On his daily constitutional (a highly recommended wander east from 20 The Barons, along St Margarets Road, over Richmond Bridge, and on up Richmond Hill), The Baron never fails to be enchanted by a quirk of the local fauna. The first hint of something unusual is a loud screeching from the treetops that takes him back to his glory days in Asia. As The Baron gazes at the glorious views over Terrace Gardens along the course of the Thames, the sky is lit up by the formation fly-past of a dozen dazzling, lime-green birds. These are the famous Twickenham Parakeets, which have adapted so well to life in Thames Valley suburbia that they now number in their thousands. They are ring-necked parakeets (Psittacula krameri), the only naturalised parrot in the UK. Large and long-tailed, with a direct and pointy-winged flight, their plumage is an array of greens, their beaks the red of an alluring lipstick. A ring of pink and black encircles their necks, giving the impression of a drooping Movember moustache. Richmond Park is at the heart of their distribution, and they are common visitors to local bird tables. Their raucous roosting at such locations as Esher Rugby Ground is among London’s most spectacular twilight experiences. The ring-necked parakeet is native to India, but its origins in the foothills of the Himalayas explain the species’ capacity to survive an English winter. First bred in Britain in 1855, the parakeets did not colonise London’s parks until the 1960s. A population explosion in the ’90s might perhaps be linked to our warming climate. The birds thrive on a plentiful supply of buds and seeds from beech and sweet chestnut, and nest in the tree-hole homes of native nuthatches and woodpeckers. Several urban myths have taken flight around their origins. One traces the birds’ family tree to a breeding pair released on Carnaby Street in the 1960s by Jimi Hendrix, who would no doubt be delighted by the psychedelic flourish their little wings bring to the traditional landscape. Another suggests the original birds escaped from Isleworth Studios, Middlesex, in 1951, during the filming of The African Queen starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. Whatever the truth, the exotic appearance of the Twickenham Parakeets cannot but gladden the heart on a cold winter’s morning.
St Margarets Road
It is fitting that we call the site of a building its footprint, since its impression provides us with tracks that we may follow into the past. If we could travel back in time 750 years, we would find a riotous gathering raising their tents south of a grand house built by King Henry III’s brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, on the Manor of Isleworth (later, Twickenham Park). We would be surrounded by open fields, with common meadows running along the west bank of the Thames.
To the south-west rises the Medieval village of Twickenham (around Church Street) on the higher ground beside the Twickenham Ait (Eel Pie Island), its buildings clustered around a church of Kentish rag stone (St Mary’s). There are water-mills, weirs and fisheries along the river, orchards and open farmland parched by drought. On 29 June 1263, the Manor of Isleworth played host to the historic Gathering of the Barons, where Simon de Montfort’s rebellious noblemen held a conference with the King that sowed the seeds for England’s first true Parliament. When one discovers historic maps the footprints become clearer, excitingly so. Shown here are two maps that were drawn in the nineteenth century but allow us to take our first steps much further back in time. The first, from 1879, is clearly marked with the Encampment of the Barons at the top of Twickenham Park. The second, from 1896, shows the development of the A-shaped crescent and houses of The Barons in the south-west corner. Viewing the same area on Googlemaps reveals how early development shaped the topography of the quarter-circle we see today bordered by the railway, the river and St Margarets Road. We can locate the luxury apartments at 20 The Barons, and begin to picture our place both in time and space: discovering how our own footprints rest solidly within those of our ancestors.
(For more information, and map source, see the excellent Twickenham Park Resident Association)