Our next stop was the charming town of Richmond, on the South bank of the Thames in our 1st Outer London Borough…
Status: London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, Greater London (historically Surrey), Town, England
Travel: London Overground (London Waterloo – Richmond)
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Richmond Old Town Hall, War Memorial, Richmond Bridge, River Thames, Richmond Waterfront, Dome Buildings, Richmond Old Fire Station & Clock Tower, Richmond Old Post Office, Corporation Island, Palm House Hotel, Richmond Rail Bridge, Twickenham Bridge, Richmond Canoe Club, Petersham Hotel etc
Our journey began on Richmond high street, which is made up of a collection of buildings all seemingly unique. Take the scene above as an example of what I mean. On the left is a building called “Dome Buildings”, a fine 19th Century building that would easily fit in in the centre of Paris. The Dome atop the building reminds me of the small domes that sit alongside the main Dome of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, and I imagine similar elements from the continent were an inspiration for it’s design.
To the right of “Dome Buildings” lies the aptly named “Clock Tower” which is attached to a large red brick building from 1870 which was originally built as a Fire Station after the formation of the Richmond Volunteer Fire Brigade (only the portion to the right of the Tower). The rest of the building (to the left of the Tower) was a later addition, used as the town’s morgue, and finally incorporated into the Fire Station before it closed in 1932. Today it is occupied by local shops, although clues to its history remain in the form of carved heads of fireman above the main entrances, similar to the “Grotesques” on Cathedrals and other Gothic buildings .
Moving along the street towards the famous Richmond waterfront, we passed the stunning old Post Office Building, constructed in a similar style to the old Fire Station. Despite it being 1 of the stand out buildings on the street (George Street), it appears not to be listed, after a thorough search of the area on the British Listed Buildings website, which is quite surprising.
Moving on along George Street onto Hill Street, and just before we entered the range of buildings that make Richmond 1 of my all time favourite towns, we spotted Water Lane, a charming cobbled street which leads down towards the River Thames. I imagine this is what a lot of London once looked like, however cobbles could be a headache, as the noise that horse shoes made as Horse and Carts passed by would have been unbearable in some areas of the capital.
So here we are on George Street, entering a truly incredible area of Richmond, showcasing some of the town’s best buildings, starting with the fine exterior facade of the Richmond Reference Library, featuring the Clock protruding from the exterior wall. This began life as Richmond Town Hall in the 1890’s, after Sir John Whittaker Ellis (1829 – 1912, Lord Mayor of London in 1881) donated a large portion of land which the Council used as the new home of its main offices. At that time Richmond was a stand alone Borough in Surrey, until it became part of the new County of Greater London (an expansion of the old County of London) in 1965. It merged with the neighbouring towns of Twickenham and Barnes (both in Middlesex) to form the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. It is notable as being the only London Borough to span both sides of the River at once.
Today the Borough Council are based in the civic centre in Twickenham, on the far side of the river, so the Town Hall became free for other duties. It now houses the Richmond Reference Library, the Riverside Gallery and the Richmond Museum.
Turning right at the Old Town Hall, we emerged out into a small square, bounded to the North East by the Old Town Hall, and to the North West by the building shown above, called “Whittaker House”. It is presumably named after the aforementioned Sir John Whittaker, and again despite it being a fine example of Richmonds architectural heritage, it isn’t listed either!
To the South the square is bounded by “Hill House” which was actually only built in 1986, despite its grand Georgian looking exterior. This date is confirmed by the presence of the Roman Numerals “MCMLXXXVI” above the main entrance. I would imagine that Whittaker House is also reasonably new then, although together they both really add to the pleasant atmosphere in Richmond. It is of course possible that the date refers either to a later extension of the building, or to a new doorway incorporated into the building.
Here you can see the square I mentioned, with the Old Town Hall in the centre, Whittaker House to the left and Hill House to the right. The 4th side is open, leading to a set of steps you can take down to the River. On the way, you will pass the Richmond War Memorial, dating back to the 1920’s. WWI took a huge toll on the area, and the fallen are remembered on this large stone column, topped by an orb. It was later updated after WWII.
We had finally arrived at the waterfront, and took in the stunning views up and down the Thames. Looking North, or downstream (towards Central London from the Thames’s point of view), you can see 2 bridges.
The 1st is the Richmond Railway Bridge (which also includes an approach viaduct on the Richmond side), originally built by Joseph Locke (1805 – 1860, Civil Engineer) in 1848. This version was later incorporated into the new bridge by John Wykeham Jacomb-Hood (1859 – 1914, Engineer for the London & South Western Railway), and trains ran out of London through to the South of England via Richmond, to destinations including Weymouth and Reading.
Behind it lies the 2nd bridge, called the “Twickenham Bridge”. It is the newer of the 2, consisting of 5 arches carrying the A316 over the Thames from Richmond to Twickenham. It opened in 1933, after 3 years of building work carried out by Aubrey Watson Ltd, to the designs of Alfred Dryland (1865 – 1946) and Maxwell Ayrton (1874 – 1960).
Looking upstream along the river, there is yet another bridge, however it is much older than the others, dating back to 1777, which actually makes it the oldest existing Thames bridge crossing in the whole of London. When the designs of James Paine (1717 – 1789, English Architect) and Kenton Course were complete, the bridge carried single file traffic, only being widened in 1935 to cope with the increasing volumes of motor traffic around the capital. It now carries the A305 over the Thames, and would later be our route into Twickenham.
Climbing up onto Richmond Bridge, you get some even more impressive views of the Thames, looking upstream from the far side of the bridge. The main items of interest can be found in the centre of the picture, starting with the Richmond Canoe Club, located directly on the banks of the river. The Club was founded in 1944, and is 1 of the few Canoe Clubs in London to have good rail access into the centre of the Capital, as Richmond does actually lie on the Tube Network, as the terminus of the District Line.
Behind the Canoe Club, high on a hill overlooking the river you can see a building that at 1st I thought was a Church, but it turns out to be a hotel called “The Petersham”, which dates back to its completion in 1865. The history of the building began 2 years earlier, when the land it stands on was purchased by the Richmond Hill Hotel, and John Giles (1863 – 1865, famous architect of the Langham Hotel in Portland Place, Marylebone), was employed to design the new hotel.
The view from the Bridge looking back at central Richmond however has to be 1 of the most incredible views from any English town we have visited so far. Towards the left of the picture sits Whittaker House, The Old Town Hall and Hill House, which is much larger than our initial view suggested. To the right of Hill House sits the “Palm Court Hotel”, formed out of a number of buildings including Heron House (early 18th Century Red Brick building) and Tower House.
The row continues to the right as part of the hotel, with various expansions from the 19th & 20th centuries, until at the far right, behind the lamppost, you reach Numbers 10, 11 & 12 Bridge Street. These were designed by H Laxton, which I assume means Henry Laxton, brother of William Laxton (1802 – 1854, a London Surveyor), completed in the mid 19th century. This would fit with the dates provided for his brother William. Laxton was also responsible for some of the expansions made to the Palm House Hotel.
There are a number of other sites of interest along the bank of the River, down at the bottom of the alternating rows of path/lawn in front of the major buildings I have just talked about. These include:
1) Floating Restaurant
The boat immediately in front of Hill House is now a floating restaurant, however when it was built in 1895 it became the Jesus College Rowing Club from the City of Oxford.
2) Boat Letting Steps
Further to the left of this, past the boat ramp, are the “Boat Letting Steps”, whilst just starting to head out of shot is a final ramp at the far left, called “Redknapp’s Boat Slide”.
3) Boat House
At the far right, just underneath the bridge almost is the old Boat House, which had once been housed inside 1 of the arches on the bridge itself. This was eventually knocked through, and is now a footpath.
Further downstream in the centre of the River, visible from the waterfront at Richmond is a small uninhabited island called “Corporation Island”, now effectively a nature reserve for various species of Willow Tree, and a popular spot for Herons.
Richmond is a lovely place to explore, and thanks to some good transport links on a major rail line from the South of England into London, and the District Line on the Tube, Richmond is easily accessible. It is also a very busy place, not just for cars and trains, but also planes, as it lies on the flightpath of London Heathrow Airport, the busiest Airport in the United Kingdom and 1 of London’s 6 airports, the others being Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Southend and City Airports.
We had enjoyed exploring Richmond’s famous waterfront, but it was time to move on, and we crossed Richmond Bridge into the town of Twickenham…