The town's name
The area now known as Richmond was formerly part of Shene. Shene was not listed in Domesday Book, although it is depicted on the associated maps as Sceon, its Saxon spelling. Henry VII had a palace built there and in 1501 he named it Richmond Palace in recognition of his earldom and his ancestral home at Richmond Castle in Yorkshire. The town that developed nearby took the same name as the palace.
Henry I lived briefly in the King's house in "Sheanes". In 1299 Edward I, the "Hammer of the Scots", took his whole court to the manor house at Sheen, a little east of the bridge and on the riverside, and it thus became a royal residence; William Wallace was executed in London in 1305, and it was in Sheen that the Commissioners from Scotland went down on their knees before Edward.
Edward II, following his defeat by the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, founded a monastery for Carmelites at Sheen. When the boy-king Edward III came to the throne in 1327 he gave the manor to his mother Isabella. Edward later spent over two thousand pounds on improvements, but in the middle of the work Edward himself died at the manor, in 1377. Richard II was the first English king to make Sheen his main residence, which he did in 1383. Twelve years later Richard was so distraught at the death of his wife Anne of Bohemia at the age of 28, that he, according to Holinshed, "caused it [the manor] to be thrown down and defaced; whereas the former kings of this land, being wearie of the citie, used customarily thither to resort as to a place of pleasure, and serving highly to their recreation". It was rebuilt between 1414 and 1422, but destroyed by fire in 1497.
Following that fire Henry VII built a new residence at Sheen and in 1501 he named it Richmond Palace. There are unconfirmed beliefs that Shakespeare may have performed some plays there. Once Elizabeth I became queen she spent much of her time at Richmond, as she enjoyed hunting stags in the "Newe Parke of Richmonde". She died there on 24 March 1603. The palace was no longer in residential use after 1649, but in 1688 James II ordered partial reconstruction of the palace: this time as a royal nursery. The bulk of the palace had decayed by 1779; but surviving structures include the Wardrobe, Trumpeter's House (built around 1700), and the Gate House, built in 1501. This has five bedrooms and was made available on a 65-year lease by the Crown Estate Commissioners in 1986.
18th and 19th century development
The town's former fire station, built in the late 19th century, with a distinctive lantern clock tower
Beyond the grounds of the old palace, Richmond remained mostly agricultural land until the 18th century. White Lodge, in the middle of what is now Richmond Park, was built as a hunting lodge for George II and during this period the number of large houses in their own grounds – such as Asgill House and Pembroke Lodge – increased significantly. These were followed by the building of further important houses including Downe House, Wick House and The Wick on Richmond Hill, as this area became an increasingly fashionable place to live. Richmond Bridge was completed in 1777 to replace a ferry crossing that connected Richmond town centre on the east bank with its neighbouring district of East Twickenham. Today, this, together with the well-preserved Georgian terraces that surround Richmond Green and line Richmond Hill to its crest, now has listed building status.
As Richmond continued to prosper and expand during the 19th century, much luxurious housing was built on the streets that line Richmond Hill, as well as shops in the town centre to serve the increasing population. In July 1892 the Corporation formed a joint-stock company, the Richmond (Surrey) Electric Light and Power Company, and this wired the town for electricity by around 1896.
First and Second World Wars
Richmond War Memorial, partly hidden by foliage
Like many other large towns in Britain, Richmond lost many young people in the First and Second World Wars. In the Second World War, 96 people were killed in air raids, which also resulted in the demolition of 297 houses.
In the 1920s a stone memorial was unveiled in the town at the end of Whittaker Avenue, between the Old Town Hall and the Riverside. It is in the form of a column with an orb on top, standing on a double plinth. On the north side is the statue of a sailor, on the south side the statue of a soldier, and on the east and west sides are the coat of arms of the former Municipal Borough of Richmond, accompanied by this quotation:
On the west side there is a further inscription:
Of the men of this Borough
Who gave their lives in the service of their King and Country
during the Great Wars
1914–1918 and 1939–1945
The names of the war dead are engraved into walls that jut out from the memorial. On 20 July 2017, Historic England gave the war memorial Grade II listed status.