1889: Jerome -
... and we tugged steadily on to a little below Monkey Island, where we drew up and lunched. . . .
The main channel is on the Right bank. Note that at the upstream head of the island there is a very shallow section
where the two channels part.
The Left bank channel is narrow and shallow, suitable only for manually propelled boats. It is crossed by a footbridge which is being rebuilt in 2017.
Monkey Island Hotel
Opening late 2017 after a major renovation. Situated on a picturesque private island on the River Thames, Monkey Island Estate will open in late 2017 after major renovation by YTL Hotels and the award-winning Champalimaud Design. This iconic property will present a luxurious selection of guest rooms & suites reflecting the island’s rich history, signature restaurant, stylish bar and a lounge for afternoon tea. A unique spa located on a converted Dutch barge will offer a range of exclusive treatments.
Monkey Island Estate will also provide a memorable venue to host the perfect wedding, corporate event or special occasion. The estate will have charming function rooms, tranquil landscape gardens and banqueting facilities suitable for events of between 10-130 guests. Exclusive hire of Monkey Island Estate is also available on request.
Major restoration work is progressing well and will totally transform the meeting and function rooms. The stylish Pavilion Room provides seating for up to 130 guests and has uninterrupted views across the River Thames. It also benefits from direct access to an outside Terrace.
The River Room can accommodate up to 80 guests and has the flexibility to be split into two smaller rooms. With its own small terrace, it has perfect views of the Thames. On the first floor are two Board Rooms which can sit 14 and 20 respectively. In the beautiful grounds, there is Marquee space for up to 500 guests.
David Ford Nash's 'Royal Berkshire History' says -
It is generally assumed that the Island takes its name from the monkey paintings in the pavilion but this is not correct.
The name derives from the earlier title of "Monks Eyot" indicating that the island was being used by Monks, probably in association with their fishery in the Thames. The monks in question resided at Amerden Bank, a moated site near Bray Lock on the Buckinghamshire bank of the river, where a cell of Merton Priory was in existence from 1197 until the Dissolution; holding from the outset "92 acres of land and assant with fishing in the Thames".
1361: In the Bray Court Rolls of 1361 the island is called Bournhames Eyte,
in a document entitling John Casse and John Tylehurst to use it for pasturage at a charge of 2/6d per annum.
1640: The name occurs again in the P.R.O. plan of 1640 when it is referred to as Burnham-Ayt. The words Eyot, Eyte and Ayt are Old English expressions for an island. The land by the 14th Century had clearly passed into the hands of the Canonesses of Burnham Abbey situated a mile to the North.
1600s: Burnham Parish Register –
Island commonly called Linings Eyte, with water in the River Thames, commonly called Chapel Water, let for £3 10s per annum, towards the reparation of Boveney Chapel”.
1640: “Cherry Ait”
1666: The Great Fire of London, it is said, helped develop Monkey Island. In the rebuilding after the fire, rubble was dumped on the island, raising it and making it rather more than just a low lying ait.
1700s: “Duke of Marlborough’s Island”
1723: Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough bought the island and built a Fishing Lodge (the pavilion) and a "Fishing Temple"
1738: Lady Hertford described the pavilion on Monkey Island -
He [ the Duke of Marlborough ] has a small house upon it, whose outside represents a farm - the inside what you please:
for the parlour, which is the only room in it except the kitchen,
is painted upon the ceiling in grotesque, with monkeys fishing, shooting etc.,
and its sides are hung with paper.
When a person sits in this room he cannot see the water though the island is not above a stone's cast over: nor is he prevented from this by shade: for, except for six or eight walnut trees and a few orange trees in tubs there is not a leaf upon the island; it arises entirely from the river running very much below its banks.
A View of the Duke of Marlborough's Island situate on the River Thames between Maidenhead Bridge and Windsor
1792: Picturesque Views on the Thames by Samuel Ireland -
A LITTLE below Bray is a small island, on which two handsome buildings were erected by a former Duke of Marlborough, about fifty years since. It now bears the appellation of Monkey Island, and is a pleasant summer retreat, commanding a rich view of Windsor and the neighbouring country.
1794: Report of a survey of the river Thames between Reading and Isleworth ... John Rennie (the Elder)
There is then [from what would become Bray Lock] a tolerable good water to the head of Monkey island,
but this is greatly owing to the channel on the Berks side being grown up by weeds,
which only remain during the summer.
There should be a willow hedge extended from the upper end of the island inclining to the Berks shore, for at least forty yards in length. This would direct the stream into the barge channel, and the shoal between the island and the main land should be deepened, and the banks on the Buckingham side sloped and footed with chalk ; near the bottom of the island is a very sharp turn, which should be pared off.
A little under Monkey island is a shoal about ninety yards in length, which should be deepened about eight inches.
1805: William Johnson imagined Shelley on the river (He was at Eton 1804-1810). His essay was quoted in "Eton in the Forties [ie 1840s]" by Arthur Duke Colderidge. ("Alastor" refers to Shelley himself). The full excerpt is quoted at Windsor Bridge -
But Alastor would rush on through weeds and the haunts of swans, past Queen's Eyot,
up the right bank to the stone steps that dignified the right side of Monkey Island.
I hope and believe that this fairy-tale spot was, in 1805, as in 1835, uninhabited and yet not ruinous. It was as Keble says of the Canaanite Gardens when Joshua came to them "a fearful joy" to venture into the deserted summerhouse whose walls presented monkeys behaving like so many Herveys and Churchills; to sit on the floor with the back against the frescoed wall, and there eat the biscuits and fruit bought from Surley Hall.
One had not a notion how near one was all the while to that farm, with its mossed thatch, which stands on the Bucks side, just below Bray lock. The island was out of the abhorred mean world in which formalists held dominion; and yet there was that consciousness of trespass which we could not enjoy if we were in Eden.
1807: The Ambulator; or, The stranger's companion in a tour round London ... By John Bew -
MONKEY-ISLAND, in the centre of the Thames, between
Maidenhead and Windsor, and in the parish of
Bray. On this island, which contains three acres, is a
neat house, with convenient offices, built by the late Duke
On the ceiling of the room called Monkey Hall, is painted a variety of such flowers as grow by the water-side. Here are also represented several monkies, some fishing, some shooting, and one sitting in a boat smoking, while a female is rowing him over the river!
In the temple, the inside of the saloon is enriched by stucco modelling, representing mermaids, dolphins, sea-lions, and a variety of sea-shells richly gilt.
The establishing of this delightful seat cost the Duke 10,000 guineas. The lease of it, for some years, at £25 a year, was sold by Auction, in July 1787, for 240 guineas, to Henry Townley Ward, Esq. who has a seat in the neighbourhood.
1811: The Thames or Graphic illustrations of seats, villas, public buildings ... By William Bernard Cooke & Samuel Owen
Monkey Island, 1811: The Thames or Graphic illustrations of seats, villas, public buildings ... By William Bernard Cooke & Samuel Owen
The Thames abounds with small islands, which, from their situation and circumstances,
might seem to invite the pleasurable cultivation of those who possess them;
and yet, how few have been employed to any purpose of amusement,
either in the way of aquatic recreation, or that kind of sporting which rivers afford.
It must be acknowledged that our climate is by no means suited to insulated [island] situations: and the moats which surrounded the mansions of our ancestors, were rather intended for protection and security, than for pleasure or beauty. How few days are there in one of our years, and allowing even the most sultry summer, in which such a residence as an island in the Thames could afford, would be comfortable throughout them. For even supposing all has been done that embankment can do, still the flood may come, and in a rainy season, how often must the inhabitant have recourse to an upper room and a consoling fire.
We do not recollect a single house so situated, but that of Sir William Younge, beneath the hanging woods of Cliefden, near Cookham, where a great deal of taste has been employed to render it beautiful, and all possible means, we doubt not, are used to make it comfortable: but we have never considered this place, with all the charms it possesses, but with symptoms of shuddering at the idea of that damp and dullness, which all the warmth of hospitality will not, at times, be able to disperse.
The island belonging to Mr. Freeman, of Fawley, and whose decorative building is so pleasing an object in that part of the river, and particularly when viewed from Henley Bridge, is only used on such days as invite to the amusements of the water, and the patient pursuits of the angler: and such was the original design of improving Monkey Island.
It is a small spot, situated below Maidenhead Bridge, and near the village of Bray.
The last Duke of Marlborough originally improved, planted, and erected two pretty pavilions upon it. His Grace then frequently resided at Langley-Park, in that part of the country ; and used occasionally to enjoy such recreations as this place afforded.
One of the rooms being painted in the Arabesque style, in which monkies were the predominant figures; the island, from that circumstance, received the name by which it is distinguished.
When the present Duke disposed of Langley, this pleasant little spot, which was a kind of appendage to it, was also sold. It has had several successive possessors, but who they were it is of little consequence to know. At present  it belongs to Mr. Townley Ward, of the Willows, near Clewer, in the vicinity of Windsor.
1823: “Duke’s Island”
1840: By this year the Pavilion had become a riverside inn
1842: “Duke’s Island”
1859: The Thames, Mr & Mrs Hall
Soon after leaving Bray we step ashore at "Monkey Island": the
fishing-lodge built here by the third Duke of Marlborough is now "a
house of entertainment";
[ It is a sad comment on our modern world that an, inverted commas, "House of Entertainment" suggests rather more to us than it did to the Victorians. ]
and the grounds, although limited in extent, are famous for "picnics" in summer seasons. The room which gives a name to the island is still preserved unimpaired; the monkeys continue, on canvas, to do the work of men — to hunt, to shoot, and to fish: and no doubt the "monkey-room", which is the salon of parties, is an attraction profitable to the landlord, although he may not be successful in conveying assurance, as he seeks to do, that these pictures are the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds. *
* In Westall's "Views on the Thames" the paintings are said to be the work of "a French artist named Clermont". Although clever in design, they are of no great merit in execution. One of the best of these groups we engrave,— it represents two of the animals awkwardly carrying home fish, the eels escaping from the basket. The most ludicrous scene occupies the centre of the ceiling, and is a burlesque on the triumph of Galatea; even the Cupid attending her is represented as a winged monkey with fluttering drapery, strewing flowers on the nymph, who, with her attendant tritons and sea-nymphs, are also represented as monkeys. The room is popular, and inviting to the numerous picnic parties by whom the place is visited throughout the summer season.
"Marlborough's Duke" must have expended large sums upon this "fancy", for the lodge is built of cut stone, and is evidently of a costly character; moreover, there is a detached building, now used as a billiard-room, but in which, in the palmy days of the island, the guests probably had their banquets: it is a structure of much elegance, and no doubt was a charming retreat.
1870: Monkey Room at Monkey Island, Henry Taunt -
Monkey Room at Monkey Island, Henry Taunt, 1870
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT1293
Monkey Room, 2006
The very human monkeys are engaged in river pursuits
Monkey Room detail, 2006
The male monkey is smoking a pipe, sitting in the bows of a punt which is being run by a female.
1871: George D Leslie, Our River (writing in 1881) -
Walker spent three or four weeks with me at Mrs. Copeland's; we usually punted down each day to Monkey island,
where there was the great attraction to him of two or three trout to be seen;
he never succeeded in taking any of these, though he caught many large Chubb.
There was one large trout seen daily, turning over and over just off the shoal at the top of the island,
and here Walker had his punt moored, and commenced a very beautiful oil picture, of a boy fishing.
It was never finished, and at his death I became the possessor of it; though unfinished,
it is truth itself in the rendering of the river effect. The clay cliff, with its rat holes, is perfect,
and the shimmer of moving water finely expressed; there is something quite pathetic, too,
in the little phantom of a boy, so like in some way to poor Walker himself,
casting his line with much grace and eagerness. I remember well how uncomfortably
he worked on this picture, which was propped up very insecurely in the boat,
his tubes of colour, rags, and benzine bottle, all contained in a punt scoop;
and as he had forgotten his palette, he used a small bit of varnished wood, which belonged as a backboard to my punt.
He had his rod and line beside him, stopping work many times, to cast over the large trout's nose;
his boy Collins waited on him as his slave, and had to stand barefoot in the water, whenever Walker wished.
[ George Leslie continued ]
In the spring of the year 1871, I spent a delightful week at Monkey Island, in company of my friend Mr. J. E. Hodgson, R. A.
This island is a great resort of the Eton boys; parties of them land on certain days of the week, and have tea, eggs, and other refreshment. There is a certain sort of fascination about this place, partly, I believe, owing to the Robinson Crusoeish character of the island, which makes a short stay on it very enjoyable.
The buildings consist of a sort of octagon-shaped cottage, in which is the monkey-room with its ceiling painted with monkeys, a kitchen, and several little sitting and bed-rooms, and at the lower end of the island a small temple-shaped building, full of rich Queen Anne carving; from the windows of the room in it the views are charming; there is a neglected old wooden billiard table in this room. We used this place as a sort of studio, as I had formerly done when here with [Frederick] Walker.
The remains of the Duke of Marlborough’s buildings which are left here are all of a stately and ornamental style, and I especially admired the steps down to the landing-place.
It was not at all a bad place to stop at ten years ago, as Mrs Plummer cooked admirably, and the fish were especially nice.
The stream is very sharp just here, [i.e. high current] and the eels, perch, and jack are in perfect condition, and quite free from the muddy flavour of most freshwater fish. They kept a very large stock of poultry on the island, and eggs were obtained in great abundance
Monkey island is a capital place at which to practice punting, as in making the circuit of the Island every possible difficulty is encountered. The landlord's daughters were famous hands at punting, and the young one generally worked the ferry.
The Eton boys came up in the afternoon, I think on Thursdays. I liked the fashionable swagger of these happy youngsters, the patronising way in which they ordered their refreshment, and the endless skylarking which they carried on; the poultry and dogs too appeared to know them well, and had a way of hiding themselves whenever the boys were about.
1885: Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames -
Monkey Island is about half a mile below Bray Lock, and owes its name to a number of pictures
of monkeys, engaged in various human occupations, with which the third Duke of Marlborough
adorned a fishing lodge which he built upon the island.
The pictures are sometimes attributed to a French artist named Clermont, but in truth they are not sufficiently remarkable to make the question of their authorship a matter of any importance. ...
The house is now converted into an inn, which is now considerably used by anglers, oarsmen, and camping parties. ... The accomodation is primitive and cheap. ...
1890: Monkey Island, Francis Frith -
1890: Monkey Island, Francis Frith
1918: Rebecca West (1892-1983) ‘The Return of the Soldier’ -
CHRIS told the story lingeringly, in loving detail. From Uncle Ambrose's gates, it seems,
one took the path across the meadow where Whiston's cows are put to graze,
passed through the second stile – the one between the two big alders – into a long straight road
that ran across the flat lands to Bray. After a mile or so there branched from it a private road
that followed a line of noble poplars down to the ferry. Between two of them – he described it meticulously,
as though it were of immense significance – there stood a white hawthorn.
In front were the dark-green, glassy waters of an unvisited backwater, and beyond them a bright lawn set with many walnut-trees and a few great chestnuts, well lighted with their candles, and to the left of that a low, white house with a green dome rising in its middle, and a veranda with a roof of hammered iron that had gone verdigris-color with age and the Thames weather.
This was the Monkey Island Inn. The third Duke of Marlborough had built it for a "folly," and perching there with nothing but a line of walnut-trees and a fringe of lawn between it and the fast, full, shining Thames, it had an eighteenth-century grace and stillness.
Well, one sounded the bell that hung on a post, and presently Margaret in a white dress would come out of the porch and would walk to the stone steps down to the river. Invariably, as she passed the walnut-tree that overhung the path, she would pick a leaf, crush it, and sniff the sweet scent; and as she came near the steps she would shade her eyes and peer across the water.
"She is a little near-sighted; you can't imagine how sweet it makes her look," Chris explained. (I did not say that I had seen her, for, indeed, this Margaret I had never seen.) A sudden serene gravity would show that she had seen one, and she would get into the four-foot punt that was used as a ferry and bring it over very slowly, with rather stiff movements of her long arms, to exactly the right place. When she had got the punt up on the gravel her serious brow would relax, and she would smile at one and shake hands and say something friendly, like,
"Father thought you'd be over this afternoon, it being so fine; so he's saved some duck's eggs for tea."
And then one took the pole from her and brought her back to the island, though probably one did not mount the steps to the lawn for a long time. It was so good to sit in the punt by the landing-stage while Margaret dabbled her hands in the black waters and forgot her shyness as one talked.
"She's such good company ..."
Margaret at Monkey Island Ferry
[ I think you can just see and imagine what is meant by "an eighteenth century grace and stillness" - but you certainly can't hear it! The proximity of Heathrow and the dull roar of the motorway are, I am afraid, all too obvious. ]
Joseph Ashby-Sterry wrote 'A FAIR PUNTRESS' in 'THE RIVER RHYMER' -
( While Phyllis punts I feebly try
To paint her portrait on the sly ! )
'Tis pleasant on the Thames to laze
On sweet unclouded summer days,
When punt propelled, on water-ways,
By subtle skill is :
Thrice pleasant when we're sped along
In cushioned ease with merry song
By Phyllis !
Her hands are shapely, dimpled, tanned ;
Her smart straw hat you'll notice and
Half-hidden in its snowy band
A white swan-quill is :
Her sleeves are furled, her frock is pink.
No puntress looks so nice, I think,
As Phyllis !
Despite a dignity of mien,
A russet shoe may oft be seen,
And peeping 'neath her frock, I ween,
A snowy frill is :
But, O, the undulating grace !
The charm of figure and of face
Of Phyllis !
Behold the maiden standing there,
Who grasps her pole with skilful care,
And shows us what with queenly air
Her strength of will is :
Though breezes blow, though stream runs strong,
There's none can send this craft along
Like Phyllis !
But yet come moments still more blest ;
The pole is shipped, in cushioned nest,
The damsel takes a well-earned rest
The air so still is :
Delightful then to muse and dream,
And thus go drifting down the stream
With Phyllis !
Which all proved just too tempting a target for PUNCH in 1906: 'A Riverside Regret' -
When Phyllis punts, she wields the pole
With tiny hands in dainty style,
Inconsequently chatting while
We slowly move towards our goal.
When Phyllis punts, I long to lie
And idly watch her laughing face,
For seldom does such lisson grace
As hers delight a lover's eye.
BUT what with thrusting skiffs aside,
Entreating pardons by the score,
And pushing off from either shore -
I'm far too fully occupied - when Phyllis punts!
Leslie, writing about Monkey Island, continued -
(Fred) Walker, as a fisherman, had the greatest
dislike to the steam launches, which at this time were becoming a rising
nuisance, and it was whilst with me that, stung with anger, he made his clever
drawing for “Punch” entitled
"Captain Jinks of the ‘Selfish’, and his friends, enjoying themselves on the River"
He was most fastidious about this work, rehearsing it many times before he was satisfied; sometimes, it would look to him as though he had taken too much pains with it, and he carefully endeavoured to give it an air of ease and carelessness.
Then all the ugliest and most disagreeable points about the affair had to be emphasized: the boiler extra large and clumsy, the smoke, the swell, the black-faced engineer, and the guests on board, with their backs to the view, entirely wrapt up in their cigars and brandies and sodas.
In rendering the distant landscape, the work becomes entirely tender and finished -–it is a beautiful little bit of Bray, with the church and poplars drawn direct from nature; a bridge is introduced, to prevent the scene being too easily recognized.
Captain Jinks of the 'Selfish' and His Friends Enjoying Themselves on the River by Frederick Walker.
from Punch for 21 August 1869. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
The Victorian Website
On the opposite bank is a portrait of myself,
with easel and picture upset by the steamer’s swell;
this mishap had actually occurred to
me one day at Monkey Island.
Walker watched daily the embarkation of the
boat he had selected for his satire, and I recollect him lying on the till of
my punt, taking keen mental notes of the appearance of the captain of the craft;
it reminded me
forcibly of a cat watching a bird, hopping about in unconscious ignorance.
I was told that three copies of “Punch” were sent to the steam-launch proprietor on the day of publication; the likeness was very good, and indeed, everyone up and down the river knew it in a moment. This clever piece of satire had no effect, however, in abating the nuisance in any way, and must have fallen like water off a duck’s back.
1891: There is a poem which rather matches Captain
Jinks of the Selfish.
James Kenneth Stephen (1859-1892): Steam-Launches On the Thames -
Henley, June 7, 1891
Listen to 'Steam-Launches On the Thames'
Shall we, to whom the stream by right belongs,
Who travel silent, save, perchance, for songs;
Whose track's a ripple, - leaves the Thames a lake,
Nor frights the swan - scarce makes the rushes shake;
Who harmonize, exemplify, complete
And vivify a scene already sweet:
Who travel careless on, from lock to lock,
Oblivious that the world contains a clock,
With pace commensurate to our desires,
Propelled by other force than Stygian fire's;
Shall we be driven hence to leave a place
For these, who bring upon our stream disgrace:
The rush, the roar, the stench, the smoke, the steam,
The nightmare striking through our heavenly dream;
The scream as shrill and hateful to the ear
As when a peacock vents his rage and fear;
Which churn to fury all a glassy reach,
And heave rude breakers on a pebbly beach:
Which half o'erwhelm with waves our frailer craft,
While graceless shop-boys chuckle fore and aft:
Foul water-toadstools, noisome filth-stained shapes,
Fit only to be manned by dogs and apes:
Blots upon nature: scars that mar her smile:
Obscene, obtrusive, execrable, vile?
Given the feeling of that poem I had originally commented that perhaps the author's death
the following year, at about the age of 33, might have been the result of a blown gasket.
However I must apologise to the poor man, for actually I was more correct than I knew. His death was the final result of a blow to the head which caused brain damage and mental instability. He had to be kept in an asylum for some time. It may well be that the above poem, which was written after the injury, shows signs of this. James Kenneth Stephen was a royal tutor, the royal tutor of Eddy, Duke of Clarence, whose father became Edward VII. Bizarrely, through this conection, he has appeared amongst the suspects of the 'Jack-the-ripper' murders.
James Kenneth Stephen, 1859-1892
1885: Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames –
Steam launches are too often the curse of the river. Driving along at an excessive rate of speed,
with an utter disregard to the comfort or necessities of anglers, oarsmen and
boating parties, the average steam launch engineer is an unmitigated nuisance.
There are some owners who show consideration for other people, but their number, unfortunately, is very limited, and for the most part the launches are navigated with a recklessness which is simply shameful. Perhaps the worst offenders are the people who pay their £5 5s. a day for their hire of a launch, and whose idea of a holiday is the truly British notion of getting over as much ground as possible in a given time. Parties of this kind, especially after the copious lunch which is one of the features of the day’s outing, stimulate the engineer to fresh exertions, and appear to enjoy themselves considerably as they contemplate the anxiety and discomfort of the occupants of the punts and rowing boats which are left floundering helplessly in their wash.
Should there be ladies on board a boat in difficulties, their terror proportionately enhances the amusement of these steam-launch 'Arries. Unfortunately, these excursionists are not alone in their offences against courtesy and good behaviour. Too many people who ought to know very much better keep them in countenance by their selfish example.
1938: Clyde Eddy, Voyaging Down the Thames -
[Salters] steamers travel at a relatively slow speed which they reduce still more when meeting or passing small boats. I learned later that high speeds are prohibited to protect the banks and locks and that despite increasing use of motor boats courtesy is a rule generally observed on the river.
1954: Monkey Island in snow -
Monkey Island in snow, 1954