This year is the 800th anniversary of the Synod of Oxford held at Osney Abbey which stood by the Thames next to today’s Osney Lock.
The gathering at Oxford in 1222 was a special church council for all England with Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, of Magna Carta fame, in the chair.
It has been best remembered for declaring St George’s Day 23 April to be a lesser holiday which eventually led to multi-cultural saint George becoming England’s patron.
However, another decision resulted in Jews being told not to employ or mix with Christians and to wear a special badge. Although these anti-Jewish edicts, originating in Rome, were not immediately enforced it was a seminal moment and the the Church of England is marking the anniversary by making a public repentance in Oxford of this anti-semitism.
There will be a special service at Christ Church cathedral, the successor of nearby Osney, on Sunday 8 May at 2pm. Members of the Oxford Jewish Congregation have been involved in preparations and will be present along with the Bishop of Oxford and the Lord Mayor.
Osney Abbey was an Augustinian monastery founded in 1129 at the prompting of Edith who was regretting having been Henry I’s mistress. Geoffrey Chaucer who knew Osney in the late 1300s mentions the abbey in The Canterbury Tales.
The main river channel was cut by monks to drive their mill.
After the dissolution of the monastery in 1539 all that is left is a 14th-century stone barn with a high roof (just visible from Osney Lock) and a blocked window.
A 20th-century plaque on the stonework mentions Robert of Reading suffering for his Jewish faith earlier in 1222.
Runnymede claims the bells
There is a reminder on the Thames Path of Osney Abbey long before you reach Oxford. The riverside Bells of Ouzeley pub is on the towpath at Runnymede.
The name is a corruption of Osney due to the claim that Osney Abbey’s bells are here in the river having been brought downstream in 1538 by monks trying to save them from Henry VIII who was about to close the monastery.
Their rafts allegedly ran aground leaving the bells to be sucked into the muddy riverbed and lost for ever.
However, the Great Tom bell heard every evening at Christ Church Oxford is said to be a bell which remained hanging in Osney’s tower when Henry VIII briefly turned the closed abbey into Oxford’s first cathedral. Two other Christ Church bells dated 1410 are thought to be part of a bells transfer from Osney to Christ Church found in a record dated 1546.
The Runnymede inn’s name was at first spelt Ouseley without the z which more reflects the original Oxford spelling Oseney.
The inn existed at least in the 18th century and was painted by Thomas Rowlandson in about 1800. Today’s building dates from 1929 when the main road was moved from behind the pub and laid alongside the towpath.
North Meadow alongside the Thames Path at Cricklade has the largest number of the rare Snakeshead fritillary.
Now is suddenly peak time for seeing the flowering.
Most of the fritillaries are purple although in the last fifty years there has been an increase in the number of white flowers.
Within living memory the flowers were picked for local use or sent to Covent Garden but now picking is forbidden and visitors must keep to the footpaths.
The riverside path tends to have dandelions along its side but the fritillaries are close by. In the distance there is a feeling that the floodplain is ploughed but this is an illusion created by the dark purple flowers.
This weekend there is a temporary tea shop for visitors in Thames Hall by Cricklade Bridge.
Stacey’s cafe in the High Street has just closed due to retirement but nearby C & R Family Grocers is open weekdays and Saturday morning with a cafe. A £6 breakfast is served from 8am.
The Thames Path in front of the London Television Centre site was to have been narrowed for the Garden Bridge until the project was abandoned following opposition by residents and many others worried about crowds and loss of river views
In 1878, seven years after moving into Kelmscott Manor, William Morris found a riverside house at Hammermith for his London home which he called Kelmscott House. It was on the left bank like the country house.
Morris, we are told, was delighted that both his residencies were near the Thames. George Bernard Shaw called the London home ‘a magical house’ due to its mix of furnishing.
The book has a wonderful photograph showing the interior of Inglesham Church on the Thames Path near Kelmscott.
Morris took part in the campaign to preserve this church ‘as found’. It is not restored but safeguarded and so retains, even with its box pews, a feeling of reaching back to the pre-Reformation era.
In 1888 Kelmscott also gave its name to the Kelmscott Press at Hammersmith.
2034 will be the bicentenary of William Morris’s birth when maybe the V&A will stage another exhibition featuring new insights.
William Morris edited by Anna Mason (V&A/Thames & Hudson; £50).
What has changed since the pandemic hit us? On the Thames Path it is mainly the pubs which have been most affected.
A good stop just before reaching Oxford Station and crowded tourist eateries is now The Punter pub on Osney Island.
You pass the door shortly after walking through Osney Lock and over its weir bridges.
The Punter is the end house in a lovely terrace of waterside cottages. It dates from 1871 and for most of the time has been The Waterman’s Arms. There is still a Morland of Abingdon brewery tile in the brickwork.
The change of name came recently and since the lockdown the quiet pub has adopted a vegetarian and vegan menu with an emphasis on local seasonal ingredients.
The star must be the very filling mushroom & lentil burger with beef tomato, red onion marmalade and stout mayonnaise served with fries (£14). The bun includes charcoal.
For pudding there is the intriguing parsnip, macadamia and olive oil cake with duck egg & bay leaf custard (£7).
There are lots of tables, art and flowers inside and an outdoor area at the side.
This is a rare case of a pub improving despite a change of name and management. It is pleasure to visit and not just a refuelling stop.
The Punter, 7 South Street, Osney Island OX2 0BE. Open weekdays noon to 11pm. Food: until 2.30pm & 5pm – 9pm; weekends noon to 9pm.