1859: The Thames, Mr & Mrs Hall

Kempsford in The Stripling Thames by Fred Thacker

1910: Thames Valley Villages by Charles G Harper

below Kempsford
Below Kempsford there was a tree right across the river leaving only four feet for boats.

I think there must be some annual maintenance on this stretch. It used to be inspected annually by rowing boat launched at Cricklade.  There is however no commitment to ensuring that the river is navigable. I always carry a small saw in my punt.

Site of Blackford Weir

1869: Blackford Weir removed by the Thames Conservancy, the sill being left as a foundation for stepping stones.
1889: Krausse refers to remains of an old mill here.
1908: Fred Thacker crossed here: almost dry shod.
1910: Fred Thacker: I could find no foundation stones for the weir beam.
1920: Fred Thacker: Blackford Weir Pool is about two or three large meadows below [Kempsford].

Kempsford Church

Right bank

St Mary, Kempsford.

Kempsford Church
Kempsford Church.

Kempsford Church we have been listening to striking the quarters at least twice before we see it. [Punting at 2.5 mph]. It has four weather vanes.  An idyllic setting.
There is an ancient ford here (notorious for needing local knowledge to avoid deep water.)  As a punter I understand that.  There are very shallow and then very deep sections all over this reach.
This, hard though it is to believe it nowadays, was a military place.  That meadow by the church was an exercise ground used for training archers.

Notice that Kempsford Bridge is over the canal not the river.

800: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle -

This year was the moon eclipsed, at eight in the evening, on the seventeenth day before the calends of February; and soon after died King Bertric and Alderman Worr.
Egbert succeeded to the West-Saxon kingdom; and the same day Ethelmund, alderman of the Wiccians, rode over the Thames at Kempsford; where he was met by Alderman Woxtan, with the men of Wiltshire, and a terrible conflict ensued, in which both the commanders were slain, but the men of Wiltshire obtained the victory.

1791, Samuel Ireland -

APPROACHING Kempsford, a large village in Gloucestershire, the river quits Wiltshire, and again enters its native county, dividing it from Berkshire at Inglesham, where the scenery is greatly improved, by the combination of an ancient Gothic church, with its usual appendage, a comfortable vicarage-house : these are pleasantly situated on a verdant slope, rising from the margin of the Thames, which, though shallow, is yet beautifully transparent, and, as it ripples in its course, displays a sheltered and gravelly bed, where the neighbouring cattle luxuriantly bask themselves in the noon-tide sun.
Within this pleasant retreat the Vicarage, we found, not the vicar, but his locum tenens, an humble Welch[sic] curate, with a wife and two children, existing on twenty-five pounds a year, and honestly confessing he had, on this side the grave, no wish beyond the addition of ten pounds to his salary; and could he have obtained this, he might have said with Swift -

These things in my possessing
Are better than the bishop's blessing.

Surely if the wish of this honest curate be sincere, and his morals equal to his simplicity, he cannot fall very short of the character of a primitive christian.
ADJOINING to the church, which is a venerable old structure, there lately stood a very extensive mansion-house, once occupied by John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. He resided here some time, but taking a dislike to the place, on account of the unfortunate death of his only son (which happened here) he granted the manor of Kenemeres, Kenemeresford, or Kempsford, with other lands, to the collegiate church of St. Mary the Less in the castle of Leicester, for the maintenance of an hospital called Newark, or New Work, of which he was the founder, 28 of Ed. III.
WITHIN the tower of the church, on the capitals of the pillars, are the arms of this duke, of the earl of Gloucester, and of king Alfred ; and on the outside of the church door is nailed a large horse-shoe, said to have belonged to Henry IV. This ancient mansion has, by order of its possessor, lord Coleraine, been levelled to the ground, within the last six years, when the materials were purchased by Loveden, Esq; of Burcott Park, with which he has erected an elegant modern house. THE out-offices and grand entrance to this extensive building are yet standing, and are occupied as farm-houses.

Kempsford Church
Kempsford Church, 1791 Samuel Ireland.

[ The Nave looks as if it had no roof in 1791. ]

1859: The Thames, Mr & Mrs Hall

Again the river flows onward — again waters flat, but fertile fields — again affords a rich supply of water-plants, but undergoes no change of character; yielding no food for thought until re-entering Gloucestershire, the county of its birth, it passes under the beautiful church, and washes the foundations of Kempsford — a palace of the Plantagenets long ago. Of this there are some interesting remains, but of the dwelling of their Saxon predecessors there exists only a vague tradition, confirmed, however, now and then, by evidence gathered from adjacent earth-mounds.

The manor of Kempsford was the property of the great Harold; the Conqueror gave it to one of his Norman soldiers; it passed from him to the family of Chaworth; and from them, by marriage, to Henry Duke of Lancaster, who, in the year 1355, presented it to "the Church"; at the Dissolution, the crown granted it to the Thynnes, ancestors of the marquises of Bath; by whom it was sold to Lord Coleraine,*
* Better known as Colonel Hanger, and an Intimate associate of George IV. when Prince of Wales. The marble tomb in which he is placed was brought from Rome, and his coffin is placed above ground within it.
whose tomb is in the church; by him the ancient mansion, erected by Sir Thomas Thynne in the reign of James I. (a quadrangular structure of large dimensions, of which two engravings exist), was dismantled and sold for the value of the materials, the trees were cut down, and a host of "fair memories" destroyed by the recklessness of one bad man. The place is, notwithstanding, full of rare associations; the foundations of the castle may yet be traced, the battlements being in some places unbroken.


The church is a noble structure, remarkable for the grand windows which light the junction of nave and chancel, and above which rises the tower. It was chiefly erected in the fourteenth century, at the expense of Henry Duke of Lancaster, whose arms, and those of other noble famihes, are conspicuously displayed amid the spandrels within. There are many fragments of fine painted glass in the windows, one of the most perfect delineating St. Anne teaching the Virgin to read. There is also a characteristic altar-tomb of a priest in the chancel, upon which is sculptured the Rood, and the Virgin in glory; but they have been grievously injured by the hands of iconoclasts. The floor is remarkable for its early English tiles, and the roof for its timber-work. The porch is Early English, forming a framework for the earlier Norman door within it.


The vicar's garden, adjoining, was originally known as the Provost's Garden (probably the garden of the provost-marshal), and, until the year 1800, the road went to the ford across it. The level field on the opposite side is still known as "the Butts", *
* Butts, or "dead-marks", as they were sometimes called, were embankments of earth having marks, or "bull's eyes", upon the flat face, for practising soldiers in archery. They were in constant use in the middle ages, and erected near great towns, or where soldiers were stationed — hence the constant occurrence of the term " Butts", appended to names of streets and places near old cities.
KEMPSFORD BUTTS One of the most ancient pictures of the exercise is copied on a reduced scale in our woodcut. The original is a drawing in the famous psalter executed for Sir Geoffrey Louterell, who died in 1345. It exhibits an archer aiming at the butts, his arrow drawn to the head; several others are stuck in his girdle. His companion points triumphantly to an arrow fixed in the bull's-eye, and awaits the prowess of his companion previous to trying again, for which purpose he already holds his bow and arrow.

and marks the site of the ground appropriated to the military exercises of the soldiery who once garrisoned the castle. "The Butts" were mounds of earth, marked with a ring like a target, and were used in practising archery. A strong arrow with a broad feather was necessary to be used; such bows and arrows as gave "immortal fame" to the archers of the English army at Crecy and at Poictiers[sic].

Of the castle itself but a few fragmentary walls remain, and a portion of a tower, which is traditionally known as " the Gunner's Room." The windows command the river, and the embrasures defend the castle at an exposed angle, which seems to have received an additional amount of attention from the architect. The walls are very massive, and now afford abundant room for wild plants and bushes, overshadowed by patrician trees. We may almost imagine we are in the gloomy room of him who guarded the approaches in days long past, when security depended more upon stone walls than on "even-handed justice." A horse-shoe nailed to the church door continues to sustain the legend that when Henry Duke of Lancaster was quitting it for ever, his steed cast a shoe, which the villagers retained as a memorial, and placed where it is found to-day. However much we may lament over scenes of grandeur passed away, it is a rare consolation to see the church, the rectory, the grounds, and the whole neighbourhood kindly thought of, and well cared for, by the incumbent, wbo preserves what time has left, and restores where restoration is desirable.

1880: Kempsford Church, Henry Taunt -

Kempsford Church, Henry Taunt, 1880
Kempsford Church, Henry Taunt, 1880
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT1172

1911: Kempsford Church, W Parker -

Kempsford Church, W Parker, 1911
Kempsford Church, W Parker, 1911
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; D230400a

The George Inn at Kempsford, Right bank

1896: 'A Tale of the Thames' by Joseph Ashby-Sterry - [coming downstream by canoe]

A sharp bend to the right takes them past the gardens and plantations belonging to the village, and they presently land at Manor Farm, haul their canoe out on the grass, cover it up, and leave it in charge of a native, who seems to think it the funniest thing that had ever happened. Perhaps they do not have much fun in Kempsford, especially on a wet day, and doubtless the arrival of the canoe and its owners was an event in this good man's life, for when [they] looked round they saw the Kempsford Humorist ... walking round and round their craft and patting it as it it required soothing and he was afraid of it running away, then looking at it with great affection and admiration and exploding into a violent guffaw as he slapped his legs with excitement.
Kempsford is little else than a long street of about half a mile, extending from the church and across the canal bridge to the schools. It is of the quietest and most old-fashioned description, and still rejoices in stocks for the coercion of refractory inhabitants, which probably have not been used since Lord Coleraine - better known to most of us as Colonel Hanger - dismantled his fine old fourteenth century mansion, sold the materials for what they would fetch, and cut down all the timber and converted it into cash.
In the centre of the village the travellers discover a comfortable hostelry - the George - and a landlady who seemed to be fully alive to the necessity of immediately providing a luncheon. She at once had a fire lighted in a snug, low-ceilinged, dark-panelled room, and the crackle of logs presently harmonised with the hissing of frying-pan in the kitchen, and the pungent odour of burnt wood mingled without discord with the savour of boiled ham, and by the time our friends had dried themselves before the fire they were able to do ample justice to a particularly enticing dish of eggs and ham, followed by a capital North Wiltshire cheese and the most delightful of crusty loaves, accompanied by excellent ale out of big mugs.
Luncheon finished, they took a hurried inspection of the church and remains of the castle ...

Aerial View of Kempsford
Aerial View of Kempsford.

I was once sitting on my punt opposite Kempsford eating my lunch when I became aware of a disturbance under water.  A wave appeared to travel down one side of the punt, swerved round the end and surged back up the other side! I am told it was probably a pike attacking something sheltering under the punt. All along here, standing silently on the punt, I can see large fish at times it is almost like floating on an aquarium.  They seem quite unalarmed by the punt and I think they can't see me because of the bright sunlight - until the pole suddenly frightens them!