What we now know as Richmond Park was created by Charles I in the 1630s as a royal hunting ground for himself and his aristocratic friends. Charles loved hunting, and he also favoured Richmond Palace as a royal residence. The Palace was by the River Thames so Charles looked for suitable land nearby for his ‘New Park’. The Hearsum Collection has this beautiful map of the county of Surrey by John Speed, dated 1610. The detailed view shows Richmond Palace near the area which was later enclosed by the King.
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.
One of the more unusual artistic images of the deer in Richmond Park is by Chinese artist Chiang Yee, who wrote and illustrated several books under the pen name ‘Silent Traveller’ while living in Britain between 1933 and 1955. He was a notable writer and artist of his time, well established on London’s art and literary scene as a lecturer and commentator on Chinese art and culture. His distinctive style can be seen in this illustration of the deer in Richmond Park from 1938.