Spread-your-wings• A “ground-breaking” hands-on exhibition exploring the concept and future of flight and space travel opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich this week. Above and Beyond, produced by Evergreen Exhibitions in association with Boeing (and created in collaboration with NASA), features more than 10 interactive displays, allowing visitors to learn to fly like a bird, take an elevator to space, enjoy a view of Earth from above or go on a marathon mission to Mars and see how your body would cope. Runs until 29th August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/exhibitions-events/above-and-beyond-exhibition.

Horrible Histories is bringing the world of the ‘Terrible Tudors’ to life at Hampton Court Palace this half-term break. The Birmingham Stage Company is offering the chance for visitors to dip into 100 years of Tudor history, spanning the reigns of the “horrible” Henries to that of the crowning of King James I in 1603. Get behind the dry facts and discover what the role of the Groom of the Stool was, which queen lost her wig as she was executed and decide whether to join in punishing the ‘whipping boy’ or the monarch and which side you’ll be on as the Spanish Armada set sail. The hour long performances will take place on the palace’s historic East Front Gardens (unreserved seating on the grass). Admission charge applies. Runs from today until 2nd June. For more see, www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

The Royal Parks is hosting its first ever BioBlitz at Brompton Cemetery this Bank Holiday weekend. For 24 for hours from 5pm on Friday, people are invited to join in the hunt to track down as many species of plants, animals and fungi as possible with events including tree and nature walks, earthworm hunts, bee and wasp counts and lichen recording. There will also be a range of stalls for people to visit with representatives from a range of nature and wildlife organisations present. The BioBlitz is one of several projects linked to the £6.2 million National Lottery-funded facelift of the cemetery. For more, head to www.royalparks.org.uk/events/whats-on/bioblitz.

Sleep with the lions at ZSL London Zoo next to Regent’s Park from this week. The zoo new overnight experience at the Gir Lion Lodge, in which guests can stay in one of nine cabins at the heart of the new Land of the Lions exhibit, opened on Wednesday. Guests will also be taken on exclusive evening and morning tours in which they’ll find out more about how ZSL is working with local communities and rangers in India’s Gir Forest to protect these endangered cats. The private lodges will be available six nights a week until December with designated adults-only and family nights available. For more, see www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo/gir-lion-lodge. 

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A4605B1E7E3F-21Brompton Cemetery in London’s west is to undergo a major renovation thanks to a £6.2 million  project. Designed by Benjamin Baud and consecrated by the Bishop of London in 1840, the 39 acre cemetery – one of the oldest Grade I listed cemeteries in the country and known as one of London’s “magnificent seven” cemeteries – was strongly influenced by landscapes around St Peter’s in Rome. Among the 205,000 people buried there are suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Sir Thomas Spencer Wells – Queen Victoria’s surgeon, and thousands of former Chelsea pensioners. The project will see the chapel, central colonnades and catacombs restored and the transformation of North Lodge into a visitor’s centre with shop and cafe as well as other conservation and improvement works. It is funded by an almost £4.5 million grant from the BIG Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as a £1.2 million investment from The Royal Parks, managers of the site, and £500,000 from The Royal Parks Foundation, only half of which has been raised. Those looking to donate to the foundation’s appeal, can visit www.SupportTheRoyalParks.com. PICTURE: © The Royal Parks

And so we come to the final entry in our special series on Royal Parks – Bushy Park (Royal Parks also look after Brompton Cemetery, but given it’s not strictly a park, we’ll deal with that in an upcoming post).

Lying off the beaten track near Hampton Court in south-west London, Bushy Park’s location means it’s perhaps the least glamourous of the Royal Parks we have looked at. Yet, like the other parks, its connection with royalty goes back a long way – in this case to the time of King Henry VIII.

The park was included as part of the Hampton Court estate given to the king by Cardinal Wolsey. Henry immediately transformed what had been farmland (complete with artifical medieval rabbit warrens, the remains of which can still be seen) into a deer chase and enclosed the park with a brick wall (a section of the original wall lies on the north side of Hampton Court Road).

The character of the park was altered again in 1610 when King Charles I ordered the creation of the Longford River, a 12 mile ornamental canal designed to bring water from the River Colne in Hertfordshire to the park’s water features.

Christopher Wren had a hand in the park’s design in 1699 when he designed Chestnut Avenue – a mile long formal roadway which runs through the centre of the park. He also added the round pond at its end and placed a fountain topped with a statue in its midst.

Known as the Diana Fountain after the Roman goddess of hunting, the statue (pictured above with Chestnut Avenue behind) actually represents one of Diana’s nymphs Arethusa. It was commissioned by King Charles I for his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, and originally stood at Somerset House before Oliver Cromwell moved it to the Privy Garden at Hampton Court and Wren then moved it to its current location.

The 17th and 18th century also saw the appearance of houses at the park to be used as hunting lodges (and the ranger’s home), and gardens were added.

Worth noting here is the story of shoemaker Timothy Bennet. A resident of nearby Hampton Wick, in 1752, when an old man, he successfully fought to ensure a public right-of-way through the park after the then ranger, Lord Halifax, ordered it closed to the public. There’s a monument to him outside Hampton Wick Gate and a walking path which runs across the park at perpendicular to Chestnut Avenue is still known as Cobbler’s Walk.

More gardens were added in the 20th century including the Waterhouse and Pheasantry Plantations. Other areas include the tranquil Woodland Gardens and the Water Gardens which are comprised of a Baroque-style collection of pools, cascades, basins and the canal. There are also a series of ponds – including a pond for model boats – to the east of Chestnut Avenue.

The park saw service in both World Wars. During the first, Canadian troops were stationed there (there’s a totem pole in the Woodland Garden marking this) and other areas within the park were used for growing produce as part of the “Dig for Victory” campaign.

During the second, it was used again for food production and in 1942 became a US base and later Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces – the location where General Dwight Eisenhower planned Operation Overland, the reinvasion of Europe which kicked off with the D-Day landings. There are memorials concerning this connection in the park’s north-east corner.

Facilities today include the Pheasantry Welcome Centre, which opened in 2009, and includes a cafe, toilets and information. There are also sporting facilities, a small cafe near the carpark and a children’s playground.

WHERE: The park lies north of Hampton Court Palace, just west of Kingston and Hampton Wick and south of Teddington (nearest train station is Hampton Wick or Hampton Court). WHEN: 24 hours except in September and November when it’s open between 8am and 10.30pm; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Bushy-Park.aspx