King George III (June 4, 1738 – January 29, 1820) is, of course, known to history as the mad monarch who had conversations with an oak tree under the impression it was the king of Prussia and whose demands on the American colonists led to the American War of Independence and the loss of the greatest and most lucrative prize in the British Empire at the time. Such was his mental state that his oafish, glutton of a son had to take over as monarch leading to a period known as the Regency. But all this aside George III’s connection with the area was deep-rooted. As the Prince of Wales, he bought he Duke of Ormonde’s former home Ormonde Lodge in 1718 and renamed it Richmond Lodge. He gave the property to his wife and the two set up home living most comfortably. “Caroline loved the house and grounds. George irritably indulged her obsession,” writes David Blomfield in Kew Past. “With more diplomacy – and a considerable amount of public money – Robert Walpole, the Prime Minister, did the same. He recognised how much power Caroline would wield as queen.” But the wide open spaces allowed the King to indulge in his own interests as a gentleman farmer. H M Cundall in Bygone Richmond explains: “The King in his agricultural pursuits, besides destroying most of the buildings, uprooted the avenue of trees in the Park, and put the land under the plough. He was one of the first to breed merino sheep, and imported a large stock from Spain. Annual sales of part of the flock took place in a paddock, on the south side of the Pagoda and separated from the Kew road by the haw-haw.” All in all the King shaped much of the local area changing former rights of way in exchange for his own property and building or improving local roads – of which this was belatedly one. For King George Square was built as part of a new development by Fairbriar Homes Ltd of 55 houses and flats next to the former Grove Road as part of the Richmond Charities Estate in 1986; some 200 years after George III gave it to the parish in exchange for closing Love Lane that ran through his estate. Late though it was, the king could certainly lay claim to being a prominent local resident. Cundall describes his domestic circumstances: “King George III and Queen Caroline lived with their children in an unpretentious manner at Kew. Both the White House and the Dutch House were occupied. As the family increased other houses round the Green were inhabited by the children and numerous persons attached to the Court. Many interesting descriptions of the frugal manner in which the Royal Family lived here and pathetic accounts of the King’s derangement are given in the diaries of Mrs Papendick, and of Fanny Burney, afterwards Madame D’Arblay.” Which all seems a far cry his reputation as a “heartless, absolute sovereign”, he was in fact “well-meaning, hard-working, decent, dutiful, moral, cultured and kind, according to Andrew Roberts’s biography George III The Life and Reign of Britain’s Most Misunderstood Monarch. He tells the story of how strolling in the fields near Weymouth, George came across a woman milking a cow. Not recognising him, the woman said she had been unable to go with her friends to see the king because she had five children and couldn’t afford to take the time off work. At that, George pressed a guinea into her hand. “Then you can tell your companions,” he said emotionally, “that the king came to see you.” Roberts also takes issue with the claim that he sparked the demand for independence in America. Americans were ruled with “the lightest of touches” and “paid the lightest of taxes in the empire”. If George had been a tyrant, he might well have won the American war; it was only because Britain fought half-heartedly that it lost. The mantra of no taxation without representation was utter hypocrisy, since many secessionist agitators were dead set against American representation in parliament anyway. Far from being a battle cry of freedom, the Boston Tea Party was partly motivated by the commercial interests of local smugglers. Roberts continues that the king rarely drank, was faithful to his wife, Charlotte, and had no obvious vices. His enthusiasms included microscopes, music and paintings, and his political leanings were solidly conservative. It says a great deal about him that his idea of fun was writing an article about farming. So, what of the land? The Vestry used it to build a workhouse, which was completed in 1786 and which remained until the 1920s when it was used as a home for the elderly named Kingsmead, remembering the monarch, and an infirmary called Grove Road Hospital. Over the years many of these buildings were knocked down but the old workhouse remained – to be converted into luxury flats.
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