According to Mary Caine’s Kingston Zodiac, Osterley Park forms the sign of Aquarius equating it with the phoenix-eagle, or waterpot, cauldron or grail.
“The earliest Chaldean sign for Aquarius was simply a water-pot. But crested bird, Cauldron and Grail all symbolise much the same idea; rebirth on a higher octave. Crested eagles, phoenixes and even peacocks sometimes appeared on Roman and early Christian tombstones; the crest signifying where the spirit escaped from the body. Just as the old or dead were plunged into the legendary cauldron and were revived, so the phoenix rose from its own ashes with the new year.”
As you enter the park through its front gates and walk up the tree-lined Alameda you instantly become aware of its rejuvenating qualities and peacefulness. On a summer’s day a breeze whistles through the towering row of trees before you reach the lake which forms the phoenix’s left leg.
A royal legend that adds intrigue to the zodiac theory is the story of how Edward III gave Osterley to a man called Fawkener on condition that he rode round it annually with a falcon on his wrist. This appears to be an example of nominative determinism.
‘Three adjacent signs here stamp Man’s evolutionary journey on the landscape – from primal innocence through bitter experience to final illumination.’
The 5ociety concurs with Caine’s theory on the origin of the place-name ‘Oster-ley’ associating it with the goddess Ostara as well as the Great West ley-line that becomes the ‘A30 ley-line’. The Piccadilly line runs through Osterley and according to Alfred Watkins and a book called ‘London’s Ley Lines – Pathways of Enlightenment’ is itself a ley-line that runs parallel to the Great West Road at this juncture.
Two eagles stand guard over the en-trance to Osterley House and an aviary once existed nearby in the park that housed among other creatures, the gold pheasant and bald eagle that are both associated with the phoenix.
Horace Walpole of Strawberry Hill remarked on Osterley House
“Oh, the palace of palaces! And yet a palace sans crown, sans coronet, but such expense! Such taste! Such profusion! The old house I have often seen, which was built by Sir Thomas Gresham; but it is so improved and enriched that all the Percies and Seymores of Syon must die with envy.”
He was less enamoured with the park itself labelling it ‘the ugliest spot in the universe’. Anyone who visits Osterley Park today will probably think the opposite especially if they venture into the gardens to the rear of the house which contain a Robert Adams Orangery and Temple of Pan and is one of the most idyllic corners of England but sadly the National Trust has in recent years placed a paywall at its en-trance. Among its other natural wonders are a sacred grove of rhododendrons, a walled garden and mature cedars.
Nevertheless, the common man, a theme of Aquarius, can still wander freely along the lake and through another copse of mature cedars beside Osterley House adorned by its dreamy wisteria like a jewelled necklace and can still enter the gardens for a few pounds.
If you are early enough and fortunate you can see the sight of a swan using the lake as a runway before taking flight signifying the freedom and majesty the Holy Grail of Osterley heralds for one and all.