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The avenue of chestnut trees in Bushy Park was established during the reign of William and Mary (late 17th century) after Sir Christopher Wren conceived the idea of the mile-long Chestnut Avenue as a formal approach to Hampton Court Palace.
During her reign, Queen Victoria opened Bushy Park to the public and they flocked to enjoy the beautiful open space. Particularly popular were the displays of chestnut blossoms in late spring and the tradition of parading down Chestnut Avenue on the Sunday closest to 11th May (the date on which the blossoms are reputed to be at their finest) was borne. Even the royal family were known to take part in Chestnut Sunday.
Chestnut Sunday was suspended during World War I but resurrected when it was over. Bus companies ran special excursions from London.
In World War II Bushy Park was commandeered as the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces and was the base from which General Eisenhower planned the D-Day landings. Understandably Chestnut Sunday could not take place and indeed it seemed that the tradition had died out completely.
But in 1977, Hampton Wick residents Colin and Mu Pain who were researching the history of Hampton Wick came across details of Chestnut Sunday in times gone by. They decided to resurrect the event, initially to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee. Together with friends and members of the Hampton Wick Association, they arranged a simple walk down Chestnut Avenue on the Sunday closest to 11th May. From that simple beginning, the event has grown and grown to the full-fledged festival that it is today.
By Pieter Morpurgo
Pieter will be bringing us up-to-date with the latest news on the restoration projects in the park.