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.