Inventory Site Record

York House Gardens *

York House Gardens * (Richmond)

Brief Description

* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens

The Manor of York was the property of the Crown from Henry VIII's reign and the land leased out from the mid C17th-mid C19th. York House was built in the C17th and by 1661 was one of the largest houses in Twickenham. Over the years it had various illustrious tenants. For a time part of its grounds were detached, but it was reassembled by James Whitchurch in 1746 since when the boundaries have remained virtually unchanged. By early C19th the grounds included a paddock, formal kitchen garden, lawn with gravelled terrace walk, an elm grove with serpentine walks, a small formal garden and many additional buildings and outhouses. When Indian industrialist Sir Ratan Tata bought the house in 1906 he substantially altered the gardens, including a sunken garden near the house and, near the river, a hedged formal garden with a substantial fountain of large female figures, and a Japanese garden. In 1924 York House was acquired by Twickenham UDC and converted for council use, the gardens becoming public open space in perpetuity.

Practical Information
Site location:
York Street, Twickenham
Type of site:
Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
Term weekdays 10-3 (may be gate to Champions Wharf only)
Special conditions:
Tennis courts, refreshments
Drama - Twickenham Shakespearean Society performances (summer)
Public transport:
Rail: Twickenham. Bus: H22, R68, R70, 33, 490, 290, 110, 267, 281

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/03/2015
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Full Site Description

Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see

The Manor of York had become the property of the Crown during the reign of Henry VIII and the manor lands were leased out from the mid C17th to mid C19th. There is a reference to a York family as early as 1381 and by 1486 Elizabeth York owned property, which may have included this site. Andrew Pitcairne, Groom of the Chamber to Charles I, owned the property from 1612-1656 (Local Studies has 1633-1656) and was perhaps responsible for building York House, although it may have been built later by the next owner, Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester and the leader of the Puritans in the House of Lords in the Civil War. By 1661 when the property passed to the Earl of Clarenden, Lord Chancellor to Charles II, it was one of the largest houses in Twickenham.

In 1689 York House was bought by Sir Charles Tufton, passing to his widow in 1708 who lived there until 1720 and the house was known as 'Lady Tufton's' into the 1740s. After 1720 there were various owners and tenants, and parts of the grounds became detached. It was sold in 1746 to James Whitchurch, who reassembled the grounds, and the boundaries have remained virtually unchanged since then. The house and grounds were improved by James Webber who acquired the property in 1788. It was later described by E. Ironside in 'History and Antiquities of Twickenham', published in 1797, by which time Louis Stahremberg, the Austrian Ambassador was the owner. To the north of the house was a paddock, a formal kitchen garden to the east, and a lawn to the south with gravelled terrace walk at its southern end, now Riverside. To the east of the lawn was an elm grove with serpentine walks later called The Wilderness (estate map, 1876). A small formal garden lay near the stables on the west of the lawn. Many additional buildings had been built around the original house, such as offices, coach houses, stables, conservatory, greenhouse and theatre.

In 1818 it was bought by the sculptress Anne Seymore Damer who set up a studio in the gardens and lived here until her death in 1828. From then until 1864 it was empty or let to tenants, and then it was purchased for Louis Phillippe Albert, the Comte de Paris and Orleanist claimant to the French throne. During his time the saloon and winter gardens may have been added. From 1871 the house was again empty until Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff bought the freehold in 1876. A keen gardener, he altered some of the layout, transformed the northern lawn for croquet, and built a boathouse on the east side of the river meadow. In 1897 Louis Phillippe Robert, the Duc D'Orleans bought York House where he had been born in 1869. He extended and modernised the house, and erected a high brick wall along the eastern boundary of the river meadow to screen it from view, and the meadow was made into a garden with a tennis court, and connected to the northern part of the estate with a rustic wooden bridge. The garden has a circular pond at its central point surrounded by circular lawn and path off which lead six regularly spaced openings, with the boathouse at the east end, at the west the large fountain behind a lily pond was erected in 1909. The imposing wrought-iron entrance gates on the main north-west entrance front of York House date from c.1897. By 1907 the small formal garden adjacent to the stables had been removed.

In 1906 York House was bought by Indian industrialist Sir Ratan J Tata who substantially altered the gardens. He laid out a sunken garden south of the house in c.1906, and the former river meadow was converted into a hedged formal garden with rose gardens and substantial fountain brought from Lea Park near Godalming with a group of large female figures disporting themselves. The figures, said to be of Carrara marble and possibly by the Italian sculptor Marabitti, arrived c.1904 at Whitaker Wright's Witley Park. They were never unpacked and at the sale in 1906 were bought by Sir Ratan Tata for York House. The figures were set up in 1909 to screen a warehouse that has now gone. The subject of the figures has been variously described as: the pearl fishers, Nereides or river nymphs, or the birth of Venus. The fountain was restored in the 1980s/early 1990s. Sir Ratan also replaced the wooden bridge over Riverside connecting the sunken lawn to the fountain area with a brick bridge with stone balustrade in 1911.

Sir Ratan Tata died in 1918 and in 1922 his widow decided to return to India. An auction lasting 5 days took place in the grounds before the house was sold, during which much of the garden statuary such as a carved stone pagoda, Roman cistern, lead fountain, marble well-head dated 1642 and life-size Venus were sold. In 1924 York House was acquired by Twickenham Urban District Council and converted for council use, the gardens becoming public open space in perpetuity. The Dutch garden, which was probably laid out by Sir Ratan on the site of an earlier orchard, was replaced by a car park in 1955. Some restoration work has taken place in the late C20th to restore parts of the grounds to the early C20th layout. The southern boundary is defined by a balustraded terrace walk planted with mature trees along the Thames with views across to Ham House (q.v.). The Japanese garden created by Sir Ratan in the early C20th has recently been restored (late C20th), and has an irregular pond and late C20th wooden bridge, a single Young's Weeping Birch, an iron sculpture of Venus and rockery planted with juniper, heather and other plants. Around the Japanese Garden is the former Wilderness of the C19th, an area of woodland with various specimen trees including Church witch hazel, bamboo, cornelian cherry, azalea and viburnam, perhaps intended to form a continuation of the adjacent Japanese features. Two branches of the Gokhale Walk, named after a one-time President of the Indian National Congress, wind northwards through the woodland, joining another path that runs from the south-east gate of the wall bordering the sunken garden. The mid C20th tennis courts are on the site of the former kitchen garden.

Also in the gardens near York House is an excellent example of the once ubiquitous but now rare cast iron urinal, which was manufactured by Walter Macfarlane Saracen Ironworks, Glasgow. Near the house is a 1880 Drinking Fountain donated at the bequest of Miss Ellen Reardon in memory of her father, sister and Margaret Reardon.

Sources consulted:

Jones. EH Register: E Ironside, 'History and Antiquities of Twickenham', 1797; Sale advertisement, The Times, 3 July 1817; T H R Cashmore 'York House, Twickenham', 1990. LB Richmond Local History Notes.

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Richmond
Site management:
Environment Planning & Review, Parks and Open Spaces
C17th; C19th; C20th
Listed structures:
LBII*: York House; brick wall both sides of Riverside and Sion Road boundary; wrought iron gates/brick piers at north-west entrance. LBII: 3-tier Fountain
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

NHLE grade:
Grade II
Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Twickenham Riverside
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Thames Policy Area
Other LA designation:

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