Two incorrect myths concerning Richmond Park

This article, by John Cloake, who was the Society’s founder and later its President, was first published in 2014 in the Society’s journal, Richmond History, no. 35, which is now out of print.

“Sheene Chase”

In 50 years of research into the history of Richmond, I have never come across any evidence to corroborate the story that the area enclosed by Charles I in the present Richmond Park in 1635-37 had once been a royal hunting ground called “Sheene Chase”.

As far as I can trace, the story seems to have originated in Beresford Chancellor’s first book Historical Richmond, published by George Bell in London and by Hiscoke and Son in Richmond in 1885. I have found no mention of it in any earlier publication. In Chancellor’s words, repeated almost exactly in his later and weightier History and Antiquities of Richmond, Kew, Petersham, Ham, etc. published by Hiscokes’ in 1894:

“….before his [Charles I’s] accession to the throne it was but a wild common of waste land which was known as Sheene Chase, and which comprised much of the surrounding property, not now included in the Park bounds; it must however have been looked upon as a Park in Henry VIII’s reign for in 1528 when the King was at Greenwich the French Ambassador was lodged at Richmond, and it was arranged that he and his suite should hunt “’in every one of the King’s Parks there’”.

Now, as he stated in his preface to Historical Richmond, Chancellor was under 17 years of age when he was writing it. He was not allowed access to the printed books in the British Museum, but was permitted to examine some of the manuscripts! He claimed however to have consulted also “rare books at the British Museum, the Bodleian and other Public Libraries”. His conclusion from the 1528 reference to parks in the plural was evidently reached in complete ignorance of the fact that, in addition to the park adjacent to Richmond Palace, Henry VII had created another “Richmond Park” on the Middlesex bank of the river, immediately opposite the Palace.

“Sheene Chase” seems most likely to have been a misreading of some manuscript entry, but Chancellor never recorded his source. I may be doing the 16-year-old an injustice, but how skilled was his palaeography? Was he really able to decipher accurately a document in the script of the early 16th century? I have never come across the name Sheene Chase in any context other than Chancellor’s, let alone used in relation to ground on the Hill where Richmond Park is today. I have traced the previous ownership of every piece of land enclosed in the Park (see Palaces and Parks of Richmond and Kew, Voll, appendix 8, pp 240–254) and it is apparent that, apart from privately owned closes (which were bought from their owners), parts of the common fields of Mortlake and Kingston, and four relatively small tracts actually in the King’s own hands, the rest was entirely commons (those of Richmond, Petersham and Ham being royal lands, as the manors were royal manors but subject to the time-honoured commoning rights of the manorial tenants, so by no means at the King’s disposal at will). The lands actually held by the King in the 1630s were parts of the demesne land of Petersham manor (The Warren and Berry Grove) and small remnants of the erstwhile sub-manor of Hartleton (by then subsumed in Ham) – Lord’s Cop and Chalar’s Grove.

I suspect that if the name “Sheene Chase” was actually found in some document by Chancellor, it may have been a tract of land somewhere else in the kingdom that had been in the ownership of the Charterhouse of Shene. Raymond Grant’s book The Royal Forests of England (Alan Sutton, 1991) points out on p 30 that “a chase was usually a district where the right of hunting the deer belonged to a subject”. (Forests, warrens and hays were all royal land.) Apparently there were only 13 chases recorded in England (none of them Sheene), of which five were back in royal hands and so sold off by the Commonwealth in the 1650s, while the rest were leased out. (See S.J. Madge, The Domesday of Crown Lands, Frank Cass & Co,1968, p27.)

“King Henry VIII’s Mound”

As for King Henry VIII’s Mound, there is no evidence to connect it to that king (or his father). It is first noted in the maps showing the lands to be enclosed in the Park drawn by Nicholas Lane and Elias Allen in the 1630s, with the name ‘The King’s Standing’. The names of landowners given on Lane’s map show that it must have been drawn before April 1632 (and not in 1637 as has generally been assumed – Lane himself noted that “This plott, having been made certain years before the erection of His Majesty’s New Park wall…” So the name The King’s Standing dated from before 1632.

The mound was of course a Neolithic burial barrow (of which there are several others to be seen in the Park along the edge of the escarpment between Richmond and Ham), but it makes sense that Charles I might have stood there to shoot small game in the adjacent Berry Ground, which appears to have been an extension of Petersham Warren, or perhaps to survey the lands he had in mind to enclose, or even just to admire the views of the Thames and of distant London. Then in 1686 the mound was called “King Henry’s Mount” and in 1698 it became King Henry VII’s (for no ascertainable reason). Its first appearance as “Henry the 8th Mount” was on the plan drawn by Edward John Eyre in 1754. Whether this was just because of a misreading of the previous name or whether it may reflect the origin of the later story it is difficult to tell. Though I have found no printed version of this story before that in Agnes Strickland’s Lives of the Queens of England (1840–48), it was clearly current earlier. In 1835 Edward Jesse, Deputy Surveyor of the Royal Parks, wrote: “This mound has long been celebrated as the spot on which Henry the Eighth stood to watch the going up of a rocket to assure him that the death of Anne Boleyn would enable him to marry Lady Jane Seymour….” Agnes Strickland’s highly colourful version was quoted on p 47 of Pamela Fletcher-Jones’s Richmond Park: Portrait of a Royal Playground (Phillimore 1972). It appears to have been Folkestone Williams in his Domestic Memoirs of the Royal Family (Hurst & Blackett, 1860) who first demolished the story by pointing out that Henry was at Wolf Hall in Wiltshire on the evening of the day of Anne’s execution, too far away to have been reached from Richmond.

What is its correct name? It seems to have drifted from Mount to Mound relatively recently. After passing briefly through the hands of Henry VII, it remained [King] Henry VIII’s Mount in all official documents up to at least the 1860s. However the Ordnance Survey map of 1913 named it as King Henry VIII Mound, and this name seems to have been followed by Collenette in 1937 and by all those who have written about it since.