Following their return to England in September 1814 after their European elopement (they were forced to return due to a lack of funds), Mary Shelley and her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley lived in a couple of London properties including one on this site at 87 Marchmont Street in Somers Town.

The couple lived in the Marchmont Street premises, not far from where Shelley had grown up, from 1815-16 with Mary’s step-sister (and possibly by this time Percy’s lover) Claire Clairmont. The landlady’s name was apparently a Mrs Harbottle.

In January of the second year they were in the lodgings, their son William “Willmouse” was born.

The group left the property in May, 1816, to join with Lord Byron in Geneva. It was on this trip that Shelley wrote her famous book Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.

The house in which the Shelley’s had lived – then number 26 – was demolished in 1904.

A blue plaque was placed upon the property 2009 by a residents and business group known as the Marchmont Association.

PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

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Having died in 1797 at the age of just 38, Mary Shelley’s mother and noted feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, was buried in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church.

“Her remains were deposited, on the fifteenth of September, at ten o’clock in the morning, in the church-yard of the parish church of St Pancras, Middlesex,” wrote Godwin afterwards. “A few of the persons she most esteemed, attended the ceremony; and a plain monument is now erecting on the spot, by some of her friends…”

Apart from the fact it is where her mother was buried, the grave played an important role in Shelley’s story. Not only is it said that her father, William Godwin, taught her to read her name by tracing the letters on the gravestone, it later became a place of key importance for Shelley in her developing relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In fact, it was at this gravestone that Mary and the poet would meet in secret prior to their elopement to Europe (some even speculate it was here that they first consummated their love). Secrecy was a necessity – Percy Shelley was already married and Mary’s father disapproved of their relationship.

Interestingly, Wollstonecraft is no longer buried here (although the gravestone still stands there). In 1851, as per the wishes of Mary Shelley, Wollstonecraft’s remains – and those of her husband which were buried there after his death – were removed by her grandson, Percy Florence Shelley and reinterred in the Shelley family tomb in St Peter’s Churchyard in Bournemouth.

The tomb is Grade II-listed. The lettering was restored in 1992 to mark the bicentenary of the publication of Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

PICTURE: The gravestone in St Pancras Old Churchyard (Chris Beckett/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/Image cropped and lightened)

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s thought-provoking novel, Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus, so we thought that before the year is out (the novel was actually published in January, 1818), we’d take a look 10 London locations integral to her story.

First up, it’s to Somers Town, which lies just to the north of Euston Road, where Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Mary Shelley) was born on 30th August, 1797, the second child of feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and journalist, philosopher and novelist William Godwin.

Wollstonecraft sadly died 12 days after the birth due to complications. Mary was left in the care of her father and half-sister Fanny Imlay (Wollstonecraft’s first child whose father was an American adventurer named Gilbert Imlay) and, after her father remarried in 1901, a step-mother Mary Jane Clairmont (with whom Mary would have an acrimonious relationship).

While Mary was provided with little formal education during her childhood, her father saw that she received a broad education in a range of subjects, generally described as unusually advanced for the time.

The family’s home was located at number 29 in the Polygon Building on the north side of Clarendon Square – it was demolished in 1904 and the site is now occupied by a block of council flats called Oakshott Court. There’s a commemorative plaque to Wollstonecraft on the side of the complex in Werrington Street – it was erected by the Camden London Borough Council (pictured).

Mary Shelley, meanwhile, is also commemorated in a mural in Polygon Road which depicts many of the famous figures associated with the area (her parents and future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley are also depicted in it). The mural, the work of Karen Gregory, was commissioned by the Greater London Council in the 1980s.

PICTURE: Ellaroth (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

We’ve come to the end of our Wednesday series on 10 (lesser known) memorials to women in London, so here’s the recap. We’ll kick off a new Wednesday series next week…

1. Dame Louisa Brandreth Aldrich-Blake…

2. Margaret Ethel MacDonald…

3. Lady Henry Somerset…

4. Noor Inayat Khan…

5. Ada Salter…

6. Sarah Siddons…

7. Catherine Booth…

8. Virginia Woolf…

9. Anna Pavlova…

10. Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst…

And so we come to the last entry in our series on lesser known memorials to women in London. And for our final memorial, we’re heading to Westminster where a memorial actually commemorating two women – Suffragettes Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) and her daughter Christabel (1880-1958) –  sits in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament. 

Erected in 1930, the statue, which stands atop a central pedestal set in a low wall, was, according to the plaque on the front, installed as a tribute to Emmeline’s “courageous leadership of the movement for the enfranchisement of women” and was funded through subscriptions made to the Pankhurst Memorial Fund established following her death.

Sculpted by Arthur George Walker (he also sculpted a statue of Florence Nightingale in Waterloo Place), the now Grade II-listed statue depicts Pankhurst standing with arms appealing to those before her as if addressing a crowd.

Inside the pedestal upon which the statue stands there is apparently a metal box containing some of her letters and an obituary to her published in The Times.

The statue, which was originally installed as a stand-alone monument further to the south of its current position (but still in the gardens), was unveiled on 6th March, 1930, by then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. The Metropolitan Police Band, conducted by Ethel Smyth, a friend of Pankhurst’s, played during the unveiling – some of those police officers who played had previously arrested Suffragettes.

The monument was moved to its current location in 1958 and in 1959 the low wall was added to accommodate a second memorial, this one to Dame Christabel. It consists of two medallions sculpted by Peter Hill. Located at each end of the wall on either side of the statue, they depict the Women’s Social and Political Union badge, known as the “Holloway Prison brooch”, and a portrait of Christabel (right).

There are reportedly controversial plans to move the memorial to a site in The Regent’s Park. The proposed new site, which sits inside Regent’s University grounds, was apparently selected because of the historical association of the Suffragettes with Bedford College which once stood on the site.

There is also apparently a proposal for another statue of Emmeline Pankhurst to be located on Canning Green outside the Supreme Court on Parliament Square.

PICTURES: Top – Prioryman (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0); Right – David Adams; Lower right – Lupo (licensed under CC BY 3.0/image cropped)

This statue of famed ballerina Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) is actually a replica of an original which was first installed here atop the cupola of the Victorian Palace Theatre, in Victoria Street in the West End, in 1911.

Commissioned by the theatre’s owner, Alfred Butt, it had been installed to mark Pavlova’s London debut. The ballerina, who had started her career in Russia, moved to settle in Ivy House in Golders Green in 1912 and subsequently went on to tour the world.

It is believed that the gilded statue was the work of the theatre’s architect, Frank Matcham. Larger than life-sized (although that’s hard to ascertain given its lofty position), it depicts Pavlova in a classical tutu standing on one leg in what’s known as the “arabesque” position.

The story goes that the superstitious dancer hated the idea of the statue and always refused to look at it, even pulling closed the curtains on her cab when passing.

It was removed for safe-keeping in 1939 following the outbreak of World War II but apparently lost soon after.

The replica, which was created by Hary Franchetti  based on photographs, was reinstalled in 2006. The fate of the original remains a mystery.

PICTURES: Top – amateur_photo_bore (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Below – David Adams.

Located in Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury, this bronze bust of writer and literary pioneer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was erected in 2004.

Commissioned by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, it is a copy of a bust of Woolf sculpted by Stephen Tomlin in 1931 (there is a 1953 version of the work, apparently the only 3D representation of Woolf taken from life, in the National Portrait Gallery) and was set on a Portland stone plinth designed by Stephen Barkway.

A plate on the plinth explains that Woolf, a central figure in the Bloomsbury group of writers and artists, lived from 1924 to 1939 in a house which once stood on the south side of Tavistock Square, the period when her greatest novels were written.

It also features a quote from Woolf concerning the writing of her novel To the Lighthouse – “Then one day walking round Tavistock Square I made up, as I sometimes make up my books, To the Lighthouse; in a great, apparently involuntary, rush.”

There are, incidentally, plans to erect a new life-sized, seated statue of Woolf at Richmond on the bank of the River Thames. Woolf and her husband Leonard lived for a time the riverside borough at Hogarth House (where they also ran their publishing company).

Mock-ups have been created by artist Laury Dizengremel and there is a funding appeal to raise £50,000 currently underway.

PICTURE: Maureen Barlin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Located at Denmark Hill in south London, this statue of Catherine Booth (1829-1890), co-founder of the Salvation Army, was apparently dedicated twice.

The first dedication took place in 1929, the centenary of her birth, and the second the following year when an accompanying statue of her husband William Booth – they stand on either side of the entrance to the Salvation Army’s William Booth Memorial Training College, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (he also designed the statue plinths), on Champion Park  – was also being dedicated.

The work of George Edward Wade, the bronze statue depicts Booth in her Salvation Army uniform – complete with bonnet – and has her holding a Bible pressed to her heart and reaching out with an open hand. Her husband William is also shown in his uniform, preaching from an open the Bible.

An inscription on the granite plinth below describes her “The Army Mother”. The larger than life statue was cast at the Morris Art Bronze Foundry.

There are, incidentally, exact replicas of both statues in Mile End Road in London’s east. Donated by the women of the Salvation Army in the US, that of William was unveiled in 1979 and that of Catherine a later addition, unveiled in 2015 on the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Salvation Army.

The statues are located close to the site where the Booths commenced the work of the Salvation Army in July, 1865.

PICTURE: R Sones (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/Image cropped)

Located on Paddington Green, this statue of 18th century theatrical luminary Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) was unveiled by fellow thespian Sir Henry Irving on 14th June, 1897, who apparently noted that, Shakespeare aside, Siddons was the first actor to be immortalised with a statue in London.

It is also said to be the first outdoor statue erected in London of a non-royal woman.

Seated in a pose apparently inspired by Joshua Reynolds’ 1784 painting, Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse (now in California), the marble statue, which sits on a Portland stone plinth, is the work of French sculptor Leon-Joseph Chavailliaud.

The location was apparently selected due to the fact Siddons lived at Westbourne Green from 1805 to 1817 and is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard next to Paddington Green.

The Grade II-listed statue, which was paid for by public subscription, is sadly now need of a makeover – Mrs Siddons is missing a nose.

There is, incidentally, another, earlier, statue of Mrs Siddons in London – this larger-than-life work, is located in the chapel of St Andrew in Westminster Abbey’s north transept.

The work of sculptor Thomas Campbell, it features a standing Mrs Siddons, and dates from 1845.

PICTURE: Stephencdickson (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)


Since 1991, a statue of Dr Alfred Salter (as well as his daughter Joyce and cat) had sat on the south bank of the River Thames in Bermondsey.

But after the statue of Dr Salter – MP for Bermondsey for many years – was stolen in 2011 (presumably for scrap value) and the statues of Joyce and the cat subsequently put into storage, it was decided to reassemble the group but this time adding in a new figure – that of Dr Salter’s wife Ada, whose story was certainly as significant as his.

A social reformer, environmentalist and pacifist, Ada Salter (1866-1942) was co-founder and president of the Women’s Labour League, one of the first women councillors in London (she was elected to Bermondsey in 1909) and, on being appointed Mayor of Bermondsey in 1922, the first woman mayor in London and the first Labour woman mayor in Britain.

In 1931, she was elected chair of the National Gardens Guild. Together the couple, who were both Quakers, dedicated much of their lives to helping the people of Bermondsey, regenerating slums, building model housing and planting thousands of trees.

A campaign was subsequently launched to raise funds to replace the statue of Dr Salter and install a new one of Ada and, on raising £120,000 (the £60,000 raised was matched by Southwark Council), artist Diane Gorvin, who had designed the original statue of Dr Salter, was commissioned to make them.

The resultant statues – known collectively as ‘The Salter Statues’ and ‘Dr Salter’s Daydream’ – were unveiled where the previous grouping had been found at Bermondsey Wall East near the Angel pub, in November, 2014.

While Dr Salter sits on a granite bench looking toward the river and his daughter Joyce, who leans against the river wall watched by the family cat, Ada stands nearby – also looking at her daughter – but with a spade in her hand.

Writes the artist: “The idea was to show Dr Salter in old age remembering  his young daughter when she was still alive. Ada is represented with a spade as she was so instrumental in tree and planting schemes for Bermondsey. Her left hand is designed to hold real flowers. It was important to celebrate the work of this couple who dedicated their lives to helping the local community.”

There’s a poignant aspect to the statues in that Joyce, the couple’s only child, had died at the age of eight from scarlet fever in 1910.

Ada Salter also has a garden named after her in Southwark Park.

PICTURE: Top – Loz Pycock (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 – image cropped and lightened); Right – Marc Pether-Longman (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0); Below – Steve James (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Located in Gordon Square Gardens in King’s Cross, this bust commemorates British agent Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944), who was executed during World War II.

Khan, who was of Indian descent (in fact, a direct descendent of Tipu Sultan of Mysore), had escaped to England from her home in Paris after the fall of France during World War II. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) in November, 1940, and in 1942 was recruited to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE) as a radio operator.

In June, 1943, she became the first female radio operator to be flown into occupied France. There she worked for the “Prosper” resistance network under the code name Madeleine but in October she was betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo.

Sent to Germany the following month, she was held in prison before, in September 1944, Khan and three other female SOE agents were transferred to Dachau concentration camp where they were shot on the 13th of that month. Her last word was said to have been “Liberte”.

Khan, dubbed the “Spy Princess” by her biographer, was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.

The bust of her in Gordon Square Gardens was unveiled by Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, on 8th November, 2012. A message from her brother Hidayat Inayat-Khan was read out at the unveiling.

The bust is believed to be the first stand-alone memorial to an Asian woman in the UK. The work of Karen Newman, it was commissioned by the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust.

Various inscriptions on the bust plinth provide biographical details and also record that Noor lived nearby and “spent some quite time in this garden”.

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

A bird bath and drinking fountain located in Victoria Embankment Gardens, this monument dedicated to Lady Henry Somerset – a key temperance campaigner – was unveiled in the late 19th century.

Lady (Isabella) Somerset (1851-1921) was president of the British Women’s Temperance Association from 1890 to 1903, president of World’s Women’s Christian Temperance Union between 1989 and 1906, and founder of a farm colony for inebriate women near Reigate in Surrey.

The monument isn’t actually a true memorial – Lady Somerset was still alive when the bronze, sculpted by GE Wade was unveiled on 29th May, 1897. It had been commissioned by the “Children of The Loyal Temperance Legion” to commemorate Lady Somerset’s “work done for the temperance cause”.

The monument – which depicts a young girl holding out a basin – was Grade II-listed in 1958.

The original statue, however, was stolen in 1971 after it was sawn off at the feet. The statue which now stands there is actually a replica – by Philomena Davidson Davis – installed in 1999.

As well as the dedication, the rough granite plinth upon which the statue stands bears the rather odd inscription (given Lady Somerset’s campaigning), “I was thirsty and ye gave me drink.”

PICTURE: Top – Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0); Right –  Another Believer (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Located on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, this rather elaborate monument commemorates Margaret Ethel MacDonald (1870-1911), wife of the first British Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, a noted feminist and social activist.

The Grade II-listed monument, which was unveiled in December, 1914 – three years after her death (which occurred before her husband became PM), stands not far from the flat where she lived with her husband and their children at Number 3.

It features a granite seat atop which is a bronze group of sculptures of nine children gathered around the kneeling MacDonald – the work of Richard Goulden. At the top of the seat – just below the sculptures, is a dedication to MacDonald “who spent her life in helping others”.

On the rear is a plaque containing biographical details and further dedication ending with the words that she “took no rest from doing good”.

PICTURE: mapa mundi (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 


We’re kicking off a new Wednesday series this week and in honour of the fact that a statue of Millicent Fawcett became the first commemorating a female to be erected in Parliament Square earlier this year, we’re looking at 10 other memorials – lesser known ones – to women in London. 

First up, it’s a Grade II-listed monument in Tavistock Square Gardens commemorating Louisa Brandreth Aldrich-Blake (1865-1925), the first female surgeon in Britain and pioneer of new surgical methods treating cancers of the cervix and rectum. She was also dean of the London School Of Medicine For Women.

This double-sided monument, which sits above a curved seat, features two busts of Dame Aldrich-Blake, both holding a book. On the sides of the monument are the depictions of the Rod of Asclepius – an intertwined staff and serpent long used as a symbol for the medical profession.

The base and seat were designed by Edwin Lutyens – the man behind the Cenotaph – and the identical bronze busts were the work of Arthur George Walker.

The monument was apparently erected in 1926, a year after Dame Aldrich-Blake’s death, in a rather fitting location, Tavistock Square is the location of the headquarters of the British Medical Association in BMA House.

As well as listing her achievements in the world of medicine, the monument bears the rather uplifting inscription: “The path of the just is as the shining light”.

PICTURE: Top – Stu’s Images (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0); Right – Robin Sones (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)  

We’re starting a new Wednesday series but before we do, here’s a recap…

10 islands in the Thames – 1. Chiswick Eyot…

10 islands in the Thames – 2. Oliver’s Ait…

10 islands in the Thames – 3. Brentford Ait…

10 islands in the Thames – 4. Isleworth Ait...

10 islands in the Thames – 5. Corporation Island (and the Flowerpots)…

10 islands in the Thames – 6. Glover’s Island…

10 islands in the Thames – 7. Eel Pie Island…

10 islands in the Thames – 8. Thames Ditton Island…

10 islands in the Thames – 9. Taggs Island…

10 islands in the Thames – 10. Garrick’s Ait…

We launch our next new series next Wednesday…

And so we come to the final entry in our Wednesday special series on River Thames islands. 

Garrick’s Ait, which was previously known as Shank’s Eyot, lies only a few hundred metres upstream from Taggs Island and is said to be the only island in Britain named after an actor – in this case, 18th century star David Garrick.

Similarly to other Thames islands, it was traditionally used to grow and harvest willow osiers but was later popular for picnics and camping. There were apparently no permanent buildings until the 1920s and 1930s when wooden cabins begin to appear on the island and it’s now home to about 20 houses (three were reportedly destroyed in a 2003 fire).

The island took on the name of Garrick’s Ait (ait, like eyot, we recall, being a name for a river island) after the actor bought a property on the Hampton bank in 1754 which he named Garrick’s Villa. In its grounds he famously built a garden folly known as the Temple to Shakespeare.

The ait, which can only be accessed by boat and which sits closer to the Molesey bank than the Hampton bank, was apparently one of three Thames islands that Garrick bought in the area (along with several properties).

PICTURE: © David Kemp (licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0)

 


Formerly known as Walnut Tree Island (among other names), this Thames River island, which lies just upstream of Hampton Court Place, was once a playground for the wealthy and is now home to about 100 residents living in houseboats.

The island was once part of the manor of Hampton Court and by the mid-19th century was home to a number of squatter families who made a living by harvesting osiers (willow rods) used in basket weaving.

In 1850, it was purchased by a property speculator and lawyer Francis Kent (another name for the island was Kent’s Ait) who evicted the squatters and rented part of the island to Joseph Harvey, who established a pub called The Angler’s Retreat there. Another part he leased to a local boatbuilder and waterman named Thomas George Tagg who set up a boat rental and boat-building business there.

In the 1870s, Tagg – whose name became that of the island’s – took over the licence of the pub and built a larger, more imposing hotel in its place, transforming the backwater establishment into a high society favourite. Among its patrons were none other than Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and the actress Sarah Bernhardt.

The island also become a mooring site for luxurious houseboats and by the 1880s, the island was ringed with the craft – among those who rented one was none other than JM Barrie, later the author of Peter Pan.

In 1911, Tagg’s original lease of the island ran out and it was subsequently taken by Fred Karno (formerly known as Fred Westcott), a theatre impresario who is credited with having ‘discovered’ Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel and who had stayed in houseboats on the island.

He subsequently built a luxurious hotel there, The Karsino, which he sold in 1926, but which went on to change hands several time over the ensuring years (and names – it became known variously as the Thames Riviera and the Casino Hotel).

Eventually, in a badly dilapidated state, the hotel once known as The Karsino was demolished in 1971 (but not before putting in an appearance in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange).

Karno also owned a luxurious houseboat, the Astoria, which was once moored on the island but which is now owned by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour (who adapted it into a rather stylish recording studio in the Eighties – A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell were apparently both recorded here) and moored upstream on the northern bank of the Thames.

A road bridge was built to connect the island to the mainland in the 1940s – when the island was being used to produce munitions – but this collapsed in the 1960s.

A new bridge was built to the island in the 1980s and a small lagoon carved out of the centre to increase the number of mooring sites for houseboats.

No homes are these days permitted to be constructed on the island but it’s still a mooring place for houseboats, some 62, in fact. These days the island owned by an association of the houseboat owners who each have their own garden on the island.

In the centre of the island is a rather unique sundial (see below). And just to the south-east of Taggs Island lies the much smaller Ash Island; the stretch of water separating the two was apparently once known as Hog’s Hole.

PICTURES: Top – Houseboats on Taggs Island ( Motmit at en.wikipedia/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0) ; Right – The Karsino in 1924 (Adam37/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0); Below – The sundial (stevekeiretsu/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

We’re skipping upstream, past a few islands this week, to take a look at Thames Ditton Island which lies in Kingston Reach, above Teddington Lock. The island is the largest of a group of three which also includes Swan Island (the smallest) and Boyle Farm Island.

Located opposite the grounds of Hampton Court Palace (built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the early 16th century and then, following his fall from grace, claimed by King Henry VIII in 1525), the 320 metre long Thames Ditton Island owes its existence to King Henry who had the river widened and straightened here so that he could use the river for an uninterrupted journey up the river from Westminster to Hampton Court. In doing so, the island was created.

Used as pasture land for the local manor (and known apparently at one point as Colly’s Ait, ait being a word for a river island, before being renamed Thames Ditton after the village on the west bank) for several centuries, the island became a popular recreation spot for the wealthy interested in water sports during the Edwardian era, thanks to the arrival of the railway in the area in the late 19th century.

The island is these days connected to the Thames Ditton bank by a 1930s suspension bridge which ends near the 13th century Ye Olde Swan pub. It is now home to more than 45 rather exclusive riverside properties (almost all are in stilts to help ward off the danger of flooding, a phenomenon with which long-term residents in the area are familiar).

Swan Island, while lies just to the south of Thames Ditton Island, is tiny and the location of the home of the ferryman, who up until 1911, would take people across the river to Hampton Court.

Further to the south likes Boyle Farm Island which also has a single house open it. It stands opposite the mainland property formerly known as Boyle Farm but now a nursing home known as the Home of Compassion.

Interestingly, while Thames Ditton Island is part of Greater London, Boyle Farm Island is part of Surrey (along with Thames Ditton village).

PICTURE: Andrew Lewin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

And so we come to one of the most curiously named, yet perhaps most famous, of all the Thames islands in London.

First, to the name. The almost nine acre island, which was previously divided into two and perhaps even three, was previously known by other names including Twickenham Ait and Parish Ait. A place of recreation since perhaps as early as the start of the 17th century – there’s an early reference to a bowling alley being located there, since at least the mid-18th century it was also home to an inn, known variously as The Ship and The White Cross.

During the 19th century, the island became a popular destination for steamer excursions and the inn was rebuilt on a grander scale in about 1830. It became famous for the eel pies that could be bought there – so popular were they that the island’s name was apparently changed in tribute (although there’s a very dubious story that it was King Henry VIII who first made the island’s eel pies famous by stopping to sample one from a stall there – that, however, seems unlikely).

Second, to the fame. Now known as the Eel Pie Hotel, in the first half of the 20th century the inn began an association with music which would see it one day make an important contribution to the development of British pop music.

Dances were held there in the 1920s and 30s and in the mid-1950s, jazz sessions were held there. By the Sixties, the venue – under the stewardship of Arthur Chisnall – had started to attract R&B bands and among those who played here in the following years were everyone from Eric Clapton (as part of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) and The Rolling Stones to The Who, The Moody Blues, David Bowie and Rod Stewart. In 1967, the venue was forced to close due to the cost of repairs but reopened briefly in 1969 as ‘Colonel Barefoot’s Rock Garden’, attracting bands including Black Sabbath, Hawkwind and the Edgar Broughton Band.

The new venture didn’t last. Squatters moved in and in 1971, the hotel burned down in a “mysterious” fire while it was being demolished.

The island, the centre of which was again damaged by fire in 1996, now hosts about 50 homes and a few boatyards as well as other businesses and artist’s studios. It’s also home to the Twickenham Rowing Club, which was first established in 1860 and moved to the island in 1880.

While for many years it could only be accessed by ferry, the island can these days be accessed via a footbridge (the first bridge was installed in 1957 and replaced in 1998).

Notable residents on the island have included William Hartnell, the original Dr Who, and inventor Trevor Baylis (best known for the wind-up radio). The island has appeared in several books and TV shows including the 2005 series How To Start Your Own Country in which TV personality Danny Wallace attempted to “invade” the island. He was unsuccessful.

PICTURES: Above – Eel Pie Island from Twickenham. Below – A signboard tribute to the island’s musical heritage. (David Adams).

Originally known as Petersham Ait, this small island located in a stretch of river known as Horses Reach between Petersham and Twickenham was renamed Glover’s Island after it was bought by a Richmond-based waterman, Joseph Glover, in 1872. 

Having originally paid the sum of £70 for it, in 1895 Glover advertised it for sale for the rather higher sum of £5,000. The Richmond Corporation was approached but declined to pay such a high sum and so a couple of years later Glover, apparently in a move designed to put pressure on the municipal authorities, put the island up for auction with the suggestion it could be sold to Pear’s Soap Company and a massive advertising billboard erected on it.

Amid concerns over the need to preserve the view from Richmond Hill from such an atrocity, efforts were made to raise public funds to purchase the island at auction but when the auction came around – in September, 1898 – only £50 had been raised.

It didn’t matter – the highest bid at the auction only reached £200, however, so Glover didn’t sell, nor did he accommodate a local resident who apparently subsequently offered £1,000 for the island (with the intention of passing it on to the Richmond Corporation). Instead, Glover withdrew it from sale.

Temporarily, it seems. Because in 1900, Richmond Hill resident – as well as businessman, art collector and philanthropist – Max Waechter, later Sir Max, bought the island for an undisclosed price and gave it to council with the condition that it never be developed.

It remains so to this day – the uninhabited, heavily wooded half acre island, which was raised to its present height using rubble excavated from London Tube tunnels in the 19th century, still provides a pleasant feature in the landscape for those looking out from Richmond Hill and, with the view now protected by an Act of Parliament, that’s not likely to change.

PICTURE: View from Richmond Hill of the Thames and Glover’s Island (David Adams)