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Romance of Park and Pleasaunce

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It is a far cry from a medieval monarch hawking with his knights in a royal hunting ground to Saturday afternoon tennis or football in city park or on public common, yet one is only the democratic development of the other, and the story of many parks shows how this has come about in the course of centuries. A park differs from a forest - royal hunting ground - or a chase in being enclosed, and the right to enclose the waste or woodland of a manor was originally granted by the king as a reward for service or mark of honour. Woodstock, surrounded by a stone wall by Henry I in 1125, seems the first park of which authentic mention is made, but afterwards, wrote Camden, "they increas'd to so great a number, that there were computed more in England than in all the Christian world besides." This increase was not popular, and after the Wars of the Roses and in early Tudor times arose complaints that deer parks were made out of the common lands.

When Charles I desired to make "a great park for red and fallow deer" near his palace of Richmond, his design "gave great umbrage to the people," and his advisers considered that the cost of "the land and the making of a brick wall about so large a parcel of ground - for it is near ten miles about," more than they could provide for such a purpose. Despite all opposition Charles persisted, saying he " had already caused brick to be burned and much of the wall built on his own land," but to conciliate opposition continued old privileges and granted rights of way.

The earliest mention of a park at Richmond - originally Sheen, the name being changed out of compliment to Henry VII - is in a document of 1292, and in the reign of Henry VIII there were two, the Great and Little; at the lodge of the latter Cardinal Wolsey sometimes lived after surrendering Hampton Court. In these united in one James I often hunted, and Richmond Palace accounts show that he bred pheasants and partridges. Much of this, in which George III had his farm, is now the Old Deer Park, the enclosure of the present Richmond Park being completed in 1637. Parliament gave it to the citizens of London, but at the Restoration the City Corporation returned it, declaring that "the City had only kept it as stewards for his Majesty."

Sir Robert Walpole found it "a bog, and a harbour for deerstealers and vagabonds," and spent much money in drainage and improvements, but restricted its use by the public. Princess Amelia, who formed the Pen Ponds, tried to increase the restrictions, but a Mr. Lewis, of Richmond, won a test action against her. George II maintained flocks of wild turkeys, which were hunted and shot until affrays with poachers led to their being given up. The Queen's Walk, leading to the White Lodge, inseparably connected with the early life of Queen Mary, is called after his consort, whose favourite promenade it was. The lodges of the park have been the homes of its rangers, served as retreats for famous men, or been conferred on friends of the royal family of Britain.

The story of Windsor Great Park mostly concerns the chase, though all its features recall memories of former princes - the Long Walk, begun by Charles II and finished by William III, Queen Anne's Ride, buildings connected with the Georges and Queen Victoria, Virginia Water, made by the Duke of Cumberland and its banks laid out by the Prince Regent. Here Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, kept for his sons a model frigate which replaced the "Queen Adelaide" of William IV. Edward III started the Royal Buckhounds, of which many famous men were Masters and Acting-Masters, as the pack lasted until 1901; among them were George Boleyne, whose wagers with his royal brother-in-law appear in the Privy Purse accounts, and Elizabeth's favourite, the Earl of Leicester. She was no half-hearted Diana, as sometimes she would despatch the deer with her own hunting knife, whereas Queen Anne followed the hounds in a chaise. James I also acted as his own huntsman on occasion, but as he grew old Sir Roger Coke says he "became so lazy and unwieldy, that he was thrust on horseback, and as he was set, so he would ride."

Herne the Hunter belongs to the Home rather than the Great Park, and Harrison Ainsworth made more of him than truth warrants. The tree now called "Herne's Oak," first made famous by Shakespeare, is modern, the original, marked as "Sir John Falstaff's Oak" on an eighteenth century map, died in 1790 and was cut down, another taking its name. Hyde Park is an epitome of all parks; for centuries it may be said to have reflected the story of the day and the recreations of the nation, and for three hundred years it has been closely bound up with the social life of London. In Saxon times its site belonged to the Master of the Horse, and the Conqueror conferred it on Westminster Abbey, to which it belonged until Henry VIII added it to his hunting grounds.

Within it Elizabeth and James I entertained royal visitors with sport, and Cromwell had a narrow escape, falling off the box-seat of a coach he was driving. Queen Caroline, wife of George II, made many improvements - including the formation of the Serpentine - which were supposed to be the prelude to the building of a palace in its centre, and George IV replaced the wall with open railings.

It has served as assembling place in times of emergency and as review ground; the City Trained Bands used it in the Civil War, and about the same time a fortification, built by voluntary labour, ladies of fashion helping to carry material, was constructed. Its long series of military reviews was started by Charles II, and at one held by George II shortly before his death in 1760 a primitive smoke screen was demonstrated.

However, it is as social centre that Hyde Park is best known. Rank and fashion began to resort to it during the reign of the first Charles, but it was sold by Parliament, Evelyn stating that "the sordid fellow" who purchased it charged coaches a shilling and horses sixpence for entrance. At the Restoration the buyer fades from sight and the public flocked to it once more, Pepys' and Evelyn's Diaries telling us much about the doings of Society with Charles and the beauties of the court at its head. The Ring, or Tour, was the centre of resort until it was practically destroyed at the formation of the Serpentine. Round this people drove, chatting and exchanging wit as they passed. Thus Pepys says "At the Parke was the King and in another coach my lady Castlemaine, they greeting one another at every turn."

Before London possessed an efficient police force the Park was the haunt of footpads, Horace Walpole once having an adventure with them. As might be expected, it was the resort of duellists, the most famous meeting being the sanguinary encounter between the Duke of Hamilton and the "wicked" Lord Mohun, when the principals were killed and the seconds also fought.

Duels and highwaymen and reviews connect Hyde Park with that popular pleasaunce of outer London, Wimbledon Common, which has an even older story, for it contains the so-called Caesar's Camp, over whose origin antiquarians and historians have squabbled. Some connect it with the battle between Ethelbert of Kent and Ceawlin of Wessex in 568, when, says Cam den, "too much happiness began to breed civil dissensions among the Saxons." Jerry Abershaw was the most notorious highwayman to practise his trade there, and the best-known duel was that between the Duke of York and Colonel Lennox, when the former refused to fire. One of the last duels in England took place at Wimbledon, when Lord Cardigan wounded Captain Tuckett in 1840, the latter having written a libel on him.

However, the Volunteers have done most for Wimbledon's fame, the first review taking place in 1798, when George III inspected the London and Westminster Light Horse Volunteers. In 1860 came the inauguration of the National Rifle Association's meetings, when Queen Victoria opened proceedings by scoring a bull with a carefully adjusted rifle. For thirty years the rifle meeting on the Common, sometimes concluding with a royal review, was an annual event, the camp being one of the sights of the London season.

To meet the highwayman in all his romantic scoundrelism a journey must be made to Hounslow Heath, or all that remains of the 5,000 acres that existed little more than a century ago. Unenclosed, like Wimbledon, it is a common rather than a park, being one of the uncultivated heaths that once almost surrounded London, and formerly possessed a racecourse.

Hounslow Heath was the haunt of Claude Duval, whose gallantries towards the fair sex are perhaps more famous in story than reality, and also of Mary Frith, "Moll Cutpurse," skilled in use of sword and cudgel, the friend of Royalists, who once robbed General Fairfax. Whitney, notorious in Dutch William's days, met a usurer who protested he was a poor man with a large family who would be ruined if robbed. Whitney, who knew him, delivered a long homily on the wicked ways of money-lenders, concluding, "I shall oblige you to lend me what you have about you without bond, and consequently without interest." Giving it up with much grumbling, he said he would one day see the highwayman riding backwards to Tyburn. Incensed, Whitney pulled him from his horse, reseating him backwards with his feet tied, and set the animal galloping off. It reached Hounslow without stopping, where the amused villagers released his victim.

Dean Swift declared that the devout men appointed to Irish bishoprics were stopped and murdered on their way across Hounslow Heath, the robbers taking possession of their credentials and their sees. Which is a reminder that the witty Dean's own city of Dublin possesses the famed Phoenix Park, beloved by Irishmen and much used by duellists in the heyday of Dublin society. Originally a deer park made by Charles II, mostly of land belonging to the Kilmain-ham Priory of the dispossessed Knights Hospitallers, who succeeded the earlier proscribed Templars, it was improved and beautified by the Earl of Chesterfield when Viceroy. He also opened it to the public, and in 1747 erected the column surmounted by a phoenix which gives the park its name. Called in Irish "Fion Uiske," meaning clear water, from some springs, the earl thought the pronunciation of these words might be fitly represented by "phoenix."

Among parks in private ownership none can be better known than Chatsworth, nor one more typical of a nobleman's ideal domain, with its river and forest glades and stretches of turf dotted with deer, and the model village on its confines. It shows how judicious planting and the care of centuries can make a somewhat bleak situation blossom until "scorn'd Peak rivals proud Italy," as Cotton the friend of Izaak Walton put it. From the terrace and gardens smooth lawns slope gently to the Derwent, crossed by a bridge ornamented with statues by Gibber, who supplied others to the park.

In few districts are fine parks more thickly clustered than in that popularly called "the Dukeries," on the borders of Sherwood Forest, part of England's primeval woodlands. Here one may pick up the dry bones of history, marvel at the fair lands that belonged to the old abbeys, revel in tales of Robin Hood, or be content to ramble in the most charming scenery, each of the parks differing in some particular. Great care was taken of the trees, which furnished fuel for the king, timber for military expeditions and shipbuilding, and the oaks supplied Wren with "great Beames" for S. Paul's Cathedral.

At Welbeck and Thoresby are herds of "deer and branchy-headed staggs," no doubt descendants of those which once roamed the forest at will, and the Records tell of poaching and illegally felling timber. Lord John Grey was fined in 1334 for coursing red deer with greyhounds, and the Abbot of Rufford was once prosecuted for felling 483 oaks since the previous court, but successfully pleaded an old charter.

Worksop Manor, whose park has been much reduced during the past fifty years, is held by providing a glove for the king's right hand at a coronation and supporting his arm so long as he holds the sceptre. In the fourteenth century the surrounding wall fell into such disrepair that " divers of the king's deer out of the forest of Sherwood came freely into it and were destroyed," so the warden seized the park, but the king allowed the then owner to redeem it on payment of a fine. Mary Queen of Scots went to Worksop for change of air, but wrote, "I did not walk much, not being allowed the command of my legs." James I passed through on his way to London after his accession, and "in the parke a number of huntsmen, all in green, the chief of whom, with a woodman's speech, did welcome him," and offered to show game, so "with a traine set he hunted a good space, very much delighted."

Welbeck Park is noted for its fine oaks, not far from the lake being the venerable Greendale Oak, now reduced to crutches; through an arch cut in the trunk a bride of Welbeck once drove in a coach and six. Elsewhere, guarding a gateway, are the "Porters." Thoresby claims notice for its beautiful forest scenery, with deer resting in the open glades, and a glorious carriage road through a grove of gnarled old oaks. The lake formed by expanding the stream is another feature of the park enclosed in 1683 by the Duke of Kingston, who bought 1,270 acres belonging to Bilhagh and White Lodge. Gazing at Clumber House from the bridge across the lake and enjoying the wilder beauties of its park, some idea can be gained of the results of careful planting.

So might the story of our parks be continued, each resembling the other to some extent, yet differing in detail, illustrating a matter of history, illuminating the character of a famous man, or picturing the life of the period, and showing how the past and present touch hands, as at Chequers, the official country home of the Head of the Government where is Cymbeline's Mount on the confines of the park.

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