THE RIVER THAME
NB:- The River 'Thames' rhymes with 'gems'
But the River 'Thame' rhymes with 'name'
So here we name the River Thame
As one of the gems of the River Thames.
But one that starts a bit of a crisis
Because up from here some call Thames 'the Isis' JCE
In Oxford they give the main river the name of 'Isis'.
So, if you wish to be polite to those who hold it to
be so, the river should be called 'Isis' from here to above Godstow.
See 'You are old, Father Thames' at St Johns Lock
1910: River Thame in
Thames Valley Villages by Charles G Harper
Right Bank inflow of the River Thame which starts with a very tightly curved meander
River Thame Footbridge
1808: Turner -
Union of the Thames and Isis ('Dorchester Mead, Oxfordshire) exhibited 1808
1811: The bridge had apparently been replaced -
Junction of the River Thames (aka Isis) and the River Thame, near Dorchester
River Thame Footbridge, from above -
On the River Thame from above its bridge under which it enters the Thames
The Thame is navigable for manually propelled boats at least to Dorchester, swans permitting. But recently at Dorchester the swans were difficult and there seems nowhere to stop that will allow access to the village.
1889: Jerome K Jerome -
Dorchester stands half a mile from the river. It can be reached by paddling up the Thame, if you have a small boat.
On the River Thame, 2004
1906: G.E.Mitton -
The Thame Its arching trees and corners, and deep shady alleys, make it a delightful place for an idler. It runs close by the abbey church.
And suddenly we stumble on pure history - for fourteen centuries ago St Birinius arrived here in what was the territory of the fierce West Saxons and promptly converted King Cynegils of Wessex and baptised him and many of his people on this very spot on the Thame near Dorchester.
1890-1900: Dorchester Thame Bridge, Frederick John Hall -
Dorchester Thame Bridge, Frederick John Hall
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; D211685a
1929: A Thames Survey -
Dorchester Bridge, eighteenth century, carries the London - Oxford road across the Thame about half a mile from its junction with the Thames; built of stone with stone balustrade and ramped approaches, good design and worthy of preservation. No increase in width required, as at present it tends to check speed of traffic on main road entering Dorchester.
1906: Mortimer Menpes, Dorchester Backwater -
Dorchester Backwater, Mortimer Menpes, 1906
Note the punting position.
This is the classic Thames punting
position with the punt bows first, but standing in front of the till.
Since this is neither Oxford nor Cambridge style,
and that elsewhere the punting clubs tend to specialise in racing
punts, this position is going out of fashion.
The other styles adopted today are:
the Oxford position (stern first);
the Cambridge position (bows first as above but standing on the till);
and of course the racing punt in which the punter stands centrally.
George Leslie, who has often been quoted in this book, used to run his punt, walking to the bows and then planting his pole and walking to the stern through the shove. But he does mention the new-fangled Oxford style (1881).
The at rest position shown has the pole held, not at the top as would be normally correct, but about a third of the way down. This indicates that the water is shallow and is done to prevent the tip of the pole trailing on the bottom.
The Thame is much more overgrown now than shown here.
1610: Camden -
when a little beneath Oxford Isis and Cherwell have consociated their waters together within one channell,
Isis, then entier of himselfe and with a swifter current, runneth Southward to find Tame
whom so long he had sought for.
And gone he is not forward many miles, but behold Tame streaming out of Buckinghamshire meeteth with him, who is no sooner entred into this shire but hee giveth name to Tame, a mercate towne situate very pleasantly among the rivers. For Tame passeth hard by the Northside, and two riverets shedding themselves into it compasse the same, the one on the East, and the other on the West.
At the length Tame, by Haseley, where sometimes the name of Barentines flourished, as at Cholgrave, commeth to Dorchester, by Bede termed Civitas Dorcinia , by Leland Hydropolis, a name devised by his owne conceit, yet fit enough, considering that dour in the British tongue signifieth water.
That this towne was in old time inhabited by Romanes, their coined peeces of money oftentimes turned up doe imply, and our Chronicles record that it was for a long time much frequented by reason of a Bishops See, which Birinus the Apostle of the West-Saxons appointed to be there. For when he had baptised Cinigilse, a petie King of the West-Saxons, unto whom Oswald King of Northumberland was Godfather, both these Kings, as saith Bede, gave this Citie unto the same Bishop to make therein his Episcopal residencie. This Birinus, as we may read also in Bede, was wonderfully in those daies admired for a deepe conceived opinion of his holinesse, whereupon an ancient Poet who penned his life in verse wrote thus of him:
More worthy for to be extold than Hercules for might,
Or that great King of Macedon who Alexander hight:
For Hercules subdued his foes, and Alexander he
Wonne all the world by force of armes. But our Birinus, see,
Did vanquish both, nor conquerd he onely the world and so,
But in one fight subdu' d himselfe, and was subdued also.
After 460 yeeres, Remigus Bishop of this place, least the name of Bishop should loose credit in so small
a city (a thing forbidden in the Canons), in the reigne of William the First translated his seat to Lincolne.
At which time this city of Dorchester (as Malmesbury saith, who then flourished)
De gestis pontificum Anglorum was but slender and of small resort, yet the majesty of the Churches was great,
whether you respected either the old building or the new diligence and care emploied thereupon.
Ever since it began by little and little to decay, and of late by turning London high way from hence,
it hath decreased so as that of a citie it is scarse able now to maintaine the name of a towne,
and all that it is able to doe is to shew in the fields adjoyning ruines onely and rubbish,
as expresse tokens of what bignesse it hath beene.
A little beneath this towne Tame and Isis, meeting in one streame, become hand-fast (as it were) and joyned in Wedlocke, and as in waters, so in name they are coupled, as Jor and Dan in the Holy Land, Dor and Don, in France, whence come Jordan and Dordan. For ever after this the river by a compound word is called Tamisis, that is, Tamis. Hee seemeth first to have observed this who wrot the book entituled Eulogium Historiarum. Now as touching this marriage of Isis which you may read or leave unread at your pleasure:
Heere Zephyrus with fresh greene grasse
The Banks above doth spread,
Faire Flora with ay-living herbs
Adorneth Isis head.
Most lovely Grace selected forth
Sweet floures that never dy,
And gladsome Concord plats therof
Two gurlands skilfully.
With all God Hymenaeus lifts
His torches up in hie.
A Bride-chamber the Naiades
Beneath of rare device
And bed do reare, ywov' n with warp
Beset with stones of price,
Meane while, down Catechlanian hils
Tame, gliding, kindled had
The fire of love in hope of Ise,
Her husband wondrous glad.
Impatient now of all delay
She hastneth him to wed,
And thinks the daies be long untill
The meet in marriag-bed.
Untill, I say, ambitious she
May now before her love
Her owne name set: see whereunto
Ambition minds doth move!
And now by this shee leav' s the town
That known is by her name.
"All haile, fare well" redoubling to
The Norrises by the same.
Old Dorchester at length she sees
Which was to give presage,
And lucky Augury of this
Long wished marriage.
... then Tame and Isis both,
In love and name both one,
Hight Tamisis, more joys therein,
And hastning to be gone,
Ariseth up and leaping out
With hastfull hot desire,
Advanceth forth his streame, and seeks
The Ocean main his sire.
1653: Isaac Walton in The Compleat Angler quotes -
And, first, for the rivers of this nation: there be, as you may
note out of Dr. Heylin's Geography and others, in number three hundred
and twenty-five; but those of chiefest note he reckons and describes as
The chief is THAMISIS, compounded of two rivers, Thame and Isis; whereof the former, rising somewhat beyond Thame in Buckinghamshire, and the latter near Cirencester in Gloucestershire, meet together about Dorchester in Oxfordshire; the issue of which happy conjunction is Thamisis, or Thames; hence it flieth betwixt Berks, Buckinghamshire, Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Essex: and so weddeth itself to the Kentish Medway, in the very jaws of the ocean. This glorious river feeleth the violence and benefit of the sea more than any river in Europe; ebbing and flowing, twice a day, more than sixty miles; about whose banks are so many fair towns and princely palaces, that a German poet thus truly spake:
We saw so many woods and princely bowers,
Sweet fields, brave palaces, and stately towers;
So many gardens drest with curious care,
That Thames with royal Tiber may compare.
1765: The Gentleman's Magazine -
To the Author of the remarks on the Account of Oxford, February 1765
... Having lived a long time in Oxford, I knew as well as you, that the main river in Oxford is called the Isis; and, as it now appears, better than you, that the true name of the river is the Tems, or Thames.
Your opinion that the name of the Thames is formed from Thame, and Isis, has indeed been universally received; and yet it is absolutely false.
Scholars have called the river Isis, but the country people, call it the Thames quite from its source
and in an old charter, granted to Abbott Aldhelm, particular mention is made of certain lands, upon the East part of the river,
cuius vocabulam Temis iuxta vadum quod appellatur Summerford
and as this Summerford is in Wiltshire, it is manifest that the river was then called Temis, or Tems, before its junction with the Thame.
The same thing appears in every charter and authentic history where this river is mentioned, particularly, in several charters granted to the Abbey of Malmsbury, and in some old deeds relating to Cricklade, both which places are also in Wiltshire.
All our historians, who mention the incursions of Aethelwold into Wiltshire in 905, or of Canute in 1016, tell us, that they passed over the Thames at Cricklade.
The Saxons called it Temese quite from its source, and from Temese our Tems, or Thames, is immediately derived.
The word seems to have been originally British, and as it is the name of several rivers in different parts of the island, particularly of the Thame, whose name the Isis has been supposed to borrow, the Tame in Staffordshire, the Teme which divides Shropshire and Herefordshire, the Tamar in Cornwall; and many others.
Mr Lloyd, the Welsh antiquary, affirms, that the Saxon Temese, was derived from their Taf, or Tavuys, a name common to many Welsh rivers, signifying a gentle stream. ...
It has to be said that the news that they do not live on the River Thames would be a surprise to people who live in Lechlade on Thames. And indeed as you proceed up the Thames past the little bridge under which the Thame enters, you realise that the Thame makes little contribution, and what you are on is substantially the same river. So what is this all about? It is (in the archaic sense) a conceit - an imaginative fancy - brought about, one assumes, because the inhabitants of the ivory towers of Oxford preferred some classical allusion in the name of their river over the commonplace "Thames" with its barges and commerce. See Thames Bridge above Oxford.
I shall sing you no songs here of the river in the first person of a water-nymph, a goddess, and I know not what, according to the humour of the ancient poets; I shall talk nothing of the marriage of old Isis, the male river, with the beautiful Thame, the female river (a whimsey as simple as the subject was empty).
However other authors are more weak minded: George Leslie, "Our River" -
It is not only the classic nature of the ground
that makes this spot memorable;
here it is also that the Isis weds the Thame.
The junction of these two rivers is a very quiet sort of affair, the meek little Thame running into the Isis from beneath a humble tow-path bridge, reminding one of a wedding à la mode between aristocracy and plutocracy; the Thame bringing little beside its name and title to its great rich bride the Isis, with her wealth of waters.
I explored the Thame for some distance up when I lived at Dorchester; it is a quiet little river, with one or two mills on it of some beauty, but in general it runs along in a very ordinary way between rows of pollard willows.
1859: The Thames, Mr & Mrs Hall
We approach Wallingford, but within a mile or two of this town the voyager will pause at a narrow bridge, about twenty feet in length, which crosses a poor and somewhat turgid stream. The tourist would row by it unnoticed, as of "no account", but that he knows this to be the famous river Tame[sic], and that here it joins the Thames — or, if the fanciful will have it so, "the Isis"; this being the marriage-bed of the two famous rivers, who hence forward become one; for from this spot, according to the poet, —
Straight Tamisis stream,
Proud of the late addition to its name,
Flows briskly on, ambitious now to pay
A larger tribute to the sovereign sea.
Although most of the poets have described "Tame" as of the rougher, and "Isis" as of the gentler sex, they are not all of one mind on this subject. Camden celebrates the Tame as a female —
Now Tame had caught the wish'd-for social flame
In prospect, as she down the mountains came.
With Drayton, Tame is the bridegroom —
As we have told how Tame holds on his even course,
Return we to report how Isis from her source
Comes tripping with delight.
He calls her also — "the mother of great Thames". Pope, in allusion to the Thames, makes reference to —
The famed authors of his ancient name,
The winding Isis and the fruitful Thame[sic].
As the smooth surface of the dimpled flood
The silver-slipper'd virgin lightly trod.
Spenser has this passage: —
Him before thee went, as best became
His ancient parents, namely, the ancient Thame
But much more aged was his wife than he,
The Ouse, whom men do Isis rightly name.
The Tame rises in the eastern part of the Chiltern Hills, in Buckinghamshire, between the town of Aylesbury and the village of Querendon; and after winding through the golden vale of Aylesbury, enters the county of Oxford, and soon refreshes the town to which it has given a name. Hence its course is to the very ancient city of Dorchester, from whence by slow progress — and by no means "running to the embraces" of the fair Isis — it paces about two miles to join the Thames beneath the small wooden bridge we have pictured; its whole course, from its rise to its fall, being about thirty-nine miles. Fancy may be permitted full scope and free indulgence while "the voyager" passes underneath the plain rustic bridge that marks the interesting locality. He has visited the scarcely perceptible source of the great river — already seen it fertilize and enrich cities, towns, and villages; but here he will naturally consider in prospect the mighty gifts it presents to the world, between this comparatively insignificant confluence of "two waters", and the illimitable sea to which they are together hastening: —
Let fancy lead, from Trewsbury mead,
With hazel fringed, and copse-wood deep;
Where, scarcely seen, through brilliant green,
Thy infant waters softly creep,
To where the wide-expanding Nore
Beholds thee, with tumultuous roar,
Conclude thy devious race;
And rush, with Medway's confluent wave.
To seek, where mightier billows rave,
Thy giant Sire's embrace."
DYKE HILLS, DORCHESTER
The portion of land at the upper part of the Tame, near Dorchester,
is intrenched across to the Thames, and by this means the passages of
both rivers might be commanded. This ancient military work has been
attributed to the Romans, and by some writers to the Ancient Britons.
The works consist of a dyke, into which the rivers might be turned, and
high embankments are on either side, which are now known as "Dyke
Hills." Dr. Plot conjectures that they may be part of the fortifications
still remaining at Long Whittenham, to which we have already directed
attention. They are similar in structure to the earthwork known as
Grimsdyke, nearer Wallingford; the banks are twenty feet in length:
they illustrate, therefore, the early history of Britain.
A row up the Tame to visit Dorchester will be the duty of those who have leisure, and desire to examine the several points of interest on or near our great British river, he will be amply repaid for a brief delay. Although the "city" has fallen to the grade of a poor village, the Roman amphitheatre is an earth-mound, and the cathedral half a ruin, history and tradition supply unquestionable proofs of its former magnificence — proofs which time has been unable altogether to obliterate. On its site was a Roman station of large extent and importance; and the place was famous during the ages that immediately followed.
But its high and palmy state was in the seventh century, when Birinus, who was sent from Rome to convert the West Saxons, here first preached to them the Gospel of our Lord. The missionary had baptized Cynegil, the king; and at the ceremony Oswald, King of Northumberland, attended as god-sib; when the two sovereigns, according to Bede (who calls it Civitas Dorcinia), gave the bishop this town for the foundation of an episcopal see in honour of the occasion. The see was for a long period of "gigantic dimensions", comprising the two large kingdoms of the West Saxons and Mercians. Twenty bishops here sate in "papal grandeur"; and, although seven bishopirics were afterwards "taken out of it", the see continued to be the largest in England, until about the year 1086, when Remigius removed it to Lincoln. At the Conquest, however, the town had dwindled; it was "small and ill-peopled", although "the majesty of the church was great, either by the antiquity of the building, or the diligence of such as had lately repaired it."
The old Abbey Church of Dorchester is remarkable for its extreme length, and for some peculiar architectural features. It is now much too large for the wants of the parish, and was, a few years ago, allowed to fall into a lamentable state of decay, from which it has been in a great degree rescued by a general subscription, under the auspices of the Oxford Architectural Society. The portions of Norman architecture now remaining are striking in their solidity and beauty; but the most remarkable feature in the church is the celebrated "Jesse window,' which lights the north side of the chancel. At the base lies the figure of Jesse, from whose body rises the tree of the Saviour's genealogy; its stem forms the great centre mullion, the branches from it crossing the other mullions, and forming the intersecting tracery of the window; they are all richly sculptured with foliation, and a figure of one of the tribe of Jesse appears at each intersection. The statue of the Virgin with the Saviour, which once crowned the whole, has been destroyed. The sedilia and piscina opposite this window are highly enriched, and have a peculiarly brilliant effect from the insertion of painted glass beneath the beautiful canopies that shadow them.
The other most noticeable feature in the church is the ancient font we here engrave. The upper portion is Norman; but the shaft is much more recent, probably a work of the fifteenth century. The bowl is circular, and exhibits figures of apostles seated in eleven semicircular arches; above and below them is a rich border of foliage. The whole of this portion of the font is of lead, and the rarity of such early work in this material makes this example precious in the eye of the antiquary. It is, moreover, a curious work of Art, inasmuch as it presents the peculiar features which are strongly characteristic of the Byzantine taste, founded on the decadence of the great Roman empire in the East. The richness of detail and abundance of decoration visible in the Norman style may be referred to this influence on European Art. On the whole, perhaps, there are few localities of the kingdom more interesting than those which surround Dorchester: it should be visited by all tourists who traverse this part of the Thames.
1906: G.E.Mitton -
Tradition has it that
the Thames proper does not begin until below Oxford,
where it is formed by the junction of
the Thame and the Isis. Tamese (Thames) means
"smooth spreading water." Tam is the same root as occurs in Tamar, etc.,
and the "es" is the perpetually recurring word for water, e.g., Ouse,
ooze, usquebagh. Isis is probably a back formation, from Tamesis.
In Drayton's Polyolbion, we have the pretty allegory of the wedding of Thame and Isis, from which union is born the sturdy Thames.
Now Fame had through this Isle divulged in every ear,
The long expected day of marriage to be near,
That Isis, Cotswold's heir, long woo'd was lastly won,
And instantly should wed with Thame, old Chiltern's son.
In Spenser's Faërie Queene the notion is carried one step further, and Thames, the son of Thame and Isis, is to wed with Medway, a farfetched conceit, for the rivers do not run into each other in any part of their course.
1909: The Stripling Thames by Fred Thacker -
The absurd old discussion about the name Isis I am almost ashamed to allude to. There is not a single title deed or folk tradition but employs the well loved name of Thames, and it only, in referring to the remoter stream. The deeds of Buscot Manor, to mention an unhackneyed instance, speak of the estate as "bounded by the Thames". If you are tracing your first footsteps by the Riverside [t]hereabouts, do not enquire for the Isis of the country people you meet. They do not know any such stream; and they are the true, the undeniable authority.
1889: Jerome K Jerome -
Dorchester is a delightfully peaceful old place, nestling in stillness and silence and drowsiness. Dorchester, like Wallingford, was a city in ancient British times; it was then called Caer Doren, "the city on the water." In more recent times the Romans formed a great camp here, the fortifications surrounding which now seem like low, even hills. In Saxon days it was the capital of Wessex. It is very old, and it was very strong and great once. Now it sits aside from the stirring world, and nods and dreams.
Even more aside from the stirring world now it no longer has a main road to struggle with.
Dorchester Abbey, Mortimer Menpes, 1906
1932: England by Ronald Carton -
Roaming this country through we shall not do wisely to pass too quickly by the Abbey Church there, or hasten through the chain of fair towns and villages that cluster about the banks of the Thames all the way from Wallingford to Windsor Goring, Pangbourne, Sonning, Henley, Marlow, Maidenhead, and the rest - with Reading, in piles of red brick, expressing commerce about halfway between the two, and shouldering its way aggressively down into Buckinghamshire. This is the region of river festivals, of low rounded hills and wooded slopes at the waters edge, and villages a little way back from the stream and far enough from railways and main roads to escape the multitude.
Dorchester, The White Hart Hotel, Mortimer Menpes, 1906