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Pembroke Lodge in 1858

At some time prior to 1754, the Lodge began life as a humble cottage occupied by a molecatcher, whose sole duty was to reduce the peril presented to huntsmen by molehills. This cottage was enlarged to form a dwelling with four principal rooms and was renamed Hill Lodge.  In 1780 the occupant, John Trage, a gamekeeper, let rooms to Elizabeth, Countess of Pembroke. She became very fond of Hill Lodge and begged King George III, her friend and admirer, to grant it to her. This he did and another lodge was built for Trage at a cost to the King of some £294.

The Countess of Pembroke employed the architects John Soane and Henry Holland to make improvements to her new home. Between 1788 and 1796, they extended the building to form the entire Georgian wing and part of the North wing. A stable block was built at the north end of the Lodge gardens, close to where Poet’s Corner is today.

After the death of the Countess at Pembroke Lodge on 30th April 1831, at the age of 93, King William IV granted the Lodge to the Earl of Erroll, husband of one of his daughters. The King subsequently visited the Lodge several times, including on 10th September 1832 as part of the local celebrations for the passing of the Great Reform Act. Incidentally, this piece of legislation had been introduced to Parliament by Lord John Russell, a future resident of Pembroke lodge.

Between 1831 and his death in 1846, the Earl of Erroll completed most of the remainder of the North wing.  The Lodge was then briefly granted to the recently-widowed Countess of Dunmore, a former Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria.

In 1847, Queen Victoria granted the Lodge to Lord John Russell, the Prime Minister, who conducted much Government business from here.  This was one of the heydays with visitors including the Queen, Palmerston, Gladstone, Garibaldi, Thackeray, Browning, Tennyson, Landseer, Lewis Carroll and Dickens (who dedicated his 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities to Russell).  Lord John was much taken with the Lodge – “an asset that could hardly be equalled, certainly not surpassed in England.”

Earl Russell (as be became in 1861) died at Pembroke Lodge on 28th May 1878, aged 85. The house passed to his widow and then to his daughter, Lady Agatha Russell, who finally moved away in 1903. Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), the philosopher, mathematician and Nobel Laureate, spent his early years at the Lodge.  He “grew accustomed to wide horizons and an unimpeded view of the sunset” and remarked “I have never since been able to live happily without both.”

Georgina, Countess of Dudley, took occupation in 1903 (she was the last resident to be granted the Lodge on a grace-and-favour basis by the monarch). She made further alterations including the decorative friezes in the ground floor of the Georgian Wing, the mahogany doors and floor. She also had a number of fine mantelpieces installed which, after her death, were transferred to Buckingham Palace on the wishes of Queen Mary. The grave of the Countess of Dudley’s dog, Boy, may be found in the gardens to the south of the Lodge.

Following the death of the Countess at Pembroke Lodge in 1929, at the age of 82, the building was let on a commercial lease to John Scott Oliver, a wealthy industrialist. He carried out many alterations, mostly in the North wing. Unfortunately, his business was badly affected by the economic depression of the 1930s and, in 1938, he was forced to put the lease on the market.

Before the Lodge could be sold it was requisitioned for wartime use. Initially it served as a billet for troops from the 2/6th Battalion East Surrey Regiment and then, from July 1940, as the officers’ mess and de facto regimental headquarters of the GHQ Liaison Regiment (known as ‘Phantom’). Field Marshal Montgomery described Phantom as “indispensable”; its role was to position motorcycle riders equipped with radios at front lines to relay the precise situation to the commanders of all Allied units in the vicinity. Members of Phantom went on to become Privy Councillors, Law Lords, Judges, MPs, a Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and included the actor, David Niven, who remarked in a letter (the original of which is now held at Pembroke Lodge), “These were wonderful days which I would not have missed for anything”.

During the war, the Lodge was damaged through misuse and insensitive alteration and the cottage in the grounds suffered two direct hits from bombs in 1942 and 1944. After the war, the Ministry of Works converted the North wing and first floor of the Georgian wing into flats for Park staff, with the ground floor of the Georgian wing becoming a cafeteria.

Pembroke Lodge was designated a Grade II Listed Building in 1983, by which time it was falling into disrepair. The expense of its upkeep led to the unpopular proposal to sell it as a private dwelling.

After a long battle to keep the building open to the public, Daniel Hearsum won the tender for Pembroke Lodge in 1997. His bold vision and hard work turned the building from a run-down catering facility to the much-loved tea rooms and multi-purpose venue it is today.

Once the restoration of Pembroke Lodge was complete, Daniel dedicated much of his time to collecting, preserving and working to share the heritage of The Royal Parks through his charity, The Hearsum Collection.

Daniel sadly passed away in 2021. A memorial stone lies just beyond the terrace and a bench in his memory is in The Rose Garden. The Hearsum Family continue to run Pembroke Lodge.

In Daniel’s words, “The most striking facet that endures throughout the centuries is the remarkable affection for the Lodge of every occupant and this facet is still very much alive.  There are few days when I do not meet a new person who has special affection for this unique building.”

The Hearsum Family

Richmond Park has a fascinating history spanning almost four centuries since its enclosure by Charles I in 1637 as a Royal hunting ground. Whilst unpopular at the time, the physical enclosure of the Park in Royal ownership has protected it from the creeping encroachment of an ever-growing urban London, thus creating one of the finest urban parks in the world.

Since 1997 Daniel Hearsum has collected historic material relating to the park. In 2009 The Friends of Richmond Park and The Hearsum Collection, now a registered charity, entered into a partnership to catalogue, digitise and publicise the collection for all to enjoy.

The historical items catalogued by volunteers so far include some:

  • 380 photographs
  • 370 documents
  • 700 postcards
  • 200 prints and paintings
  • 70 maps
  • 300 books
  • 1,000 press cuttings, and
  • 300 objects and ephemera, from police uniforms to ‘magic lantern’ slides.

Interpretation boards have been installed at the entrance to Pembroke Lodge and pictures of ‘the lost houses of the Park’ are now on display in the entrance hall.

Plans are in hand for a new purpose-built visitor centre to make the Collection accessible to all, under the management of the new registered charity ‘The Hearsum Collection’.

Find out more information about the collection at www.hearsumcollection.org.uk

The Hearsum Collection is a registered charity, number 1153010, which was set up in 2013 to help tell the story of the history of Richmond Park by making available to public access a collection of relevant historical material.

The Collection contains a range of diverse historical and reference material covering the last 400 years, with some 2,500 items including antique prints, paintings, maps, postcards, photographs, documents, books and press cuttings. These are currently being catalogued by volunteers from the Friends of Richmond Park.

For more information on the Collection go to www.hearsumcollection.org.uk