Sport in the Park – where royalty and artisans are equally welcome

Richmond Park was created as an enclosed landscape where the king could indulge in his favourite sport of deer hunting, but today we have a very different view of what constitutes sport. Three 20th-century kings each had a part to play in developing the Park’s role as a venue for everyone, not just royalty and the aristocracy, to enjoy a range of sporting and leisure activities.

OPENING UP THE PARK

Queen Victoria’s reign continued for only a few days into the 20th century. Her son, Edward VII, became Ranger of the Park in 1904 and, perhaps anticipating the greater democratisation that the new century would bring, gave instructions that all parts of the park should be “more accessible than hitherto”. Most of the fencing that had been put up in the previous century to protect new plantations of trees from the deer was taken down, allowing the public (as well as the deer) greater freedom to roam in the Park than before.

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The public were encouraged to play sport in the Park and, from 1915 onwards, football and cricket pitches were marked out. One of the antique postcards in The Hearsum Collection suggests that cricket was played in the Park as early as 1908, although we don’t know whether the Richmond Park Cricket Club was based in the Park itself.

GOLF IN RICHMOND PARK

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However, many social fences still remained. Edward’s grandson, who had been born in the Park at White Lodge and was later to reign briefly as Edward VIII, was to help break them down. As Prince of Wales he opened the new Richmond Public Golf Course in the Park in 1923 for those local residents who could not afford membership of a private club. An item in The Hearsum Collection from The Illustrated London News shows a diagram of the new course and describes it as a place “where royalty and artisans are equally welcome”. The inauguration of a second 18-hole course by the Duke of York (later George VI), only two years later, signalled that opening up this sport of kings to everyone had proved a very popular move.

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