Drifting - full transcript
Welcome to memoryscape
Drifting: a walk from Hampton Court to Kingston
Warning: this soundwalk should only be attempted with the understanding that the creators of memoryscape cannot accept any legal responsibility for loss, harm or injury you may suffer when doing this walk. The route is along public footpaths, stay aware of your surroundings, expect the unexpected as you would in any other part of London. This walk can take at least two hours to complete. Give yourself enough time to reach the end before dark.
Hello, my name is Toby Butler. I am a cultural geographer and I will be taking you on a unique sound walk along the banks of the river from Molesey Lock at Hampton Court to Kingston. I will be giving directions, but your guides to the hidden history of this landscape are people who have actually lived and worked along this stretch of the river. No don't even think about listening to the rest of this at home. This is a walk and you need to be here to understand it and feel it. So come and join me at Molesey Lock. It's within sight of Hampton Court Bridge and you can get there easily by train to Hampton Court railway station. The lock is a 5 minute walk along the river from the station. Use your map to find the lock or ask someone if you need to. When you get to Molesey Lock join me at track 2.
You should be standing in front of Molesey Lock. The lock keeper prefers it if you don't go inside the fenced enclosure, but you can lean against the fence for a great view of the lock traffic, it's usually busy. You will hear from Steve, the lock keeper, later on. Please make sure you have your earphones on the right way – this is the left side and this is the right side. Before I go on, I should explain that this is no ordinary walk. We will be passing and ignoring famous attractions like Hampton Court Palace. Instead we will explore the hidden history of the people that live and work in its' shadow along one of the most beautiful stretches of river in London. Looking towards the river now, turn to your left. We are going to walk along the towpath for a little way. I want to show you how I decided who to interview for this walk, lets go.
Up ahead on your right you will soon see some houseboats moored on the other side of the river. This is Ash Island. I lived on a houseboat here for nearly 10 years. It's a very strange sensation to live and sleep inches away from the moving water for such a long time. I often wondered about the river further down stream, running through the heart of London. What was it like to drive a paddle steamer or live in a riverside bungalow or work in London's docks? Was there anything that connected us, apart from the ever-flowing river?
To explore river culture, I decided to use the current of the river itself as a tool to find people. The river always delivered things to me from further upstream, all sorts of things used to float down and get stuck behind my boat – bottles, worn pieces of drift wood, even plastic ducks. Sometimes the knocking of wood or a glass bottle would wake me up and I would have to go and push the rubbish on its journey away from my boat, downstream. This gave me an idea. I would build a float made of the rubbish that collected behind my boat and send it on it's way, but this time I would follow it in a rowing boat and see where the river took it to find people that were connected to me by the current. Whenever the float hit the bank of the river or another floating object I would try and find someone to talk to that was connected with that place or thing. I had to use my instinct or imagination to decide who to interview but occasionally the float would even take me directly to someone standing on the bank.
Stop walking here and have a look at the boats on the other side of the bank. Let's start with my home, Ash Island, where the float was made and where it began its journey. To tell you something of what it is like to live afloat here, I decided to talk to Howard who is the most experienced boat dweller on the island.
My name is Howard Bissell, I've lived on the river since 1971 which makes it 33 years. It's cold outside but as you can see it's a very small space to heat. I have a diesel floor-mounted stove there and it's toasty warm almost instantly and very economical to run so, an old wooden boat - no you shouldn't be cold at all, easy to keep warm. You have to have a chemical toilet, you're not allowed to discharge into the river, which is a good thing of course, so then you have to dispose of it. Here on the island we have a cesspit so you have to lug the bucket up to the cesspit, empty it and wash it out. Me on my own, that's a weekly chore.
It is odd, if you notice these boats are three deep so I've got to walk over 2 neighbour's boats to get ashore and back again. So yes we're very, we're close like that, and if anybody's in trouble, if the boat starts taking water or, god forbid, fire which has happened, then everybody leaps to and it usually sorts out very quickly. But people tend to be quite private, you know if you have your windows shut, doors shut and curtains drawn people don't sort of, you know, you're not living in each other's pockets.
I mean, when I first moved on, one of my neighbours he was a middle-aged gentleman, seemed ever so old then, an air traffic controller at London Heathrow and he had a still on board and it got to him in the end - died of cirrhosis of the liver. His beer he brewed was excellent but the spirit was a bit over proof and tasted like aftershave. But when he died we had to break in, you know, because his daughter was coming down to sort out the boat and we didn't want her to find the still so that went overboard pretty damn quick.
Now we are going to follow the float on its path downstream towards Kingston. Turn round now and walk back to Molesey Lock. As an experiment, try walking for a little while at the same speed as the river. Look out for a leaf or something floating on the surface to gauge the speed. This will give you a good idea of how long my experiment took. When you get back to the lock, play track 4. You can stop the player now.
We are now back at Molesey Lock. If at any point during the walk you get lost you can replay my directions which will be on the previous track and don't forget to use the map. This is the first place where my float his the bank. I spoke to Steve Bowlam, the lock keeper who lives here with his family.
I'm a lock keeper. I have been doing it just over six years now. This job is what you call a resident lock keeper, so I'm a permanent resident lock keeper here. Now obviously with a house on the site you obviously get, the job itself, you get a lot of people come along to you and say, God what a lovely job you've got. And I have to agree with them, I have got a lovely job. The house makes it a lot easier. I do jog to work sometimes.
If there was no locks and weirs there would be no water left on the Thames. Now it's not just for drinking water we actually have… locks and weirs are for drinking water and navigation. There are locks are to get the boats up to the next level, and the weirs are to maintain a certain level for drinking water.
This one, the one at Hampton here, is actually for Thames tunnel, it is actually pumped up into London. So it comes all the way from here into London.
We have an alarm in the office here which then goes into the house so if it gets too low the alarm goes off, and if it gets too high the alarm goes off. And then I need to decide whether, obviously if it was low I would come and put a gate in, and if it's too high I come and pull a gate out and sort of pass water down. Then you get down to Teddington which is a 24 hour lock anyway, they are there to deal with that which is ideal. It's very unusual for it to drop off too much but obviously with the pumping station going, we allow them to take so much water. If we haven't got the water there to take, they turn a pump on without telling us, which does happen, then suddenly they'll be draining your reach. Um, I feel sorry for them in a way because they sort of try and turn pumps off and on at midnight, when it's cheaper, yeah, but we are not awake at midnight, so that's when the alarm goes off. It's normally if they swap a pump over about midnight, or they put an extra one in or whatever and we are asleep, it's sort of like the alarm goes off at normally about 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, to say help I need some water. And it's an alarm alright, yeah, it's a very loud alarm.
Flooding - you can't do nothing about it, it is just, you see it on TV, and it is a nightmare - I see it on TV in York last year, and it's awful, but it's, I think it's the way of the future unfortunately. There was a lady here doing a survey the other day. She's doing something for I think it's a rebuild of the Hampton Court station and I think our flood defence here is about 7 meters and something. And she's saying that by, I can't remember exactly what year it was, but it's going to have to be set at about 8.3 meters. So that is quite a significant jump. They are saying it's certain, the 100 year flood plus 20 per cent and you see it's quite high. This, will be under water. I think we are set at 7 meters something now, but yeah, but how d'you do it. You'd have to take, you'd have to rebuild everything now upwards to that 8.3. But that includes houses, so anywhere on the Thames, unless you actually have one big channel that's going to be 8.3 meters and that's it, so the water would constantly go down the centre of it, but then you're not going to see nothing the other side. So there's going to be no river here, it'd just be a big channel. Quite a bad thought actually, we don't really want that.
It would cost, although flooding's a nuisance, it would cost billions and billions of pounds to deal, to put everything right now, but who's got that kind of money. No-one's got that kind of money, certainly the Environment Agency haven't got that kind of money. Um, I know the government haven't got that kind of money, so all they can try and do is just try and sort of keep struggling away as we are now, build up flood defences where they do, they certainly do in London as you probably seen that they've got the big walls up there. Where they've got properties that might flood, they have cappings that they can put on the side of the building, so you can put sheeting that the water can't go through, so that protects the properties that way. Might have to happen here one day, yeah. Certainly might. Especially over the next sort of 20 odd years or 30 years, if this is going to be, if this is going to rise this much. Quite worrying really.
Now we are going to walk from the lock towards Hampton Court Bridge. Take the path down by the river and then follow the path up and over the bridge to re-join the Thames on the other bank. Start to walk down to the river now.
The float drifted towards the motor yachts you can see on your left, then it hit one of the boats. At Thames Motor Yacht Club I spoke to club members Peter Horsfield and Lynn Jones. Listen while you walk.
1930 Was it called originally, the motor, Thames motor cruising club, yeah.
Started off next door actually and we switched over … during the war time, its quite an interesting, yeah, side of it, during the war.
We had five boats go down to Dunkirk, two were lost,
there were more than five
not from our club - it was a certain amount, two were lost, yeah, two didn't come back.
They towed them down to Dover and then towed them across and then they left them and let them go, went to the shore to pick troops up and came back to the bigger ship and unloaded them. And they took a hell of a lot of boats, from all different clubs, all the way down the river.
And some of the owners insisted on going with their own boats otherwise the Navy was supposed to handle them. Some skippers weren't going to part with theirs, anyway, I think we lost two boats and that's why we have the right to fly the blue ensign. If you look most ensigns are red, ours are blue, has no-one got one out at the moment, no, it is a defaced ensign its blue with an ensign in the centre and our own badge on the side. It's a special concession that we are allowed to fly it.
We have taken the boat across to France, Belgium, Holland and we've also been up river quite a lot, which is a bit more work because of all the locks to go through. I'm always on the front throwing the line, yes, he's at the helm, he's alright. But you do get some in the boat club and the wives on the front are not allowed to do anything until they are told to do it. But I always think I'm on the front of the boat and I can see what's in front of me and I can see what's there. We understand each other fairly well, anyway. He always takes the back line, I don't have to run back, some of them have to do the front line then run to the back of the boat to tie that up you know. The general saying in the club is if there's anything a bit difficult, the men usually say that's a job for the wife.
Once you've walked over the bridge to the other side of the river, cross the busy road at the pedestrian crossing. Turn right and left into the riverside lane. When you get onto the lane the river will be on your right and Hampton Court Palace will be on your left. If you want to replay these directions press track 7. When you get to the riverside lane, play track 8. Please turn off your player now.
You should now be on the lane between the Palace and the water. On your right on the other side of the river you will see a public park. This is called Cigarette Island, named after one of the houseboats that used to be moored there. My float drifted towards this island and was pulled out by a fisherman who started to walk off with it. I had to row quickly to the other bank and chase after him. He said that he thought that my float was rubbish. He was friendly but declined an interview and gave me my float back. Follow this lane along the river until you get to some golden railings. Remember to use your map if you need to get your bearings. When you get to the golden railings press track 9. You can stop the player now.
You should now be at the golden railings. Face the river. Cigarette Island, which you can now see on your right, has a very special significance for me. It was where I got married. As the float hit the island here I visited some of the wedding guests to describe what the occasion was like. Stay and listen for as long as you like, then keep on listening as you carry on along the Thames path.
Lewis Gibson (wedding guest)
So I turn up mid morning to this, Hampton Court, get off the train, and I've got this little map instructing me where I'm supposed to be going. I'm supposed to be going over a little bridge and then right and down to this park, and then I'm assuming there will be like the wedding, like a marquee or a load of chairs or I don't know some kind of floral archway to walk through. And I go down and there's, there's nothing there. And I kind of go round these trees and I suddenly realise it's this little boat, sort of speed boat kind of thing, and I think it was, a rowing boat maybe, and um there's a few of my mates kind of dragging some tins of beer, cans of beers and chilly bins out and they are kind of erecting this, uh, sort of little tent. And uh, within about 10 minutes there's, suddenly there's this kind of whole sort of party setting up.
Hayley Long (wedding guest)
We had dressed up, we had really dressed up, I had on a ridiculously long sort of satin red skirt, and we were wondering how to get to Cigarette Island where the ceremony was taking place and a few neighbours in their boat gave us a lift over to Cigarette Island so it was an amazing way to arrive at a wedding for a start. And it was quite a steep bank once we pulled up at Cigarette, is it Cigarette island... Cigarette island and Ash Island, what's with the smoking thing down there, it's bizarre isn't it. So we pulled up at the bank of Cigarette Island and the bank was really steep and trying to get out of the boat in our long dresses, and up the bank, it was the most novel way I'd ever arrived for a wedding in my life. And clambering up the bank in our very posh dresses and arriving for the ceremony, and then there was like a thrill of being on the water with everyone looking so fantastic, I felt like something out of the Great Gatsby almost.
Lewis Gibson (wedding guest)
And across the river we saw the groom appearing on a rowing boat, facing us, in his morning suit, bit of a grin on his face, with two beautiful women rowing him. And they were sort of, I don't know if they were both old flames of his but they were, there was a heart connection and these two angels basically rowing him to his fate on the other side of the, on the other side of the Thames.
Then, these two guys who are getting married, they live on a barge by the river and they, uh, the barge came down, I'd never even seen it work before. And it started coming down, and it was completely covered in flowers, and standing on top of the roof, um, like in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, have you seen the poster for that, there's Liz, the bride looking beautiful in this big wonderful white dress, standing on top of the barge, sailing down the Thames.
Doug Board (bride's father)
It was blowing quite hard of course and one of the things we were worried about was our top hats blowing off into the river. And we got on this boat and I said where do you want me. No you've got to stand up on top. (laughs). I had to stand up on top with Liz and somebody else and that young lad you've got to take the boat down, he'd not driven it before and I thought, oh Jesus, what's going to happen if something comes and we're on this all organised and hadn't even had a trial run you know. So we got on this boat and we started going down the river. Everything stopped. Absolutely everything stopped. And we got as far as the bridge and went under the bridge, and the bridge suddenly the traffic stopped and people were in hoards on this bridge all shouting and waving and clapping and all their boats blowing sirens. And then we, as you probably know, we made one pass to try and get in and missed that one and had to come back and have another go, but eventually got tied up and I said, I must say, I was very relieved that we got there. Oh it was fun, tremendous, what a day.
A boat coming up the river with the bride and groom standing on top of it, the best man etcetra and looking amazing. And it was one of the most amazing sights, it was like, it was like a floating wedding cake coming up the river but it was also two people being joined who lived on the river. With all of us standing on the edge of the river watching again a new, whole new chapter start in two peoples lives, a whole new era opening up for people. And then also people making vows, that were, you know life long vows, on the water. And then of course then we had musicians standing on the bank and people singing and it was very hard to get the sound right from people who were sitting on the boat, standing on the boat, to what was going on on the bank, and because of the acoustics in the area or something like that, but we all ended up singing this song at completely different paces and no-one could hear the other person singing at their pace, and that was just a lovely moment as well, it was just a lovely sunny moment.
Lewis Gibson (guest and violin player)
We were all out of sync and basically this echo situation happened. It was completely chaotic and it ended with Toby having to stop the whole thing from the boat and everyone was laughing and it was funny and it was a fantastic moment of musical nonsense. (singing and laughing)
A couple of musicians from Hampton Court who were mates came over to play some tunes. And they came along and they played some wonderful period dances for us and we learnt some dances, I think it was two dances, a figure of eight dance and a circle dance and a big chain dance and so you had this big crowd of different sized, different aged people from tiny little kids in frilly dresses, to elderly ladies – in frilly dresses - all kind of dancing away to bagpipes.
I think it must have looked to passers by, there was all these kind of cruise ships passing by, a very strange affair, because it was just here, on Cigarette Island, just with benches on and dog poo bins and things, and fisherman and a bit of rubbish and sort of people on bikes and joggers and so on, and then there was this wedding going on, people in formal attire having a wedding, and skipping around and dancing away to bagpipes and drums, and it felt bizarre and looked bizarre and was very beautiful, very moving and very simple, to have a space like that occupied by an event like that. I don't think it ever happened there before and I don't think it'll ever happen there again.
Carry on along the Thames path for a few minutes until you come to a large house called the Pavilion. A road barrier and a set of posts cross the path outside. When you get to the pavilion take a seat and play track 11. You can stop the player now.
Carry on along the Thames path for a few minutes until you come to a large house called The Pavilion. A road barrier and a set of posts cross the path outside. When you get to The Pavilion, take a seat and play track 11. You can stop the player now.
You should now be outside a large house called The Pavilion. Why not have a seat on the bench looking out to the river. I followed the float here on a very wet rainy day. The float was moving very slowly so I began to aimlessly circle it in my boat. Someone called me over from a vehicle on the bank. It was the Royal Parks Police. I took the boat over and they said that they had received a complaint from one of the bungalows that I was acting suspiciously. The policeman said going up and down they could deal with, but a loan man going round in circles! They let me continue with my research in the rain. As they float had not hit the bank yet, I decided not to ask them for an interview. To be honest, I didn't really feel like it.
When the boat his this spot it had just had a near miss with a passenger steamer, The Southern Belle. I arranged an interview with the captain, John Osborne, who will feature at several more points along the walk. Sometimes there are parties held on the passenger boats late at night, which can irritate the bungalow owners.
Captain John Osborne
A few years ago, I think you're talking about 3 or 4 years ago right, we had a very bad flood if you remember, very bad flood, and they had to evacuate all these people on this island. The water, the water was rising quite rapidly and we had to evacuate everybody from that island. It was quite bad actually that time. Beccause we had some night parties and we had to cancel quite a few of our night parties because the river was too dangerous. It was far too dangerous to go on there, it was terrible.
Oh yes sometimes the party boats can be a bit irritating when it's so late, yes that's true, they can be a bit, yes, but in fact the first few months we came hear that was the only fly in our ointment really. Well they come past here about seven o'clock and they are all very sedately having their drinks and food but by 11.30 they're all on their feet dancing and singing and disco-going, we do occasionally have the odd DJ that likes the sound of his voice and of course the sound travels tremendously on the river. Um I mean literally you can even hear a neighbour talking in the garden it drifts up.
I shan't try to sing but
Good night Irene seems to be popular doesn't it, for some reason. And the Village People. But I suppose if we were dancing up and down there then we wouldn't mind.
But they usually stop about quarter past eleven don't they, yes, so it's not too bad actually.
After the paddle steamer the float went on to hit the bank here near the Thames path. I contacted the Ramblers Association to discover who was responsible for establishing the 230 mile long distance foot path which runs from the source of the Thames in the Cotswolds all the way to the sea. They said that one of their members could take the lion's share of the credit, David Sharp. Let's continue along the path and listen to him.
Well right from a young man I realised that my interest was in walking, and I soon realised that I wanted to get a lot more people into walking in the countryside and that meant that I was involved with the ramblers. And to be fair, it was right back in the 1930's people were first talking about a possible walk along the Thames. They'd got a tow path, it wasn't being used for towing anything, but back in the 1930's not much could be done about it, it really required an Act of Parliament to establish just how you create a long distance walk.
That happened in 1949. They started looking at the Thames concept, top of the list in fact, but they realised that there were problems, rather unexpected problems. This dear old tow path, every so often, changes banks, and it does so by means of a ferry, some 22 of these ferries along the river. And as you can well imagine, you'd have to be a right idiot to try and run a ferry today and make a profit. After World War II the ferries simply weren't opening up again. So instead of a nice continuous walk up the Thames, you had little disconnected sections. So it got put on a high and dusty shelf, we'll deal with it one these years you know, this Thames idea, get on with some other walks…
It soon became obvious that officialdom wasn't going to do anything about it so we'd better do something about it ourselves and I got organised with some ramblers to work out a route up the Thames which managed to get along without using the ferries. That we call the Thames Walk. Our original route sometimes had to leave the river, you just had to find the most pleasant way of getting from ferry to ferry, as you might say. It worked itself out after a fashion and as soon as we realised that we'd actually got a viable walk right up the Thames, some idiot said to me you ought to write a guide so we can publish it, which is precisely what we did. It was truly the, the popularity of our guide, probably more than any other factor, that persuaded the, what was then the Countryside Commission, to adopt the route. We changed their mind.
I will certainly say as soon as you start getting really involved with Old Father Thames, it becomes a, almost an obsession, it becomes a personality in itself and you get deeper and deeper into researching it's history.
Now look out on your right for a futuristic looking glass and steel house. It looks very different to it's neighbours. Find the bench opposite this Huf Haus and play track 13 when you are ready. You can stop the player now.
The float was carried around the corner here and hit the opposite bank outside one of the riverside houses you can see a little further on. At the time the house owner was repairing a wall at the end of his garden. He kindly agreed to be interviewed, along with his wife. Listen here for as long as you wish, then walk and listen along the path.
Personally I quite enjoy waving to people because children are a delight. Some people aren't too sure about it.
People on boats you mean, yes.
But mostly people when they are hiring a boat for a Sunday get very excited and they want to wave to anything that moves, and I wouldn't want to disappoint them so, particularly if we see a boat load of school children going to Hampton Court, you know that's happening by the noise directly the boat comes around the bend.
But sometimes bank holidays, bank holiday Mondays when it's a fine day you get hoards and hoards of people in boats and then it gets a bit busy and its nice the following morning when they've all gone to work you get peace and quite, it's a wonderful contrast.
There are people walking there, they usually tend to pause there at the house two doors down which is quite spectacular, they've got a huge double height conservatory and they all stand sort of pointing at that. And a new house been built down there, one of these German Huf Haus, one of these put together houses, and they've got a magnificent spread of house, glass, and a lot of people stop and point at that, so, they don't tend to point at that, they don't tend to point at us.
There are sightseers for I think houses and gardens rather than people.
I think it fits in well actually, the architecture is rather pleasant, but I think its, yes, its a German family, because there was a pretty decent house there before we thought wasn't there, it was very beautiful, yes a very nice house and that was knocked down and this, but I think it fits in well actually I must say. I think glass and stainless steel goes well with the river.
I think perhaps there you would feel exposed to people because really there is so much glass. At least with us when we go to bed we can pull the curtains…
but then lots of people can see through these windows too anyway.
Captain John Osbourne
This Huf Haus see, what it is really, it's all in, it's like a jigsaw, it comes in big bits, you just bolt em on, all you got to do is build the base with cement right, and then what happens, all the stuff from Germany is exported over here and all this is bolted up. You know, then glass and everything is put in. It took them actually, it took them 3 weeks to build that, exactly 3 weeks yeah, it took them 3 weeks to build it. I know they had a lot of problems with the neighbours - you get that with anybody like you have a small extension put on and then the council has a right to object to it, you know, something like that. I know they had a lot of problems with it because I know they had to go to court over it. Oh there was a big stink over it you know because of what they were building, it does look odd anyway. It's a lovely place, you know, I've been inside it cause we did a job from there, a promotion job for this German company, we went inside it and it's amazing what you saw inside. It's all under heating floor. The blinds are all hydraulic, solar panels, you name it, it's got everything in there, you know. Spa, spa bath, you name it, it's got everything in there. The kitchen I would say, the size of the kitchen is unbelievable and its all on electronics. Cookers are on electronics, you name it, push a button you know, its amazing, its all high tech, its all high tech stuff. Oh yes, it's amazing. Its unusual, it it looks - it doesn't look right, but I'm not to say see, you know, me I can't do nothing about it, but to me I think it looks horrible, it actually looks out of place there.
I often wonder if we could live anywhere else, and I don't think perhaps we could now. It's beautiful when your frost is on the park and on the gardens, its cold, it looks lovely. And in the summer when the sun is on the water it's fantastic.
I think there seems to be so much building in this area that the drains which are old can't take the storm water and the storm water in times of heavy rain mixes in with the sewage water and it starts to back fill and overflow. I think its entirely due to the extent of all the massive building which has gone on and the drains just, storm water and foul water just cant take the amount of, amount of properties. We've had meetings with the Thames Water and they say they are going to try and sort it out but with a prolonged rain for a few days then Thames Ditton, it's not exactly cut off, but its very, very flooded isn't it.
And in our small way we were affected and we were getting a back flow of sewage and everything coming down over our garden, which was extremely unpleasant and a lot of people further along the river had similar problems coming up in the gutters and children were paddling in it, you know, it was bad news.
The extent of wildlife was I think, I wasn't particularly interested in birds and animals before but having lived here I've become more interested. I've seen a variety of birds and animals and eels and grass, not grass snakes, river snakes everywhere. The occasional king fisher, I particularly think king fishers are wonderful things, hens obviously.
So the idea was to retire here I suppose, wasn't it. I don't know, I can't see us moving, not unless it's a flat looking at the river, I think that would be the... I think when we do have to move it will be, have to be overlooking the river again, or water, certainly.
The next sound point is opposite Thames Ditton Marina. Look out for it on your right. Outside you should see a petrol pump and some lock gates. When you get there play track 15.
You've got to know the river, you've got to know it, like, like up on on part of the water, uh this is non-tidal anyway, this is non-tidal, its when you get up to Desborough cut its very dark up there and you've got to know that river. Especially if we have a very bad flood up here see, if you fell in, you know you wouldn't stand a chance, you know in floods you wouldn't stand a chance in heck see. And at the same time you see you've got undercurrents as well which pulls you, you know its unbelievable. It wasn't long ago they lost somebody at Thames Ditton Marina, about a month ago, you know. A bloke, well we don't know the whole story, he actually dived off Thames Ditton Marina and there was that very bad, do you remember that very bad wind we had, very windy day, he just swept out, you know, it was terrible. One of the blokes he was on the house boat he actually jumped in and tried to get him, he just disappeared through the wind you know, and they found him about, I think they found him about 2 or 3 weeks later and he was at Teddington Lock. Yes, that's where they found him, its terrible really.
Walk on to the next sound point which isn't far away. You must look out for a bench opposite the disused water works on the other side of the river. There's usually a large red barge moored outside. When you find it play track 17. You can turn your player off now.
Why not have a seat on the bench opposite the water works. The float hit one of the pipes here. The water works at Seething Wells were built in 1852 after an act forced Water companies to supply water to London from the cleaner non-tidal Thames. The water works is closed now but it used to supply Chelsea and Lambeth. Today the river supplies most Londoners with drinking water via the enormous Thames ring main which runs 40 meters underground near here. I asked an engineer who worked on the project to explain the new system.
The Metropolitan Water Board, as it was before it became nationalised was um a very old company, you know hundreds of years old, and its systems were hundreds of years old and some of the pipe lines even now are over 100 years old that they're using. And of course they, they don't work too well. Now as the city has grown an enormous amount the ability to distribute water around the city through these old lines has become more and more difficult because they have to pump great distances. They had a lot of break downs, they still do but it's a hundred times better now. They decided on a system where if they built a big tunnel underneath London they wouldn't have to pump water anywhere they could just let all the water from the treatment plants gravitate into this tunnel and all they'd have to do is build pumping stations at certain areas and pump it out, they wouldn't have to pump it in, because it would fall in by gravity.
The tunnel really is like a huge reservoir, that's its function. Instead of storing the water up, it's stored in this enormous, if you think of an 80 kilometre tunnel, 8 ft diameter, its colossal. People used to ride bicycles through it because it's a long way, you know I've walked round it, not all at once but though different stages, it's a long way. It's just plain concrete segments, you know you'd have a boring machine like a scaled down version of the Channel Tunnel machine which bored through the clay and whatever and as it bored it put these lining panels up and they come along behind, sometimes grouting sometimes not, do it all in one. Massive job, I mean really a tremendous project, really state of the art really.
The only problem they had was in um Tooting Bec where they struck water and they, what they call the Essex sands, and that's just liquid. And there they had to abandon, they lost a drilling machine there, it just sank, and you know a huge multi-million pound machine just sank. And what they had to do then was install a nitrogen refrigeration plant and freeze the ground and then drill through the ice and line it until they got through it and then they were away again.
Seventy per cent of London's water comes from the Thames. It's got to the pumped out of the river and to the treatment plants, you have these bit settling tanks taking out the pesticides and all the other things and purifying the water and then it goes into the tunnel where it's pumped out at various places to the consumer. First of all we're dependent largely on the river and one of the main problems with the river is that all throughout the country the farms are using various pesticides and God know what which leach into the river. So you've got some of these nasties in the water when it's been drawn out and you have to have a very sophisticated plant to extract all these things before it goes in. Um ozonation, reactivated carbon beds, then it goes into a chlorination plant where it's chlorinated to kill off all bacteria and then it goes into the tunnel. And in the tunnel it's monitored all the time by instrumentation and there are other chlorine injection points in the tunnel to maintain a presence of chlorine in the water, 0.1 part/million or something like that, which will guarantee that nothing can live. All things like this to obtain the standards required by the European Union. And we do, by far the best water you'll find anywhere in the world.
Walk on until you see a broken boat on the other side. It isn't far. Play track 19 when you get there. You can turn your player off now.
The broken boat used to be a houseboat moored near Kingston Bridge. It leaked badly and was finally scrapped. It's been in this barge for about 10 years. The float hit the bank near some modern pontoons a little bit further down where Ossie Stewart from Harts Boat Yard, who owns the pontoons, came to see what I was up to.
The river in the winter floods generally every year now which it didn't before. So if you are putting in your infrastructure in the boat yard you actually need to the pontoons that will float and go up and down on piles rather than having them attached to the sides because this is a non-tidal stretch but it is prone to flooding in the winter now, which is a difference that I've seen since I've been here. Twenty five years ago it was not really an issue. It happened once every six years maybe. There's a lot of politics in what I'm doing. I'm trying to extend my moorings, which is almost unheard of, because as I say most people will try and just build flats or develop the land to the side of the boat yard and I've got the full backing of the Environment Agency but there are unfortunately a few political issues locally with Kingston Council and that sort of thing and they are trying to stop me doing it now, which is why they're all tied up there. And the river goes up and down and all the boats get pulled over by their mooring lines, so the best way to do it is to have floating pontoons. Any they cost, as I say, I've got 17 I think and they are about sort of up to 7000 quid each so and I can't put them anywhere now because Kingston Council have refused my planning permission. Thank you Kingston Council. But again that's all part of people not really understand what the needs of the river are and letting political issues get in the way. Um you know, rarely do the Environment Agency, which should be the planning authority for the river and there's no clear cut statutory power really. So there are issues like that where who controls the river. The Environment Agency own the river bed and they should, they should have the control of what goes on but seemingly they don't. And of course the ecology side of it, if they want to stop something happening normally get the Greens in, whatever, I don't want to be politically incorrect, well I do actually I quite like being politically incorrect but the ecology issues they try and make a lot of, which you know there are bats everywhere and they're trying to say there are all sorts of bats, but it is a really complicated issue.
Walk on now to Raven's Ait, the next island in the river. You will find a bench opposite the blue sign saying Raven's Ait. You can turn your player off now.
The bank just before Raven's Ait was the last time the float touched the side of the river before floating fairly quickly all the way through Kingston. Harts boatyard is opposite, to your right, next to the pub. We'll hear more from Ossie Stewart who runs the yard then listen to some other memories of Kingston, as we walk. Listen here for as long as you wish then walk and listen towards Kingston.
The boat yard was actually built probably the same time as the sailing club around the 1880's because the Thames, well the Thames, you know used to be if you like the Alton Towers, it was the, that's what people did, and you'll see you know from, well from the 1890s basically the Second World War the Thames was a very busy place and a lot of rowing skiffs, sailing, it really was the pleasure park of the day.
OK, uh, it was with Toby, and I cant remember how old I was, I think I was 17 or 18 and uh Toby was infatuated with Three Men and a Boat and uh we had a dog at the front called Josh, well Toby did so uh, we took Josh and decided to do a row boat trip, Toby had bought a row boat and we had a little outboard motor and decided to try and recreate this trip as much as we could, with obviously missing one man. But we had the dog and we had the boat and we had a tent and this little outboard motor which didn't work most of the time and we decided to do as much as we could of the Thames.
And we placed the boat in at Kingston and set of really with the dog and our Three Men and a Boat book of course. Who wrote Three Men and a Boat? That's it, Jerome K Jerome. And set off to try and recreate I think the trip almost chapter for chapter as much as we could. So every evening we'd basically pitch the tent wherever we could, whether it was legal or not, make a fire if we could and cook some food etc and then find a nice local pub and I'd sleep all night and get up in the morning and get everything back in the boat and move on.
I remember being amazed by the vastness of the river when we were rowing on it and how little we seemed, but also how much a part of the river we seemed to feel as well, and how I wanted that trip to last forever, it was horrible stopping and have to give in to the fact that the outboard motor didn't work and the weather. It was just a glorious trip and uh a right thing to do I think, I doubt I'll ever do a trip like that again.
My interest when I'm at home is to restore classic boats. At the moment I've got two 1930s slipper launches here and we've got another Thames A rater that we'll be starting soon, we have done three of those now. The last one we rebuilt was the oldest original boat, as I say it was built in 1893 and these boats were originally designed and built by the early aircraft pioneers, a lot of whom lived in Kingston. A lot of the early aircraft designers were members of the Thames Sailing Club and they designed and built these boats. And they used the same construction methods for the boats as they did with the early planes. All the A raters are basically cedar planked with oak, with oak ribs and that's how they used to construct the wings of the early planes and also the sail technology is very similar to wing technology. There was an awful lot of the design work that actually came from these boats went into early aeroplanes …. Said these were at Kingston, because Hawker Cygnet were at Kingston and at Brooklands, and the same guys designed the boats and the planes.
One of the big things is the commercial pressure of the value of riverside properties. In fact this Harts Boatyard is the only surviving land based boat yard in the Borough of Kingston. All the others have got flats built on them. I mean if I, probably if I could sell the freehold of this place for flats, unfortunately I would have been tempted too, but it is on the lease hold from Thames Water and I hope that it won't take any more development and that the boat yard will remain. But it is, you know, a very pertinent thing that there are boats on the river but the number of boat yards has diminished. There used to be twelve boatyards on this stretch of the river and there's something like 3 now and only one in Kingston. So that's a big issue because people have boats but nowhere to put them and nobody to look after them.
Anyway the Thames has marked a lot of new eras. Like you know I've found whenever one chapter closes and another begins I'll end up on the Thames somehow or down at the river. Back at the old backbone again if you like or spine, trying to work out where to branch out from from there. Almost like to discard old patterns and to get on with new ones, its almost like a feeling of letting the river take them away.
In memory of Ethel Lucy Peg, died January 1984, aged 71 years.
William Manning, 1931 – 1998, a lifelong devotee of the river.
In loving memory of Edith Lucan, a true friend
Maurice Vivien Chandler, 1918-2003, rest a while.
In memory of Betty and Bob Donnely, 1930 – 1994 and 1924 – 2003, his favourite walk
From all round the park from Hampton Court Bridge to Kingston Bridge was a triple stand of magnificent elms all the way down. Of course they all came down with the Dutch Elm disease. So you miss these huge beautiful trees but now you do get a much more open vista across the park so, but it has changed enormously. There hasn't been a huge amount of building development apart from the centre of Kingston. On one side you do have Home Park from Hampton Court Palace which obviously has been no development at all, and on the other side down river again there hasn't been a great deal of housing development.
The biggest change I suppose when I first came on the river there were 93 houseboats in Kingston and there are now six. The whole of the Kingston waterfront was houseboats about three deep all the way from Canbury Wharf, the railway bridge right up to King's Promenade. Now of course, since then, that whole water front has been developed, it was an industrial backyard tip, you know it was left over from the war, it was derelict, so living on houseboats did go on.
Because houseboats have no standing under law. I mean if you've got a caravan or you're travelling you have rights under law, well the houseboats have nothing. It's no notice at all in theory. People did hope that paying council tax that would give them some legal rights and indeed it might do so but it hasn't been put to the test fortunately round here. But the authorities do not like people living on boats. And the council always said they had no policy to do away with them but they did some pretty dirty tricks to get rid of them. There was one lot who had legitimate rights to moor and the council wanted to develop their mooring and they offered them Canbury Wharf which they moved down to which was fine for about 3 years and then the council tried to evict them from Canbury Wharf. So it went to court, the court said the council would have to find them alternative moorings so they found them alternative moorings on buoys down on the tideway with no facilities, no access, no nothing else. And they said take it or leave it.
We're nearly at the end of this walk. As you get closer to Kingston Bridge you should see a large colony of swans that like to feed here. Like my float they move around, so play the last track when you get very close to them. You will hear from an ex-swan master Michael Turk and Alan Spong, who you'll hear again in the next Memoryscape walk which starts at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. When you get near the swans play track 23. You can press stop now.
I was a swan master for the Vintners company, as was my father and my uncle was the Queen's swan keeper. In fact another uncle was the third one way before the war. The swans on the Thames only belong to, there are three owners, the Queen and two of the City Livery companies, The Vintners and the Dyers. At one time, 700 odd years ago, the rights, it was a status symbol, like owning two Rolls Royces and a chauffeur to take you somewhere. Swan owning was a great privilege and the privileges were sold by the Crown which raised money for wars or other worthy causes like that. And of course to eat a swan was another privilege and a swan in the, I think Henry II's time would cost something like 3 shillings odd, but goose which was the same amount of meat etc or more or less, was only tuppence. So you can see the difference in owning a swan. Now to maintain your fleet, you pride of swans, game of swans rather, you needed to mark them, and you marked them as young cygnets when they were quite young. You marked the, they had swan marks on their beaks which is what the Vintners and the Dyers did. The Queen's swans were unmarked, we also pinioned them which meant taking a small joint off one side so it kept them local to the Thames. They could still fly but they couldn't fly long distance. And they also marked them on the feet in earlier times with holes in the webs etcetra, so they were always identified because the mark was for life. Um nowadays with the present regime they're not marked, but they, uh, they still maintain the privilege of rowing up on the third week of July and looking at them and recording them and they weigh them and suchlike, they are looked after. The swan master, in my days the swan master had to go out for calls at night and, you know they used to get on the railway line and they used to get stuck on the ice and we used to go out and do all that sort of thing. It did become a very difficult thing to do with phones. In my business the phone would be so totally blocked for a day, with people walking prams down by the river and seeing a swan with a touch of blood on it. I'd go and look at the swan and it would be what we call a blood feather, with the new feathers coming through. It would bang itself and bleed slightly, but on a white bird it used to show up and you'd get 200 phone calls and you couldn't, and the phone calls were quite onerous you know, people would get quite annoyed with you.
And then of course we did some nasty things too I'm afraid. Like catching ducks.
How did you catch ducks?
Well we'd have a hook with a piece of bread on the end of it which would float down and at the back we'd have a great big ring of iron sort of quite heavy and we'd get ourselves on to, shall we say onto a pontoon of some sort and get down behind there and feed out the line with the bread on and when we heard a duck or saw a duck getting it we then dropped the heavy piece of metal so it pulled the duck under.
I know I thought that I ought to tell you that because uh I was involved with other people at the time, it wasn't my own idea you understand.
Well I must say that it was no good trying to eat it too because mallard ducks on the river Thames are very fishy indeed and don't taste nice.
You obviously tried them then.
Yes we did. Yes we built a fire and pulled all the feather out. Oh dear I mustn't go on about that I don't think.
I hope you've enjoyed this sound walk. There is another memoryscape walk, Dockers, along one of London's last industrial stretches of river. This is an extraordinary walk using archives of interviews of people who lived and worked on the docks and wharfs in east London. You can get further information about these memoryscape walks from a website, memoryscape.org.uk.
To get the bus back to Hampton Court walk up the road ahead and turn left. The bus stop is on the left past the roundabout. If you wish to take a train from here into London cross over Kingston Bridge and follow the signs to the station. Have a safe journey home.
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