Michael Parkinson’s Thames Path films

Eighty-one year old Michael Parkinson of Nottingham was one of the first to suffer from Covid in March last year.

Having recovered he published his book Thames Path Walk which he had been working on since 2014.

It began with a desire to see water at the source of the Thames in Gloucestershire.

Having seen that rare sight Michael Parkinson began walking upstream from London in small sections.

His book has 190 photographs and brief mentions of odd encounters, one with a bull, but the best aspect is stated on the cover: ‘All stages linked to YouTube videos’.

These films are a welcome reminder of the route whilst we plan for when lockdown and other restrictions are fully lifted.

Those who heard Clare Balding’s recent Ramblings walk from Pangbourne to Goring will find Michael’s film of that section most rewarding.

Included is the toll bridge and a visit inside Whitchurch church. The Thames Path runs through the churchyard.

Michael Parkinson’s project took has taken so long that the controversial fencing on this section by Coombe Park does not feature in the film.

Also, there is better news upstream: no need now to follow the main road after Inglesham as the path by the river is open.

The Thames Path is always changing as does the countryside everywhere but his films remain a window and reference.

The Thames Path Walk by Michael Parkinson (The other one) is published by Paragon (£8.99).

Reading Abbey 900

The 900th anniversary of Reading Abbey’s foundation by Henry I is next June.

Will we be able to walk into Reading from the Thames Path in June?

Or up the Kennet from Horseshoe Bridge?

Marooned at home during these winter months gives us an opportunity to discover more about the heritage along the river and also plan a visit in better times.

June will be the first of many Abbey anniversaries. The strategically placed monastery, between the Thames and the River Kennet, had its charter proclaimed in 1125.

A year later the Hand of St James, which should have been with the rest of St James the Great’s body in the pilgrim city of Santiago, was given to Reading Abbey.

Archbishop Thomas Becket consecrated the Abbey Church in 1164.

Later it was the seat of Parliament.

It is still, many believe, where Henry I is buried -probably behind today’s church in a corner of the site.

The background to how Reading got an abbey can be found in a new book Henry I and his Abbey by Lindsay Mullaney who probably knows more about the abbey site than anyone else.

Henry I and his Abbey is available from Scallop ShellPress.


Convoys Wharf which replaced a field and Grinling Gibbons thatched cottage

Anniversaries in 2021 include the tercentenary of Grinling Gibbons’ death.

Sculptor and wood carver Gibbons is famous for his limewood foliage carving with cascades of lifelike flowers, fruit and leaves.

His exceptionally delicate work is found in Hampton Court, Windsor Castle and Oxford as well as many London churches.

He first came to notice when living in an isolated thatched cottage by the River Thames at Deptford where he was being employed to carve ships’ figureheads.

One winter night, probably in January 1671, John Evelyn who lived at nearby Sayes Court looked through the cottage window.

“I perceived him carving that large cartoon or crucifix of Tintoretto , a copy of which I had brought from Venice,” records Evelyn in his famous diary.

Although Gibbons had chosen the cottage so as to be able to work without interruption he welcomed Evelyn who recommended him to Charles II.

Gibbons’ work in Deptford’s St Nicholas Church was destroyed during the Second World War but the present carved reredos is in style of Gibbons.

The site of Gibbons’ cottage is now part of Convoys Wharf. The garden of Sayes Court survives as Sayes Court Park on the Thames Path.

The anniversary of Grinling Gibbons death is Tuesday 3 August when a programme of celebration for 2021-2 will begin.

St Nicholas Church in the corner of Deptford Green and next to Stowage
Part of Convoys Wharf from the river

NT 125 on Thames path

The Thames Path passes through the gates of Sayes Court Park

This year is the 125th anniversary of the National Trust’s foundation and 400 years this autumn since John Evelyn was born.

The virus has dampened planned celebrations. Indeed the NT is facing a financial and membership crisis.

Last February, just as Covid was appearing, the National Trust joined in a tree planting morning in Deptford’s Sayes Court Park to mark the John Evelyn anniversary.

The Thames Path runs through the park which is all that remains of John Evelyn’s garden.

In 1884 Octavia Hill, who was to co-found the National Trust, took part in discussions about opening Evelyn’s house and garden to the public. Sadly, by the time the NT was formed in 1895 the opportunity at Deptford had passed.

The National Trust now cares for property and land all along the Thames. The first after Deptford is The George Inn at Southwark .Another is Cock Marsh near Cookham in Berkshire.

Diarist John Evelyn spent a lot of time working in his Sayes Court garden during the interregnum following the execution of Charles I which he had witnessed .

After the Restoration in 1660 he continued to live there and encourage other landowners to plant trees as he did in Deptford.

The oldest tree in the park is a mulberry dating from 1698.

Sayes Court mulberry tree.

Much of the Sayes Court site is now covered by Convoys Wharf where until the start of this century rolls of newsprint were landed from Scandinavia. The local community awaits much discussed redevelopment which should deliver a riverside route for the Thames Path.

At present the compensation for briefly diverting from the river is not just walking through Evelyn’s garden but passing The Dog & Bell in a traffic-free street.

Richmond Draw-Off 2020

Low tide outside Richmond’s White Cross pub during the 2017 Draw-Off

Those living near Richmond in this difficult time may find it interesting to walk along the Thames Path.

Until Friday Friday 27 November the weir and lock at Richmond are being left open to allow the water to drain down at low water on each tide.

The annual Draw-Off period started on Monday and allows for maintenance. One year a car was found exposed.

The water can appear to be very shallow but wading across is not advised. The river can still be dangerous.

However, the views are unusual and give an idea of how the river may have appeared when it was tidal as far as Staines. Just for this month the first lock is at Teddington.

Downstream of Richmond low tide during Draw-Off
Trapped barges opposite Richmond

‘Harrods port’ proposal

Covered waiting area

A plan to turn Harrods Wharf into a “ferry port” has been submitted for planning approval.

Wharf owner Jamie Waller is asking the London Borough of Richmond to approve a one-storey structure with “low level lighting and facilities for people of all abilities”.

It is intended that “boats of all sizes” could use the wharf allowing for maybe a river bus service as well as the possible ferry service to Hammersmith on the opposite bank.

Also planned for the wharf alongside the towpath are “covered waiting areas, bike storage and washroom facilities”.

The concept is to bring together walkers and commuters with maybe a cafe as a focal point.

The initiative follows the closure of nearby Hammersmith Bridge for safety reasons last summer. The earliest likely date for reopening is now 2027.

The site has been offered to the London Borough of Richmond for free “to enable a swift resolution to the Hammersmith Bridge issue”.

The council, which has not responded, is expected to make the proposal public later this month and invite comments. Meanwhile a Harrods Wharf website has been launched with the first pictures.

Last week London deputy mayor for transport Heidi Alexander said that the procurement process for a ferry service could now start.

**Harrods Wharf is on the right bank downstream of Hammersmith Bridge. The Harrods building behind the wharf, resembling the Knightsbridge store in outline, is well-known as a Boat Race landmark. The former Harrods Depository, where families stored their furniture whilst serving overseas, is now part of Harrods Village.

Closed Hammersmith Bridge looking downstream

Turner’s Modern World includes the Thames

Richmond Hill

Turner’s Modern World at Tate Britain, on riverside Millbank, presents a landmark exhibition dedicated to JMW Turner (1775-1851).

The painter found new ways to record great events and changes as this exhibition of 150 works shows. Although many of the works belong to the Tate and at other times can often be viewed free it is interesting to them together .

Turner lived next to the Thames at St Margarets by choice and often sailed to the estuary.

During one trip downstream he encountered HMS Téméraire. His famous The Fighting Téméraire painting of the Naval ship’s final voyage ending at Rotherhithe, as reproduced on the latest twenty pound note (but little seen due to the virus), is included alongside its preparatory sketch for the very first time in an exhibition.

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons 1835 is Turner’s record of the disaster which changed Westminster’s waterfront for ever.

This was just a decade after he had depicted a very crowded Pool of London with the steamboat Lord Melville described as a ‘new and commodious Steam Packet’ which ran to Calais. The exhibition has an engraving of the watercolour called The Tower of London.

The Thames above Waterloo Bridge also features the new steamboats.

Near Turner’s home was Richmond Hill and its view of the Thames (as on the cover of Walking the Thames Path) which had already been reproduced by many artists.

Turner went across the river again and again to this local view which features in the exhibition as England: Richmond Hill, on the Prince Regent’s Birthday (1819). It’s a scene which is almost unchanged with Petersham Meadow and Ham House facing Marble Hill House across the flowing River Thames.

Turner’s Modern World at Tate Britain on Millbank is open daily 10am–6pm (10pm on Friday and Saturday) until Sunday 7 March; admission £22.

Tower of London

Cover: View from Richmond Hill

Visiting Wandsworth’s new Riverside Quarter

The River Wandle meets the River Thames

It is good to see walkers on the completed Thames Path route at Wandsworth’s Riverside Quarter next to the Wandle entrance.

The route from the Wandle Bridge to Wandsworth Park has long been confusing even before regeneration began. Walkers saw little of the river although they did pass the splendid Cat’s Back pub in Point Pleasant.

Now, having having crossed the River Wandle and Bell Lane Creek, you turn downstream with the Wandle to reach its confluence with the River Thames.

A new wide path sweeps round the 14-storey Nine Eastfields apartment block to allow an easy walk past Point Pleasant and its Venetian-style moorings into tree-lined Wandsworth Park.

All this change has not scared off the wildlife. Thanks to a green barrier ducks have returned to rest along the Wandle wall.

It is maybe the moment to recall that the Riverside Quarter was once the Shell Oil Terminal. Earlier, in the late 18th century there was frying pan manufacture and, during Queen Victoria’s reign, factories included one making the snap for Christmas crackers.

Turn right having crossed the Wandle
The new path leading back to the Thames
Ducks are still there

Dying Keats sails down the Thames for Naples

Jospeh Severn’s painting of the Maria Crowther

Two hundred years ago this morning John Keats left England for exile in Italy and death.

On Sunday 17 September the poet embarked at Tower Dock, now Tower Pier, next the Tower of London.

Across the water were Battle Bridge Stairs and Pickle Herring Stairs on the Bermondsey bank behind which Keats had spent time as a Guy’s hospital student.

Mid morning saw the rising tide turn and the Maria Crowther move out of the Pool of London and down river past Rotherhithe, Deptford and Greenwich.

Keats and his companion Joseph Severn on board spent part of the time dining with the captain until Gravesend was reached in mid afternoon.

The ship stayed at anchor all night and all Monday until about 9pm. On Tuesday morning the Maria Crowther was in the estuary and on passing Margate in a storm left the Thames for the English Channel.

Keats arrived in Naples on Saturday 21 October but was quarantined for ten days due to England being known to have a virus. He died in Rome the following February.

The figure of John Keats can be seen sitting on a seat in a Guy’s Hospital quadrangle garden

Mayflower book reveals new Thames links

At 4pm on Friday 4 September the Lord Speaker and Mr Speaker will be on the Palace of Westminster terrace for a delayed ceremony marking the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing for America.

An illuminated vellum scroll, a gift from the UK Parliament to the US House of Representatives, will be placed on a vessel and taken downstream to Rotherhithe before being despatched to Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the USA.

But did the Pilgrim Fathers really leave from Rotherhithe?

A new book The Mayflower in Britain: How an icon was made in London by historian Graham Taylor, claims that the passengers embarked not behind the Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe but at Blackwall.

The spot is probably Blackwall Yard which is just upstream of Virginia Quay from where the first English settlers of North America had set sail in 1606.

One was John Smith who, according to Graham Taylor, was to influence considerably the destiny of the Mayflower project fourteen years later.

Virginia Quay and Blackwall are best seen from the Thames Path as it curves round the O2 (the former Dome)

Rotherhithe in 1620, we are reminded, was not in London but merely ‘of London’ as navigation was supervised by the Port of London and the authorities did not allow emigration from tiny riverside villages.

When on the Thames Path between South Dock and Greenland Dock you are about where the lost Earl’s Creek provided docking for the Mayflower when not sailing to France to bring wine back for City vintners.

Master of the Mayflower Christopher Jones lived in Rotherhithe and some of the crew were local or from Deptford.

Graham Taylor dismisses the claims of Rotherhithe’s Mayflower pub (which advertises itself as the oldest on the Thames) to having any connection with the ship or Pilgrim Fathers.

“It changed its name to Mayflower only in 1957,” writes the author who knows Rotherhithe and Southwark intimately.

But Christopher Jones is buried in the church and depicted outside.

The 4 September ceremony is about six weeks late. Rotherhithe residents hope to be able mark the anniversary of the ship’s safe return on Sunday 16 May next year.

Graham Taylor’s Mayflower lecture at Gresham College can be viewed online on Tuesday 15 September at 6pm: register in advance on website.

The Mayflower in Britain: How an icon was made in London by Graham Taylor (Amberley £20).

From the Sea to the Source