall and to the left, through the trees, is the Totem Pole, carved by Norman Tait and placed here in 1992 to remember the injured Canadian soldiers.
Soon stay straight on avoiding path off to RHS. On reaching a fork, with a pond in front, turn right keeping the pond to your LHS (now at 4.9 miles into the stage).
It is at the pond we re-join the London Loop for just over half a mile. This is a 150 mile long distance footpath encircling Greater London. The last time we joined up with the London Loop was between Enfield Lock and Epping Forest.
If you look carefully, to the left of the pond, you will see a natural spring emerging from below the ground.
After 200 yards veer slightly left at junction of paths and stay straight on to exit Waterhouse Woodland Garden through a wooden gate and go straight on over a metalled track and along a dirt path through trees. Go straight on through a wooden gate and into Pheasantry Woodland Garden. Follow the footpath straight on and east through garden.
Pheasantry Woodland Garden was laid out in the 1950s. The paths through here are gravel and for 800 yards, the one we follow, is skirted by a stream to the LHS which widens out to ponds in places and support an abundance of wildlife. You can see herons, swans, ducks, coots, water-hens and many other types of birds. There is a Warden’s Cottage, and lots of beautiful trees and plants. Taxodium Walk is lined with Taxodium trees, to our left and next to Triss’s Pond. These look strange with their unusual Cypress Knees sticking up in the air and extending along the ground on both side of each tree. Triss’s Pond was created by Joseph Fisher, park superintendent from late 1940s to late 1960s. It is named after his daughter.
After 600 yards, stay straight on past a path going off to your LHS. Then after another 200 yards, and at a junction of paths, turn left and over a wooden footbridge (the London Loop turns right at this point and exits the woodland garden through a gate). Once over footbridge go straight on along most obvious path.
The area around here is named King’s River Garden and on some afternoons and evenings can be full of people sitting on the grass, enjoying a picnic and listening to free concerts.
To the right, just a short distance along the path, in Broom Clump is the newly opened Pheasantry Welcome Centre with its information point, café, public toilets and an education and community room. This forms part of a £7.2 million Restoration Project for the park which also includes: the planting of many new trees; more access to places which were until recently out-of-bounds; access for disabled people; education programmes for schools; improving biodiversity to help trees, plants and wildlife thrive here, and much more.
After 80 yards stay right at junction of paths, then after another 175 yards veer right to wooden a gate and exit Woodland Garden. Go straight over road onto footpath across grass. After another 20 yards and immediately after second tree to your RHS, veer slightly left onto a lesser defined path across grass.
In 120 yards, at a Y-junction of grass paths, veer slightly left heading for the LHS of a car park in the distance. After 150 yards follow the path through a copse of young trees and then soon to the edge of the car park.
On approaching the car park turn left along a path adjacent and parallel to it. At west corner of the car park turn right along edge of the car park and to road. Cross straight over road, then turn right and cross lane.
To the left along the lane is Teddington Cricket Club, this is one of many sports clubs within the park. The rules for modern day game of Hockey are thought to have been developed by Teddington Cricket Club in Bushy Park about 1871. Some members went on to set up Teddington Hockey Club, which claims to be the world’s oldest.
Go straight on along the grass and parallel to road for 30 yards then veer left on a path along edge of trees (now at 6 miles into the route). After 160 yards the trees open out with views of Bushy House to your LHS.
Bushy House dates from at least the middle 17th Century and was used as a home to the Park Keeper (and later Ranger). In 1797, the Duke of Clarence (1765 – 1837) (later King William IV) became Ranger of Bushy Park. He lived here with his mistress – the actress Dorothea Jordan (1761 – 1816) – from 1797 – 1811, and seven of their ten children were born here. Jordan and the Duke separated in 1811, and in 1818 he married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen. The temple in the grounds of the house was built by the Duke as a tribute to Lord Nelson and housed part of the main mask of HMS Victory; He had met Nelson during his teens whilst serving as an officer in the Royal Navy. It was here at 6am on 26th June 1830 he was awakened from his sleep to be told his brother George IV had died and he had become King. Apparently he went back to bed saying “I have always wanted to sleep with a queen”. As King he made his Queen, Adelaide, Ranger of the park and ordered “free admission of the public to Bushy Palace and Park”. Adelaide was granted the house after William died in 1837 and used it as her official residences. She was involved in local causes including schools and churches and eight hundred families in the area received gifts of bread and beef at Christmas until her death in 1849. The City of Adelaide in Australia is named after her. Bushy House remained empty except for a skeleton staff until 1865 when it was lent by Queen Victoria to Prince Louis, Duc de Nemours – 2nd son of Louis Philippe, Duc d’Orleans, the exiled King of France – who lived there intermittently until his death in 1896. He was a devout Roman Catholic and established a chapel at the house which was restored in the 1960s.
In 1900 the Government, with Queen Victoria’s approval, allotted the site, including the house and 30 acres of the surrounding Bushy Park for the purposes of the new National Physical Laboratory (NPL). This was completed and opened in 1902 by the then Prince & Princess of Wales. The original three aims of the NPL were:
· to carry out research – particularly research into the accurate determination of physical constants.
· to establish and maintain precise standard of measurement.
· to make tests of instruments and materials.
Through the years much important work has been carried out here. The earliest experiments into radar took place in the sports fields. The wind tunnel was used to develop the Spitfire. Barnes Wallis (1887 – 1979) carried out essential tests in water tanks in developing the bouncing bomb. The Mulberry floating harbour used in the D-Day landings in June 1944, and PLUTO, the pipeline which maintained fuel supplies across the Channel were both developed here.
Over years the laboratory grew greatly and by the end of the 20th Century occupied almost fifty buildings. These have mainly been replaced by a new laboratory complex with Bushy House now mainly used as a museum to its past and as a conference facility for NPL. You can read a more in-depth history of Bushy House by visiting the NPL website.
The path continues to bend around to right with trees once again on LHS. On approaching the road follow path as it turns left and through trees. Then stay straight on along LHS of road and past the Cannon Gate entrance to Bushy House on your LHS. A few yards after this veer slightly left on a path through trees. Continue to follow the path as it turns left and heads north through trees with fence to LHS and Chestnut Avenue through trees to your RHS.
After 200 yards stay straight on past a fork to your RHS. Then after another 90 yards follow the main path as it veers right through the trees and up to a road. Cross straight over the road and past a park gate to your LHS.
As we cross Chestnut Avenue with Teddington Gate to our left, be careful of the cars, and look right to see one of the best views in London. Chestnut Avenue stretches out for a mile into the distance, past the Diana Fountain and with Henry VIII’s Medieval Banqueting Hall in the backdrop. From the gate to the fountain is a little over a kilometer, with the road going in a straight line and elevated above the surrounding grassland and lines of trees. It was along here where the National Physical Laboratory used a laser to measure what was claimed to be the world’s most accurate kilometer. To mark the distance they inserted a nail on both sides of the road and at both ends and highlighted each with a small white line running perpendicular to the road. The nails are about 70 yards from Teddington Gate and 50 yards from where the road curls around the fountain. Up until five years ago they were very easy to find and were often used by event organizers to calibrate their cycles or Jones’ Wheels so they could use these to measure courses accurately. I have often cycled up and down here many times with a distance meter, so I could accurately measure the stages of my long distance run around London. However, on my most recent visits, it has been really painstaking to find the nails.
During the second Sunday in May each year the park hosts an event called Chestnut Sunday. After Queen Victoria opened the grounds of Hampton Court in the 1830s, Bushy Park became a popular playground for the people. Visitors would come here in their droves, especially in Spring to see the chestnut blossom. This eventually led to an annual celebration, now known as Chestnut Sunday. It is timed to coincide with when horse chestnut blooms are at their best. Nowadays the event has been formalised and is much larger. It all starts at lunchtime with a procession along Chestnut Avenue from Teddington Gate. There are floats displaying history from the time of Ancient Greece, through to Henry VIII, the war years and onto modern days. Many old military vehicles remember the park’s connection with the wars. There are vintage cars, bands playing music, local dignitaries, shire horses and much more. During the procession the grass areas on both sides of the avenue are lined with throngs of people. The whole event cumulates with a fair in the area near the park’s main car park and to the east of the Diana Fountain. In 2009 it is estimated that over 12,000 people attended. You can watch videos of past years at YouTube.
Once over the road go straight on through a small parking area for Gate House and along a gravel path. After 50 yards, and before the end of trees, veer half right onto a grass path through trees and across an open grass area.
After 200 yards and immediately after passing a set of trees, one large and one smaller, veer slightly right to reach a fenced off memorial in 60 yards. Follow a path just south of memorial going south east between a row of trees to your LHS and a copse of trees to your RHS. Immediately past the copse, veer very slightly right and towards a large tree ahead with second memorial at its base.
During World War 2 the park became the site of a large US base, later renamed Camp Griffiss in memory of Lieutenant Townsend Griffiss who was killed when his aircraft was mistakenly shot down by Royal Air Force, Polish flyers, on 15th February 1942, and was the first US Airman to die in the line of duty in Europe. General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890 – 1969), made the park Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) - the centre for planning Operation Overlord, the 1944 D-Day Invasion of France. He was based here from 5th March 1944 to 2nd June 1944. The D-Day Landings started on the 6th June 1944. The two memorials mark the sites of Eisenhower’s tent and the European Headquarters of the US Army Air Forces.
In 1994, 50 years after the D-Day landings a trail to commemorate Camp Griffiss and the Shaef was opened, with a new SHAEF Gate created just north of here. This gives easy access to the trail and the memorials from Sandy Lane at Teddington – follow the link for photos of this area.
During World War I and World War II, some of the lands in the park were used as allotments in “the Dig for Victory”. The plan was to turn over as much land as possible throughout the country to grow food, as imports were blockaded by German forces and there would not be enough to feed the population during these war years. By 1918 there were 1.5 million allotments throughout the UK. This decreased during the wars, but increased again to 1.4 million during World War II. Even with this surge in home produced food the British Government had to introduce rationing during the wars and if you follow the link to read about it, you will find out how lucky we are nowadays with the selection of food on offer to us all.
Follow the path straight on past the memorial, keeping it to your LHS and still going SE. The path heads straight towards the last in a row of three trees. Go straight on at a crossroads of minor paths and on reaching the tree veer slightly left, then after just a few yards, slightly left again. Follow the path straight on between trees along northern edge of scattered woodland (now at 7 miles into the route).
After another 200 yards veer slightly right at fork and continue straight over a wide path 70 yards later. In 30 yards path as it exits woods and continues SE to a metalled road (Cobblers Walk). Cross straight over road (Cobblers Walk) and within a short distance follow path along eastern edge of a lake to your RHS. Then turn right and stay right to follow path along southern edge of lake.
Cobblers Walk runs for about two miles from Dukes Head Passage Gate at Hampton High Street on the west of the park to Hampton Wick Gate on the east of the park. West of Chestnut Avenue it is mainly on grass and east of this is on a wide metalled path. It takes its name from a local shoemaker, Timothy Bennet. In 1734, Lord Halifax, the Ranger of Bushy Park, enclosed the park within a wall and removed much of the public access. Bennet’s business was affected after this, as it meant less people passed his shop on their way to Kingston market from the west. It also meant a much longer journey for these people as they had to divert around the park. Bennet campaigned for the access to be reinstated and in 1754, instigated a legal case against Halifax. Lord Halifax was worried about being seen to be beaten by a commoner at court so submitted before the case was heard and re-opened access the park. On Bennet’s death in 1754 the “Gentleman Magazine” said of him:
"Tim Bennet, the honest presbyterian cobler of Hampton Court, who obtained a free passage thro' Bushey park which had many years been with-held from the people, aged near 80."
In 1900 a Timothy Bennet Memorial was built in memory to the shoemaker inside Hampton Wick Gate. It bears the inscription:
"In memory of Timothy Bennet shoemaker of Hampton Wick. By whose efforts the adjoining footpath was preserved for the use and enjoyment of the public."
The point we cross Cobblers Walk is just 500 yards west of Hampton Wick Gate and the Timothy Bennet Memorial.
In 200 yards stay straight on past footbridge to RHS and now parallel to a river to your RHS. After another 180 yards the path veers left, then right and along the southern edge of second lake and again to your RHS (be careful as there are many paths off to the left – just keep the lakes and the river to your RHS).
The lake eventually narrows and then opens out again as a large pond.
At the far end of the pond, with a wooden footbridge to your RHS, turn left on path and follow it for 25 yards to the corner of a large car park. Then turn right and along the grass with car park immediately to your RHS.
The two lakes and pond we have just past are named Leg of Mutton Pond, Heron Pond, and Boating Pool. The first two were dug in the Commonwealth Period when Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) occupied Hampton Court Palace to feed a growing appetite for the new sport of angling. The park had previously been sold into private ownership in 1654, but was bought back two years later, at a high price, on the instigation of Cromwell, so it could once again form part of the palace grounds. Boating Pool was dug after World War I to provide employment. It was filled with small rowing boats and pedalos for hire. These were really popular with visitors, up to and after World War II. However, the boats disappeared in the 1970 after they became uneconomical. Sometimes the pool is now referred to as Model Boating Lake because of its popularity with young children (and their dads) playing with their model boats here.
These ponds also have an abundance of wildlife, including many varieties of foul and fish. They are a watering hole for the park’s deer, popular with birdwatchers and add much to the scenery and diversity of Bushy Park.
Where we pass the first footbridge to our right, and immediately after Leg of Mutton Pond, our route once again crosses that of the London Loop. This long distance path comes from the left on its way from Kingston-upon-Thames and goes directly across the footbridge, then turns left along the northern side of the ponds on its was through the park. There are some photos of the London Loop this area on the jbutler.org.uk website.
At far end of car park go in front of snack bar and immediately after the snack bar turn left onto well defined path going SSE.
The area around the car park has always been popular with the public and still remains so. The diversity of people you see here is incredible. There are many locals who use the park on a regular basis, but you will also see people from all continents come to enjoy and be amazed at how lucky we are to have such a rare and special space so open, full of wildlife, history and much more to enjoy for free. On any day throughout the year you can stop here, feel a sense of escaped from the problems which engulf the modern day world, and pass the time of day with others who have done the same. It’s a unique feeling which we should all be allowed to enjoy more. You’ll be in the company of people going on walks, picnicking, bird-watching, playing with boats on the pond, taking their children to the playground, fishing, kite-flying, dog-walking, nature trailing, playing sports, and more.
A new development in this area over recent years is different groups of people giving up their free time to help others get fitter and healthier. There are Army PE instructors leading groups of ladies on circuit training exercises, Nordic Walking Classes, a riding school for the disabled, and the Bushy Park Time Trial (now Bushy parkrun). The latter is a free to enter 5 kilometer run around the eastern side of the park. It was instigated by Paul Sinton-Hewett and first took place on 2nd October 2004 with just 13 participants. Since then it has been held every Saturday morning at 9am and has grown greatly, with up to 1,000 now taking part in each event. As parkrun the organisers have extended the idea to many other places throughout the UK and even abroad. At the start of December 2013 parkrun had 236 locations through the world.
After 160 yards at junction of paths veer right and still along a well defined path (now going south). In another 150 yards, and where path meets children’s playground turn right. (Public Toilets are just to the left of the playground).
As we walk from the car park and past the playground, just off to the right is the Diana Fountain surrounded by its large circular pond. The pond is above us and obscured by a large bank which holds in the water and supports the road through the park as it follows Chestnut Avenue. It is well worth the short detour to climb the bank, cross the road and get a closer look at this beautiful water fountain with its historic sculptures and gold statue on top. There are great views north and south along Chestnut Avenve and west along Limes Avenue, You will also see how popular the circular pond is with anglers, but don’t bring a fishing rod unless you have already arranged a permit.
Shortly after the path enters the trees (and immediately after passing a stream to your LHS) turn left onto path through trees and follow it as it veers slightly right to the road (Chestnut Avenue). On reaching the road there is a small police station to your LHS.
Stay left and exit the park through Hampton Court Gate, then left along the pavement and around the Lion Gate Hotel as far as zebra crossing.
The stream just passed is the LHS is the Longford River. I disappears underground just north-west of the Diana Fountain, feeds the fountain and its large pond, then reappears to the left of our path just after the children’s playground. It also goes on to feed the water features in the gardens of the palace plus the Long Water in Home Park and enters the River Thames adjacent to Raven’s Ait.
Just inside the park and next to Lion Gate is what was originally a gate lodge. It is now occupied by the Royal Parks Constabulary. This little police station blends in beautifully with the surroundings of the park and the palace and in spring and summer its gardens and walls are colourfully decorated with flowers.
Immediately after the war the park came up as a site for a London airport, but it got reprieved when a cabinet minister pulled a quick one on the House of Commons to get permission to have a military airport built over a village called Heathrow. His real intentions were not voiced and we still are lucky to have Bushy Park as it was laid out hundreds of years ago.
A more recent issue which may affect free access is currently on the agenda. In January 2010, Margaret Hodge, then Minister of State for Culture and Tourism, announced that the Royal Parks Authority will be allowed to charge a £2 fee for car users to use the car parks in both Bushy and Richmond Park. There is a huge opposition to this as it will cost millions of pounds to implement, and will for the first time in hundreds of years discourage the ordinary public from using these beautiful and much underused open spaces. The main opposition for this proposal comes from locals, the Friends of Bushy & Home Parks, the Friends of Richmond Park. They have backing from many politicians and other well known people, including Vince Cable, Susan Kramer and Zac Goldsmith. UPDATE: On Friday 5th July 2010 it was announced by the Tourist and Heritage Minister, John Penrose, that the Bushy Park car parking charges proposal by The Royal Parks is to be scrapped.
As you exit Lion Gate, turn around and look back along Chestnut Avenue towards the Diana Fountain and beyond as the road stretches through the park for a mile to Teddington Gate. You may recall the road cycling from the London 2012 Olympic Games. Chestnut Avenue was a feature of the Cycling Road Races on 28th and 29th July 2012, the first events of the Olympics and a few days later on 1st August was again lined with thousands of spectators for the Cycling Time Trials. The latter started and finished at Hampton Court Palace. You can watch Bradley Wiggins winning the Time Trial at Youtube. Where the trial started and finished is where we started and finish our walk around London.
Turn right to cross the zebra crossing and go straight on and through Lion Gate to enter the gardens of Hampton Court Palace.
Immediately into the grounds of the palace veer half right to take path going SW with tall hedge to the RHS of path. After 60 yards, turn right towards the entrance to Hampton Court Maze. Then after just a few yards turn right and enter the Maze.
Now find the route to the centre. It’s fun to find it yourself. However, this is on the stage map on this website. (Note: there is a fee to enter the Maze. However, if you intend spend at least half a day at the palace you can buy a ticket which allows you to see everything – please check out the palace website for prices. There is a lot to see here and I have never managed to get through it all in a whole day)
8.6 Finish in the centre of Hampton Court Maze.
The Maze, planted in 1702, covers a third of an acre and has half a mile of paths. It is where Harris, one of Jerome K. Jerome’s "Three Men in a Boat", got hopelessly lost along with 20 followers and a keeper. The excerpt from the book is below, it maybe a bit long, but it’s funny and I hope you enjoy reading it. I also pray you find it much easier than Harris to find your way to the finish.
“Harris asked me if I’d ever been in the maze at Hampton Court. He said he went in once to show somebody else the way. He had studied it up in a map, and it was so simple that it seemed foolish – hardly worth the twopence charged for admission. Harris said he thought that map must have been got up as a practical joke, because it wasn’t a bit like the real thing, and only misleading. It was a country cousin that Harris took in. He said:
“We’ll just go in here, so that you can say you’ve been, but it’s very simple. It’s absurd to call it a maze. You keep on taking the first turning to the right. We’ll just walk round for ten minutes, and then go and get some lunch.”
They met some people soon after they had got inside, who said they had been there for three-quarters of an hour, and had had about enough of it. Harris told them they could follow him, if they liked; he was just going in, and then should turn round and come out again. They said it was very kind of him, and fell behind, and followed.
They picked up various other people who wanted to get it over, as they went along, until they had absorbed all the persons in the maze. People who had given up all hopes of ever getting either in or out, or of ever seeing their home and friends again, plucked up courage at the sight of Harris and his party, and joined the procession, blessing him. Harris said he should judge there must have been twenty people, following him, in all; and one woman with a baby, who had been there all the morning, insisted on taking his arm, for fear of losing him.
Harris kept on turning to the right, but it seemed a long way, and his cousin said he supposed it was a very big maze.
“Oh, one of the largest in Europe,” said Harris.
“Yes, it must be,” replied the cousin, “because we’ve walked a good two miles already.”
Harris began to think it rather strange himself, but he held on until, at last, they passed the half of a penny bun on the ground that Harris’s cousin swore he had noticed there seven minutes ago. Harris said: “Oh, impossible!” but the woman with the baby said, “Not at all,” as she herself had taken it from the child, and thrown it down there, just before she met Harris. She also added that she wished she never had met Harris, and expressed an opinion that he was an impostor. That made Harris mad, and he produced his map, and explained his theory.
“The map may be all right enough,” said one of the party, “if you know whereabouts in it we are now.”
Harris didn’t know, and suggested that the best thing to do would be to go back to the entrance, and begin again. For the beginning again part of it there was not much enthusiasm; but with regard to the advisability of going back to the entrance there was complete unanimity, and so they turned, and trailed after Harris again, in the opposite direction. About ten minutes more passed, and then they found themselves in the centre.
Harris thought at first of pretending that that was what he had been aiming at; but the crowd looked dangerous, and he decided to treat it as an accident.
Anyhow, they had got something to start from then. They did know where they were, and the map was once more consulted, and the thing seemed simpler than ever, and off they started for the third time.
And three minutes later they were back in the centre again.
After that, they simply couldn’t get anywhere else. Whatever way they turned brought them back to the middle. It became so regular at length, that some of the people stopped there, and waited for the others to take a walk round, and come back to them. Harris drew out his map again, after a while, but the sight of it only infuriated the mob, and they told him to go and curl his hair with it. Harris said that he couldn’t help feeling that, to a certain extent, he had become unpopular.
They all got crazy at last, and sang out for the keeper, and the man came and climbed up the ladder outside, and shouted out directions to them. But all their heads were, by this time, in such a confused whirl that they were incapable of grasping anything, and so the man told them to stop where they were, and he would come to them. They huddled together, and waited; and he climbed down, and came in.
He was a young keeper, as luck would have it, and new to the business; and when he got in, he couldn’t find them, and he wandered about, trying to get to them, and then HE got lost. They caught sight of him, every now and then, rushing about the other side of the hedge, and he would see them, and rush to get to them, and they would wait there for about five minutes, and then he would reappear again in exactly the same spot, and ask them where they had been.
They had to wait till one of the old keepers came back from his dinner before they got out.
Harris said he thought it was a very fine maze, so far as he was a judge; and we agreed that we would try to get George to go into it, on our way back.”
If you wish to read a full history of Hampton Court Palace and its grounds see the write up at the start of stage 1 of this long distance walk around London.
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