10 islands in the Thames – 3. Brentford Ait…

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.

PICTURE: Brentford Ait (Jim Linwood licensed under CC BY 2.0)

10 London ‘battlefields’ – 6. Battle of Turnham Green…

Battle-of-Turnham-Green

Part of the English Civil War, this battle – really no more than a skirmish – between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians which prevented the Royalists from attacking London which ultimately forced the Royalists to spend winter in Oxford.

Having taken Banbury and Oxford in the aftermath of the inconclusive Battle of Edgehill, a Royalist army had marched along the Thames Valley toward London.

On the 12th November, 1642, the Royalists had defeated two Parliamentarian regiments at Brentford to the west of the City of London. Under the command of Patrick Ruthven, Earl of Forth, but with King Charles I among them, the Royalists, who numbered some 12,000 men, then camped overnight at a site believed to be at or near the village of Turnham Green, now in west London.

Meanwhile, a Parliamentarian army under command of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essexjoined up with London militia under the command of Major General Philip Skippon at Chelsea Field. Numbering some 24,000, they advanced upon Turnham Green where the Royalists awaited them.

By 8am on the 13th, the two armies had formed lines running roughly north to south across Turnham Green, Chiswick Common Field and Acton Green with the Parliamentarian line stretching from the site of what is now Turnham Green Tube station to the grounds of Chiswick House and the Royalist lines stretching from south of Chiswick Park Tube station to the Great West Road.

Both lines apparently had infantry at the centre with cavalry on the flanks. Essex, attempting to outflank the Royalists, sent troops to high ground at Action but, concerned about splitting his army, soon withdrew them.

The battle them became something of a stalemate – Essex, not seeking to do any more than block the Royalist advance, was happy to wait while the Royalists, outnumbered, short of ammunition and said to have been unwilling to put the Londoners offside, did likewise.

Eventually, late in the afternoon, the Royalists withdrew westward and Essex, who was much criticised for it afterward, gave a half-hearted pursuit. King Charles I then ordered his army back up the Thames Valley to Oxford where they ended up passing the winter.

Less than 50 men in total are said to have died in the indecisive clash which, it can be argued, helped to ensure that the Civil War would go on for another four long years.

While much of the site of the skirmish has been built upon, glimpses of the open ground which once stood here can still be seen. There is an information panel about the battle opposite Turnham Green Tube station.

For more on the English Civil War, see Blair Worden’s The English Civil Wars: 1640-1660.