There is a lake in the grounds of the
Seven Springs Public House (good pub grub)
on the A436 near its junction with the A435.
The inlet to the lake is a culvert under the A436, the other side of which are the Seven Springs.
1824: SOURCE OF THE THAMES: A Ramble to Seven Springs -
During a recent visit to Cheltenham, and its delightful neighbourhood, accompanied by an intelligent friend,
I made a pilgrimage to the source of the river Thames.
It is between three and four miles from Cheltenham, across the lofty and grand Leckhampton Hills, from the summit of which the surrounding country, to a distance of thirty miles, may be seen. ...
The crossing of the Leckhampton Hills I found to be as beautiful, curious, and interesting a pedestrian excursion, as I ever had in my life. ...
the new and wide roads - the Cheltenham and Gloucester Iron Railway - the varied promenades of the several Cheltenham Spas their grand porticoes and buildings, all give note of the immediate neighbourhood of civilization, fashion and bustle. ...
and at last coming to a cottage or small dwelling, rurally cultivated, but so lonely in its appearance, that it might be taken for some hermit's abode. ...
and as we approached those springs, which, on account of their mighty results, we viewed with something like sacred awe, the aged inhabitant of the hut was returning from them with her antique-shaped pitcher, supplied with water. I asked leave to drink, inquiring at the same time whether it was "strong"; and the piece of antiquity, for the pitcher and the bearer were alike venerable, with much naivete, replied, "oh no; not stronger than other water; though it is clearer and softer. We can get no water like it." ...
The situation of the " Seven Springs" is remarkable. ... The springs are close by the road side, in a considerable angular glen, the point of which reaches the road side, and at the bottom, about fifteen feet below the surface of the road, the Seven Springs almost imperceptibly make their way through so many crevices of what might be termed unhewn flag-stones, piled rudely one above another, and covered with a hill. There is no regular way down to the springs ; no pathway, no railing; you scramble down as well as you can, or as the cattle would do.
The considerable hill, or embankment, over the Seven Springs, is surmounted with many ash and other trees and shrubs; and as those products are on the side, which is almost perpendicular, of such place, they naturally recline over the springs, thus forming a wild and imposing umbrageous shade over the unquestionable source of the Thames.
Though there are seven springs, united they form a small current, which winds its way along a fine picturesque and secluded valley; so small, even at a considerable distance from the source, that I with ease stood astride this portion of the River Thames; and its appearance for a great way is so peculiar, bushes growing on each side of it, and forming over it a protecting arcade, as it were, that in many places it was requisite to put aside the bushes to discover that stream about which only we felt anxious. In this romantic manner, so guarded by the growing over of the bushes, it continues for about half a mile; and then a mill suddenly and provokingly burst on the view, destroying the charm produced by the extraordinary seclusion, by displaying wheels, which the stream thus early in its career works.
These Seven Springs unquestionably constitute the highest source of the Thames. The stream forms a junction with the Isis at Salperton, about six miles off; and this junction was completed so recently as 1786. The views of the springs and their neighbourhood were so interesting and new to me, according to all the Gazetteer accounts that I had read, that I have with great pleasure to myself written this description. Oct. 21. T. T.
1845: The Society for Diffusing Useful Knowledge -
And here we might linger awhile; a prettier stream of its kind could not readily be met with.
We are stopped at the outset, however, by the question, Which is its source?
Near its head it is separated into two branches: the one which is rather the longer,
and which some affirm to be the true head, rises at Ullen Farm,
about a mile west of Seven Springs, the source of the other.
Both rise on the south-eastern slope of the Cotswold Hills, near the root of Leckhampton Hill,
about three miles south of Cheltenham;
they unite about a mile from their respective sources.
That which issues from Seven Springs appears to us to be the main branch; and this is the view always taken of it in the locality, where it is looked upon as one of the principal "lions", and few go to any of the neighbouring villages, or to Cheltenham, without being carried to see it.
From its situation and the greater quantity of water that constantly flows from it, Seven Springs seems fairly entitled to the name of the "very head" of Thames; and it is lovely, quiet, and overflowing, as we could wish the head of Thames to be. The springs, which lie in a secluded dell, are overhung with a luxuriant canopy of foliage. The water gushes, clear and pure as crystal, out of the rock from several different openings (it is commonly said from several different springs; but it is probable they are all connected with each other), and, after whirling round a few times, starts off swiftly down the narrow stony channel it has scooped out for itself.
As it flows from the rock, the water is deliriously cool and grateful to a rambler, who may avail himself of the service of a sturdy old dame who has attended the springs for a quarter of a century, scrambling down the dell to every comer with a glass clean as the water itself with which she fills it, that the visitor may "taste the Thames water at its source". She is a steady old-fashioned country peasant, without much of character in herself or her story, which it will be best to let her tell in her own way, as it is not long, and she is quite at home in it. Like a Westminster verger, her tale is always the same, and however interrupted, she will go through with it.
"Here be the springs from which comes the great river Thames, which is called Isis till it gets past Oxford. Here there be seven of them. One, two, &c. And they never run less in the driest summer, nor ever are frozen in winter; but in winter there are a good many more springs that water comes out of, and then there is a great deal more water".
There is not much more in her story about the stream; she will tell you where it joins the one we have already followed; but she is a stern stickler for the supremacy of her springs. She lives in a cottage just above, and evidently considers herself almost a part of the place, and is indeed so much a portion of it, that it would be most unjust to describe it and not mention her. By waiting on visitors and boiling water for picnic parties she obtains a decent livelihood, and she seems to be grateful to the "source" for it, winding up all her relations of it with
"How thankful ought us to be for such a plenty of good water."
Unlike the other stream, this is exceedingly picturesque at its starting-place, and continues so a great part of its course. Its name Cem, or Churn, as it is now commonly spelt, is said to be the British Chwyrn, which signifies rapid; but Rudder derives it from Corin, the top, and supposes it to have been so named because it was the top or head of the Thames. The former seems the most probable, but either will suit, and both appear to be preserved in the places on its banks, and which have owed their names to it, viz., Cirencester, the Roman Corinium, and North and South Cerney.
From Seven Springs the stream runs through a narrow valley past two or three farm-houses, and by the little village of Cowley, when it bends to the east and crosses the Cirencester road near Colesborne, where it is joined by the Lyde, and works a mill.
It then makes its way along a glen-like valley under Cliffering Wood; here its course is extremely beautiful, the hill sides are steep and close together, that on the left being thickly covered with luxuriant foliage which forms a noble hanging wood, while the stream itself runs swiftly over a stony bed, reminding us in its seclusion and in its character of the beautiful northern becks.
Nor does it lose much of its beauty, though it loses much of its wildness, in its progress through the rich grounds of Rendcombe, the property of Sir John Guise. All along this part of its course the uplands, that rise abruptly from it, are clothed with an abundance of noble trees, and the stream is well stored with trout, which are carefully preserved.
The way thus far will repay the attention of a young geologist. The Churn rises from the upper lias formation, and runs for several miles along a very narrow strip of it, almost entirely confined to the course of the river.
1849: Rambles by Rivers: The Thames By James Thorne [who 'like a Westminster Verger' repeats other people's words at great length] -
From its situation
and the greater quantity of water that constantly
flows from it, Seven Springs seems fairly entitled
to the name of the "very head" of Thames ; and
it is as lovely, quiet, and everflowing, as we could
wish the head of Thames to be.
The springs, which lie in a secluded dell, are overhung with a luxuriant canopy of foliage. The water gushes, clear and pure as crystal, out of the rock from several different openings (it is commonly said from several different springs ; but they are evidently connected with each other), and, after whirling round a few times, starts -
Off with a sally and a flash of speed,
As if it scorn' d both resting-place and rest.
As it flows from the springs the water is deliciously cool, and very grateful to the rambler, -
who will not need to use the cup of Diogenes. [ie not use a cupped hand]
A sturdy dame has for the last quarter of a century scrambled down the dell to every comer, with a glass clear as the water itself with which she fills it, that the visitor may "taste the Thames water at its source." She is a sober, old-fashioned country peasant, without much of character in herself or her story, which it will be best to let her tell in her own way, as it is not long, and she is quite at home in it. Her story, like that of a Westminster verger, is always the same, and however interrupted, she will go through with it.
Placing herself firmly on one of the blocks of stone in the bed of the stream, and pointing to the openings from which the water flows, she says -
"Here be the springs from which comes the great river Thames, which is called Isis till it gets past Oxford. Here they be, seven of 'em. One, two, &c. And they never run less in the driest summer, and never are frozen in winter ; only in winter there be a good many more springs that water comes out of, and then there is a great deal more water."
She has little more to tell ; but she is a stern stickler for the supremacy of her springs over Thames-head, of which she speaks with becoming contempt. She lives in a little cottage just above, and evidently considers herself almost a part of the place ; and indeed is so much a part of it, that it would be unjust to describe it and omit her. By waiting on visitors and boiling water for "gipsy-parties", she obtains a decent livelihood (and supports two white-haired grand-children), and she is grateful to the Source for it - always winding up her account of it with "How thankful ought us to be for such a plenty of good water."
1885: "The Royal River"; also 1891: "Rivers of Great Britain, The Thames from Source to Sea" (and quoted in "The Thames and its Story", 1937 ) -
The reader ... is invited to regard, not Thames Head, but Seven Springs, near Cheltenham,
as the natural and common sense source of the River Thames. Some three miles south of the town,
in the parish of Cubberley, or Cobberley, to quote the words of Professor Ramsay,
"the Thames rises not far from the crest of the oolitic escarpment of the Cotswold Hills that
overlook the Severn."
After pausing on the shoulder of Charlton Hill, and admiring - as who can fail to do? - the magnificent panorama of hill and valley receding into the mist of distance north and north-east, you proceed from Cheltenham along the Cirencester road to the crossways. A short divergence to the right, and a dip in the road brings you to a piece of wayside turf, with, beyond, a corner shaped like an irregular triangle. One side of this might be, perhaps, seven yards in length, another four yards, and the third something between the two. The triangular depression is reached by one of those little green hillocks so often to be found on English waysides.
The bottom is covered with water, which in spite of the place being no-man's-land, is clear as crystal, and in its deepest part there was not, at the time of my visit, more than six inches of water.
Three of the Seven Springs.
The bed of this open shallow reservoir is not paved with marble, or even concrete, but is liberally provided with such unconsidered trifles as the weather or playful children would cast there. When the wind sets that way a good deal of scum will gather in the farthest corner, formed by the two walls. ... This is the environment of the true source of the great River Thames. We are at Seven Springs.
Downstream under the A436 with the Latin Plaque above.
Hence multitudinous initials are rudely carved upon the old trees and on the stone walls; hence strangers, during summer, drive hither and pay homage. Clear away the scum from the water at the foot of the wall and a small iron grating explains how the waters, always bubbling clear and cool from the Seven Springs, pass away.
When the plaque was placed I do not know - clearly it was after 1885 -
Here, O Father Thames, is your Sevenfold Spring.
1949: Paul Gedge, Thames Journey
Standing by the pool at Seven Springs, you can
trace the whole course of the river with your mind's eye not dissimilar to
the life of man
its hazardous infancy to Lechlade
its wayward yet lovely youth to Oxford
the vigour of early manhood expressed in the great curves to Reading
the splendour of mature achievement in the majestic stretch to Windsor
the afflictions of old age patiently and humorously borne in the suburban bungalows to Richmond
and, last, its passage into the eternal ocean.