RICHMOND OLD DEER PARK
If Henry VII.'s palace at Richmond still stood by the riverside, we should have a second Hampton Court at half the distance from London. It was almost the first of the fine Tudor palaces in this country, built very stately, with a prodigious number of towers, turrets, cupolas, and gilded vanes, on a site as fine as that of Wolsey's competing pile higher up the river. But though the palace has gone, the park is left. It is the precinct now called the Old Deer Park, in which not one in ten thousand of those who visit and enjoy the park on the hill which we call Richmond Park has ever set foot, except in the corner furthest from the river to see a horse-show or a cricket-match. Old it certainly is. The park on the hill, venerable as it looks now, is only a thing of yesterday in comparison with it. Charles I. made the latter, and the Penn Ponds were dug by the Princess Amelia. The Old Deer Park was a Royal demesne when the Saxon Kings had their palace at Sheen, before it was given its new name of Richmond by the first Tudor, after the Castle in Yorkshire from which he took his title when a subject. In the middle of this ancient and forgotten park, forgotten because it is neither reserved for the pleasure of the Sovereign nor thrown open for the enjoyment of his subjects, it was lately proposed to build a scientific laboratory, to supplement the work of the observatory, which is mainly employed in magnetic observations and in testing thermometers and chronometers. The proposal is an instance of the mischief which may be done by precedent, and of the way in which Royal favour may be misused quite unconsciously by persons who forget that the circumstances which lent grace and propriety to a concession at one time may be so altered later that to presume on it is an error of judgment. George III. instructed Chambers, the architect, who had been doing work for him at Kew, to erect an observatory in the Old Park. It was a thoughtful act, at a time when there were no public funds for the encouragement of science, and when the study of astronomy was still regarded partly as something peculiarly under Royal patronage because its practical use was to keep and make records to ensure the safe navigation of his Majesty's ships.
The application to erect new buildings was refused, for a place like the Old Deer Park, if kept open and wild, and not built upon, has a present and future value to the health and happiness of millions of people beyond any calculation or power of words.
It does not need much imagination to make this forecast. But as few people have ever made what, in the old words of forest law, was called a "perambulation" of the park, some description of its present condition and appearance may help to form an opinion. It is the largest and finest riverside park in England. It covers nearly four hundred acres, but this great area, as large as Hyde Park, is shaped and placed so as to gain the maximum of beauty and convenience from its surroundings. On the London side it has for neighbour the whole depth of Kew Gardens, from the road at the back to the river at the front - two hundred and eighty acres of garden and wood. But whoever first acquired the land for the park, whether Norman or Saxon, very rightly thought that the feature to be desired was to make the most of the river-front, where the Thames, pushing into Middlesex, cuts "a huge half-moon, a monstrous cantle, out." Whether by accident or design, the park is like a half-open fan, narrowest at the back, which is the ugly or plain side, near the road, and with its widest part unbosoming on the Thames. From back to front it is some half-mile deep; but the Thames front extends for a mile along one of the most beautiful river scenes in England.