Dickens and London
     Dickens and Richmond


Eel Pie Island (photograph Susan Gane, 2001)

In the Richmond area you can find the remains of Richmond Palace and the splendid houses that the aristocracy built for themselves in the neighbouring villages of Petersham, Ham and Twickenham.  But in Dickens' time the railway led to middle class suburbanisation, and Richmond became a favourite destination for excursions.  Eel Pie Island was named after a tavern (now demolished) famous for its eel pies, that attracted steamers full of day-trippers.  In Nicholas Nickleby Mrs Kenwigs came from ‘a very genteel family, having an uncle who collected a water-rate; besides which distinction, the two eldest of her little girls went twice a week to a dancing school in the neighbourhood, and had flaxen hair tied with blue ribands hanging in luxuriant pigtails down their backs, and wore little white trousers with frills round the ankles’.  The eldest Miss Kenwigs joined a party, catching a steamer from Westminster Bridge to Eel Pie island to ‘dance in the open air to the music of a locomotive band.’   

Richmond Palace Gatehouse
(photo Susan Gane, 2002)


Maids of Honour Row, Richmond Green (photo Susan Gane, 2002)

Richmond Green was originally a common where villagers pastured their sheep but later became  a medieval jousting ground alongside Richmond Palace.  Only the gatehouse and  parts of the old wardrobe in the courtyard  survive from the Tudor palace.  It was a royal residence from 1125 until 1688.   Henry VII (1509-47) built the Tudor palace and his arms are on the gatehouse.   The second daughter of his son Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) died here.  During the Civil War of 1642-51 Oliver Cromwell demolished the most important buildings.

Very near to Richmond Palace is Maids of Honour Row (1724) ‘an excellent, entirely uniform, terrace’ of three story houses.   They were built for the maids of honour of Caroline of Anspach, the wife of George II (1727-1760).  In Great Expectations Estella came to London to be introduced to aristocratic society by a Mrs Brandley who lived here.  Pip met her coach and escorted her to her new home.  ‘We came to Richmond all too soon, and our destination there was a house by the Green: a staid old house, where hoops and powder and patches, embroidered coats, rolled stockings, ruffles, and swords, had had their court days many a time.   Some ancient trees before the house were still cut in fashions as formal and unnatural as the hoops and wigs and stiff skirts’.