Shelley 200 and the Thames

Shelley’s house in Marlow.

Poet Percy B Shelley was drowned at sea and cremated on an Italian beach 200 years ago. The anniversary of his death is Friday 8 July.

Shelley was more used to the waters of the River Thames and places associated with him can be found in the upper and lower reaches.

He first lived with his future wife Mary at 2 Nelson Square near Blackfriars Bridge.

A little later they were living on the edge of Windsor Great Park from where in 1815 the couple, with Charles Clairmont and Thomas Love Peacock*, rowed up the Thames.

They got as far as Inglesham intending to join the Thames and Seven Canal but were prevented by the £20 toll. Instead they drifted on past the Round House at the canal entrance towards Inglesham church where the reeds became too thick and the water too shallow to continue.

The party stayed at the New Inn in nearby Lechlade where today Shelley’s Walk runs past the church. The path is named after the poet because he walked along the path before writing his poem A Summer Evening Church-Yard inspired by his view from the east end of the churchyard looking towards the sunset.

Two years later in March 1817 newly married Percy and Mary moved to Marlow.

Albion House in West Street was to be their home for a year although at the time they intended to stay longer having purchased a 21 year lease. But Mary found the house to be damp and lacking direct sunshine.

They sowed seeds brought back from Switzerland where Mary had begun to write Frankenstein. Now pregnant Mary prepared a new handwritten copy for the publisher.

In between there were boat trips up and down the river to nearby Medmenham Abbey, Henley and Maidenhead.

Visitors included Claire Clairmont and her baby Allegra by Byron who was in Venice, Mary’s father William Godwin and Leigh Hunt with his family.

In September Mary gave birth to Clara and finished the couple’s travel narrative A History of a Six Weeks’ Tour which was published under Percy’s name in November. New Year’s Day 1818 saw the publication of Mary’s Frankenstein. By March the family was on its way to Italy. Percy never returned.

***Thomas Love Peacock, who organised the boat trip from Windsor to Lechlade in 1815, wrote The Genius of the Thames poem. He lived in Marlow when the Shelleys were there and later at riverside Peacock House at Shepperton.

***Although Shelley died in a storm late on the night of Monday 8 July his body was not discovered on Viareggio beach until Wednesday 17 July. It was Sunday 4 August, his birthday, when news reached London. His cremation on the beach took place on Thursday 15 August.

LECHLADE: During August this year, as the anniversaries pass, work will be taking place in Lechlade to renew the cobbles on Shelley’s Walk. They date from 1830, just fifteen years after Shelley’s visit, and many of the original setts will be retained in the resurfacing.

It is possible that the work will be completed by the first week in September which is the 206th anniversary of Shelley’s visit.

The rest of the path is known as Church Path or Bridge Walk and runs to The Trout Inn at St John’s Lock. It makes good circular walk if you return to the town along the towpath.

The church is taking the opportunity to reopen as its its main entrance the lovely early 16th-century porch known to Shelley.

Reeds behind Inglesham Church.
Shelley poster in Lerici this summer.

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