diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Random borough (24): Richmond (part 3)

Somewhere sporty: Twickenham
They love their football in Richmond. Rugby football, that is, none of your namby-pamby round-balled rubbish. Both London Welsh and London Scottish have their home grounds close to Kew Gardens, while Harlequins' diamond geezers are based over toward Whitton. And if that's not enough scrumming, mauling and rucking to be going round, Twickenham is also home to England's premier rugby venue. The boundaries of the TW1 postcode have even been tweaked so that the stadium sounds like it's located at the heart of the local area. Not quite, but it is visible on the horizon for miles around.

Viewed from the south, the newly-reconstructed Twickenham Stadium looks mighty impressive. Its glass-stacked storeys look like the headquarters of some cash-rich dotcom, possibly with a giant-sized helipad on top, and with a window-cleaning bill to match. In truth the glitzy frontage conceals a hotel, a conference centre and a gym, because that's where the money is midweek. To one side there's a big shop, or rather Rugby Store, where branded English Rugby products are available for purchase by the converted. Replica shorts and shirts jostle with aprons, cufflinks and slippers, each imprinted with a rose-y logo for added value. Meanwhile buried in the paving out front is a time capsule, interred six months ago and not due to be dug up again before the year 2121. An inscription on the plaque reads "Rugbeia floreat ubique", so I hope schoolkids are still being taught fake Latin in the 22nd century.

The remaining three sides of the stadium are rather bleaker, resembling more a Soviet prison block or nuclear power station. Nobody's stumped up the cash to hide the shell of the elevated grandstand, so a sheer cliff of concrete pillars and winding stairwells assaults the senses [photo]. This is the utilitarian route in and out for thousands of matchtime spectators - unless you're one of the lucky few who can take an escalator to reach the higher seating. At ground level are various serve-'em-fast bars, each named after a different rugby term like the 'Ruck and Maul'. And are those two tall spiral towers part of a multi-storey car park, or merely an ingenious means of multi-level slow-descent crowd control?

Nobody lives alongside the west or northern stands - this is car park and portaloo territory. And be careful where you tread. The perimeter fence is ringed by umpteen memorial plaques, each clustered around the name of some chunky RFU hero, which presumably raised huge sums from willing supporters towards the construction of the new stadium. The gates of the old remain, topped off by a characterful gold lion, though somewhat out of place beneath the concrete escarpment.

If you're moved to discover more there's a "World Rugby Museum", billed as "the ultimate visitor experience for the world rugby enthusiast", although visitors from Leeds and Hull would no doubt disagree. If a scrum machine and interactive memorabilia are your thing then you might be better off taking the full stadium tour first, because then you get to nip round the museum as an added extra at the end. Unavailable on match days, however, when the entire local area grinds to a halt. I'm glad I visited on an off-Saturday, and missed the lot.
by train: Twickenham   by bus: 281, 481

Somewhere historic: Garrick's Temple
You were probably expecting me to go to Hampton Court, but instead I went to Hampton. A town that's ever so nearly in Surrey, and almost as desirable, especially the winding lanes and narrow streets nearer to the river. Here, in a brick villa beside the parish church, the great actor David Garrick made his home. A fortune earned at the Drury Lane Theatre allowed him to hire Capability Brown for the landscaping of his Thames-side garden. This involved digging a grotto-like tunnel (which still exists) beneath the main road to the water meadow, and later the erection of an octagonal classical temple as a centrepiece [photo]. Garrick filled the temple with mementoes to Shakespeare, including a portrait bust by Roubiliac, a replica of which remains on view today.

But only on Sunday afternoons, and then only during the summer months. Outside those volunteered hours the door to Garrick's temple remains firmly locked, and only the Georgian gardens are accessible. Mind where you tread on the lawn because there are more ducks around here than visitors. Six steps lead up from the grass beneath an off-white pillared portico, or alternatively there's a very 21st century ramp laid across from the terrace to enable wheelchair access. No such luxuries here in the 18th century when Garrick hosted elegant garden parties for his guests, and through his "Shakespeare Jubilee" pretty much kickstarted our nation's adoration for all things Bard-related. Sadly Garrick's Hampton villa was part-destroyed by fire just over a year ago, but his compact riverside temple lives on, and it's where my Winter's Tale draws to an end.
by train: Hampton   by bus: 111, 216, R68

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