THREE WATERWAYS AT THE THAMES HEAD SOURCE
by Jim Groves. from "Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide"
"Young Jim take the visitors down the field to the Head",
said the father to the boy, who was then eleven years old in 1948.
Another excited group of tourists arrived at the farm house on the Trewsbury estate tucked away in the depths of the Cotswold Hills near Cirencester.
They were looking for the source of the River Thames which can be found near the Thames Head Inn on the A433 road near Coates .
At the bottom of a dip in the road a signpost points the way across a field known as Trewsbury Mead.
It was Summertime in 1948 and the local coach companies were offering their fee paying customers tours including a visit to that enigmatic place.
Frequently the visitors would be off-loaded in the yard adjacent to the farm house and left alone to find the unmarked way and would then enquire at the farm asking for help.
The boy's parents and brothers were all occupied working on the land six or seven days a week and had no time for tourists, but the juvenile Jim could be called upon to be the guide.
The Manor of Trewsbury, (an ancient Roman camp), is mentioned in the Domesday Book when it was surveyed in 1086
and and was found to have half of an hide (or about 15 acres of land on which to grow food and rear animals).
Trewsbury Estate comprised the Manor House;
its farmhouse and outbuildings;
a bungalow style Lodge at the entrance of each of its two drives.
The Estate Gamekeeper lived in one while attending his flock and was a constant threat to all the Poachers in the District.
Also there was housing accommodation for the head gardener and some of his staff and enclosed kitchen garden glass houses and potting sheds and various other outhouses in the surrounding Woodland.
The river in Trewsbury Mead was well known as being the source of the Thames river and is the first waterway located there.
The long since disused canal bed of the Thames and Severn canal company is also located at that same place adjacent to,
and running almost parallel with, the infant Thames.
Its banks were cut away at that place to allow the Farmer to take his stock across the canal bed into various fields and distant barns.
This canal is the second waterway and was very busy transporting goods from Bristol via the Thames and Severn canal to the Thames near Lechlade in Gloucestershire.
In the grounds of the Manor House there was also a subterranean ice House adjacent to the Thames and Severn canal which ran around the perimeter of the estate.
Ice would be brought on board ships from northern climates down to Bristol and then distributed around the countryside and in this instance the ice would be carried on barges on the Thames and Severn canal.
The cook at the Manor House would put food stuff in the ice house for long-term storage, and in addition take ice into her kitchens and place it in ice boxes for the short term storing of everyday use.
Seven Springs pond near Coberley Village, some 5 miles or so away from the famous Cheltenham, has a plaque written in Latin.
It was seen by Alan Jenkins in his "Book of the Thames" in 1983 which declared it to be the "Sevenfold source of the Thames".
Here, O Father Thames, is your Sevenfold Spring.
Those springs are some 11 miles to the North of Trewsbury Mead, in which the Thames Head spring is to be found under an ancient Ash Tree
alongside the bed of the Thames and Severn canal.
In the 1940s the various bus and coach companies, who were in the tourist sightseeing business, must have known about Seven Springs, but apparently decided that the spring in the meadow at Trewsbury was the real source of the River Thames and would be of great interest to the paying public to go to visit.
Other authorities must also have decided it because in the late eighteenth century Samuel Ireland showed his "Picturesque Views of the Thames" at Trewsbury in 1792, followed by John and Josiah Boydell who were at Trewsbury in 1793 together with John Farrington RA who painted the scenery there.
Thames Head. June 1, 1793. J. Farington R.A. delt. J.C.Stadler sculpt.
(Published) by J. & J. Boydell, Shakespeare Gally. Pall Mall & (No. 90) Cheapside (London).
[ Jim Groves adds other notes - ]
Returning to the Trewsbury meadow and the Thames spring in 1793, Joseph Farrington painted the scene with much water outflowing
into the valley from a bricked up cover over the well.
It also shows the Thames and Severn Canal behind with the mast of a boat behind the well.
It is reasonable to presume that this picture was made in the dry season and yet the water flow was quite considerable.
In winter there would have been much more and so anyone could believe that this was the source of the Thames!
However now, two hundred years later and no water flows from the spring in summer, we really must question whether the other springs in the district should be properly regarded as the true source?
Perhaps the Seven Spring at Coberley really are the Thames source after all?
Mr and Mrs S C Hall were there in 1859 writing about the source and publishing the "Book of the Thames"
beautifully reprinted in 1980 by Robert Harris.
The Halls showed us the first tunnel under the A433 road from Cirencester to Tetbury.
It is still there in its original form but is now under several metres of rocks and hard core with the New Road above on a fairly level plane.
A429, Kemble Bridge, 1859.
They also informed us about the Hoar stone which lies on the south side of that tunnel in a semicircular stone surround.
It was put there in the time of King Athelstan around 930 A.D. and, according to authors in the 19th century, it was used as a stepping stone enabling horse riders to become mounted in an easy manner.
The Hoar Stone (Saxon Boundary Stone) at Thames Head ( 4clydesdale7 )
From those early Pioneers and the authorities who had decided that the spring in Trewsbury was the source of the Thames
it seems that in the 1940s it was the place to discover.
Jim, the Young tour guide, would take them through the farmyard, past the water storage tower which was filled from the Underground aquifer in the valley at the lower end of the field.
The water from that same aquifer would become forced up the fissure in the rocks to discharge into the valley and then becoming the River Thames, and so that was the Source, the head of the River Thames!
To reach it they had to pass through various gates and down the field a few hundred yards past the pump house,
where water was drawn up from the same aquifer and delivered to the Water Tower in the farmyard,
and then distributed to the various dwellings on the estate, including the Manor House.
Near the pump house they would cross over the Thames and Severn canal, superbly written about by the late Humphrey Household.
The canal was disused long ago but still very evident.
The Thames & Severn Canal at Thames Head.
[ Whilst on the subject of pumping - Jim Groves also provides notes about the pumping for the canal ]
The canal has its summit on the the Thames Head source and is running parallel to the river;
its own well shaft was dug some 55 feet into the water at that point.
From the cross section drawings of that well, the steam beam engine lowers its bucket 47 feet into the water and then the surrounding water enters it and is lifted to the surface; in the wet season the water was seen to rise 16 feet below surface.
This engine was removed before the second world war.
The main water supply for the canal was made in the nearby town of Cirencester and a canal branch in the town centre received its supply from the River Churn at Barton Mill in the north of the town.
That Churn water is still flowing alongside Cecily Hill and disappears underground.
I have not been able to find where it emerges.
The canal has long been filled in but it was located at the junction of Quern Street and Sheep Street near the old railway station.
the canal branch joined the main canal at Siddington.
Thames Head from the Thames & Severn Canal, 1811
The Thames and Severn Canal pumping house at Trewsbury, c.1878
[ Jim continues his notes about Thames Head -]
And then finally a few more yards to the ash tree under which a pile of stones could be seen.
The letters " T H " had been carved into the ash tree making it clear that this was the source of the River.
If the visitors came early in spring and there had been much rainfall in winter they would be rewarded with the sight of water bubbling through the stones and trickling its way across the valley towards the first tunnel under the Tetbury Road.
It would flood the base of the Hoar stone in the wettest Winters; meander past the other local spring, Lyd Well, where the underground water was more abundant and its spring more lively.
During the months ahead many coach loads would come with their excited travellers eager to go to the Thames Head source, and then sadly, if it had been a dry winter, their hopes were dashed, for there was nothing to be seen under the pile of limestone which was used to construct the well in the time of Boydell in 1793.
The river and water authorities wanted to make the visiting travellers to Trewsbury feel happier,
and so it was decided that an existing statue of old father Thames should be uplifted and placed majestically alongside the " T H " ash tree
just above the ancient stone well.
It had been made by Rafaelle Monti and positioned at the South London Crystal Palace after The Great Exhibition.
It remained there until the time of the tragic fire which swept through the entire building in 1936, when the crystal marvel was burnt to the ground.
Old father Thames is a reclining stone figure and in 1958 was set down on a suitable plinth looking down the Trewsbury Mead Valley where the stripling Thames would make its way.
The statue was surrounded by iron railings.
1966? Father Thames at Thames Head
© Richard Green and licensed for reuse
under this Creative Commons Licence.
Alas the revellers in the district made fun of the dear old boy, and he was in danger of becoming damaged, so,
after a short spell in Trewsbury Mead, he was uplifted again in 1972, and removed to his present home at Lechlade
where he sits by the Thames river where the very first lock is situated.
In the 1970s a new Stone monument had been positioned by the wall and ash tree.
It has an inscription noting that this is indeed the source of the River Thames!
The stone is difficult to read.
(I have cheated and enhanced the lettering. JCE)
(And there was a lady who had come to see this enigmatic river but it was summer and there was no small boy here to tell her the tale!)
The glorious Thames wonders through many fields and to the West of the man-made Lakes at South Cerney.
Meanwhile the River Churn, which is watered from the Seven Springs, has meandered South to the east side of South Cerney Lakes.
Finally the Two Rivers become 'married' at Cricklade in Wiltshire under the High Street.
The churn has added an additional 14 miles of waterway from the Seven Springs to Cricklade before arriving at that junction, making it appear to be longer than the traditional Thames Water course.
Interestingly the River Churn was used as the water source to fill, and continuously top up, the Thames and Severn canal in the canal branch in Cirencester near the old railway station.
It was located at the junction of Quorn and Sheep Streets, and made its way Southwards between Watermoor Road and the Bypass road around the town.
Every time the lock Gates were opened at either end of the canal the water would empty, into the Thames at Inglesham, and into the Severn at Framilode.
The canal owners had to pay every year for the Churn water from the outset: with £399 paid in 1796; £59 in 1855; and £535 in 1853 !
Also there was a wind pump at Trewsbury, lifting water from the Underground aquifer, discharging it into the Thames and Severn canal.
Later on a steam engine drove a pump and would deliver some 2000 gallons per minute from the Underground well (55 feet, 17 metres).
It continued until the early part of the 20th century when the canal had outlived its economic life.
The underground aquifer was not only creating the Thames source but was also partially feeding the canal via this pump - and this aquifer is the third waterway at the head of the Thames!
The river Churn begins at Seven Springs where that water is forced from its underground source, and it continues discharging
at a constant rate all the Year around.
Maybe that aquifer also feeds the Trewsbury Spring because of the close proximity of these two important Springs?
We know that there is the subterranean aquifer along that Valley from Trewsbury to the Lyd Well so it seems perfectly possible for the water to run underground from Seven Springs in the north to Trewsbury in the south?
Perhaps geologists will one day find that enigmatic underground water and then the two Springs will be found to be fed by the same water and if so which one will become the source of the Thames??