Aphrodite and a spring

LONDON’S PARKS ARE filled with surprises of historical interest. The Terrace Gardens overlooking a bend in the River Thames at Richmond are no exception. A short path leads from a larger one to a cave in the side of a well vegetated slope. The entrance to the cave is topped with a semi-circular arch and its is closed by a locked iron gate. There is little to be seen inside the small cave. The pathway leading to the entrance is lined by barrel shaped concrete blocks

An informative plaque at the start of the path explains the history of this small, rather well-concealed cave, now known as Spring Well. From this we learn that the cave, formerly believed to have been an icehouse, was part of Richmond Wells. The latter were:

“…a place of entertainment from 1690 to 1750. In 1755, the buildings were demolished and replaced by Cardigan House as a residence for the sixth Earl of Cardigan.” (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001551).

The Wells were closed because local residents felt that they attracted rowdy and badly behaved visitors.

Cardigan House was purchased by John Willis (1820-1899) in the 19th century. Willis was the proprietor of a shipping company, John Willis & Sons of London, which owned several clippers. One of these boats, a tea clipper, can still be seen in its full glory downstream from Richmond at Greenwich: The Cutty Sark, visited by many tourists. The barrel shaped concrete blocks near the entrance to the cave are possibly, according to the information panel nearby, moulded from barrels carried by the Cutty Sark. I like the idea, but who knows whether this was really the case after such a long time.

Near to the now disused spring, another surprise awaits the visitor. It is a sculpture of a voluptuous naked woman seated on a dolphin. Carved in Portland stone in 1952 by Allan Howe, she depicts the goddess Aphrodite (‘Venus’ in Latin). From her seat on the dolphin, the goddess has a wonderful view of the Thames far below her. When she was unveiled, many locals regarded her as being in ‘bad taste’, but she has survived the test of time and is perfectly acceptable nowadays.  A statue of Aphrodite might not be regarded as a great surprise in a park, but the local people’s name for here, ‘Bulbous Betty’, might be.

Roll out the barrel

barrel

 

It always amazes me how often one misses the obvious when wandering around London. A few days ago, my friend, the author Roy Moxham, took us to a delightful pub, The Angel, near to Tottenham Court Road Station in central London. 

Just before we entered the pub, Roy pointed at a stretch of pavement outside it. The usual paving stones had been replaced by granite slabs surrounded by granite cobble stones (see illustration above).

The reason for these harder stones is that they are less likely than paving stones to be damaged when heavy barrels are dropped on to them by the men delivering beer to the pub.

Since having been shown this localised special surface outside The Angel, I have checked outside other pubs and seen the same thing. For over 25 years (maybe over 7000 times) I have walked past the Churchill Arms in Kensington and NEVER noticed that it also has this arrangement, an area of tough stones close to the pavement entrance of its cellar. And, I consider myself to be more observant than average! It pays to keep your eyes open and to be curious – you never know what you might discover!