It’s a deer trough, installed in 1858, pretty much where the keeper’s cottage stood. He’s a very old pic of the place:
A.D. Webster (from whom I culled the pic) reckons it probably dated back to The Commonwealth or just before; I find it a very curious to imagine Greenwich Park with such a large series of buildings in it. So did the Victorians – they demolished it in 1853.
Webster tellls me the first mention of deer in the park is January 1510. A Eustace Browne was paid the princely sum of £13 6s 8d to stock the Park with deer for Henry VIII to chase around. They were clearly not fast enough for Bluff King Hal, as five years later he had some “quick” deer transferred from Eltham (I know, I know, it might have just meant ‘not dead’ but the thought of extra-speedy deer makes me smile…)
Queen Elizabeth enjoyed hunting there, and Sir Walter Scott (admittedly about as renowned for historical accuracy as I am…) talks of King James hunting in the park too. It must have been one of the only things James did there – he didn’t really care for Greenwich – it was too cold and damp for his many ailments.
Everyone had their eye on a quick buck – and during the Commonwealth Cromwell had to set up a special task force to prevent poaching. He eventually got bored and decided to flog the whole park and its contents to one John Parker, though of course on the Restoration Parker lost his prize.
A.D. Webster talks of the pollution that threatened the deer during Victorian times – the factories pumping out smoke caused all manner of “deleterious effects of an impure atmosphere” and nearly did for them. In 1896 they numbered just 47, but the herd had increased to 150 by 1902.
Of course at that time they were allowed to roam all over the park, which delighted visitors. Their keepers were less delighted when the visitors killed them with kindness by feeding them some extraordinary snacks. One poor thing died of eating “too much gooseberry tart;” another’s stomach was found to contain “two hatfuls of orange peel,” in just two of the fatalities caused by picnickers sharing their lunch – which even included, I’m sad to say, venison. Here’s an Edwardian chap sharing his mutton pie, scotch egg, battenburg and cheesy wotsits with a new friend:
With the coming of first the motor car, and then larger volumes of visitors, the deer had to be enclosed. At first it was just at night, but later they were relegated to the enclosure in the South-East corner.
The two herds (red and fallow) are very small indeed now. but they’re still lovely to see. There are two places (apart from the little observation hut which isn’t often open to the public) where you can get a not-bad view of them. The obvious one is not far from Blackheath gate, with a crazy-paved area and seats. The other, you have to seek out. Go into the Victorian flower garden and keep the thickets on your right (or your left if you’re entering from the Maze Hill entrance) There is a little pathway through the trees to another spot with a seat where you can see the wilderness where the deer are. There’s a little seat there too.
Sadly they’re very well kept-in – two (perhaps three now?) layers of wire mesh, which means getting a good picture is nigh-on impossible. Here’s the best I could do a couple of years ago in the snow: