!doctype html> Putney to Oxford, 1866 - from "Where Thames smooth waters glide"

By Felix Remex.
from The Christian World magazine, 1866

A short time ago I proposed to row up the Thames to Oxford by myself, or with the help of any friend who might feel disposed for a day's pulling.
I thought that the progress against stream would be much preferable to the run down; and although my progress might be slow, the points of the river would be more impressed on my mind.


Our starting-place was Putney; and a friend agreed to give his assistance for the first day, but being detained in the city, we had to work hard in order to keep the tide up to Teddington, so we did not stop at any objects of interest.
However, we had time and breath enough to notice the house of the late Vice Chancellor Shadwell, famed for his love of the water, and who, on one occasion, actually heard some depositions read to him as he was swimming in mid-Thames.
Nor did we forget to admire the pretty church at Chiswick, where lie the mortal remains of William Hogarth.
But as this part of the Thames is so well known, nothing need be said about it here.
The first four and a half miles, are the course over which the Oxford and Cambridge crews row their annual race, and the excitement which that event causes is never to be forgotten by those who have once witnessed it.
It is the event of the river.
Some six miles from Putney we come to Kew Bridge,


and then up to Richmond is a very pleasant and pretty reach.
Kew Gardens on the Surrey side, and well-wooded islands (or eyots, pronounced aits) on the other side, give a sort of earnest of what we may expect further up the river.
Syon House is rather teasing to a tired oarsman, inasmuch as you row all round it, and from different points see all its four sides.
But it is not a place to be despised, and quite worthy of the Duke of Northumberland.
The Thames at Richmond does not present itself in so attractive a point of view when you are on it as it does when seen from the terrace on the hill, but, on the other hand, from the water you get good and near views of many interesting houses.
The Duke of Buccleuch's.
situated on the Surrey side, a little above Richmond Bridge, is well-admired for its beauty, and hated by all bargemen, owing to 'the fact that the towing-path is stopped by its grounds, and horses and men have to go round the back of the house and then make fast the towing-rope from the other end of the grounds.
This is the only instance I know on the Thames where private grounds interfere with the public towingpath, and it is a public nuisance, for which, I believe, we are indebted to that "merrie monarch," Charles II.
A little higher up, on the other side, is Orleans House, the residence of the Duke d'Aumale; and opposite is Ham House, famous as the abode of the Duchess of Lauderdale, and the meeting-place of the famous Cabal in opposition to Clarendon.

We must pass by the Eel Pie Island, and only take a passing look at the gimcrack building now erected on the site of Pope's Villa.
On Strawberry Hill above is Horace Walpole's celebrated house, now occupied by Frances Countess Waldegrave, daughter of the great English singer, Braham.
When I saw it some dozen years ago, it was sadly out of order, but lately, I learn, it has been renovated and restored.


We now pass by many pleasant houses, and come to our first look at Teddington.
Having been hard pressed all the way from Putney, some twelve miles, we put in below the lock, and take rest and refreshment.
After an hour's delay (during which time we punished the cold beef rather severely) we start again, and getting through Teddington Lock, find ourselves on a pleasant and open part of the river.
Just above the lock is a house covered with a splendid wisteria, which is greatly admired by all passers-by during the time it is in flower.

Eight miles from Richmond Bridge we come to Kingston Bridge.
It is a curious fact, that nearly all the bridges over the Thames are eight miles apart.
Kingston presents few features of interest from the river so we do not delay, but prepare to pull steadily against the stream, which is now rather sharp against us up to Moulsey.
The river gets more attractive as we pass Ditton: the excellencies of the Swan Inn have been versified by Theodore Hook, and some twenty years ago were well tested by a large circle of London literary men.
Lord St. Leonard's house here is celebrated for the beauty of its lawns; but we are now nearing Hampton Court Palace, which cannot be looked upon without interest, although we may not stop to look at Raphael's Cartoons, Charles II's beauties, or the very interesting historical paintings and portraits which adorn its walls.
Still we can see the British public enjoying themselves, and can hear the merry laugh of children playing, which makes us feel thankful that such a palace and such gardens are open to the public freely and gratuitously.
At Moulsey we see the Hampton race-course, and on the Middlesex side, Garrick's Villa, once the property and favourite residence of the great master of the histrionic art.
Before getting to Sunbury, on the Middlesex bank, is a pleasant little cottage, at present occupied by the Rev.J.C.M.Bellew; but at Sunbury Lock we must stop, as experiments in the artificial breeding of fish are being carried on here under the superintendence of Mr.Ponder.
We found a very civil attendant, who told us that he had 20,000 young salmon, as many trout, and 2,000 char under his charge, which would very shortly be ready to go into the open river.
May the experiment prove successful! If Mr. Ponder and Dr.Frank Buckland cannot succeed at present, certainly they are on the right way.

We now began to think of stopping for the night, and the prospect of dinner gave a little spirit to our rowing.
The curious long double bridge at Walton was soon reached, and the splendid spur of the hill of Oatlands Park was above us.
Coray Stakes, where Julius Caesar is said to have crossed the Thames, is only marked by a couple of trees, but it has been a rare and very troublesome nut for antiquarians to crack.
After Waterford we see the house of W. S. Lindsay, Esq. at Shepperton, which boasts of the handsomest lawn on the river.
The church adjoining was at one time in the occupation of Grocyn, the friend of Erasmus, who often visited him here.
But we stop for the night, and soon find comfortable quarters at the Anchor Inn.


In the morning a bathe of course, and then a little stroll, so we go to Oatlands to look at the famous grotto, built at a cost of £40,000, and only used once, and the cemetery of the Duchess of York's pet dogs and monkeys.
We counted between sixty and seventy tombstones to the departed darlings, and some ornamented with poetical epitaphs.
Then through Oatlands Park to Walton Church, where we all try on the scold's bridle, admire the chef d'oeuvie of Roubiliac, the monument to Viscount Shannon, nor do we pass without notice the curious brass to John Selwyn, who killed a stag at the feet of Queen Elizabeth after leaping from his horse on to the stag's back; the grave of John Lily, the astrologer, and last, but not least, the grave of Dr. Maginn, which we regretted to find unmarked and unnoticed in the pathway of the churchyard.
It was not easy for us to find it, and even now, the site is not very certain.
We return to Shepperton along the towing-path, but, before starting, let me call the attention of the disciples of Izaac Walton to the advantages which this part of the river offers to anglers.
The water is well preserved, the fishermen are all civil and up to their work, while the inns are clean and good.
The distance from the station keeps much of these deeps free from casual Cockney visitors.
What with good sport and lovely scenery, he must be a very discontented man who cannot enjoy a fine day on Walton deeps.
My friend was unfortunately obliged to leave me at Shepperton, so I had to proceed on my way companionless.
Let me tell you something about my boat, which is technically called a Randan, and calculated to hold six people, - to wit, three rowers, a coxswain, and two sitters; though being so light, that I alone can easily push it against stream, it ought not to carry more than four.
My library is moderate - " Thorne upon Rivers," S.C. Hall's " Book of the Thames," and " The Oarsman's Guide " are all I need.
My costume is flannel from head to foot, and I have with me a little black bag, containing a change of clothes.
The stream from the church up to Shepperton Lock is pretty stiff rowing, for the Wey, adding its volume of water to that of the Thames, helps very decidedly to strengthen the current.
But Shepperton Lock fairly passed, the aspect of things is changed; and the river winds through low grounds and becomes so veritable a Meander, that Weybridge church is sometimes on my right hand, and sometimes on my left; now before me, and now behind; so that a stranger would be really puzzled where to look for it.
The stream now is slow and sluggish, so there is time to glance about me, and admire the many beautiful flowers upon the banks, and the water-lilies all about, lifting up their silvery chalices; but not being a botanist, I do not make the best of my opportunity.
You can see St. George's Hill, once the site of a Roman encampment; and also St. Anne's Hill, once the residence of Fox; besides many others of less note, so that the flat shores between Shepperton and Chertsey, are by no means so uninteresting as you might imagine; the view of St. Anne's, however, is better after passing Chertsey Lock.
But at Chertsey, one cannot help remembering Albert Smith, ... benefactor ... by those who knew him intimately and loved him well, it was still among the poor folks at Chertsey that the deepest grief at his untimely death was manifested.
It had ever been his pleasure " to do good by stealth," and the extent of his delicate and generous charities was never guessed till they had laid him in the grave.
All this part of the river, up to London Stone, a little above Staines, where the jurisdiction of the City ends, is especially famous for fish and angling.
But it scarcely needs a stone to mark the City bounds; for the disgraceful condition of the Locks outside the municipal control, soon evidences that the much maligned Corporation of London - with all its faults - can and does discharge its duty in a way that reflects not much credit on the great unpaid body, who profess to attend to the river Thames and its Locks above Staines! I only wish I had some of them with me, on a dark night - they would repent of their sins of omission, as they passed through their own Locks, and the lock-keepers gone to bed.
Anent London Stone, it is worth while remembering as a sample of by-gone times, that the Lord Mayor of London, on passing this stone was always, even during the last thirty years, bumped in the most unscrupulous and irreverent style against the stone, by his brother Aldermen!
There are some fir-trees about here, which add much to the river scenery; but the chief interest is of course at Runnymede and Magna Charta Island, just opposite.
Some will think of King John and his barons, and some of Egham races, now held on Runnymede; others again of Cooper's Hill, and the view of it, which is only exceeded by the view from it.
However, Runnymede is now chiefly used as a resort for picnic parties, or a resting-place for rowing men on the way up the river.
But alone, or with a crew, you must stop and refresh at the "Bells of Ousely," a place noted among boating men for its capital accommodation, for its boats and beer are not to be despised.
Above Old Windsor Lock the stream is very quiet, but I am told that there is excellent trout tickling to be had: one of my friends once caught here a Thames trout weighing 12 lbs., worth 1s.9d. per lb. in Billingsgate Market.
But it may be as well to mention that Thames trout cannot at any price be purchased.
When Thames trout are caught, they are usually taken by fishermen in the employ of private gentlemen, and cannot be disposed of.
Along Datchet, one would like to know the exact spot where Falstaff was ducked; but we cannot learn in any way where the fat knight came to grief.
The distance between the two locks is very considerable; but the Datchet side looking so gay with villas, seems more like a suburb of London itself, than of a quiet country town.
After a little time, Windsor becomes the most prominent object in the view.
It is needless to speak about the Castle; but I can say, that Windsor, as seen from the river, is most attractive! Though I have passed it many and many a time, I always feel that I should like to look on it more frequently, and for a longer period than the bend of the river will allow.
Above Windsor is Boveney Lock, celebrated as being the lock through which rowing-boats can pass in the shortest possible space of time; it is also famous as being the best bathing-place on the Thames, and though I cannot thoroughly endorse this opinion, I must say it is a very good one, but to my mind dangerous - extremely so, to a man who is not an expert swimmer.
Some three miles above Boveney is Monkey Island, so called from the fact of a Duke of Marlborough having built upon it a temple, ornamented with certain pictures - of monkeys! It is certainly a very charming place; and here I learnt that the Thames islands, or eyts, or aits as they are called, are farmed out for the purpose of growing osiers.
Bray Lock is a little above Monkey Island, and of course Bray Church is not very far off, the venue of the noted "Vicar of Bray!"
But the chronicles of the place show that the story is totally wrong with regard to facts, inasmuch as no one Vicar of Bray, according to the church books, ever held the benefice during the years alluded to in the song.
My own impression is, that Jacob Tonson, the bookseller, whose house was some half a mile below Monkey Island, had some friends to dine with him, and that some joking arose, the result of which was the ballad of " The Vicar of Bray."
The brick arches of the Great Western railway over the Thames at Maidenhead, are remarkable as being the very finest specimen of brick architecture, both as regards the span of the bridge and the brickwork itself.
Unfortunately, I was so absorbed in looking at the arches and admiring their workmanship, that I kept on the wrong side of the river, and ran my boat into the eelpots, the which contretemps by no means improved my temper, and I had to get out and make my way as well as I could to Maidenhead bridge.
Up from there, it is rather a strongish stream to Boulter's Lock; but the lock once passed, you have some two or three miles of the loveliest scenery on the Thames! On the one side of the river, the ground is meadow-land; on the other side, a sharp spur of hilly land, beginning at Taplow, opposite to Maidenhead, and continuing thence up the river.
The heights at Taplow belong to Lord Orkney, and if I mistake not, adjoin the grounds of Cliefden, the seat of the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland.
This is said to be the fairest spot on all the river, and though I do not want to rave about Cliefden's proud alcove, the bower of wanton Shrewsbury's loves, etc.; I do say that I never pass Cliefden without easing-up the rowing, so as to admire its beauty leisurely.
At Cookham Lock, the river has a very picturesque appearance; but from thence up to Marlow the stream is strong, and the scenery, although still charming, is not sufficiently attractive to make you forget that you are proceeding against current.
However, I got to Marlow at 8.30 p.m., and having rowed from Walton bridge, viz. thirty-two miles, and having been through eleven locks, I thought I was entitled to all the refreshment that Mrs.Parslow could give me at her famous hostelry, "The Complete Angler".


Great Marlow is a most agreeable spot; and I think that the morning bathe here is better than at any other weir on the river, for a good fall of some six feet gives the bather any kind of douche, or shower-bath, which he may want, as well as a plunge after that, with not less than twelve feet depth of water.
Then comes breakfast; and oh! ye who who have tasted Mrs. Parslow's fried eels, gudgeons, and divers Thames fish, and other triumphs of her culinary skill, - say, if ye ever can forget them?
After my breakfast, I had a rather sad pipe; for, on the other side of the river, just under the church wall, lie the remains of my old friend, Frank Smedley, the well-known author of " Frank Fairleigh," "Lewis Arundel," etc.
I could not but think of our pleasant, unbroken twenty-years-long friendship, and wonder, pensively, whether I should ever make a new friend, who would be to me what he had been, for the same length of time!
But here I was joined by a living friend, one of the most eminent photographers in London, and we proceeded past Bisham Abbey and up to Temple Lock.
The river here is very trying to the oarsman, as the locks are very close together, and the requisite patience is not always at every one's command.
At Hurley Lock is Lady Place, where the Revolution of 1688 was concocted in a cellar.
But, to our surprise, we heard a pleasant voice, from a meadow a little above Hurley Lock; the voice of a rowing-man, who knew the boat by sight, and hailed us.
Two of his party knew the boat, and knew my brother, to whom the boat belonged, but only one of them knew me.
In any case, our reception was most kindly; our friends were rowing up, and camping, that is to say, taking their tent with them, and sleeping under it, on a meadow, every night.
This is all very pleasant for those who like it; but in spite of the jollity of that sort of thing, I am not courageous enough, or perhaps rash enough, to forget the chance of rheumatism.
But we spent a most agreeable hour at Medmenham, and had a look at the Abbey, or rather sham abbey, which was the scene of the orgies of the Hell-Fire-Club! Then we paid a visit to Mrs. Bitmend, who lives next door, and speaks German perfectly, which is not very remarkable, as it is her native language.
Also, she sells good beer, and her husband can find good fishing!
This little house of entertainment is a favourite haunt of a marine artist, whose weekly pictures in the Illustrated AViM may be known by the "E.W." in the left-hand corner.
Up to Hambledon Lock is an easy row; and, after getting through that, you have some three quarters of a mile to reaeh a pretty eyot, at the further end of which is a summer-house; and that end of the eyot is the starting-point for the Henley Races.
The course is the most famous on the river, and the regatta is only second in interest to the Oxford and Cambridge boatrace.
The course is but a mile and a quarter long, and perhaps takes six minutes to row; yet, in that short time, I have seen a beaten crew so exhausted, that, although fine men, and in first-rate condition, they could hardly speak for ten minutes; while the winners walked over the bridge amidst the congratulations of their friends.
It is a curious fact, that in all the boatraces I have seen, the winners are less fatigued than the losers!
Henley Bridge is chiefly remarkable for the masks of the Thames and Isis, from the chisel of the Honourable Mrs. Damer.
A little above Marsh Lock is Park Place, the seat of Mr. Fuller-Maitland; and the boat-house belonging to the mansion is celebrated as being one of the prettiest structures on the river.
Park Place itself is one of the show-places of England; but I never could bring my mind to go and see it, because, in the grounds, there is a Druid temple, which was originally at Jersey, and presented to General Conway, the then owner of Park Place.
Now it is well to have a monument like this preserved, but its removal appears to me an act of nothing less than desecration.
The river Loddon joins the Thames in two branches, a little above and below Shiplake Lock; and Dr. Phillimore's house is an interesting feature on the river, which presents little to attract any one save the disciples of Izaak Walton, from this point, until we reach Caversham Bridge, which is built half of stone and half of wood, owing to some local dispute about material.
The Caversham people, by the way, have the credit - and I can testify that it is well earned - of being the most uncivil people on the river!
The scenery now assumes a more pleasing aspect; and at MapleDurham, the house of the Blounts (Pope's correspondents), it is very beautiful.
The Great Western Railway passes along the south side of the river; and river, rail, and hill combine in very interesting association.
The locker at Pangbourne Lock has been celebrated by Mr. Hughes in his "Scouring of the White Horse".
But no praise is too great for Pangbourne!
From here to Goring the scenery is only inferior to that at Clifden; and we notice the commencement of the range of the Chiltern Hills, so famous in the history of many gentlemen who accept the stewardship of the Chiltern hundreds, and thereby resign their parliamentary duties and honours; in a word - they cease to be M.P.s.
The river is now comparatively sluggish; in fact, it is not much better than dead water, and there is little of interest to be observed until the oarsman reaches Wittenham Clump, a great big hill, which he will keep in sight for many miles.
This hill is remarkable on account of recent discoveries of ancient British graves which have been made there, by John Yonge Akerman, late Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries.
We are not long in passing Abingdon and Nuneham, and are heartily glad to see the Oxford spires, and to pass by the handsome boats used by the University Clubs.