Before a Royal Park...
The flat site of Bushy Park has been settled for at least 4,000 years. A Bronze Age burial mound – known as a barrow – was excavated in the north-east of the park near Sandy Lane. Among the finds was a dagger, which is now housed in the British Museum.
The site was cultivated in medieval times, and traces can still be seen of an extensive ridged field system in the Waterhouse Woodland Gardens – the largest and most complete of its kind in Middlesex.
The park takes shape around Hampton Court Palace
At the end of the fifteenth century this ploughed farmland began to be enclosed. The process was hastened by the development of Hampton Court Palace, a grand home for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. At the time Wolsey was a close advisor of Henry VIII and the most senior statesman in England. He had three separate parks covering hundreds of acres enclosed: Bushy Park, Middle Park and Hare Warren.
After Wolsey fell from grace in the 1520s, Henry VIII acquired Hampton Court and it soon became one of his favourite residences. Part of a brick wall Henry erected survives along the south-west boundary of the park, where it meets Hampton Court Green. Later, James I enclosed more land; sections of his wall remain to the rear of the Upper Lodge in the north-west of the park and along the western boundary wall near Garrick’s Villa.
The Longford River
Bushy was a hunting park during the seventeenth century, but its landscape changed dramatically when Charles I decided to create an artificial canal to divert water to Hampton Court Palace in 1638. Now known as the Longford River it extends 12 miles and was entirely built by hand at a cost of £4,000 – almost £500,000 in today’s money.
Chestnut Avenue and the Diana Fountain
This mile-long avenue is perhaps the most prominent feature of the park, running south through the centre towards Hampton Court. It was devised by the celebrated neoclassical architect Christopher Wren as a formal approach to the Palace during the reign of William III and Mary II. Flanked on both sides by a single row of horse chestnut trees and four rows of limes, it marks the park’s zenith in terms of royal ambition and sophistication.
Chestnut Avenue leads towards a large pool crowned by the captivating Arethusa ‘Diana’ Fountain – a gleaming gilt statue of a nymph from Greek mythology. Designed by Inigo Jones, it was completed in 1637 as a gift from Charles I to his wife Henrietta Maria, and originally stood at Somerset House. It was moved to its present location in 1713.
A park for the public
In the early eighteenth century the distinction between Bushy, Middle Park and Hare Warren gradually broke down and the whole area north of Hampton Court Road became known as Bushy Park. A public right of way was established running across the north of the park from the High Street to Sandy Lane.
In 1752 this right of way was christened ‘Cobbler’s Walk’ in honour of an angry shoemaker! Bushy’s then-Ranger, the 2nd Earl of Halifax, closed the path to the public. A cobbler named Timothy Bennett observed that fewer people were passing his shop as a result, and threatened the Earl with court action. Under pressure from the mounting outcry, the Earl caved in and reopened the path – it has remained a public right of way ever since.
Over time the park opened up further, and during Queen Victoria’s reign a tradition known as ‘Chestnut Sunday’ was established. Every May, when the horse chestnut trees were in blossom, large crowds would gather to picnic and watch cyclists ride along Chestnut Avenue. This celebration of spring continued up to the Second World War.
Bushy during the World Wars
During World War One a large encampment of Canadian troops was stationed at Bushy, and the grand Upper Lodge building in the north-east corner of the park became the King’s Canadian Hospital. Queen Mary even visited the troops and ensured entertainment was provided with the help of locals. A totem pole stands in the Waterhouse Woodland Gardens as a marker of this link to Canada; it was crafted by an indigenous Canadian sculptor of the Nisga’a tribe, Norman Tait, in 1992.
In World War Two the park mainly to the east of Chestnut Avenue became the site of a large US base called Camp Griffiss. General Eisenhower moved the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) to Bushy in 1944 to avoid the peril of working in heavily-bombed central London. It was from Bushy that D-Day – the liberation of Europe – was initially planned. Today a USAAF Memorial Plaque commemorates these events.
To uncover more about some of Bushy’s unique historic features and eras, please check out the boxes below.