Richmond-upon-Thames is one of the best places to live in London. Its riverside walks, fine views, handsome houses and hidden lanes make it an attractive place to live - it’s why some of our best-loved actors choose to call it home.
500 years ago King Henry VII thought so too, and had Richmond Palace built for himself and his young family. It had been a favourite home of royals before that, when it was originally known as Sheen Palace. In fact Edward III died there on 21 June 1377. When Anne of Bohemia, the much-loved wife of Edward’s grandson Richard II died of the plague, Richard had it pulled down. It was later rebuilt by Henry V, then completely rebuilt in 1499 after a disastrous fire. Henry VII renamed it after his earldom in Yorkshire and a settlement was soon emerged around it. Henry too died there on 21 Apr 1509.
Henry’s palace was a showpiece of the kingdom. The royal apartments faced the river, and made a handy halfway stop between Westminster and Windsor. The rooftops were dotted with pepper pot chimneys, which not only looked eye-catching but ensured Henry and his courtiers lived in comfortable accommodation. Its layout resembled Hampton Court Palace, with a series of courtyards, with the largest courtyard accessed by the Middle Gate, which was adorned with figures of trumpeters.
Around its perimeter lay a series of brick buildings, which housed court officials. To the east was the privy garden, which had a gallery running alongside it. This was a real novelty and proved a popular place to promenade along during inclement weather.After Henry’s death his son Henry VIII used it infrequently. After all, he did have over 60 palaces to choose from. He gave it to his fourth wife Anne of Cleves as part of her generous divorce settlement. She used furnishings from Thomas Cromwell’s estate to fill it with - ironic, given his downfall was caused by the failure of the marriage.
Later, Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I lived here. It was her favourite palace and where she died on 24 March 1603. One reason for her liking of Richmond Palace may have been down to the work of her godson Sir John Harrington: he installed one of the first flushing lavatories. It was known as the Ajax - a pun on the word ‘jakes’, which was slang for the loo. Following Elizabeth’s death James I’s son Prince Henry of Wales and his brother Charles I both lived here for a time but Richmond’s heyday was over.
After the Civil Wars this royal residence was sold and later demolished. All that remains are the gatehouse and wardrobe, with its foundations now under the manicured lawns in front of Trumpeters’ House.