Terry Willey describes a nostalgic trip back to his roots.

For the first 10 years of my life I lived in my grandfather’s house with my parents in Richmond upon Thames. In those days the district was part of the Borough of Barnes but in my mind we were very much living in Surrey, with easy access to the City of London. 

My grandfather was Managing Director of a well-known furniture shop in central London where my father also worked as a Manager. 

Grandfather purchased a house in Richmond to be relatively near to the centre of London and in addition my uncles were regularly in London – one being Company Secretary of the business and the other an active Member of Parliament.

I recall the family home in Richmond as being very substantial and close to Richmond Park.  It comprised many bedrooms, as well as a large kitchen that featured servants’ bells for  each of the various rooms of the house. Clearly it had been a sizeable residence for London gentry in times past.

All the houses in the road were of a similar size and the location was ideally situated for days out along the River Thames or a walk into the town, and especially Richmond Park. When I was very young, I recall my uncle taking me in a pushchair to Richmond Park at weekends to see the deer and particularly during the season when their young had been born. Covering an area of some 2,500 acres, it is one of the largest of London’s Royal Parks and indeed, one of the largest such urban Parks in Europe.

I particularly recall the glorious autumn colours in the park which always made that my favourite time of year, and also loved to see the carpet of daffodils around the grounds of Pembroke Lodge.  In 1965 the Boroughs of Barnes and Richmond were amalgamated and thereafter it became the London Borough of Richmond. 

The park itself and the nearby riverside area offered plenty of opportunity for hiring kayaks and rowing boats or taking pleasure trips along the Thames or simply taking a seat to watch all the activity of people walking, hiking and cycling and taking in all the natural beauty of the area.

There always seemed plenty to do and I particularly recall the various weekend markets, such as the Richmond Dock Pond market, held alongside the river at Heron Square. Although a small market, it was always great to visit and purchase locally-sourced food and fresh baked bread along with wonderfully produced arts & crafts.

I always considered Richmond a special place to live, with an almost village-type atmosphere, and yet a quintessentially English town offering a wealth of history around almost every corner. Nearby places of note include Hampton Court, which was the home of Henry VIII, and the remains of Richmond Palace, used by Edward III, Henry V, Elizabeth I, among other monarchs.  Then there’s White Lodge within Richmond Park which is used by the Royal Ballet School, and Strawberry Hill which was built in the 18th century by Horace Walpole. 

Nearly half of the Borough of Richmond is still maintained as a public open space including the former Royal hunting grounds of Richmond and Bushy Parks, and Old Deer Park, which offers the unique opportunity of being able to park your car in certain areas to observe much of this natural beauty as part of London without the burden of excessive parking charges:  it makes for a refreshingly inexpensive visit. 

There’s also the opportunity to picnic along the 12-mile stretch of the Thames which runs through the Borough of Richmond following small areas of green space. Here you will see people picnicking regularly beside the water and in the summer feeding the ducks and geese –  sometimes rather too generously as they have now become used to being spoilt with all those sandwich crusts and scraps!

All of this I regularly enjoyed as a young boy. It is fascinating that when you are young the surroundings in which you were brought up always appeared vast, and to me, central London seemed a faraway place – but in 1965 when Richmond became a London Borough, clearly everything changed.  It became closely linked to the City, with the birth of a connection to central London by overland train and on the District Line for the Tube, which means accessibility to this lovely part of the country is now so much easier. In my grandfather’s day access to central London was usually by bus or cab.

The remains of Richmond Palace can be seen in Richmond Green as a small courtyard surrounded by brick buildings. It was built by Henry VII and Palace Place, the royal residence of Sheen, was burnt down in 1499. Interestingly the Palace was once the winter home of Queen Elizabeth I, and was where she died in 1603.  Her Father Henry VIII also lived there for a period before relocating to Hampton Court Palace.

Rover’s return

When I was invited earlier this year by my family to travel with them to Richmond for their own family commitments, I readily welcomed the opportunity to re-visit the area where I grew up almost 70 years ago, and was keen to visit the family home to see if there had been changes.  In so many areas, particularly in and around London, the large Georgian and Victorian houses have all been converted into flats and the streets have become congested with car parking, giving a totally different feel to the days when I lived there. However, to my absolute surprise I found that the street where I had lived for a decade remained beautifully lined with mature trees and hardly any of the houses had been converted or divided: to the contrary, millions of pounds had been spent on many of them to enlarge them further. 

I sat in the car for a few minutes hardly recognising the family house as it had been so tastefully extended. For a moment, I could recall running out of the front door to the garden and to the town of Richmond a short distance away and to the park.  Surprisingly, not much had changed other than the modernisation of the town.

However, if you have time to look in an estate agent’s window in Richmond you will note that people pay a real premium to live there today.  However, the area now has much more to offer, with its easy and regular transport access to central London  while offering a retreat to a very special area after a working day!

My family drove me to the park to enjoy a lovely meal in one of the park houses and to seek out the deer, ducks, geese and other wildlife.  Refreshingly, it was all as popular as it had been for me some 70 years ago.

I am so glad I was able to re-visit Richmond and would heartily commend it to you for a visit if you have never experienced this unique little green oasis so close to the capital City.