Sunday 30 July 2017


On the outskirts of London, deep into the green and leafy suburbs on the border with Surrey, lies the town of Hampton. It's a historical old village on the River Thames, all Tudor cottages and ancient orange brick to match the equally old Hampton Court Palace, which stands a mile or so downriver.

Built in 1515 by Cardinal Wolsey before being handed over to the ferocious, many-wifed King Henry VIII, Hampton Court Palace is a world-famous heritage site. This is the draw here. Tourists from all over the globe make the journey to see the palace and its manicured gardens, but very few seem make it any further into the surrounding areas to explore and discover the charm hidden in its streets.

Hampton Village is a quiet place. It's a classically British cultural cocktail of middle class city-commuters and ex-council house tenants all drinking in the same local pub (The Dip) and playing with their children on the village green. Not much has changed here over the years. The Sainsbury's supermarket in the 1980s-born shopping precinct still serves the steady stream of old ladies shuffling with trolleys; the local youth play about in the tufts of grass between houses and do wheelies on bikes along the roads. The intoxicating thing is this village feel whilst literally being in Greater London, the endless residential greenery of it all. The village and the surrounding area are an underappreciated jumble of delicate details, preserved and maintained over centuries, old but still lived-in and cherished. Gorgeous jigsaws of tiles line the way to colour pops of glossy front doors that are shrouded with the overflowing lush greenery of a rainy English summer. The epitome of Britishness, delicate gardens of flowers and sturdy bricks, people living out their lives in buildings older than America. Once a vital lifeline in trade and transport, the River Thames at its Hampton stretch isn't much more than a weekend playground for yachters and other riverine enthusiasts. But along the riverbank history is haphazardly buried. We stumbled into Garrick's Temple to Shakespeare, a Neoclassical folly built in 1756 by the actor David Garrick who used to live in the large "villa" across the road. The temple is set in a slice of greenery along the banks of the Thames and is kept up to date by the Shakespeare trust and welcoming volunteers.

A copy of a Zoffany painting inside the temple depicts the riverside as it was almost 300 years ago, with the same grassy undulations leading to the river itself, a small weeping willow sapling by the bank, still here today and gigantic. In England you are never far away from oldness. Bushy Park is also full of old trees. Connected to Hampton Village on two sides, Bushy Park is one of London's Royal Parks. It's the second largest (1,100 acres) of the capital's regal green spaces and was founded by Henry VIII as part of his hunting grounds. As such the park is still home to herds of free-grazing deer that are often overly friendly and in search of scraps of picnic food. Pockets of fenced well-kept gardens and grassy meadows bring back warm hazy childhood memories of exploring both in the depth of winter and heat of the summer. Hampton hums with its own history and claims to fame: David Gilmore had a houseboat here, Alan Turing once lived here, famous old-time architect Sir Christopher Wren lived opposite Hampton Court, Jamie T mentions the town's northerly counterpart Hampton Wick in a song. It is the quintessential "nice place". It even has one of the UK's only outdoor heated public pools. Million-pound houses sit across the road from bungalows that will one day be cleared for more million-pound houses. It's an area that seems to have undergone gentrification and reverse-gentrification all at the same time. It is tree-lined street after tree-lined street, a museum of a suburb, a model for the infinity of family bubbles.

No comments:

Post a Comment