1888: "The naturalist on the Thames" by C J Cornish -
It has been said that Thames eyots always seem to have been put in place by a landscape gardener.
Chiswick Eyot is no exception to the rule.
It covers nearly four acres of ground, and lies like a long ship, parallel with the ancient terrace of Chiswick Mall, from which it is separated by a deep, narrow stream, haunted by river-birds, and once a famous fishery.
A salmon, perhaps the last, was caught between the eyot and Putney in 1812, though the rent of the fishery used to be paid in salmon, when it was worked by the good Cavalier merchant, Sir Nicholas Crispe. The close-time for the fishery was observed regularly at the beginning of the century, the fishing commencing on January 1st, and ending on September 4th.
There are those who believe that with the increased purification of the Thames, the next generation may perhaps throw a salmon-fly from Chiswick Eyot.
In the early summer of 1895 a fine porpoise appeared above the island. At half-past eight it followed the ebb down the river, having "proved" the stream for forty miles from its mouth, and being apparently well pleased with its condition. At Putney it lingered, as might be expected of a Thames porpoise, opposite a public-house. Two sportsmen went out in a boat to shoot it; instead, they hit some spectators on the bank.
Flowers abound on the eyot. The irises have all been taken, but what was the lowest clump, opposite Syon House, has lost its pride of place, for now there are some by the Grove Park Estate below Kew Bridge.
The centre of the eyot is yellow with patches of marsh-marigold in the hot spring days. Besides the marsh-marigolds there are masses of yellow camomile, comfrey, ragged robin, and tall yellow ranunculus, growing on the muddy banks and on the sides of the little creeks among the willows, and a vast number of composite flowers of which I do not know the names.
Common reeds are also increasing there, with big water-docks, and on the edge of the cam-shedding of the lawn which fronts my house some of the tallest giant hemlocks which I have ever seen, have suddenly appeared.
I notice that in Papworth's views of London, published in 1816, arrowhead is seen growing at the foot of the Duke of Buckingham's water-gate, which is now embedded at the back of the embankment gardens at Charing Cross. There is still plenty of it opposite Hammersmith Mall, half a mile below Chiswick Eyot.
The reach opposite and including the eyot is the sole piece of the natural London river which remains interesting, and largely unspoilt. I trust that if urban improvers ever want to embank the "Mall" or the eyot, public opinion will see its way to keeping this unique bit of the London river as it is. Already there have been proposals for a tram-line running all the length of the Mall, either at the front or behind it.
The island belongs to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
There is a certain sense of the country about the eyot, because it is rated as agricultural land, though its lower end is inside the London boundary. The agriculture pursued on it is the growing of osiers. These, frequently inundated by high tides, and left dry when the ebb begins, are some of the finest on the Thames. At the present moment (January 5, 1902) they are being cut and stacked in bundles.
In the spring the grass grows almost as fast between the stumps as do the willow shoots. This is cut by men who make it part of the year's business to sell to the owners of the small dealers' carts and to costers. Formerly, when cows were kept in London, it was cut for their use. During the year of the Great Exhibition milk was very scarce, and this grass, which was excellent for the stable-fed cows, fetched great prices.
In the summer the willows, full of leaf, and exactly appropriate to the flat lacustrine outline of the eyot and the reach, are full of birds, though the reed-warbler does not always return. He was absent last year. He is locally supposed to begin his song with the words "Chiswick Eyot! Chiswick Eyot!" which indeed he does pretty exactly.
Early on summer mornings I always see cuckoos hunting for a place to drop an egg. In the summer of 1900 a young cuckoo was hatched from a sedge-warbler's nest, and spent the rest of the summer in the gardens opposite this and the next houses. All day long it wheezed and grumbled, and the little birds fed it. In the evenings it used to practise flying, and at last flew off for good.