A GROUP OF AGITATED SWANS were on a stream beneath an iron bridge. A wire mesh stretched from one bank of the waterway to the other was the cause of their frustration because some of the birds were on one side of the barrier and the rest on the other, and they had not yet discovered a way to pass the obstruction. It was distressing to watch a swan on one side pecking at the mesh trying to reach the beak of another doing the same thing on its side. The purpose of the mesh was not clear to me.
The water beneath this bridge at the northwest corner of the Waterhouse Plantation in London’s Bushy Park is flowing along the man-made Longford River. It runs from the River Colne at Longford, which is on the western edge of Heathrow Airport, to the River Thames. After being diverted into several separate channels, its waters flow into the Thames at three points near Hampton Court and Bushy Park. On reaching the northern edge of Bushy Park it flows under the bridge where I saw the frustrated swans and then through woodland until it reaches a large triangular pool, the Waterhouse Pond. From there, its waters flow through outlets controlled by sluices into a maze of streams, which water the grounds of parts of Bushy Park. The river and the Waterhouse Pond are elevated several feet above the surrounding terrain. This allows water to escape from the river via small channels and from the pond through the sluices, which have mechanical devices with taps to control the flow. Near the Waterhouse Pond there is a tall wooden totem pole, which was designed by Norman Tait and constructed in 1992. The pole was:
“Installed to mark the connection between Canada and Bushy Park, which housed a large Canadian camp during World War l.” (www.royalparks.org.uk/media-centre/factsheets-on-the-royal-parks/monuments/monuments-in-bushy-park)
The Waterhouse Pond was a noisy place when we visited it early one morning recently. Most of the noise was being made by pairs of Canada Geese, which was rather appropriate given that they were in sight of the totem pole. The geese were craning their long necks forward and cackling loudly, their reddish tongues very visible. Nearby, occasional Egyptian Geese with their characteristic ‘eye make-up’ colouring, were furiously proclaiming something that seemed most important to them. Elsewhere in the vicinity, there was a veritable symphony of bird calls including plenty produced by green parakeets which were perched on camellia bushes, some of them pecking away at the flowers, dislodging petals one by one as they searched for something tasty. It was pleasant to be in a place that humans were completely outnumbered by birds … and squirrels.
The Longford River that supplies the water lovely features in Bushy Park did not exist prior to 1638. In that year, in accordance with the wishes of the ill-fated King Charles I, the river (really, a canal) was constructed to bring water to Hampton Court and its neighbour Bushy Park. Twelve miles in length, it took only nine months to complete. Before the twentieth century, when it acquired its present name, the waterway was known variously as: the ‘New River’, the ‘King’s River’, the ‘Queen’s River’, the ‘Cardinal’s River’, the ‘Hampton Court Cut’, and the ‘Hampton Court Canal’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longford_River). There is another New River in Greater London, which, like the Longford, is man-made. The other New River, which retains its original name, was built in 1613 to carry drinking water from the River Lea at Ware in Hertfordshire to reservoirs in Islington.
The part of the Longford River, which I have been describing, runs through and irrigates the Waterhouse Plantation. This and its neighbour, another plantation, the Woodland Garden, where swamp cypresses with their curious aerial outcrops may be seen, were originally planted in the early 19th century (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000281). Both areas are surrounded by fences to prevent the ingress of deer that reside in Bushy Park. They were redeveloped extensively between 1948 and 1949, and now look well-established.
After having been introduced to it by friends, who live not far away from it in Richmond, we have visited Bushy Park several times and enjoyed its variety and wildlife every time. If you are planning a visit – something I recommend highly – try to reach it early, prefer well before 10am so that you will have no difficulty parking and because at that early hour the park is reasonably empty of other visitors, many of them are dogs, which are excluded from the plantations, with their owners; joggers in expensive gear; and ‘yummy mummies’ with infants in tow or in and out of upmarket push chairs.
It was unfortunate that Charles the First lost his head, but fortunate for us that he created a waterway that makes Bushy Park so delightful today.