Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

The British view protected by an Act of Parliament

Glover’s Island in the middle of the River Thames Glover’s Island in the middle of the River Thames
05 Jul
2019
For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Rory Walsh visits the only view in Britain protected by an Act of Parliament

For more great walks, trails and viewpoints, be sure to check out the new Discovering Britain Facebook page by clicking here.

db logo jpeg large

The view from the top of Richmond Hill is one of the most famous in greater London. From a shady tree-lined road, a balcony called the Terrace underlines the scene. Below, the River Thames gently meanders through a patchwork of open land. Left of the river are Petersham Meadows, one of the few places in the capital where cattle still graze. On the opposite bank, the low-lying Middlesex plains meet the high-flying planes of Heathrow. In the middle of the scene, Glover’s Island sits in the river like a cherry on a cake.

In summer the area becomes a carpet of greenery, in autumn the trees a blaze of reds and oranges. Even on a grey morning, dog walkers pause and cyclists stop to take photos on their phones. People have been drawn here for generations, including artists Sir Joshua Reynolds and JMW Turner. The view is justly famous for its beauty. And for being the only one in Britain specifically protected by an Act of Parliament. A plaque on the Terrace records the people and groups who helped to preserve ‘the rural tranquillity of this celebrated view’.

The story behind it, however, is far from tranquil. By the 1890s, Richmond Hill was a very desirable place to live. Besides the view, the area offered a calming retreat and easy escape from a rapidly industrialised London. Some local landowners hoped to profit. The grounds of Marble Hill House, one of several Georgian villas beside the river, almost became a housing estate. Glover’s Island was put on sale twice. The owner, Thames waterman Joseph Glover, caused a scandal when he suggested advertisers could put a giant billboard on it.

The ongoing threat of development led in 1902 to the ‘Richmond, Ham and Petersham Open Spaces (Preservation of View) Act’. As the name suggests, the Act sought to protect the view from Richmond Hill. It was proposed by Lord Dysart, whose estate included Ham Fields, 200 acres near Petersham Meadows.

Ham Fields was Common Land and under ancient ‘Lammas’ rights locals could use them for farming. Lord Dysart wanted to stop this to preserve the land’s value. But abolishing Common Land was illegal. Instead, Ham Fields was included in the Open Spaces Act. If Parliament passed it, Ham Fields would no longer be Common Land. The farming rights would end.

Hansard recorded Parliament’s opposition to the Act. One MP argued the title ‘Open Spaces Act’ was ‘absolutely misleading’ and suggested it was a private enclosure to preserve Dysart’s estate. By abolishing Common Land, the Act would also break the law. Anxieties about development, however, meant that it passed. As such, when we admire the view from Richmond Hill today, we also see a green space protected by grey areas. 

WALK
• Location: Richmond, Greater London
• Type: Rural
• Duration: 15 minutes
Click here for more details

Unearth more of our nation’s history and find more great walks, trails and viewpoints around the UK at discoveringbritain.org or via the new Discovering Britain Facebook page.

This was published in the July 2019 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

Julysub 2020

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in UK...

Discovering Britain

For this month's Discovering Britain viewpoint Rory Walsh takes a…

Discovering Britain

Who was John Muir? How did his views and philosophy…

Discovering Britain

For July's Discovering Britain viewpoint Rory Walsh hears about a…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain, Rory Walsh visits several places…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint Rory Walsh visits a…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain Trail, Rory Walsh explores a…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Rory Walsh explores birdlife…

UK

Ian Boyd, once a member of the Science Advisory Group for…

Discovering Britain

We’re all keeping ourselves to ourselves for now, but not…

UK

According to the World Conservation Union, Britain’s national parks ‘only…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint Rory Walsh looks below…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain, Rory Walsh explores London’s weird…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Rory Walsh visits the…

UK

The story of Margate is one of early success, severe…

UK

In a bid to boost its green credentials and make…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Rory Walsh follows fictional…

UK

Badger culling is on the rise again this year, with…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Rory Walsh visits a…

UK

Growing tea in the UK could have a number of…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Rory Walsh visits a…