Richmond Park is one of London’s eight Royal Parks and covers over 2,400 acres, ranging from Roehampton in south-west London to the borough towns of Kingston and Richmond.
The Royal Parks were established by King Henry VIII and were initially for the use and enjoyment of the Royal family. The Stuart kings opened the Parks to the people of London and today they provide beauty and tranquility amidst the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s busiest cities.
In The Beginning
From at least 6,000BC onwards there has been human occupation and management in the area of Richmond Park, as evidenced by pre-historic remains. This may have been continuous, although evidence from the Romano-British period [AD43 – 410] or the Saxon period [410 – 1,066] has not yet been identified. Through the medieval period and up to 1630, the area was made up partly by the ancient royal hunting ground of Shene Chase, plus areas of waste ground, a small area of other Crown land, commons and farmland. The land was generally poor and badly drained with vegetation largely of furze, bracken and oak trees (some of which survive as veteran trees within the Park to this day).
Despite much opposition from local people, in 1637 King Charles I created Richmond Park as a hunting park. Following the execution of the King in 1649, the Government preserved the continuity of the Park by Act of Parliament and on the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the Park returned to Charles II. In later years the management of the Royal Parks was transferred to the Government.
Public Golf in Richmond Park
In 1921 the idea of building a golf course was first considered. From its earliest conception the course was always intended to provide golfing facilities for the artisans, that is, the golfers who were unable to afford to join private clubs.
As befits the importance of a Royal Park, the creation of the first course in 1923 was a very special project. George V himself commissioned J. H. Taylor, of the famous ‘Great Triumvirate’ of Taylor, Vardon and Baird, to lay out an 18-hole course with architect Fred Hawtree.
The Royal connection was confirmed when the Prince of Wales opened the “Princes Course” on June 9th, 1923, by driving off the first tee.
So successful was the venture that in 1925 a second 18-hole course was added. On this occasion the Duke of York, later George the VI, executed the ceremonial drive to open the “Dukes Course”.
Historical continuity was maintained 60 years later when Martin Hawtree, grandson of the original architect, commenced a programme of modernisation on the two courses.
A Valuable Public Facility
In addition to the obvious charm of the parkland and it’s flora and fauna, Richmond Park has many ‘hidden treasures’. Isabella Plantation in the centre of the Park is an oasis of beauty when the numerous flowers are in bloom. And White Lodge, a former Royal residence, has been the home of the Royal Ballet School since 1956. The Park also offers miles of horse riding track and provides space for a variety of sports and leisure pursuits.
Today this public golf facility is one of the finest in Europe and stands as a testimony to the vision of it’s founders.