Tag Archives: River Thames

“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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The River Thames from Henley to Windsor

Richard Poad has been Chairman of the Maidenhead Heritage Centre for the past 15 years and has been the driving force behind the project. The Centre has recently acquired a permanent home in Maidenhead. He was also awarded an MBE for services to the heritage of Maidenhead. He is a retired airline pilot and has owned a narrow boat for 32 years so he knows the waterways intimately.

Richard took us along the river by means of photos and paintings and many interesting snippets of informa- tion relating to all the villages/towns we passed, however he started his talk by telling us of the current exhibition at the heritage centre “Buried Treasure the Archaeology of the Maidenhead Area” which displays many archaeological finds around the Maidenhead area including stone axes and bronze age swords.

The armchair “tour” commenced at Henley for this ride down the river with pictures from 100 years ago, he explained that the banks were straightened out for the Regatta so it was a straight run from Temple Island. Hambledon is next up and we were asked to think about what came first: the weir, the mill or the lock. On to Medmenham Abbey, then Harleyford – the house, which is now offices was designed by Robert Taylor, who also designed Maidenhead Bridge, then to Temple Lock, showing the footbridge and then an aerial shot taken in 2003 of the floods.

Bisham Church was very recognizable as was Marlow Bridge and the plaques fixed below the bridge “sigil de desbro 1860”. This is apparently the date the original wooden beams of the bridge were replaced with steel. Another aerial shot, this time of the Mar- low Mill area which Richard told us ground rape seed in the 18th century. The flash lock was called the Lion’s Mouth with the winch at the end of St Peter’s Street.

On to Quarrywood Hall and further to Bourne End, the photo showing the sailing club. I did not know there was an ‘international airport’ behind the Quarry Hotel, at Cockmarsh. On to Cookham and Swan Upping, with a painting by Stanley Spencer which Richard told us was painted in two halves, part before and part after the war and the styles are noticeably different. Richard then showed us a picture of Spring Cottage, on the river on the Cliveden estate, which was built as a tea house by the Duchess of Sutherland who entertained Queen Victoria. 100 years later Spring Cottage was rented by Stephen Ward, the osteopath at the centre of the Profumo affair.

On to Maidenhead Bridge and the Turner painting featuring Brunel’s railway bridge, also to Bray showing the George before it became the Waterside. The aerial view of Dorney Rowing Lake was particularly interesting as it showed its relation to the Jubilee River. We then went to Monkey Island, Boveney and finished at Windsor. Richard showed us three different paintings of the castle, one fairly accurate one with extra turrets and one pure Disney. This is where we disembarked from our “tour”.

It made me stop and think again how much we have on our doorstep that I take for granted and visitors come from miles to stay and visit.

Thank you Richard for reminding us of our local heritage.

Richard had on sale, for the benefit of the Heritage Centre, maps and books, one of which was a history of the Berkshire Archaeological Research Group by Janet Firth. Richard’s talk fee also goes to support the Centre.

Normal opening is Tuesdays to Saturdays 10am to 4pm, also on the 2nd Sunday of each month, 10am to 12.30pm (Farmers’ Market Day) 01628 780555 email is info@maidenheadheritage.org.uk. Web site is www.maidenheadheritage.org.uk

Richard also gives talks on other subjects.

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