November 30, 2008

Richmond Park, London

I spent a summer in the late1960's with a friend, and his friends, in Richmond Park. East Sheen to be precise. Then a sheltered backwater with no passing taxis, the nearest shop a car ride away and the journey to the City nerve-rackingly protracted.

My friend was accustomed and much preferred big city life-
‘Why did you buy a house in the country?’ I ask,
‘Well, it’s wild and beautiful and I have never had a house in the country’,
he answered and sighed.
‘What a shame to have the house stay empty all the time.’ I said.

At which my friend remarked that Tartars were extravagant by nature,
and with that curious faculty he possessed for linking a remote past with present life,
he told how Tamerlaine’s daughter-in-law was in the habit of throwing pearls to her goldfish, beating Cleopatra hands down for she, after all, only squandered one pearl on one man.

He also abhorred the ritual of a daily walk, and only reluctantly accompanied me. I had to scout for interesting venues. On our walks I made up stories to go along with the landscape.
Walking through Sheen Common, an area of dense woodland, he said it reminded him of Russia.
‘Let’s pretend we are in the Caucasus,’ I said.
He answered, ‘Your appetite for adventure would at last be satisfied. There’s everything. Danger, beauty, innocence, corruption, small-pox, syphilis, stagnation…’ well, that broke the spell.
I am sure the trees were astonished to hear my version of Richmond’s history.
‘All those walks they are as habit forming as drugs,’ he would say. The ritual still held. A day without a walk was somehow not right.
On one of our excursions we found Eel Pie Island and he was in heaven,
NIGHTLIFE at last!
It may not look like much, but Eel Pie Island was once home to the famous Eel Pie hotel where the Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd etc. all performed between 1962 and 1967.
Starting life as a 19th century tourist attraction, the hotel - with its sprung dance floor - hosted 'tea dances' in the 1920s and 30s.

Weekly jazz dances followed, featuring the likes of
George Melly, Ken Colyer and Kenny Ball before Rhythm & Blues took over in the early 60s.

Eel Pie Island was forced to close after the owner could not meet the £200,000 worth of repairs which the police had deemed necessary.

A brief renaissance saw the premises re-launched as Colonel Barefoot's Rock Garden, with progressive bands like Black Sabbath and the Edgar Broughton Band rocking the joint until a 'mysterious' fire put paid to the club forever in 1971.

Left on my own I went exploring-


With the exception of dockland, there is only one area of London where the River Thames is a constant presence. Running from Hammersmith Bridge south-west, and taking in among many others Richmond, before it rolls into the Surrey golfing suburbs of Virginia Waters

I call it Waterside-not Riverside, for one of the features of this region is the number of ponds and gravel pits towards its western boundaries that are now almost as much a source of recreation as the river itself.

This is largely flat country, which makes the views from such hills as do exist seem more dramatic than you would expect.
The most famous is from the terraces on Richmond Hill. Enjoy the early morning shadows along the Terrace at Richmond.
A prospect that has hardly altered in 200 years.

Walk up Richmond Hill from the town towards the Park in the early morning or at sundown. Below this gravel walk lined with ancient elms the Terrace gardens slope steeply to the Petersham Road, and below that, again is one of the finest views of the Thames to be had anywhere, The gardens used to be part of the grounds belonging to Buccleuch House, which was built on the Petersham Road. They were bought for public use in 1886.

A very different view, looking into London rather than away from it, can be obtained at Runnymede, worth a visit. Set high above the river, the terrace of the RAF war memorial looks out over the whole of south-west London, with a haze of the city center visible on the skyline.

Richmond Park has been used intensively for horse riding since its first designation as a hunting park by Charles I.

I dawdled along the Richmond towpath with the dogs, letting myself out by the blue gate under the fig tree where the wild ducks waited to be fed. I would stop before Cholmondeley House which was, I still believe today, haunted. What scenes, what talks, what exiles Cholmondeley House must have known.

Only in that part of England -London- could merchants escape just a few miles from their place of work to homes of remarkable comfort and quiet. You could walk, or bicycle, along the southern bank of the river from Hammersmith to Kingston and for much of the way find it impossible to believe that you are in the middle of a city.

I enjoy English country houses, so five miles of river downstream from Richmond was a must. You could catch Marble Hill house, Ham, Strawberry Hill, and thence to Hampton Court, surrounded by the flatness of Bushy Park, or, a little to the north of Richmond through old Isleworth, Robert Adam’s exquisite Syon House.

East Sheen was not the multi-racial, edgy, yet exciting, London of much of today’s inner city, but there’s no doubt that Waterside had its ‘secret charms’.


Alan said...

Oh boy, I remember Eel Pie Island.
Yesterday when I was young.

Anonymous said...


Will (from Atlanta, GA) said...

aha, and we remember die ganze Geschichte!

Mona said...

Yes, I remember it well.
Wasn't it just yesterday?

Wild thing said...

You wish.

Geoff said...

that just brought back a reels of memories

Tommy Lee said...

Darn I missed it

Bruce (HI) said...

still got that Burns?

ms capshaw said...

still waiting for that visit from you

Anonymous said...

"And who's going to be the one, to say it was no good what we done?"

Eel Pie Island fan said...

how nice of you to write this

Yes, memories. said...

This site was brought to my notice by a friend. I played Eel Pie many times in the 60's. A great venue with a tremendous atmosphere. The band was called: Brian Green & His New Orleans Stompers. The line-up at that time was: Alan Snook (trmpt), Alex Revell (clnt), Gordon Blundy (tmbn), Tom Culbert (pno), Charlie Morrish (bnjo), Pete Barton (bass) and myself on drums.

Eel pie fan said...

read on

read on said...

read on..

Anonymous said...

and on

Anonymous said...

now that brings back a lot of things