21 December 2012

Exploring the history of Richmond Borough

A clever bit of planning brought an interesting afternoon of history and exploration around Twickenham Riverside.

The starting point was the Orleans House Gallery which meant a couple of buses and a short pleasant walk alongside Marble Hill House to the river.

This took me along the hideously grand Montpelier Road where Tennyson used to live and Pete Townsend now does.

Orleans House Gallery is an interesting building with a decorative octagonal room in one corner. I am not sure what this room is used for, if anything, but being pretty is purpose enough.

The main part of the building is a thin gallery space with a thinner gallery space on the mezzanine floor above. It is not a desperately convenient space but it has walls and that is all a gallery needs.

The exhibition that I went to see was called The Building of a Borough.

This looked at how the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames developed from a collection of towns and villages as the spaces between them were filled with new buildings.

The exhibition was structured around these towns, e.g. Whitton, Teddington and Barnes, and explained how they grew and changed through planning and building records submitted to the local authorities.

The plans on display were mostly for buildings of some note, such as a gorgeous art deco cinema, the grand house built for Dr John Langdon Down and the first (1948) Span Estate in Constance Road, Whitton.

Sadly the collection for Ham and Petersham was the smallest on display. There was a scrolling computer screen (briefly) showing other items in the collection, including some from Ham, and these can be searched online on the Richmond upon Thames Local Studies website.

I was interested in these plans of Reston Lodge, one of the many former hunting lodges in the area as I know the outside of the current house well, I've walked and bussed past it hundreds of times.

One of the things that I liked about the old plans was the sorts of rooms that these buildings had, such as a Billiards Room and, my favourite, an Ice Rink!

I also noted the use of "class room" as two words.

Behind the main gallery is a smaller one, The Stables, which had an exhibition of photographs of Richmond people. Most of the expected local celebs were there, such as Bamber Gasgoigne and David Attenborough, but the more interesting pictures were of ordinary people, such as Malcolm from my local hardware shop.

Gallerying over, I walked along the river towards the gardens at York House to see the Naked Ladies playing in the large grotto.

This is one of those ladies trying her best not to fall into the water. There are eight of the overall, and a couple of horses. They are slightly larger than life-size so the effect is quite dramatic. It's just a shame that they are so well hidden, you can walk past on the road and not know that they are there.

Next to these gardens is Eel Pie island that is only connected to the mainland by a pedestrian bridge that rises high to let boats pass underneath.

I associate Eel Pie with music for all sorts of reasons, not least the Eel Pie Club and Eel Pie studios, but that is just branding and neither are actually on the island.

What is there is boat houses and a jumble of working boats moored alongside. This is a working island and looks all the better for it.

The two exhibitions, the walk along the river and the York House Gardens made for a fulfilling couple of hours that even the constant threat of rain could dispel. From there it was a gentle walk away from the river through Olde Twickenhame to the modern monstrosity that is the high street where the buses homeward can be found.

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