I have spent years studying the late Georgian/Regency period in British history: porcelain, architecture, paintings, fashion, jewels, and people. King George IV was a very interesting and complex personality who indulged himself in everything that fancied him. Because of these extreme tastes, the Royal Collection is what it is today: Sevres, paintings, fabulous French porcelain, documents, silver gilt, and Windsor Castle! He sought pleasure wherever it could be found. Virginia water is an example of the King’s exuberant world of pleasure. During my years of studying the history of the period as well as reading the great novels of the period, the words VIRGINIA WATER continue to surface. I have known that Virginia Water was a great man-made lake in Windsor Great Park where the King enjoyed entertaining his guests, but that has been the limit of my knowledge. So, I have decided that I need to do a bit of exploring. Here is what I have found. The most important fact I have discovered is we as visitors can visit this magnificent setting and pleasure garden.
Windsor Great Park extends over 14,000 acres of which 8,000 acres are forest–no small parcel of land. The Park is managed by the Crown Estate Commissioners who maintain its unique character. The public areas are predominantly woodland or open grassland. A wide variety of forest trees thrive including beech, oak, sweet chestnut, birch, and conifers thrive. The Great Park offers splendid opportunities for walking, horse riding or cycling in this natural paradise. Apparently, the sought after areas are around Smiths Lawn, Blacknest Gate, The Valley Gardens, and VIRGINIA WATER. Deer were kept in the Great Park for many centuries until they were taken away in 1940 to turn the area into a great produce garden for the war effort. In 1979, at the suggestion of the Duke of Edinburgh, the Chief Ranger, 1000 acres of the park were enclosed, and the deer were reintroduced.
Virginia Water is a large man-made lake which dates back to 1753 and forms an efficient drainage system for the Park. In 1621, a Dutch engineer was engaged by James I to undertake the task of breaching a stem of the Thames Embankment at Dagenham and installing drainage at Hatfield Level. But it was the Duke of Cumberland, third son of George II who was Ranger of Windsor Great Park and transformed the Surrey bog into the glorious parkland we have today.
The Virginia Water Project was continued by Prince Henry, brother of George III. The lake in its final stage covers 130 acres and its total length is slightly over two miles long and one third of a mile wide at its widest point. Its circumference is about seven miles. It is one of the largest artificial lakes in England.
But it is George IV who brought great attention to this lake paradise. At one time a Royal Barge was stationed on the lake which was 32 feet long and 6+ beam with a mahogany interior, grained to represent walnut. The exterior was teak, painted white with gold scroll work. Green silk hangings were a feature of the interior, and gold mouldings and carvings represented the Rose of England. The stern featured the Royal Arms beautifully carved in mahogany. Over the state room was a green silk canopy with elliptic top supported by six fluted columns each having an ornamental base. The large brass dolphins were mounted on the gunwales of the barge with carved tails forming rowlocks. The figurehead was also a dolphin, carved in mahogany and etched with gold. A brass serpent tiller was fixed to the rudder.
It is not known why it is called Virginia Water; however, it is believed that this exotic reference to the American colony of Virginia is an indirect reference to Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.
You will visit THE CASCADE, but the great attraction is Sir Jeffrey Wyattvile, the architect’s handsome bridge over the lake at Blacknest Gate and the Lepis Magna which was a major part of the King’s garden. In 1816, Corinthian pillars of Roman origin, perhaps 2000 years old, were brought from North Africa Lepis Magna in Tripoli as a gift to the Prince Regent (later George IV). In 1826, following a period of storage in the British Museum, the “Ruins” were erected by Sir jeffrey Wyatville to suggest the remains of an ancient temple known as The Temple of the Gods. The Cult of Ruins was popular during the Regency Period, and every nobleman aspired to having his own “city of classical ruins.”
The Duke of Cumberland had his own Chinese junk called the Hulk which is preserved in drawings by Thomas Sandby still in the Royal Collection. Virginia Wter was completed in 1753 by which time the Hulk had been transformed into the Chinese Yacht complete with a colorful dragon along the side. The yacht ws said to be over 40 feet ‘in the keel” carried ’50tun’ and the main saloon was 20 feet by 12. The deck was enclosed by a Chinese fretwork fence. George IV loved this pleasure garden and enjoyed entertaining his guests here. In his later years, he spent a great of time at Virginia Water, avoiding the hateful London crowds.
The EDWARD VII or THE BRIG came to Virginia Water in 1904 where it remained until 1919. This was a non-motorized bot to sail on Virginia Water. It was named Edward II and was a 10 gun brig, converted to scale from a 42′ cutter at Sheerness Dockyard in 1904 and sailed to Brentford on the Thomas before being brought to Virginia Water by Road! Wow! The royal children including the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII and the Duke of Kent all enjoyed playing on her. In 1919 she was scrapped on the orders of the Admiralty when she was found to be infested extensively from dry rot.
Sandhurst cadets are allowed to practice rowing on the lake; later, the Duke of kent and the Prince of Wales used speed boats on Virginia Water when the Prince Edward lived at Fort Belvedere nearby. Today, the village has a superb put, and there is an exclusive clientele who have homes in the area.
This glorious setting, once the pleasure ground of the Royal Family, is now a protected preserve for future generations. Fantastic. Check out the details here.
Thomas Moore email: TMooreSr@me.com Telephone: 801.791.9918