This is a large sloping park close to the river in Richmond that has good views, loads of winding paths and seating, a few fun nooks to explore and a lot of flower beds. It’s also a legacy of the time when large mansion houses fronted the river, and were later bought by the council to open the lands for the public. Terrace Gardens is the former private garden belonging to Cardigan House.
Cardigan House was built on the site of a medicinal spa that relied on a chalybeate spring in the hillside, that had closed in 1763. The owner of the site, Robert Sayer, deputy steward of the Manor, commissioned the architect William Eves to build his new mansion, although work didn’t take place until the 1790s for some reason. He also didn’t live in the house, but rented it to the Duke of Clarence, who moved out after a fire, and it gained its name of Cardigan House after it was occupied by James Brudenell, 5th Earl of Cardigan, and then his son the sixth Earl.
The 7th Earl is far more famous, or infamous, as he is the officer who led the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava, during the Crimean War.
Cardigan House was purchased by the British Legion in 1925, the garden was largely absorbed into the nearby public gardens at about the same time. The house, which sat in the northern corner of the gardens was demolished in 1970.
Much of the park today still retains its 19th-century layout from before the lands were opened to the public.
Depending on whether you start at the bottom next to the river, or at the top, it’s either a pleasant stroll down winding paths surrounded by trees and overflowing beds of planting, or a steep walk up a hill to get to the top.
It feels a bit 1970s municipal at times, with tarmac paths and dry stone walls, but there are a lot of nuggets of history to find here. A fish marker stone is the riparian equivalent of a milestone on the roads, offering information about the distance from Richmond to Westminster Bridge. Rediscovered during clearance work, the stone is now sitting at the top of the park, far from the river, but preserved with a very visible fish on top, although the distance text on the side has largely eroded away.
Standing proud in the centre of the gardens is another river reference, a large statue of Old Father Thames made in the 1770s and bought for the gardens.
Something fun to find is the spring well, just behind a wooden gazebo, which was initially thought to be an ice well, but is now thought to have been that original medicinal spa. The approach is delightfully atmospheric down a narrow winding path lined with stone walls to the well, which isn’t much to look at, but the discovery is lovely.
Right down at the bottom of the gardens is a subterranean passage that leads under the main road leading to another garden that had been part of the same estate originally. Once the passage was a private link between them, but today it’s open to all, and while one side is a bit bland, the other has a lovely grotto effect with stone walls and small statues in niches.
The rest of the gardens are pretty much what you might expect, a large central lawn, lots of flower beds around the edges and loads of trees forming the boundaries. The nice thing though is to just wander around the upper slopes getting glimpses of wider views through the trees and keep stumbling upon the bits of history that are dotted around the park.
The gardens were given a £1 million refresh between 2007 and 2009 by the local council, updating the signage and planting along with repairs to the historical buildings.
Next to Terrace gardens is Buccleuch Gardens, another pocket park to explore another day with a similar back story of being a former mansion turned into a public space.
The parks are also right next to the Poppy Factory, which you can visit by prebooked ticket.