1890: Summer Days on the Thames by Alfred J Church, going downstream -
At Binsey Lock a whole settlement of people who live by the letting out of rowing and sailing boats has grown up.
The changes in the University have brought into Oxford a large population of permant residents, and the Long Vacation is no longer a period of dreary inaction in which this waterside population has to consume the harvests gathered in during the "flying terms".
They seem to be fairly prosperous, and the house boats in which they live, free, it is to be presumed, of rent and taxes, look as comfortable as they are picturesque.
Cambridge wooden punt poles are (were?) made in Bossom's Boatyard: Oxford punt poles are aluminium,
Cambridge poles were, until recently, all wood, but are now increasingly aluminium
I used to be a convinced wooden pole punter; but then finding increasing difficulty and expense in obtaining reasonable wooden poles (together with my altogether unreasonable wish for a twenty foot pole) I finally tried an aluminium pole and, after the initial negative reaction, came to like it. I found the transition from wood to aluminium relatively painless. What one looses in the feel and spring of the pole one makes up for in not having to be so careful to protect the pole from any leverage that could break it.
I use 16' and 20' poles - though received opinion is that 18' is the very longest that could possibly be handled. Certainly 20' can sometimes be difficult in a following wind. Nothing between Iffley and Godstow needs a 20' pole, though on the Iffley to Sandford reach there are places where even 20' is not long enough.
There is a fundamental divide between the racing style punters who take only one grip on the pole during the shove, and the pleasure style punters who move hand over hand up the pole during the shove. The former will favour shorter poles (and can be quite rude about the rest of us) whereas for the pleasure punter (all other things being equal) the longer the pole - the faster the punting.
Oxford punters have the received opinion that wooden poles being more buoyant need to be thrust down into the water more determinedly. Uh - maybe - but I really have not noticed. Certainly it matters little in practice. One of the incidental advantages of aluminium is that since the surface holds the water less than a well used wooden pole, one tends to spray it around less - which passengers (and shirt sleeves) appreciate.
from "Barbara Goes to Oxford" by Oona Ball -
Then said Mr. Bent, "Have you been on the Upper River?"
When he heard that we had not, he said it was imperative that we should go.
"We will have supper at Godstow and come back by moonlight", said he. ...
We were all to meet at Bossom's on the Upper River.
It was so gay at Bossoms. All the boats rocked and danced on the sunlit water which plashed and gurgled invitingly against the side of the raft. Mrs. Oglander and Brownie minded the steering ; I was glad to lie quiet in the bows. Mr. Bent stroked and Mr. Enderby pulled in time.
Away across the fields on our left we passed Binsey, the little village to which Frideswide fled and where her well is to this day.
Up to the lock at Godstow the river is broad and fairly straight, running along by the side of Port Meadow, a great open space which has belonged to the citizens of Oxford for ever and ever.
At Godstow we came to the little that remains of the nunnery where Fair Rosamund lived in penitence and died. Hereabouts the woods come closer to the river and the stream gets narrower and twists and turns.
"A little further on", said Mr. Bent, "and you shall hear the nightingales singing in the woods at Wytham."
I thought that this seemed hardly likely, as I have never met a nightingale that sang to me in August. I did not, however, like to contradict. I suppose that learned persons have no time to verify such details.
A long way they rowed us past fields of corn and meadows full of flowers and lush grass; here and there a fisherman sat upon the bank or a pair of lovers walked along the tow-path. We had our impromptu supper on the bank, and Mr. Bent prevailed upon Brownie to go with him to listen for those nightingales.
"I am sure," said he, "that I heard them beautifully when I came here last."
"Very likely", said Mr. Enderby to me. "I was here with him, and it was early June".
But Brownie looked quite content when she came back, and so did Mr. Bent.
We slipped home through the lovely quiet night. The river was all silver and black and mysterious ; the moon rose into a sky left warm and palpitating by the sunset.
1880: Bossom's Boatyard, Medley, Henry Taunt (© English Heritage). But don't bother to click it unless you want to check - because Dredge in 1895 used the same photo, and though for copyright reasons I can't show the original, I do have permission to show Dredge's copy -
Medley, Boatyards, Dredge, 1895
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; D250353a
The view is facing upstream on the Old
Navigation with Medley footbridge hidden behind the trees on the left.
The boatyard on the right is Beesley's. That on the left is Bossom's.
The Bossoms and the Beesleys were both watermen's families living in Oxford since the late 17th century. Two Abel Beesleys, father and son, were both champion punters and university boatmen.
Photograph of Abel Beesley punting, 1901.
That this boatyard is here is possibly because it was above the Medley weir and therefore gave unimpeded access to this popular reach up to Godstow.
On the RIGHT bank is Port Meadow. Low water meadow with views
of the Oxford skyline.
From Matthew Arnold's Thyrsis a Monody -
... And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty's heightening, ...
1834 Tombleson - "that sweet city with her dreaming spires"
more like "city of perspiring dreams" in 2003!
Last time I was there someone was board skating across this view towed at enormous speeds by a kite.
Like a rich gem, in circling gold enshrined,
Where Isis' waters wind
Along the sweetest shore
That ever felt fair culture's hands,
Or spring's embroidered mantle wore -
Lo! Where majestic Oxford stands.
Oxford, from Westall's Picturesque Tour of the Thames
1822: Oxford, taken near Oseney, Cooke's views of the Thames.
Oxford, taken near Oseney
Drawn by P. Dewint from a Sketch by G. Hollis. July 1,1822.
F W Faber -
OXFORD FROM THE ISIS
AND there the golden city lay
Safe in her leafy nest,
And softly on her clustering towers
The blush of dawn did rest.
Onward for many and many a mile,
Through fields that lay below,
Old Isis with his glassy stream
Came pleasantly and slow.
The spring with blossoms rich and fair
Had fringed the river's edge,
Pale Mayflowers and wild hyacinths
And spears of tall green sedge.
The ripple on the flowery marge
A pleasant sound did yield,
And pleasant was the wind that waved
The long grass in the field.
1932: England by Ronald Carton -
Spires and towers, roofs and quadrangles gardens and ancient trees, placid, open to the sky, seen distantly and as one, make a spectacle of almost startling beauty; so that the spectator whose eyes may lately have been delighted only by scenes of natural grandeur will catch his breath and wonder that anything that has been made can be so exquisite as this.
Dreaming Spires - Oxford, Ashley Bryant
1885: The Royal River -
... the noble array of pinnacles, towers, and spires across Port Meadow,
presented as a free common to the city by William the Conqueror,
and so to this day preserved. The towers and spires have an imposing effect,
with Shotover Hill behind.
The most prominent objects are St Philip's and St Jame's Church, the Roman Catholic Church,
the Observatory, the Radcliff, the Sheldonian, St Mary's, All Saint's,
Tom Tower and the Cathedral, and, nestling down among the trees,
the square grey tower of Oxford Castle. ...
The River Thames round Port Meadow is more disgracefully weedy and neglected than any other portion of its course.
The banks on either side can be shallow
and there may be a weed problem on the LEFT bank.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Binsey Poplars (Felled 1879) -
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandalled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew -
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being so slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve;
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial rural scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.
[ It has been strongly suggested that the poet was not much of an environmentalist and that the poplars had reached the natural end of their lives and needed to be replaced anyway. In which case it cries out for a parody about the misuse of words by "sensitive" poets who get hold of the wrong end of the stick and then wax lyrical about it.]