We’re starting a new Wednesday series but before we do, here’s a recap…
We launch our next new series next Wednesday…
We’re starting a new Wednesday series but before we do, here’s a recap…
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).
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).
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)
Located between Richmond Bridge and Richmond Rail Bridge (and part of the much taken-in view from the Richmond waterfront), this is another uninhabited Thames island which is frequented by herons.
Heavily wooded, tree species include various willows and black poplars. In the 1960s, the council approved the cutting down of plane trees on the island – the willows were planted subsequently.
The name presumably comes from the Richmond Corporation – that is the Municipal Borough of Richmond – which owned the island.
Downstream of Corporation Island – also known as Richmond Ait – lay two small islands called the Flowerpots.
The tidal island, which regularly floods, was once, like other arts in the Thames, used for the production of osiers, a type of willow used to make baskets to carry produce from Middlesex to London. There were once said to be five neighbouring islands, all of which have now disappeared.
Once the property of the Duke of Northumberland (it formed part Syon Park estate, his London property, which is located nearby), the island was purchased by the Metropolitan Water Board and is now owned by Thames Water.
Covered in trees, the ait provides a sanctuary for birds – including everything from kingfishers to swifts and herons – and rare snails like the two-lipped door snail. Officially declared a Local Nature Reserve, it has been under the management of the London Wildlife Trust since 1995.
The ait cannot be accessed without permission from the trust.
Located just upstream (and around the bend) from Oliver’s Island, this 4.5 acre island (ait being a word for a river island) has also been known by numerous other names including Makenshaw and Twigg Ait.
It was (in)famously home to a pub known as The Three Swans – there’s still a series of steps on the Brentford bank which lead down to the river where people crossed it to the pub.
The pub ceased trade around the turn of the 18th century and the island is now uninhabited.
In 1920s, this long ait was planted with trees to screen the local gasworks from those looking across the river from Kew Gardens.
The island, which features willows and alders and is reportedly home to a “significant heronry” as well as other birdlife, has a gap in the middle known as Hog Hole which can apparently be seen at high tide when it effectively creates two islands.
At the western end of Brentford Ait can be found the smaller Lot’s Ait (also known previously as Barbel Island, apparently after the Barbel fish found in the river there).
This island was previously used for growing osiers used for basket-making as well as grass for cattle fodder. It has appeared on the screen including in Humphrey Bogart’s 1951 film, The African Queen.
It’s now privately owned and currently home to a boat-builders. It’s been linked to the riverbank by a footbridge since 2012.
There’s apparently no truth to that story (or at least no evidence has been found) or to the legend that there was a secret tunnel which ran under the river from the mid-stream island to the nearby Bull’s Head pub on Strand-on-the-Green in Chiswick where Cromwell was said to have had established a headquarters (the tunnel was apparently so he could escape if the Cavaliers got too close).
The island, which stands in a stretch of the river between Kew and Chiswick (just upstream from Kew Railway Bridge and downstream from Kew Bridge) in London’s west, is not quite an acre in size (and, like Chiswick Ait, it’s roughly ship-shaped) but has served various purposes over the years.
In 1777, the City of London’s navigation committee built a wooden, castle-shaped tollbooth on the island with a barge moored alongside to catch passing river trade and so fund improvements to the navigability of the river. One story says it’s that barge that apparently lent its name to the delightful nearby pub, The City Barge, but others say the pub is named after the Lord Mayor of London’s State Barge which had winter moorings nearby for a time.
In 1865 a smithy was built on the island which was used in the building and repair of barges. It was later, after the Port of London Authority took over ownership in 1909, used as a storage facility and wharves for derelict vessels. The building survived until the 1990s but is now gone – along with any other signs of civilisation.
The island, which now has a dense canopy largely made up of sycamore trees, is these days inhabited by birds – those spotted there have included mallards, cormorants, Black-headed gulls, Canada geese, Egyptian geese, mute swans, magpies and robins – as well as a range of other life – a 2014 survey found 11 species of mollusc and 35 species of vegetation and the island has also been cited as a habitat for bats and Thames door snails.
Located just off Chiswick Mall in London’s west, this 3.2 acre tidal island (one of 42 unbridged tidal islands in England) is the lowest in The Thames (and hence gets submerged at high tide – the island appears in the picture above at low tide).
Historically, the island – which is shaped like the plan of a ship sitting parallel to the Mall – was used as a location for the growing of osiers (basket willows) which were used to make baskets.
Formerly owned by the church, in 1934 ownership passed to the local council, now the London Borough of Hounslow. It declared the island a local nature reserve in 1993. Conservation days are regularly held on the island by river conservation group Thames21 (but otherwise people are requested to stay off the island).
The island is a key point on The Championship Course during the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge from Putney to Mortlake.