Windsor Great Park has witnessed countless events throughout history, dating back to pre-Saxon times, each of which has left its own distinctive mark on this impressive landscape. But it wasn’t until the 13th Century that the areas making up Windsor Great Park were properly defined, creating an incredible variety of landscapes across the 1,942 hectares (4,800 acres) that have grown and been developed over time.
There is a long line of Royal heritage at Windsor Great Park. From William I using the landscape as a hunting ground a thousand years ago, to the original planting of the Long Walk by Charles II, Queen Victoria entertaining on the shores of Virginia Water, to the stewardship of The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh as Ranger of Windsor Great Park for nearly 70 years.
Learn more about our story below.
William I ‘The Conqueror’
Although the Forest of Windsor was already established in 1066, William I was the first monarch to see its potential as a royal hunting ground.
The word ‘forest’, or ‘foris’, originally meant an outside enclosure, so we know there was some sort of fencing before William’s time. But he was the first monarch to build a residence here, and larger hunting enclosures followed.
King Charles II
Windsor Great Park underwent significant changes following the Restoration of the Monarchy in the 17th Century, and many of the recognisable features that our visitors enjoy today originated during this period.
The Long Walk
The Duke of Cumberland
He was almost certainly responsible for the remodelling of the north end of Cumberland Lodge, at this time, home to the Ranger of Windsor Great Park.
Cumberland Lodge. Royal Collection Trust, © His Majesty King Charles III
William also saw the opportunity to create something extraordinary near the hunting grounds of the Forest. With the help of architects Henry Flitcroft and John Vardy, as well as the topographical draughtsman Thomas Sandby, he conceived a royal pleasure ground of beauty, pageantry and spectacle. The result was Virginia Water, a project that began in 1752 and took almost 40 years to complete.
Aerial video of Virginia Water
King George IV
George IV continued the development in and around Virginia Water. With the help of architect Sir Jeffry Wyatville, he built a magnificent oriental fishing temple.
The temple is no longer there, but the legacy of George’s interest can still be seen in the Five Arch Bridge to the north of Virginia Water or the iconic Copper Horse statue he erected to his father, George III.
Five Arch Bridge
The Copper Horse
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
At the same time, Prince Albert committed himself to improving the living conditions of the Estate workers. To that end, he oversaw the building of cottages and the establishment of The Royal School, which is still used today.
The Royal School
Queen Victoria unveiled a statue commemorating Prince Albert’s contribution to the Windsor Estate on 12 May 1890. The ceremony drew over 7,000 well-wishers and guests. Known as The Prince Consort Statue, it can be seen today at Smith’s Lawn.
Prince Consort Statue
King George V
Previously the site of a plant nursery, the area’s abundance of natural water caught the eye of Eric Savill in 1931. He had recently become the Deputy Surveyor of the Crown Lands at the Windsor Estate and saw the opportunity to create Windsor Great Park’s first garden.
The following year, with the support of King George V and Queen Mary, Eric Savill set out to transform the landscape into the amazing garden we see today.
Eric Savill at The Savill Garden
The project was a huge success, with Savill’s design still shaping our experience ninety years later. Although it was initially called The Bog Garden because of the abundance of water, it was renamed in 1951 at the request of King George VI, to honour its creator, who was later knighted in 1955.
The Rose Garden at The Savill Garden
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
On 19 June 1937, following his succession to the throne, King George VI planted the first of 60 oak trees to commemorate the coronation. Known as the King George VI Coronation Plantation, the 20 different species were planted by representatives from 59 Commonwealth countries and are placed in positions that correspond with the compass points at which the countries lie in relation to the British Isles.
The trees can be seen today as you walk from Cumberland Lodge to Cow Pond.
Queen Elizabeth II and The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Queen Elizabeth II was passionate about the countryside. During her lifetime, Windsor had a major influence on this passion, becoming the place that she called ‘home’.
Her Majesty had a significant impact on Windsor Great Park and the wider Estate as we know it today; supporting initiatives and projects that ensured it can be enjoyed by millions of visitors every year whilst maintaining it as a haven for wildlife and securing its future for generations to come.
Queen Elizabeth II, The Temperate House, The Savill Garden
The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was the longest serving Ranger of Windsor Great Park, acting as steward for one of the nation’s most iconic landscapes for nearly 70 years. During this time, His Royal Highness became affectionately known to the Estate workers as simply ‘The Duke’.
The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
His role began in 1952 when Queen Elizabeth II, as one of her very first acts following her accession, made him Ranger of Windsor Great Park. During his time in post, The Duke made an immense contribution to Windsor Great Park, working closely and actively with the team at The Crown Estate to ensure it is both protected and improved for generations to come.
His Majesty King Charles III
His Majesty King Charles III
Explore other aspects of the Windsor Estate’s history.
The Rangers of Windsor Great Park
The role of Ranger can trace its roots back to 1559 when Sir Henry Neville was appointed Ranger in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Over the last 460 years, the post of Ranger has been held by the Sovereign and other family members, including The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Take a journey through the ages with our Historic Timeline, which tells the story of Windsor Great Park and its Royal associations, from the Battle of Hastings right through to the present day.
Conservation & Stewardship
The Windsor Estate is home to a vast array of flora and fauna. The long-term stewardship of its habitats and wildlife – by The Crown Estate – has made the Estate an internationally recognised example of biodiversity, sustainability and conservation.