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Richmond bridge (part one)
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Richmond has long had royal connections. From the twelfth century the manor of Shene belonged to the Crown and over the centuries a village grew up, with houses for the courtiers and others connected to the royal household. After Henry VII rebuilt the house and renamed it Richmond Palace, the area began to prosper. The earliest mention of a ferry at Richmond is from the fifteenth century, though it was probably operating much earlier. It, too, was owned by the Crown and was used by Henry VIII and his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, who would often stay at Richmond Palace. Two boats operated the ferry, one for passengers and a larger one for horses and carts, but carriages were too heavy for either and had to cross via Kingston Bridge. Further upstream at Ham there was also the Twickenham Ferry, and later its rival, the Hammerton Ferry, which still operates between Ham House and Marble Hill and is the only traditional passenger ferry still operating in Greater London.

During the eighteenth century Richmond and Twickenham became very fashionable, attracting such people as the poet Alexander Pope and the socialite Horace Walpole. It could be dangerous to cross here by the ferry and in bad weather it was often cancelled, which caused increasing problems for a growing population. By the 1770s the lease of the ferry was held by William Windham, who decided that a toll bridge would be a more practical and commercial proposition and sought parliamentary approval for the construction of a wooden bridge on the site of the ferry.


Richmond bridge (part one)

A watercolour of Richmond Bridge by Thomas Rowlandson, executed some time between 1801 and 1820.



There was much local opposition to a wooden bridge, and the chosen site was unpopular too, as the approach from Ferry Hill was very steep. Indeed, a local woman would regularly provide chairs for the elderly and invalids to rest on before tackling the hill! An alternative site was at Water Lane, which would have offered direct access into George Street, Richmond's main street to this day.

After much debate a stone bridge was agreed upon, though the location was still to be on the site of the ferry, owing to the high cost of compensation for the demolition of buildings on the Water Lane approaches. Another problem was that on the Twickenham side the Dowager Duchess of Newcastle would not allow the approach road to pass through her land. In 1773 ninety commissioners, among them the actor David Garrick, Horace Walpole and 'Capability' Brown, were appointed to build the bridge. The 1772 Act of Parliament had a clause stating that anyone causing 'willful or malicious damage' to the bridge would be 'transported to one of His Majesty's Colonies in America for the space of seven years', a rather harsh sentence for an act of vandalism! Another clause stated that any damage caused by boats was to be made good by the boatman.

James Paine and Kenton Couse were commissioned to build the new bridge. Paine is better known as a country-house architect and had worked on the Old Lodge in Richmond Park. The bridge at Richmond was the first and finest of the four he built over the Thames, the others being at Chertsey, Walton and Kew, of which only that at Chertsey still stands. Couse's best-known work is Holy Trinity Church, Clapham Common, but he also worked with Paine on Chertsey Bridge and returned to Richmond to build the workhouse.

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