The deer are at the heart of the history of Richmond Park. Charles I enclosed the Park in 1637 to create a royal hunting ground for himself and friends. The aristocratic pastime of deer hunting was of course well established and continued at Richmond through the 17th and 18th centuries.
However, the enclosure was unpopular with local residents, as the area surrounded by the wall had been a source of turfs and kindling for the poor, and for the daring a source of venison. Not surprisingly, poaching (or ‘deer stealing’ as it was called) took place. At times extreme measures to prevent this practice were adopted, and in the 1720s the contest between Park keepers and poachers became particularly intense, so much so that a newspaper of 1724 reports that 4 people attempting to steal the deer were attacked by Park keepers and ‘many shots were exchanged on both sides; at last the Deer Stealers returning to get out of the Park, one of them was shot dead as he was climbing over the Wall’. Later at Kingston Assizes seven or eight men were indicted for taking deer, and at least two of these men were subsequently executed.
You can learn more about the history of the deer in Richmond Park at the exhibition in the Pembroke Lodge Entrance Hall, mounted by the Hearsum Collection with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Deer in the City project.