“But the Thames is Liquid History” (The non-tidal Thames in the post-medieval period)

“But the Thames is Liquid History” (The non-tidal Thames in the post-medieval period),
A Talk by Jill Hind

Jill Hind works for Oxford Archaeology, having retrained from being a science teacher. Much of her time has been devoted to researching the history of sites across England and Wales in advance of development or for conservation and management plans. Jill is also involved in strategic studies, helping to develop policy and guidance on various aspects of the historic environment. She worked on the preparation of the Urban Archaeological Database for the City of Oxford and this, plus her experience of sites within the area, led to her involvement in the Solent Thames Research Framework project .

Jill started her talk by explaining that although she is an archaeologist, she is not one that gets her hands dirty, most of her work is concerned with policy planning and guidance. She is currently writing about the post medieval period for Oxford Archaeology’s “Thames Through Time” publication.

Tonight she would be covering the post medieval Thames and its tributaries from the start to Teddington Lock which is the non-tidal part looking at the history of the area from 1540 to 1900, through archaeological investigations and surviving structures/buildings. The Thames obviously had a huge impact on communication, resources, settlement and recreation and Jill covered various aspects of locks, mills, bridges, railways, turnpike roads, wharves, boatyards along this part of the Thames.

Jill explained that the Thames was not navigable the whole way at this time. In 1635 flash locks were replaced with pound locks which were more efficient, originally they were turf sided with timber lining and later stone was used. She mentioned that Wessex Archaeology had investigated the restored Monkey Lock, a scheduled ancient monument. Canals were also built to widen and straighten or bypass the river where it was impassable.

Bridges included lift and swing types; there are two remaining toll bridges, at Whitchurch and Swinford. Jill showed us picture of the Maidenhead railway bridge and mentioned that Windsor bridge was the same design as the Tamar road bridge. Oxford swing bridge, which carried the LMS railway line, is a scheduled monument.

Railways brought more prosperity to the area, people and goods could be moved much faster than by water, however not everyone thought it a good idea, Oxford University opposed the railway station, it was the same for Eton college. Queen Victoria was also reported to be unhappy about it.

In the late 17th century Turnpike Acts enabled tolls to be collected on roads and made it mandatory to list the charges. The High Wycombe toll house is now housed at Chiltern Open Air Museum, there is also one on Folly Bridge at Oxford, now used as a newsagents.

Mills were obviously prevalent along the river, as were paper mills, one with a tar paper roof, (tubes of tar paper were also used for building walls). Jill also talked about the Brick kilns, and pottery kilns at Nettlebed and Boarstall where some excavations had taken place.

Other items of interest were the timber factories, especially in High Wycombe and the micro brewery in Thame; Osney was the first electric power station in Oxford and Ravenscroft lead crystal used sand from the Stonor estate.

Jill explained that the post medieval period was not popular for excavating because a lot of the buildings had been either knocked down or had been reused.

Jill’s talk was full of information and she gave us an insight to the history of this great river.

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