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    Facilities    |    Property Types    |    History    |    Picture Gallery
The History and Development of Petersham
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St Peters Church
Petersham is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086, which records St Peters Church, two fisheries for eels and lampreys, and two farmhouses. However the hamlet is referred to as Patericham, which might imply that originally the settlement was referred to as Patricks Ham rather than Peters Ham. The church was probably dedicated to St Peter because the lands were originally endowed in the year AD666 from the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter in Chertsey.
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In 1266 a charter of Henry 2nd also mentions a separate hamlet of Sudbrook, probably meaning South Brook and centred on a stream which probably flowed down from what is now Richmond Park to the river. Tax records also suggest there were at times some dwellings in Sudbrook but this was later subsumed within Petersham. The river seems to have run along part of what is the main road and then down what is now River Lane, with a ford having been near todays junction of Petersham Road and Subrooke Lane.
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The Avenue form Petersham to Ham House, scene of the duel in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’
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The development of Petersham as a fashionable location followed the building of Ham House in 1610. Originally the home of Sir Thomas Vavasour, Knight Marshall to James 1st,. it soon passed into the ownership of the Earl Of Dysart, whose daughters second husband was the Duke of Lauderdale. Ham House was enlarged and remodeled in 1672 and during the Restoration period, it was a centre for political intrigue, hosting meetings of Charles IIs inner circle, - the infamous Cabal, - a word originating from the first letters of the 5 members, - Clifford, Ashley, Buckingham, Arlington and Lauderdale. Today all five have local streets named after them.
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The Thames at the bottom of River Lane
Tax records from the mid seventeenth century indicate just over 20 houses in Petersham, with one large common field and one farm. However the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the further building of several large mansions housing a number of titled families. It was reported at one point that Sunday service at St Peters would be attended by seven duchesses. Rutland Lodge, for example, which was originally built around 1660 for a Lord Mayor of London, became referred to as Rutland Lodge because of the tenure of the house by the Duchess of Rutland in the mid eighteenth century. Similarly, Montrose House was leased by the Duchess of Montrose from 1838. The village also grew in this period because servants, gardeners and other staff also came to be housed nearby in cottages. Charles Dickens also began staying in Petersham from 1836, probably first at the Dysart Arms, but later renting Elm Cottage where he wrote the instalments of Nicholas Nickleby in 1839. In one scene two characters fight a duel in the fields near Ham House having met in the avenue from Ham House to the gatehouse (by today’s entrance to the Polo Club and German School.) Dickens himself recounts impressing people by swimming in the Thames from the bottom of River Lane to Richmond Bridge, - before breakfast! Elm Cottage was later enlarged and renamed Elm Lodge and remains as a private residence. Some of the former large garden of Elm Cottage was redeveloped and Dickens name is remembered in the naming of Dickens Close which leads to the lodge’s entrance.
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Vancouvers Grave
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Another notable resident of Petersham in the late eighteenth century was Captain George Vancouver who sailed on two of Captain Cooks voyages and later himself surveyed the coasts of New Zealand, South West Australia and the Pacific Northwest of America, where he established that Vancouver Island was indeed an island. The island, the city of Vancouver in Canada and Fort Vancouver in Washington State, USA are all named after him. He settled in Glen Cottage (now the Navigators House) in River Lane upon his return to England in 1795 and it was here in Petersham that he wrote his ‘Voyage of Discovery’. He is buried in St Peters churchyard and the grave is cared for by the Petersham and Ham Sea Scout Group. A commemorative service is held each year on ‘Vancouver Day’ when a wreath from the City of Vancouver is laid on the grave.
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In 1847 Queen Victoria granted Pembroke Lodge in the Petersham part of Richmond Park to one of her prime ministers, John Russell and it became the Russell family home. His grandson, the philosopher Bertrand Russell, also lived at Pembroke Lodge. The first Earl and Countess Russell endowed the Russell School in 1849 which began in a single room. (The school building was destroyed by a bomb during World War 2 and rebuilt on the other side of the road on its present day site).
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By the early 1870s, a gazetteer lists the parish of Petersham as comprising 108 houses with a population of 637 and a post office. The Dysart Arms, which had originally been a farmhouse and subsequently named the Plough and Harrow, adopted its current name after the Dysart family of Ham House in 1804, with the former building being rebuilt in 1902 in its present Tudorbethan style. The Fox and Duck was also rebuilt in the mid twentieth century. There were shops in Petersham in the nineteenth and twentieth century up to the 1960s but there are none today.
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Petersham Meadows
There was also the noted dairy of Hornby and Clarke from 1880 to the 1960s, based on cattle grazing on Petersham Meadows. The lease later passed to Express Diaries but changing regulations and patterns of farming meant local milk production ceased, but beef cattle can still be seen grazing on the meadows. The meadows and the renowned view across them from Richmond Hill had been guaranteed by the 1902 Richmond, Petersham and Ham Open Spaces Act. .Lord Dysart granted the meadows and lands along the riverside to remain undeveloped in exchange for the end of common grazing rights and the right to extract gravel on the Ham bank. The Petersham Trust was formed in 1998 to ensure grazing was maintained on the Meadows and that the buildings be restored to allow farming activities to continue. A lease was agreed with Richmond Council in 2001 and the Trust assumed the management and fundraising for the Meadows.
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Douglas House
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In 1969, the German Government purchased Douglas House, a Stuart mansion built originally in 1680 for the Cole family who had lost their former residence in Petersham Park when it became enclosed to form part of Charles 1st hunting park. The house acquired the name Douglas House when it was inherited in 1725 by Kitty Hyde, the wife of Charles Douglas, 3rd Duke of Queensbury. The Duchess patronized the arts and especially John Gay, who wrote and rehearsed the Beggars Opera here. Douglas House now forms the hub of the main German School in the UK and has been added to with numerous further buildings around it. The presence of the German School has meant a substantial German speaking community has developed in Ham and Petersham.
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The Petersham Hotel
It was thought at one time that Petersham might develop more. In anticipation of this in the early 20th century, a substantial new church was built. All Saints, with its striking redbrick and terracotta styling and 118ft high campanile topped by a bronze Christ, never garnered the congregation expected, it was never consecrated and today it forms a private residence.
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Petersham had been subsumed within the administration of Richmond by the end of the nineteenth century. The old parish boundary included parts of Star and Garter Hill and the border with Richmond at one time was Nightingale Lane,- the steep lane which runs from The Wick on Richmond Hill down to the Petersham Road and provides access to the impressive building of the Petersham Hotel. Today the village of Petersham is generally perceived as divided from Richmond around the bottom of Star and Garter Hill and the village today has retained its distinctive character as a fashionable and upmarket residential enclave.
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