The Compleat Angler at Marlow

Left (south) bank hotel between bridge and weir
Compleat Angler website

Stylish, luxurious, romantic; the award winning Macdonald Compleat Angler Hotel is a magical riverside retreat. ... Quietly nestled on the banks of the River Thames, it's the perfect spot for taking to the water - we even have our own private launches and boats for hire.
The hotel is an inspired choice to host your next meeting or event, and perfect for fairy tale weddings, too.
If food is your passion, then you'll be spoilt for choice here; the Macdonald Compleat Angler has not one but two award winning restaurants, both offering gourmet fine dining in stunning surroundings. After a long day exploring the delights of the local area, relax in our luxurious four star en-suite accommodation, next to the cascading waters of Marlow Weir.

1600s: A small inn with 6 rooms [now 64 en-suite]

The name of the hotel is the title of the great fishing book "The Compleat Angler" (etext) published in 1653 by Isaak Walton (1593-1683). Included is The Angler's Song
Listen to 'The Angler's Song'

As inward love breeds outward talk
The hound some praise, and some the hawk
Some, better pleas'd with private sport
Use tennis, some a mistress court:
But these delights I neither wish
Nor envy, while I freely fish.
 
Who hunts, doth oft in danger ride;
Who hawks, lures oft both far and wide
Who uses games shall often prove
A loser, but who falls in love,
Is fetter'd in fond Cupid's snare:
My angle breeds me no such care.
 
Of recreation there is none
So free as fishing is alone;
All other pastimes do no less
Than mind and body both possess:
My hand alone my work can do,
So I can fish and study too.
 
I care not, I, to fish in seas,
Fresh rivers best my mind do please,
Whose sweet calm course I contemplate,
And seek in life to imitate:
In civil bounds I fain would keep,
And for my past offences weep.
 
And when the timorous Trout I wait
To take, and he devours my bait,
How poor a thing, sometimes I find,
Will captivate a greedy mind:
And when none bite, I praise the wise
Whom vain allurements ne'er surprise.
 
But yet, though while I fish, I fast,
I make good fortune my repast;
And hereunto my friend invite,
In whom I more than that delight:
Who is more welcome to my dish
Than to my angle was my fish.
 
As well content no prize to take,
As use of taken prize to make:
For so our Lord was pleased, when
He fishers made fishers of men;
Where, which is in no other game,
A man may fish and praise his name.
 
The first men that our Saviour dear
Did choose to wait upon him here,
Blest fishers were, and fish the last
Food was that he on earth did taste:
I therefore strive to follow those
Whom he to follow him hath chose.
                         W. B.

The Compleat Angler ends with words that confirm, what, as a non angler, I have always suspected, that the business of angling is a mere by-product of the essential activity, which ought simply to be meditation in peace -

.. so when I would beget content, and increase confidence in the power, and wisdom, and providence of Almighty God, I will walk the meadows, by some gliding stream, and there contemplate the lilies that take no care, and those very many other various little living creatures that are not only created, but fed, man knows not how, by the goodness of the God of Nature, and therefore trust in him.
This is my purpose;
and so, let everything that hath breath praise the Lord:
and let the blessing of St. Peter's Master be with mine.
... And upon all that are lovers of virtue;
and dare trust in his providence;
and be quiet;
and go a Angling.
"Study to be quiet."

1859: The Thames, Mr & Mrs Hall

Marlow is the very paradise of the Thames angler: perhaps no part of the whole river, from its rise to its mouth, will afford him safer assurance of a day's sport; such sport, that is to say, as will content the unambitious lover of "the gentle craft"; for if he covet to excel in its loftier achievements he must "go further afield", and make acquaintance with streams more accommodating than that of the good and generous old "Father".
But the Thames angler loves the river hereabouts, not only because it seldom fails to fill his basket — here he obtains all the other enjoyments which our king of island rivers abundantly supplies. Does he seek health and quiet? — He finds them here. Does he love nature — the rural sounds as well as rural sights that give pure and true enjoyment? — They are here — everywhere. Does he seek to call up, in fancy, the great of bygone ages — the worthies of his country, in pulpit, in senate, or in arms —

The dead —
Who rule our spirits from their urns?

Nowhere can he obtain so many associations with the heroic past.

COMPLEAT ANGLER, MARLOW
THE INN AT MARLOW

Nor is it to be forgotten that among the other attractions of Marlow is one of the prettiest and pleasantest inns remaining in railway-ridden England; with a must kindly and accommodating landlady, who seems, by intuition — and certainly is from long practice — aware of all the ways and wants of brethren of the angle, who are her best, and, indeed, almost her only customers; for her "hostelry" is not in the town, but in a quiet nook close by the bridge on the Berkshire side of the river.
Fortunate will he be who is a dweller here; especially if Rosewell, one of the eldest and best of Thames fishermen, be his companion and guide to the several "pitches" where he is to look for his day's sport.

FISHING PUNT
FISHING PUNT

He will rise with the lark, and all will be ready for him; the neat and clean punt is moored close beside that pretty little summer-house of trees and climbing flowers; the baits are in — gentles, and red worms, and graves, with soaked bread and clay for the manufacture of ground-bait; the rake will be there too, for at mid-day, probably, he will have a "try" for gudgeon, although his special victims are to be the roach and dace; and for these his "gentle-box" is full, the gentles being "well bred" from the liver of the ox; he has purchased them in London, no doubt; for he does not choose to incur the hazard that Rosewell's store may have been exhausted by some successful party of the day before.
He has had an early breakfast, and Mrs. Parslow has not neglected to draw an eel — a genuine Thames eel — of a pound weight, out of the tank pictured at the landing-place, and where she generally contrives to preserve a few for choice friends — true anglers, to whom alone they are given, and who alone should have them; or, it may be, he prefers the "new-laid egg" which yonder clucking hen has just contributed by way of welcome. He is off till dinner-time — or, what is more likely, if he be a genuine lover of the sport, his dinner is in the hamper that stands at the bow of the boat, for he may grow hungry just as the fish are biting most freely; and let us see the true angler who would leave a productive pitch for the best dinner that ever graced an alderman's table!
His rod is put together; it is just twelve feet in length, really tapering, but comparatively "stiff" — certainly so in the eyes of the trout fisher: it is made of bamboo, except the top, which is of hazel; his reel whistles full, and is in good order; a fine and new line of gut is fastened to his running line; the hook, very small — so small that it seems only made to suit a minnow, but is in reality large enough for a barbel of ten pounds weight — is mounted upon horse-hair of sandy colour; the float, of elongated and shapely quill, is "a pretty thing to look at"; towards the end of the line are some forty or fifty shot, small and distributed at intervals — these sink the baited hook, for he is "bottom-fishing", and contrives that the bait shall just pass half an inch or so above the gravel, and he also wishes it to sink rapidly, so as to lose as little as may be of "the swim."

He is quite ready, and meanwhile Rosewell has chosen his first pitch — there, in mid-stream; but by-and-by he will select ground somewhere nearer the bank, or perhaps a position close to those weeds that run a good way out into the current, or he may prefer a chance under those aged pollards, whose roots run almost as far into, as their branches do over, the river. The boat is moored; two poles, one at either end, prevent its moving, and keep it steady; but you see how cautiously this has been done — Rosewell knows the fish are there, and that a clumsy push would be a warning to them to remove from dangerous quarters. Carefully, and with as little stir as possible, the plummet, secured to his hook by the bit of cork let into the lead, is sunk to the bottom to sound the depth — it is ascertained to a nicety; a "half hitch", effected by twisting the line round the top of the float, prevents its slipping; two gentles are neatly placed on the hook, and the angler begins his work. Rosewell soon collects the fish by throwing in a few balls of ground-bait — bread, bran, and graves, and, it may be, coarse gentles (always desirable), mixed with clay; the clay soon dissolves, and the fish come up at a "fin gallop" to learn the source of the supply, indicated by many floating particles.
Hah! a touch! they are gathering, and are growing bold; the float is carried under; strike! the smallest bend of the wrist is enough — force will break the hair, or pull the hook out of the mouth: it is well struck — you feel by the weight that "you have him"; it is a roach of half-a-pound — you know it is a roach, although you cannot see him — he makes no sudden spring, as he would do if a dace, or, still more, if a chub; there is no mistake about it now, for he comes sailing towards the boat, and you note the redness of the eyes and fins through the water. Do not hurry — patience is the angler's virtue — he is at your hand — draw in your line gently, and remove him from the hook to the well — that heavy-looking space which stands out near the boat's stern, through which the water runs by holes made in the sides; and to which you will, before the day is over, consign some ten, or, it may be, twenty dozen of his fellow-captives, who will swim about in happy ignorance that their destiny is to be transferred to that neat and graceful basket of white-wicker-work, the form of which is as well known as the shape of a ship's anchor.
And such is Thames angling — a joy above all joys to those who love it, compared to which —

other joys
Are but toys!

And although the "business" of the angler, thus pursued, may be, as it has ever been, a theme of sneer and sarcasm with those who throw a fly across the Tweed, and land a huge salmon, after an hour's labour to subdue him, the pleasure of him "who sits quietly in a summer evening on a bank a-fishing" — as that great and good man, Sir Harry Wotton, often did, and as so many other men, as great and good, have as often done — is not to be despised by those who have the power to ramble half the world over to seek enjoyment, and to find far less of it than is found by him who is content

To see his quill or cork down sink
With eager bite of perch, or bleak, or dace.

1881: George Leslie,"Our River" writes:

One day, lunching with Calderon at the "Complete Angler" at Marlow, we were very much amused by an old Swiss waiter named "Steiner", who chatted away in broken English and French. After lunch, as we were about to leave, I bothered him by demanding "le petit Guillame" - Anglicé, the little Bill. Poor old Steiner I saw again on the occasion of a sort of second honeymoon which I spent at Marlow. Having complained to him of the thinness of some pea soup, he said "Ah! I see, not enough of the nature of the pea in it". He is since dead; and on my last visit to the "Angler" I was served by a common-place London waiter. The little coffee-room, too, had been papered fresh with a modern aesthetic wall-paper - the steady march of culture and taste is so fast and unflinching everywhere!

1885:  The Compleat Angler, Henry Taunt -

Compleat Angler, Henry Taunt, 1885
Compleat Angler, Henry Taunt, 1885
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT4857

1891: Boating Life on the Upper Thames by F Campbell Moller, M.D. -

At 2 o’'clock we are docked, with a multitudinous convoy, at the Complete Angler Hotel, Marlow — a beautiful village, with picturesque streets threading between old cottages, modern stucco dwellings and cunningly tree-hidden riverside villas.
On our way to luncheon we pass through the wide, low hall hung with rare old colored sporting prints, fishing pictures and outlined drawings of some big trout or pike caught in the neighboring waters.
Groups of boating men are lounging on the tow chairs or window side seats overlooking the willow-hung, quaint, cottage banked river, with a little steeple or two rising above the massed foliages of distant trees on the opposite shore.
From the crowd of “swagger” men whose looks, intonations and obvious breeding stamp them as native to the best sets in London, it is evident that white flannel coats and trousers — not knickerbockers - are always in good form. The striped flannels are rather going out and although solid grays or pale lavender serges are worn by some of the ultra-fashionables it is doubtless but a passing fad.
The blazer, unless one is a member of some prominent boating, college or tennis or cricket club, is generally left to Johnnie wherewith to emblazon himself.
Flannel shirts, even of white, though the most comfortable and sensible, are not much worn by those “in the swim.” White linen shirts, with all the glory of stand-up collar and white four-in-hand tie in silk or duck, are seen, a mass of dazzling white along the unbuttoned coats, for the wearing of vests [waistcoats] is tabooed on the river.
When leaving the landing stage an hour hence, and dropping his pair of sculls into their respective notches, the regular river habitué is revealed; coatless, his shirt sleeves rolled up to elbow, his white trousers snugly held about the loins by a large folded bright-colored silk handkerchief or sash passing through the waist loops, and the turned-up bottoms showing an inch or two of black silk clad ankles above his pipe-clayed buckskin rowing shoes. A little modest-colored cricket cap or flat-brimmed straw hat complete the picture of cool, immaculate freshness both in dress and person, the boating man out for a day’s gentle exercise and the various distracting sights of the river.
In a big recess forming the taproom, from whose widely-opened diamond-pane windows one can see the constant passing of the crowded boats, we stop to have a handsome girl behind the bar mix us something refreshing in the way of soda and Scotch whiskey.
The lunch room has its lattices flung open to the river breeze and the lawn of the Angler is bright with many-tinted groups of boaters; the white, cool dresses and red parasols of the women, people strolling or lounging on chairs or benches, smoking, flirting or heeding as they may the ever-beautiful, though hackneyed, song from “Dorothy,” “Queen of My Heart,” as rendered by an itinerant Italian band.
It is a wonderful kaleidoscope of moving color on the velvet greensward, backed by the rippling blue of the sun-brightened Thames, with a constant stream of pleasure craft outlined against the terraced farther shore and red-tiled roofs and angular gables seen between the gaps of the encompassing tree tops.
The room is noisy with the clatter of dishes, popping of corks and hum of conversation. The tables are crowded, and my lady and chorus girl may have to sit vis-à-vis. No one remarks, no one cares. Sunburnt-looking fellows are slicing up beef and ham at the buffet and securing accompaniments — the force of waiters is insufficient to attend to all at once — for the ladies of their respective parties who are mixing the salad at their table places. Most of the men get up to help themselves. It is the custom of the place. Three shillings pays for all one wants to eat of any and all the courses. This social atmosphere of the boating hotel is a peculiarly English phase of life.

1909: "The Parthenon By Way Of Papendrecht" by Francis Hopkinson Smith

Marlowe with that long stretch of silver bordered by nodding trees and dominated by the robber Inn - four shillings and six for a sawdust sandwich!

John Eade, Lechlade-Windsor, 87 miles completed, 13 to go
John Eade, Lechlade-Windsor, 87 miles completed, 13 to go … Marlow Church

1896: from "A Tale of the Thames" by Joseph Ashby-Sterry -

Long before the suspension bridge which here crosses the river was erected, the Complete[sic] Angler is said to have been a going concern, and though its accommodation has been increased of late years, it still retains its old-fashioned characteristics, and yet remains a typical riverside inn.
The Colonel, however, remembered it when it was about half the size it is at present. He recollected the ancient green eel-box by the waterside; he knew the old black retriever, was acquainted with the curious old Swiss waiter whom Mr George Leslie mentions, and had many anecdotes to tell of the excellent Mrs Parslow, a majestic lady who at one time owned this hostelry. He also had something to say of a notable supper in this hotel after the Eton boys had been victorious at one of the Henley Regattas of past years.
All these things he discoursed upon as the three men walked up and down the lawn and smoked. ...
"Don't be late for dinner, and do leave us for a while in peace, that we may quietly enjoy this pleasant prospect."
Auntie was not so far wrong in her notion that this view is one that should be quietly and peacefully enjoyed. The lawn of the Complete Angler is another of the delightful Thames haunts where it is mighty pleasant to lounge and chat and do nothing, with the comforting consciousness that you are doing it thoroughly.
Gazing across the river you have the prospect that Frederick Walker has gracefully idealized in his well-known picture of "Marlow Ferry" -


Marlow Ferry by Frederick Walker

Further on do you have a glimpse of the pleasant villas bordering the way to the lock, and right away to the left do you see the varied tints of the luxuriant foliage clothing Quarry Woods.
Below is the stream, rushing, seething, and boiling, lashing through the sluices, tumbling over the weir, swirling between the rymers, eddying around the willow-grown isles, sweeping over the shallows, in a hurry to get away from the artificial cut to the lock, and apparently in a greater hurry to join it some distance below.

Joseph Ashby-Sterry also wrote MARLOW CHIMES -

( Hear the voice of waters surly,
Note the foam-rings crisp and curly
See the eddies twirly-whirly,
Listen to the hurly-burly
Never ceasing, late or early ! )

OH, muse for a while by the tossing tide -
'Tis good to ponder, to moon, and dream -
Where the dimpled waters curve and glide
To ceaseless song of the swirling stream !
When to-day seems gone, and the past seems near -
As thoughts revert unto bygone times -
While the sweet, sad music of Marlow Weir
Is gaily gladdened by Marlow Chimes !

'Mid gleam and glow, as the flood runs by,
The ripples redden, the foam flies fast :
The sun sinks low, and the sea-green sky
To twilight deepens - the day is past !
While the lightsome laughter of yester year,
The poem of youth with its reckless rhymes,
Seem mingled with music of Marlow Weir,
And find an echo in Marlow Chimes !

Ah ! where are the comrades of bygone days,
And where are the joyous songs we sang ?
Where the magic charm of these waterways ?
When hearts were true and the glad chimes rang !
Alas ! There are few that remain to hear -
Though some are haunted in distant climes -
By the matchless music of Marlow Weir,
And plaintive clangour of Marlow Chimes !

Marlow Church.

Right bank below bridge

Aerial View of Marlow -

Aerial View of Marlow © Adrian Warren
Aerial View of Marlow © Adrian Warren