Tuesday, 26 May 2020

The King’s Observatory, Old Deer Park, Richmond …



This was just an amazing outing … to what is now a private residence ... 


The King's Observatory southern entrance
(on a coolish autumn day)
Richmond Palace of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I’s days (16th century) had been demolished … 




... but the hunting grounds were still in existence surrounding the remains of the Carthusian Monastery, built on the orders of Henry V in 1414.





A model of Richmond Palace ... only vestigial
traces remain - notably the Gate House, which I walked
through on my way home

King George III (1738 – 1820), who had always been fascinated with the science of his time, used to visit Richmond Lodge, his country retreat ... 



The telescope cupola
seen from the roof


... it was here that he would construct an observatory … to view the heavens and, in particular, the 1769 Transit of Venus. 






An image of the sun captured in the last
Transit of Venus 2012 ...
Venus is the black dot upper right

This rare astronomical event permitted scientists to gain the first realistic estimates of the size of the Solar System and the distance between Earth and Sun. 







Account of George III's observations

King George, his wife, Queen Charlotte and guests were in attendance, thenceforth the King regularly used the Observatory for various purposes, storing of his instruments, educating his children … while staying at the Lodge.






The River Thames loops round
Richmond Park


The architect, Sir William Chambers (1723 - 1796), completed the building, raising it above the floodplain, with its first entrance from the north side near the River Thames … the waterway connecting early royal residences - Greenwich, the Tower of London, Whitehall, Richmond and on to Windsor.





the grounds are now part of
a golf course - so have
significantly changed.



Sir William also loved Chinese landscape and had on a few occasions travelled to Canton to study it more thoroughly … which he then incorporated into the more formal Italianate style of the parkland at that time.  He was responsible for the recently renovated famous ten storey Kew Pagoda in Kew Gardens nearby …




… this put him at odds with Lancelot Brown, the ‘great English 18th century gardener’ known as ‘Capability Brown’ who favoured open parkland.



The magnetic huts, seen here across the lawn,
have been moved and are now together
The Observatory passed from royal hands in 1840, via the Royal Society, to the Meteorological Office, and eventually handed back in to the Crown Estate Commissioners … reverting to its name of The King’s Observatory.



Looking down from the roof


It was then leased as a commercial office building in 1981 … the lessees didn’t give the building much respect … but thankfully in 2011 permission was requested to change the use of the building to residential, which was granted in 2014.




Not the original telescope



The present owner has restored and renovated this incredible building to Grade 1 building standards, including its telescope cupola, which opened for private tours in 2019 when I was able to visit.  Thank goodness I went … I so enjoyed it. 



Also getting the tube across from Victoria Station, rather than travelling by barge, or taking a horse and cart from central London is considerably easier and quicker!


Custom built library table,
with this beautiful carpet
The interior has been restored to exceptionally high standards … the present owners having connections with Hong Kong and Canton.

The building contains pairs of connected octagonal rooms … this has been painstakenly highlighted using this superb carpet under the equally special library table.


Looking through from the library
to the dining room



The glass cabinets in the original construction were used to house the king’s ‘treasures’ – which are now safely stored in appropriate scientific institutions in London.




The restored glass cabinets


When the cabinets (they are also Grade 1 listed status) were stripped back for restoration and repainting – it was found there were 18 layers of paint … the first colour has been faithfully reproduced (the duck egg blue as seen looking through from the library to the dining room in the photo above).


The drawing room


The early Prime Meridian at Kew goes through the drawing room … and then was used to co-ordinate triangulation points for the official meridian (0 degrees Longitude) at Greenwich (Greenwich Mean Time - the mean solar time at the Observatory in east London at Greenwich).





The “magnetic huts” erected in 1854 and 1912 contain no metallic nails and were used for scientific experiments … while in WWII weather balloons were dispatched from them to check the winds in the upper stratosphere. 




One wall - the rest of the walls
are covered in a series of
panoramic views
Fromental Company of London and Hong Kong designed and created the exquisite wallpaper in the dining room, working closely with the owners on this unique project.


The traditional hand painted silk wallpaper of a Canton River Scene, depicted the foreign factories in China, c 1772, being roughly the same age as the Observatory.




Fromental make these hand painted silk wallcoverings in the long-established Chinese painting style using traditional materials.



Another Fromental scene,
incorporating the porthole
window of the original building


This delicate wallpaper took over 4,300 hours (getting on for six months) of hand painting the fine details in Chinese water colours onto silk, that is then mounted onto traditional rice paper backing before the final more European elements, such as the clouds and western figures, were add by  a UK based artist.





I still cannot believe I was able to walk and wander around this amazing home – led by the owner, who was a fount of knowledge with impeccable style.  I could have spent hours talking to him.


Walking back to the tube and home ... 

It was a wonderful outing and then I had an autumnal walk back to the river before finding my way to the station and eventually home.



The King’s Observatory official site – with full details, photos and its history …

Fromental Company’s web site explaining how they work … and showing other projects …


Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

41 comments:

David M. Gascoigne, said...

First of all, I had to check on the exact nature of a Carthusian monastery, a term new to me, Hilary, and so began this fascinating journey you have presented for us this morning. It must have been a wonderful visit, and the new owners of the property are obviously enlightened stewards of history. The fact that they are willing to share it, even giving you a private tour is quite remarkable. I am in envy!

Hels said...

I am so glad you mentioned the differences between Sir William Chambers and Lancelot Brown. Sometimes history strengthens one reputation and tends to lose sight of the other.

Joanne said...

How fascinating - so glad you were able to have this outing and now share with us. Very cool that the king enjoyed science (!) and wanted an observatory, etc. A man ahead of his time.

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari OM
I am tinged a little green that you got to see this in person, Hilary! What magnificence (one's knees weaken at the thought of costs involved). This is the sort of place 'Aitch' and I love to visit - but I noted there are no tours in the offing. No doubt pandemic effect - but I think also simply because it is, after all, private. Thank you for being there and sharing it with us! YAM xx

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ David – it’s always difficult to know how much I should put in the posts or leave out. I knew the Carthusians were a monastic order, but very little else – except that I did know about the London Charterhouse, which apparently had originally been a Carthusian monastery – though that part hadn’t sunk in. I did do a tour of that too, but had a disaster with my camera-phone.

It’s an area of ‘history’ that I really need to look into – the part religion and religious orders played in early England.

The new owners are philanthropic … which was apparent as we were taken round. There were a few of us on the tour – possibly 10 or 12 … and the owner would have been giving talks to enlighten societies etc, about the Observatory and its place in history. The tours will resume once life settles down – all things being equal.

@ Hels – I hadn’t come across Chambers (1723 – 1796) before, even though he designed Somerset House – a place I have not explored … but on reading up about him he deserved a mention. Being half Swedish he was employed by the Swedish East India Company, with whom he made three trips to China and the Far East.

He settled in England and was tutor to King George III when he was the Prince of Wales. He’s an interesting character and I might do another post with him in mind.

@ Joanne – he lived long and despite his illness he was very interested in improving life … this contrasted with his son’s grandiosity. He surrounded himself with experts in their fields – encouraging them. He was an interesting monarch – one of our best probably!

This period known as the British Agricultural Revolution reached its peak when great advances were made in fields such as science and industry. The rural population was expanding – and these people in turn provided much of the workforce for the concurrent Industrial Revolution. I’m glad he lived long … albeit apparently not that well – which overshadows what is known about him.

@ Yam – I know – actually I recommended it to some friends from down here – who raved about it … so I took the plunge and went – it’s that much further out and thus makes a long day with the extra travel: but well worth it. It did not cost that much – which is another reason why I went – ten pounds. The tours will be back I’m sure – as long as the owners’ health lasts and depending on whether they’re in this country. Last year’s tours were the precursor to more … but it is their private residence. I know they want to remind ‘everyone’ of its history – especially now it’s been restored so magnificently.

Thanks so much to you four – I’ve been able to add a few extra educative snippets … which I hope help. Stay safe – gorgeous weather we’re having down here on the south coast. All the best - Hilary

Damyanti said...

Looks like a fun AND educative outing!

Chatty Crone said...

I thought about the king having all those riches and building an observatory for himself - but he did a lot of good with it and many things were found out from it. I like that.

Sandra Cox said...

I had no idea there was an observatory in the 1700s.Thanks for sharing. This was a fascinating post.

Elephant's Child said...

How absolutely fascinating. And how wonderful that the observatory fell into such safe (and incidentally wealthy) hands.
I would have loved to have joined you on this trip.

Liz A. said...

Wow, that's a lot of work. Amazing how many things were done to the place over the years.

Botanist said...

A fascinating outing, Hilary.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Damyanti - it was a fascinating trip and has made me more educated as I looked into various subjects ...

@ Sandie - yes he was very accomplished and was brought up by a strict mother, once his father had died early, being kept away from the royal court until it was time to succeed. He had been tutored on many subjects, including the arts ... all of which he seemed to enjoy and to continue studying, while encouraging others.

@ Sandra - specialised research institutes as observatories go back to the 800s AD in the Middle East, India, China; with the first European ones being set up in the late 1500s. So pleased you enjoyed the read.

@ EC - I'd have loved to have had your company ... and I want to visit again - and yes there was some wealth there ... just beautiful, and lovely to have buildings and contents conserved and enhanced and then be available for a tour. I hope they can open again soonish - to fulfil the owners wish.

@ Liz - I know and I didn't give you all the detail - still the history in their link has detailed information.

@ Ian - I was delighted I took the opportunity and went.

Thanks for visiting ... glorious weather here ... so stay safe all of you - Hilary

Annalisa Crawford said...

How wonderfully selfless of the owner to allow public visits!

I'm always amazed by the ability of 18th century astronomers - I always think of estimating the sizes and distances and vastness of space to be tied with computer technology. Every time I hear of the advancements made back then, I'm shocked all over again. I'll do my best to remember this time :-)

Mason Canyon said...

Sounds like a fascinating place and an amazing trip. So glad the new owners are taking pride in the place and sharing it with others.

Rhodesia said...

I am quite jealous of you on this tour, it sounds remarkable, and what a pleasure to have the owner telling you about its history and answering your questions. I am delighted that it has been fully restored, I find it so sad when beautiful buildings are left to either fall down or are simply knocked down for a modern development that will never last as long as the original. Keep well, Diane

Pradeep Nair said...

The King's Observatory looks majestic. Amazing those days the artists laboured for thousands of hours to get the work done. Glad you could go and see all this.

Susan Kane said...

What a marvelous trip and tour! Being able to collate past history all the way to current is a terrific gift to our generation! What came before to now? Wow.

You were so lucky!

retirementreflections said...

Fascinating stuff, Hilary!
I continue to learn a great deal from your blog!

Jz said...

I'd go just for that library!!!

Anabel Marsh said...

What a fabulous experience. Sounds a wonderful place to visit and I hope it becomes possible again some day.

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

Wow what a post so interesting, I really liked this post

Rhonda Albom said...

Your tour of the restored observatory sounds remarkable. The amount of time and money to refurbish to original (or better than original?) sounds extraordinary. It's hard to imagine the time investment in the wallpaper alone.

Shannon Lawrence said...

How incredibly cool that, despite the private ownership, they share the home and the history with everyone. Sounds like a delightful experience.

Keith's Ramblings said...

What a chequered history it has. Whilst I'd heard of it I knew nothing about it. Somewhere else for me to visit!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Annalisa – it was a major time for developing science and understanding of our world. Scientists from the exploring nations were instructed and commissioned to study the new phenomena (eg James Cook – the explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy) … also back then scientists tended to be natural philosophers, or polymaths or both with an additional interest in a specialist subject – but not as we would know them today … specialists.

The philanthropic owners, I think, wanted to open the public’s eye to what was possible and achieved … they did that for me.

@ Mason – it was a wonderful afternoon and the owners are justifiably proud of what they’ve achieved with the ongoing restoration … the observatory cupola has had some temporary renovation to it … and perhaps may be enhanced.

@ Diane – the building has really been enhanced – and being a Grade 1 Listed Building it’s been restored brilliantly – with thought and consideration to its history and the history of the grounds. Let alone the connection between Canton and today. I was exceedingly pleased I went …

@ Pradeep – it is even better inside! I just learnt so much … and am still learning about that era. I must try and learn more about Chinese art … I know so little about that part of the world.

@ Susan – yes I was very lucky … and learnt so much from the very interested owner. Then the notes on the website really helped following its history through … while we can look at other things – some extra notes coming out in the replies to the comments …

@ Donna – many thanks … I’ve been fascinated writing it up and also learning more from the comments … just opening my eyes to so much: amazing how history can start to fall into place a little bit more …

@ Anabel – I’ve learnt such a lot from going out to Richmond and spending time there … and it will be open again at some stage – I look forward to another visit.

@ Jo-Anne – it was fascinating …

@ Rhonda – yes there’s a lot more to the restoration than I’ve been able to detail here … but yes there’s been no expense spared … then there’s the knowledge about the Canton art experience … and like you – I’d love to know more …

@ Shannon – the philanthropic approach here is just wonderful and must be quite a long-term project. It was a delightful experience – which I’ll remember …

@ Keith – oh yes … and now you’ve another place to visit – Richmond is a wonderful town too … good place for a day out.

Thanks so much for your interest … and you’ve sent me off in other directions – my brain easily jumps towards new hoops! Delighted this engaged you … stay safe - Hilary

Elsie Amata said...

You're not kidding! It was an amazing outing! Imagine having that observatory? Just beyond fascinating! I wouldn't mind having one myself :)

Elsie

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That is wonderful they were able to restore it. So much attention to detail - can only imagine how much it cost.

Rosalind Adam said...

An interesting place to visit and somewhere I'd like to go to if things ever open up again. I see you went last year. I guess it's all shut down, barriered and barred now. Take care x

Inger said...

You write about interesting places so well. I have been to Kew and to Greenwich -- I must find another one of my letters home to refresh my memory. So very long ago.

Hope you are well and coping with all that's going on over there.

D.G. Kaye said...

Wow, what a magnificent tour back in time of the British Monarchy - which always fascinates me. So nice to be able to live somewhere you can visit ancient culture. Hugs <3

Jo said...

I read this a couple of days ago Hilary but just didn't get round to commenting, sorry. As usual a fascinating and informative post. Pity some of the buildings got pulled down. There is a very good programme on TV here, which you may have seen, where a realtor is visiting Stately homes and commenting on how they were built and how much they would have spent in modern day figures. Last week it was Walpole's house, Houghton, seems to be considerable speculation as to how a Prime Minister could have afforded the house in the first place along with top class architects, decorators and landscape gardeners. The actual bills that house were destroyed by Walpole who didn't want anyone to know how much it cost. Sounds like he was a bit of a crook!!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Elsie – it was so interesting and just put a few more things into perspective for me historically wise – as well as reminding me how much was going that would influence our future lives. I’m sure you’d have enjoyed a visit!

@ Diane – yes, a great deal of attention to detail … I think accuracy and exceptional work were the important things – thus the best and its cost was accepted.

@ Ros – it will open up again I’m sure … when of course is difficult to discern – I suspect perhaps 2021. I hope and expect it’s barred and barriered down now for safety.

@ Inger – thank you … I can glean the information from the notes on the place … and then add a few twists of my own to the notes – actually these were exceedingly thorough and detailed.

I do hope you can find your letters home about your Greenwich and Kew visits – they’ll be great reminders. I wrote (2014) about St Alfege Church in Greenwich … very early history, and then the 9 parts of a tour (2017) down the Thames to Greenwich and back to Westminster.

@ Debby – yes now I’ve discovered the interest of history … there is lots to see in little old England! Delighted you enjoyed the post with its ancient culture …

@ Jo – no problem … there’s a lot here. The buildings got destroyed as part of Dissolution of the Monasteries (1539) – per Henry VIII.

I’ve seen one or two of those programmes … but didn’t see the Houghton one – I must look to see if I can find it … as a few years ago I visited it to see the art works that Catherine the Great of Russia bought (in the late 1700s) to pay off some of Walpole’s debt … the arrangement was made by Walpole’s grandson.

It’s an impressive building – but just a great pity that the art was sold off – it’s now in The Hermitage, St Petersburg – a great deal of that art was on show … being loaned by The Hermitage – so was a wonderful place to visit.

Thanks so much for your comments and you’ve added to my knowledge … stay safe all of you … all the best - Hilary

Deniz Bevan said...

Thank you for taking us along on a virtual visit! I'd love to visit the observatory and look through that telescope someday...

Jo said...

They mentioned the sale of the paintings to Catherine the Great. One wife even sold the steps at the front and back of the house to raise money. Somebody since, can't remember who, re-installed the front steps at least.

Sherry Ellis said...

What an interesting place to visit! I'm glad you were able to see it and share the photos with us.

Sandra Cox said...

Good on the present owner for restoring and renovating.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Deniz - it'd be a great place to take the kids once older - not sure they allow littlies ... but if you can get there to visit - so well worth while.

@ Jo - I'll keep an eye open for that Houghton episode ... especially once I get to write up about it ... but thank you for letting me know (reminding me) about the series.

@ Sherry - so pleased you enjoyed the photos ... the visit was very special.

@ Sandra - good to see you again ... and yes it's brilliant it's being restored so faithfully ...

Take care all of you - and stay safe - Hilary

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Hilary! Looks like you have a spam comment here.

The transit of Venus is very important in Australian history, as Captain Cook was sailing on his voyage to Tahiti for that, and ended up on Australia’s east coast. It might have been better for the indigenous Australians if he hadn’t, or it might have been better/worse for others, but our history would certainly have been different!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Thanks Sue - deleted and others elsewhere.

I didn't add Cook in ... as I was writing about the Observatory. However Cook was an amazing seafarer ... I mentioned him in my reply to Annalisa. But you're right life on earth would have been so different if we humans had not evolved to explore and invent so many things ...

Cook's three voyages really opened up the world - Australia and the Americas ... a great deal to put into one post - and for which I don't have sufficient knowledge or ability.

Thanks for the visit - take care and stay safe - Hilary

diedre Knight said...

I can't believe I missed this awesome post, Hilary! I was enthralled! What an unforgettable outing this must have been.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Diedre - it was a really interesting visit ... so I'm delighted you were enthralled! Thank you ...