Day 12 – Chertsey to Hampton Court

Day 12 took me from Chertsey to Hampton Court, a distance of some 12 miles.

As with all starts since Cricklade, today starts with a bridge, this time Chertsey Bridge and onto Dumsey Meadow, almost the final open meadow I would encounter on the path as I moved into more urban landscapes. Dumsey is a 24-acre undeveloped water meadow that is a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Just around the first bend is Rye Peck Meadow Moorings, a riverside community currently consisting of 10 floating homes. The mooring fee in 2020 was £11,000 for which you get access to your own garden, parking, electricity and sewage, mains water, telephone and internet and refuse removal. A proper home from home.

After going round another sharp bend the path follows a quiet riverside road with houses to your left and bungalows across the far bank, which appear to have post boxes and landing stages on the near bank. As you pass the large Thames Court pub you begin to see Shepperton Weir, that is recorded in the Doomsday Book. and Shepperton Lock.


Passing the lock you now come to Ferry Lane and the first ferry across the Thames – Shepperton Ferry. There has been a ferry here for 500 years apart from a 26 year break from 1960-1986.

In the 1920s, George Dunton owned the boatyard by Shepperton Lock, offering boat hire and a riverside café, and operating the ferry until around 1960 when the service ceased. Proposals were made to construct a foot bridge to Weybridge, but they came to nothing. Nauticalia acquired the George Dunton business and boatyard in 1986, having moved from Shepperton High Street to Ferry Lane, where our Head Office, shop, and boatyard are based today. The Nauticalia Ferry now runs every 15 minutes on request.

Nauticalia

Shepperton to Weybridge Ferry is the scene of the first confrontation between the British military, six twelve-pound artillery pieces, and the Martians, five fighting-machines, that the protagonist witnesses in H. G. Wells’ science fiction novel The War of the Worlds. A Martian is destroyed by a direct hit from an artillery shell, and its comrades use their heat rays to wreak vengeance on the fleeing crowds waiting to cross the ferry

Wikipaedia

It was a a bit quieter when I arrived. The path takes you to the Riverside Coffee Shop, inside of which is the booking desk. I paid my £2.50 and asked when the ferry left. “When do you want to go?” asked Jack the captain. “Now?” “Fine, Let’s go”. And off I went, the sole passenger for the 2 minute trip across to Weybridge.

The ferry lands you on the opposite bank and turning left passes a private footbridge, built in 1964, to D’Oyly Carte Island, once home to Richard D’Oyly Carte, producer of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas from 1875 to 1896, founder of the Savoy Theatre and Royal English Opera House (now the Palace Theatre) in London, and a hotelier. He bought the island in about 1890, and it acquired his middle name and surname. He lived here in Eyot House a 13 bedroom mansion once on the market for £3,200,000.

A short way along the river splits, the main Thames channel loops away to the left and goes around Desborough Island. To improve the flow and navigability here, the Desborough Cut was constructed in 1935. The cut and the adjacent island were named after Lord Desborough who was the longest serving chairman of the Thames Conservancy at the time and who opened it. A road bridge goes onto the island here, and I was advised by a local passer by to take that, longer, towpath route rather than the straight official path. It was good advice, as that is an attractive rural pathway from which you get a view of Shepperton Manor and church.

Toward the end of the footpath where it meets back onto Walton Lane is the old water works and the pumphouse which has been converted into a house. Back on the main path, is another Coal Tax post. These were erected in the 1860s and form an irregular loop between 12 and 18 miles from London to mark the points where taxes on coal were due to the Corporation of London. There were originally around 280 posts of which around 210 remain.

The path soon widens as Walton Bridge comes into view. The bridge is the first Thames road bridge which is on both banks upstream of Greater London. The current bridge is the sixth on the site. Before the first bridge, the site had a ferry dating at least to the 17th century. The first bridge in 1750 was an unusual wooden design captured by Giovani Canaletto and now in the Woolwich Gallery. This was designed by William Etherington in a similar design to the Mathematical Bridge in Cambridge. It had at the time the largest unsupported span in England, but only lasted 30 years.

A second bridge was opened in 1783 and was painted by Turner, recently bought for £2.32m by the National lottery Fund.

The current bridge was opened in 2013.

Past Walton Bridge, the path goes over a footbridge through a marina and past two riverside pubs, The Swan and The Walton Anglers which formed part of Walton Wharf. On the far bank on the outskirts of Sunbury are some quaint small bungalows.

Due to the fall out from the Covid-19 pandemic, it was necessary for me to stay in Walton-on-the-Thames at the Weir Hotel, overlooking the river. This was largely due to the fact the hotels in Hampton Court and Kingston were either prohibitively expensive, or did not take luggage. The Weir was a beautiful place and I booked a room overlooking the river, meaning I could open the balcony doors and fall asleep to the sound of the weir.

Having checked into The Weir, I then waked the 90 minutes into Hampton Court first meeting the original Sunbury Lock House. a large house is named as Sunbury Lock, and marks the original lock that was built here here, but now Sunbury Lock has moved a little downstream. The lock is inaccessible by road and can be reached along the towpath from The Weir Hotel. The original lock had become dilapidated by 1852 and the arrival of water companies planning major water extraction from the section of the river below the lock added an incentive for rebuilding it. The lock was moved downstream and opened in 1856; a new lock house was built. In 1927 a second lock was added at Sunbury, which was opened by Lord Desborough.

A further Coal Tax post sits to the right of the path, before the rather imposing Metropolitan Water Board Molesey Reservoir established in 1872 but taken out of service in 1999 and is now gravel pits, set to be turned into a nature reserve.

Behind some bungalows on Sunbury Court Island is the redbrick Grade II* listed Sunbury Court. Built in 1723 is now the international headquarters of the Salvation Army movement. The path goes between some concrete blocks and metalwork which are the remains of some of London’s anti-tank defences.

Beyond the walls of the reservoir, the river takes a 90 degree right turn and encompasses several islets or “aits” or “eyots” – Platt’s Eyot, Garrick’s Ait and Tagg’s Island being the three main.

Platts Eyot was used for boat building in 1868, when Thomas Tagg, who had been running a business since 1841 on Tagg’s Island downstream, expanded by building a boatyard and house on the eastern end of Platt’s Eyot. A waterworks and electrical works with a charging station were also constructed on the island. Around 1904 John Isaac Thornycroft set up the Hampton Launch Works on the island, but the success of Thorneycroft’s operations on Platt’s Eyot led to the award of contracts from the Admiralty. Platt’s Eyot yard continued to operate in both World Wars to build small naval craft. In 1916 the Admiralty commissioned a new type of fast torpedo-carrying motor launch which Thorneycroft constructed secretly in its Platt’s Eyot facility. During the Second World War, the boatyard was used to construct motor torpedo boats, motor launches and landing craft. Thornycrofts closed its boatbuilding operation on Platt’s Eyot when it was taken over by Vospers in the mid-1960s. In 1960 the island was bought by Port Hampton Ltd. which diversified the use of industrial space, which can be seen in the photographs.

From Platt’s Eyot, the houses of Hampton come into view. Hampton now a suburb of London has a canon sunk into the ground to mark the spot where the first Ordnance Survey triangulation of the country took place. Hampton was also once the home of Alan Turing, at 78 High Street, between 1945 and 1947, where a blue plaque marks the site.

The tower of St Mary’s Church (website here) rises over the river on the far bank. Built originally in 1324, it was rebuilt in the early 19th century. Looking back is the grand domed Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare. Built in 1756 by the actor David Garrick, it is Grade 1 listed but it had fallen into serious disrepair by the end of the 20th century, It was restored in the late 1990s and reopened to the public as a museum and memorial to the life and career of Garrick. It is reputedly the world’s only shrine to Shakespeare.

The second ferry across the Thames, Hampton Ferry,  provides access across the river from St Mary’s in Hampton to the main park of Molesey and the Thames Path. 

But perhaps more significant for those of us of a certain age is the mahogany lined  Astoria Houseboat moored just downstream form Garrick’s Temple. The Astoria is a houseboat, built in 1911 for impresario Fred Karno who designed it to take a 90 piece orchestra. It was bought by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and adapted as a recording studio in the 1986. Parts of each of the last three Pink Floyd studio albums, A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987), The Division Bell (1994), and The Endless River (2014), were recorded on the boat, as were parts of Gilmour’s solo album On an Island (2006).

By now we are in East Molesey, where there is East Molesey Cricket Club, established in 1730.

Here is the final Tagg’s Island whose name comes from the boat builder Thomas Tagg, who hired out boats on the island from 1841. In 1872 he built the Thames Hotel on the island. In 1912 the  Fred Karno, who discovered Charlie Chaplin, purchased the island and rebuilt the hotel. Tagg’s Island was eventually acquired by the houseboat residents who transformed the island into a houseboat community. Houses are not permitted to be built on the island and it is surrounded by houseboats whose owners, in acquiring their mooring land, have the right to belong to the island’s residents’ association, which owns the island. Some of the Thames’ most expensive houseboats are on this stretch of the river, known as the Thames Riviera and are arranged over up to three storeys.

Around the bend between Garrick’s Eyot and Tagg’s Island, a gradually widening grass strip widens into a large open space. This is Hurst Park and was once Hurst Park Racecourse. It was first laid out in 1890. The racecourse was the scene of an arson attack by Kitty Marion and Clara Elizabeth Giveen. The two suffragettes were establishing a revenge attack following the death of Emily Davison at the Derby in 1913. The Triumph Hurdle was run here from 1939 until the course closed after the Byfleet Stakes, the 4.30 on Wednesday 10 October 1962. Down a path to the right is Graburn Way and the remains of a set of gates that were used to close the road during races.


Molesey Lock, built in 1816, is the final lock before Hampton Court.

At last we come to Hampton Court Bridge first built in 1753 as a toll bridge and this is the fourth bridge on the site. The toll house is part of the Mitre Hotel. Opposite is the dramatic Grade 1 listed Hampton Court Place (and here) set in 60 acres of grounds. Initially this was Cardinal Wolsey’s residence. He transformed it and later gave it to Henry VIII.

From here, 145 miles from the source, the Thames Path moves into London and on toward the Thames barrier and beyond.