by Katrina Davies
In 1524, when work was being done on Hampton Court. Palace for Cardinal Wolsey, there were three separate parks, each enclosed to separate them from the: surrounding farmland. These were Bushy Park, Middle Park and Hare Warren, in addition to Home Park at Hampton Court Palace. When Henry VIII obtained Hampton Court in 1529 he adapted the parks, making Home Park and Bushy Park into a deer park, where he no doubt hunted.
A splendid avenue of lime trees was planted in 1622, which later in the century became known as Chestnut Avenue when a row of chestnuts were added. Stretching over a mile, the avenue was conceived by Sir Christopher wren as a formal approach to William and Mary's palace at Hampton Court.
Charles I, who loved water features, constructed the waterway known as the Longford River. This in fact is a 19-kilometre canal, dug by hand in 1639 over nine months at the cost of £4,000. Dubbed 'the King's giant hose pipe', the water follows its gentle path through meadows and open ground from the Diana fountain. Attributed recently to one of the masters of 17th century bronzes, Hubert Le Sueur, the fountain was originally called Arethusa, after the nymph in Ovid's Metamorphoses who was rescued by Diana. Charles I had the fountain designed for his Queen, Henrietta Maria. However it was not until 1713 that it was placed in its present position on a heavily rusticated plinth by Sir Christopher Wren. It formed the centrepiece of Wren's grand layout for the Park and is approached from the impressive Chestnut Avenue.
In 1713 the distinction between the three parks broke down and the whole area north of Hampton Court became known as Bushy Park.
The restoration scheme for Bushy Park has become a flagship project for the Royal Parks and comprises more than 60 integrated plans to bring the park back to life. These include restoring the 18th century Brewhouse building, which once provided ale for all the workers on the estate, and the nearby 18th century water gardens known as Upper Lodge Water Gardens. Neither of these is accessible to the public at present. Plans also include rescuing the spectacular 19th century style Woodland Gardens.
The 30 acres of fence-protected Woodland Gardens are the key to the biodiversity of the park and offer a contrast to the open grasslands of the surrounding park. But at present the gardens are under threat of encroachment from aggressive plant species such as the spreading Rhododendron ponticum. If left any longer, areas of woodland would have to be destroyed. The restoration aims to retain the familiar unkempt character of woodlands while reinstating lost features and raising the horticultural quality of the Gardens generally. The restoration also offers opportunities for new projects such as a grass amphitheatre, a new waterfall and reed beds.
The Diana Fountain (right) is awaiting restoration, not only to bring the fountain back into operation but to repair both the stonework and the bronze statuary of nymphs and dolphins surrounding it.