The wonderful phrase “The Lungs of London,” describing the green spaces that offer breathing space among the city’s urban sprawl, is attributed to William Pitt the Elder in the 18th Century. It is an evocative expression that has, over the centuries, been used to defend the life-giving green parks and squares against the creep of grey development. One look at the map reveals how splendidly 20 The Barons and Twickenham Bridge are situated between two of the greatest and greenest of those lungs, which open up like butterfly wings to the east and north-east. A brisk 20-minute walk, crossing the Thames at Richmond Bridge, takes you to the fringes of vast green acres that have no equal in London. Walk south-east from the bridge, and Richmond Hill offers you views of the Thames painted by Turner and now preserved by an Act of Parliament. Your path encompasses the award-winning Terrace Gardens and the bucolic serenity of Petersham Meadows before reaching Richmond Gate. Beyond this stretch the 1,000-hectares of Richmond Park. The oldest and largest royal park, this vast wonderland of ancient oaks, deer and scattered ponds was named by Henry VII in the 16th Century and is little changed since Charles I fenced its boundaries in 1637. Alternatively, walk north from Richmond Bridge to reach Richmond Green, regarded by some as the most beautiful urban green in England. It was originally a Tudor jousting ground, before cricket became the sport of choice in 1650, and it is fringed with labyrinthine passages that hide such delights as the Old Palace Yard. Continue north, and you reach the Old Deer Park, where the acres designed by Capability Brown include footpaths, tow-path, the Royal Mid Surrey Golf Course and the King’s Observatory, stretching all the way to the botanical wonders of Kew Gardens.
People and Places
Behind St Margarets’ genteel and gentrified façade, there beats a rock ’n’ roll heart. Richmond was the cradle where the jazz baby of the ’50s grew into the rebellious rhythm and blues child of the ’60s, a fact currently being celebrated at the Stables Gallery, Orleans House. The gallery is set in tranquil wooded gardens across the river from the eastern point of Eel Pie Island, and thus a Rolling Stones’ throw away from the island’s legendary R&B venue, the Eel Pie Hotel. This iconic setting, with a wooden floor that bounced beneath the dancing crowds, played a key part in the cultural history not just of Richmond and Twickenham, but of the world. The nineteenth-century building had hosted ballroom dancing in the Roaring ’20s, and in the ’50s local trumpeter Brian Rutland began running jazz sessions there. These laid the foundations for the R&B gigs of the next decade, which are still spoken of in reverential tones. Bowie, Clapton, The Who, Pink Floyd, The Kinks and the Rolling Stones all performed at the Eel Pie Hotel before it closed its doors in 1967, unable to meet a £200,000 bill for improvements demanded by the police. It finally left the stage in suitably rock ’n’ roll style in 1971, consumed by a mystery fire. The Stables Gallery exhibition features photographs, artwork and memorabilia from the hotel’s heyday, and is curated by island resident and author of the book Eel Pie Island, Michelle Whitby. It includes first-hand accounts from musicians and concert-goers, original passports to what was known as “Eelpiland”, and the earliest known colour photographs of the island. Documentary movies narrate a truly unique time and place in London’s history, and you can select your own musical memories on an original record player. Photographs include Cyril Davies, The Yardbirds, Rod Stewart; plus the impossibly youthful-looking Rolling Stones who back then had a Wednesday residency and this summer, 50 years later, were still raising a Crossfire Hurricane in Hyde Park.
This weekend is your last chance to see the exhibition The Birth of Rhythm and Blues. Orleans House is less than a 20-minute walk from 20 The Barons. Just head south to the banks of the Thames to taste a historic slice of Eel Pie. Entry is free.
I’m up to my eyes in new kitchen appliances as our new suite at 20 The Barons nears completion. It’s been a long hard winter but today, looking out of the newly dressed window, I catch a glimpse of the sun. And summer is coming. And when it does finally arrive we’ll have another two-bedroom luxury apartment available to our guests. And there’s so much on offer in out beautiful neck of the woods. I, for one, am excited about the beginning of the polo season at Ham Polo Club (www.hampoloclub.com), which is just a few minutes away by car or taxi.
This polo club has the distinction of being the last remaining polo club in the Greater London area. Established in 1926, there is a fine clubhouse available for events, such as wedding receptions and corporate functions, and there are more than 21 acres of polo fields on which to land your helicopter (should you have one!)
Matches take place from May to September and, for a fee, spectators can attend. The fee varies depending on whether you are on foot or in a car but at only £5 per spectator on foot it is not prohibitive. As you’d expect the dress code is ‘smart/casual’ and no shorts of any kind are permitted. Phew!
And should you be brave enough, polo lessons are available. You can hire all the necessary equipment (including the horse). Ham also hosts the ‘Polo Experience Learn to Play Day’, which is ideal for corporate entertainment, team building or as a party day.
You can get to the Club from Richmond station in five minutes by taxi or you can take the No 65 bus, which stops outside the Club gates. If you fancy a stroll along the riverside, it takes 25 minutes from Richmond.
We’ve been running 20 The Barons now for six months. It’s hectic but great fun. We are now about to start upgrading a two-bedroom apartment, which means within a month we will have two two-bedroom suites and Hill View Loft, our luxury serviced studio – with a view across the rooftops to Richmond Hill.
Hill View loft is the perfect home for anyone working at Twickenham Film Studios, which is a stone’s throw away in the Crescent. The loft is quiet and has a tranquil atmosphere, which is perfect for home working, but also perfect for a 2 minute walk to work! With the blinds open it is airy and spacious with a tree-top feel, and when they are closed it feels very comfortable and cosy. And, to quote Leonardo Da Vinci “Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind, large ones weaken it.”
Hill View Loft really does have everything you could need. There is a king-size bed, plenty of storage, a smart TV with full Sky package, a fully equipped kitchen with Neff oven and the all-important Nespresso coffee maker (sadly George Clooney is not included). The beautiful tiled bathroom has a walk-in shower and lots of fluffy towels. It’s heavenly (almost literally as it’s on the third floor of building). The sliding glass doors that open onto the terrace allow the light to pour in, and the view of Richmond Hill from the terrace really is stunning.
And, of course, it is a serviced apartment, which means should you wish it, you can have fresh croissants delivered to your door for breakfast or a home cooked curry for supper!
I’m writing this blog from my lovely new office at the bottom of the sunny garden at 20 The Barons. Legions of daffodils are shooting up – is Spring on its way? Talking of Spring makes me think of weddings. Richmond is host to the Wedding Show at the Richmond Hill Hotel on 24 February. It’s free entry and brides-to-be will receive a goody bag!
If you are planning a wedding in this area, you’ll be spoiled for choice. And, if you’re looking for that special dress, you needn’t look far.
The Dress in Teddington has the most gorgeous selection of bridal gowns by British designers. Gillian Million specialises in luxury bespoke bridal accessories. You may think you’ve died and gone to heaven when you enter either of these premises in Teddington.
Brula offers fine Parisian dining in our very own St Margarets. Lucky for you, it also caters for weddings both in its own dining rooms are in a range of outside venues. Visit their website to see their delicious menus.
If you’re looking for somewhere to hold your for civil ceremony and reception, Richmond has many top-class venues. Here are just a few.
Usually known for its fabulous botanical gardens, Kew has several gorgeous wedding venues. There’s Cambridge Cottage, a former royal residence, which has the Drawing Room licensed for civil ceremonies and a fabulous dining area in the Gallery. You can also tie the knot in one of the oldest glasshouses in Kew, the Nash Conservatory. Designed by John Nash it was originally intended for the gardens at Buckingham Palace. Today it is licensed for civil ceremonies and civil partnerships for up to 200 guests. The 18th-century Orangery is an open-plan space that is ideal for larger evening receptions. Two hundred people can dine looking out onto a large terrace with wonderful views. It’s very romantic!
Marble Hill House is an elegant 18th-Palladian villa owned by English Heritage. Built in the 1720s for Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk and mistress of George II, it became one of the most fashionable residences of its time and, today, houses a fine collection of Georgian paintings. It has 66 acres of parkland, right beside the river. It’s licensed for civil weddings of up to 50 people for the ceremony, and 40 for a seated dinner. The lovely gardens are on the banks of the Thames, so it’s ideal for those wedding snaps.
Close by is the wonderful Orleans House. Dating from the 17th century, it’s famous for its baroque Octagon room built by the architect James Gibbs. This stunning room is makes a wonderful location for summer or winter ceremonies for up to 60 guests. The shady woodland gardens are set along the riverside and are perfect on a hot summer’s day.
For over 400 years, Syon Park has been the home of the family of the present Duke of Northumberland. Its 40 acres of gardens are truly spectacular and make a fabulous backdrop for a wedding. The Great Hall is used for civil ceremonies and the grand State Dining Room for seated receptions. In spring and summer, wedding receptions for up to 150 people take place in the Great Conservatory and even larger receptions can be held in a marque in the historic gardens, which is replete with a terrapin-filled lake, rare trees and an 18th century ice house.
The World didn’t end on Friday, so onward and upward and all set for Christmas!
St Margarets is looking so festive this year. Thanks to the amazing traders’ association
our high street looks like the very essence of Christmas. We’ve bought
‘the bird’ from our local butcher Armstrongs (along with secret recipe sausages), the veg
from Carlos and family at Streets – by far the best greengrocer/florist in the area – and
stocked up on panettone and other delicacies at Zoran’s deli. All in hand and only a swift
half in one of our exellent local pubs, followed by a delicious and chaotic lunch with family
and friends. This time of year we are always aware how lucky we are to have so much
and to live in such a wonderful part of London.
So to all those customers who enjoyed stays with us this year and to all those who will
next year (book early to avoid disappointment), a very happy Christmas and we wish you a
happy, healthy and prosperous 2013.
Ali, Jason and the Team