Hunting created Richmond Park and deer continue to shape the way it looks.
Royalty had taken a close interest in the Richmond area from the late 15th century when King Henry Vll built a palace in the Manor of Sheen. Henry and his successors hunted in the neighbourhood. But it was a visit to Richmond by King Charles I in 1625 that turned this area of medieval farms and pasture into a royal park.
Charles was escaping from an outbreak of plague in London. He realised that Richmond gave him the best opportunities for hunting near London. The area included open grassland with individual oaks - some of which were mature trees at the time of Charles' visit and are still standing. There were also small farms and common land where local people had a right to graze cattle or collect timber.
Charles ignored all these claims on the land and, in 1637, he created a hunting park. He introduced around 2,000 deer, and to make sure they didn't stray he built a brick wall eight miles long, which you can still see today. Local people were furious about the King's action. He was forced to pay compensation to some landowners and had to restore the right of people to walk in the park and collect firewood by installing a ladder in the wall.
From then on, deer and hunting began to change the appearance of the park. Deer grazed the leaves and bark of young trees and stopped the open grassy areas turning into woods. Ancient trackways and field boundaries disappeared as the grassland developed.
Large established trees were pollarded (cut regularly at about 3 metres from the ground). This technique encouraged the trees to grow straight tall branches that were suitable for timber and also protected them from browsing deer. Even today, the lowest branches of trees in the park are all about the same height from the ground - just out of a deer's reach.
In the second half of the 17th century, King Charles II spent over £3,000 on repairs. He created new ponds for the deer to drink from and gave permission for gravel to be dug in the park.
In the 18th century, two planned vistas were created to show important guests the best views of the park and beyond. One looked down to the grand avenue of Queen's Ride to White Lodge, a hunting lodge built for King George l. The other looked out from King Henry's Mound - a high point, said to have used by Henry Vlll to watch hunting. You can still stand here and look down a specially-maintained avenue in Sidmouth Wood across London to St Paul's Cathedral.
Few other changes were made in Richmond Park. Pen Ponds, a lake divided in two by a causeway, was dug in 1746 and is now a good place to see water birds. In the 19th century, several small woods were added. These include Sidmouth Wood and the ornamental Isabella Plantation, both of which are fenced to keep the deer out. Also in the 19th Century people were no longer given the right to remove firewood, which is still true to this day, to help in preserving the park. Change happens slowly and maps made in Victorian times still make sense here.