I am delighted as Chair of the Friends to welcome you to our website. Bushy Park and Home Park are two wonderful large green oases in the south west corner of London. Feeling wild, they are natural places with ancient histories, fascinating heritage and superb wildlife. Both are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) containing rare species. These are places to be enjoyed and conserved. Which is why the Friends exist, campaigning, supporting and protecting the parks, and enhancing visitors’ enjoyment with information, advice and guidance.
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Bushy Park extends over about 1,100 acres (445 hectares) of grassland to the north of Hampton Court Palace. Cardinal Wolsey began by enclosing farm land adjacent to the house when he took over Hampton Court and, when Henry VIII acquired the palace in 1529, the old oak fences were replaced by a high brick wall traces of which can still be seen today. The park was originally of several distinct areas until the present boundaries were completed in 1620. The name “Bushy Park” was first recorded in 1604 and was probably a reference to the many thorn bushes. These were planted to protect the young oak trees which were being grown as timber for ships in the navy.
In Tudor times the parks were important as hunting grounds - Henry VIII stocked them with deer and there were rabbits in abundance. After the royal palace at Richmond was destroyed by fire, Hampton Court became increasingly important as a royal residence and the land we now Know as Bushy Park was the adjacent hunting ground. Henry, and later his daughter Elizabeth, both enjoyed riding and hunting here.
Further additions were made to the park in the seventeenth century. In 1622, during the reign of James I, an avenue of lime trees was planted which was to become the basis for the Chestnut Avenue. The next monarch, Charles I, ordered a canal to be constructed to bring water to the palace gardens from the River Colne. Now known as the Longford River, this twelve mile waterway flows through Bushy Park feeding the ponds and streams here before continuing its course to the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. Even Oliver Cromwell, who took up residence in the palace during the Commonwealth period, enjoyed hunting in Bushy Park and arranged for the water supply to be extended to Heron and Leg of Mutton ponds to improve the fishing.
When Hampton Court was being redesigned and extended in the reign of William and Mary, Christopher Wren planned that the lime avenue in Bushy Park should become the focus for a new grand entrance to the palace. A road was built through the park to the Lion Gate at Hampton Court and more limes and an avenue of horse chestnut trees was planted. Although Wren’s scheme for an imposing new classical frontage to the palace never materialised, the unique avenue with its fountain and statue of Arethusa – one of the nymphs of Diana, goddess of the hunt – was planted. The elaborate fountain was first created for Somerset House and then moved to Hampton Court gardens before coming to Bushy. King William himself died as a result of an injury while riding in the parkland. His horse, Sorrel, tripped – it is said on a molehill – throwing his rider to the ground.
At the end of the eighteenth century the Duke of Clarence – later to become William IV – moved into Bushy House with the celebrated actress Dora Jordan where they brought up their family of ten children. As Park Ranger, William used Bushy Park to boost his income and was responsible for felling many of the trees, including the Tudor oaks, and enclosing half the park for farmland. When William finally became king, he gave orders that there should be ‘free admission of the public… to the Park’ and his wife Queen Adelaide continued to act as Park Ranger and to reside in Bushy House even after his death.
In Victorian times, when the rapidly growing population caused over-crowding in the city, the Royal Parks became important as London’s ‘lungs’ – green and peaceful places where people could stroll and picnic. Bushy became a popular place for outings on summer Sundays. Drinking water fountains were erected and coach loads of Londoners arrived for Sunday School picnics and works outings.
The horse chestnut trees in Chestnut Avenue flower in the late spring. Every year, on the second Sunday in May, a celebration is held in the park. This tradition dates back to Victorian times when thousands of people would flock to the park to see the ‘candles’. Horse-drawn carriages would be driven along the avenue, bringing royalty and fashionable society to admire the trees and to be seen. When the penny-farthing bicycle was invented, riders would meet to ride round Bushy Park – and in 1877 an American journal reported “the largest meeting of bicycle riders ever assembled” when some two thousand cyclists met at Hampton Court. With the introduction of the safety bicycle in 1885, an affordable means of transport meant that many more people could enjoy riding in Bushy Park.
During the Great War, Canadian troops were stationed in Bushy Park and George V gave permission for Upper Lodge at Hampton Hill to become the King’s Canadian Hospital. Some areas of parkland were once again farmed and allotments were set up at Hampton, Hampton Hill and Teddington to help local people to grow their own food. In the Second World War, Bushy Park was the headquarters of the US Eighth Army Air Force. It was called Camp Griffiss after the first American officer to be killed in Europe. In 1944 General Eisenhower moved the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) to Bushy Park where the invasion of Normandy was planned. Today there is a memorial on the site dedicated to those Americans who lost their lives fighting in the D-Day landings.
With more members our voice is stronger when we campaign to protect the Parks, and with more subscription income we can do more to provide information and education about the Parks, their wildlife and their history.
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A Nature trail in the Woodland Gardens on Saturday, 29th April
On a beautifully sunny Saturday morning about 50 people turned up for the Ponds Walk in Bushy Park led by Jane Cliff.Full report...
The Information Point next to the Pheasantry Welcome Centre café is where our volunteers help visitors to find out more about the parks and where visitors can purchase souvenirs of your visit to support our work.
Click this panel to visit our Information Point section and also to find out how you can get involved as a volunteer.