The Manor of Richmond was known as Shene until 1501, when Henry VII changed its name by royal decree so that his favourite palace could bear his title of Earl of Richmond of Yorkshire.
Shene is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, but the will of Theodred Bishop of London, dated AD 950, mentioned briefly his lands at ‘Sceon’. Shene, like Kew, was spelt in many different ways. Our Borough’s oldest recorded history is at Petersham, when certain lands at Petersham were recorded as having been given to the Benedictine Abbey of Chertsey in AD 666. Shene had been part of the royal manor of Kingston since the Conquest until shortly before 1130, when Henry I divided up the manor and granted the part known as Shene to one John Belet, a member of the court.
The manor passed through various hands, until 1313, when it reverted to the crown. As Shene was by the Thames there were frequent disputes between the owners of fisheries there and the boatmen who needed to go up and down river.
One dispute involved the Merton Priory and the City of London. The Priory had been granted land at Westerly Ware (now a small garden and recreation ground at the foot of Kew Bridge) by the Belet family in 1218, and established a fishery there, along with a weir. The building of weirs on the Thames had been banned by royal charter, but a powerful priory such as Merton was able to flout the law, except when faced by an equally powerful body like the City of London – who took the Priory to court. The City won, with their officers seizing the wherry (boat) belonging to the Priory.
Shene had become important because of the royal palace there. Edward III commissioned the first palace at Shene in 1358, but in 1394 Richard II’s wife died of the plague and Richard, distraught at her loss, had the palace pulled down.
Henry V began a second palace in 1413, the year he became king. Two years later Henry founded a Carthusian abbey at Shene – the same year he won the Battle of Agincourt. The abbey was situated just south of where the King’s Observatory now stands. Sadly, following the dissolution of the monasteries nothing now remains, but there is a model of what it might have looked like in the Museum of Richmond.
Mediaevel times in England ended in 1485 and in 1497 Henry V’s palace was seriously damaged by fire, and Henry VII began the third and last palace there the following year.