It's brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company,
And food and drink, and (naturally) washing.
It's my world, and I don't want any other.
What it hasn't got is not worth having, and what it doesn't know is not worth knowing.
- Ratty (on The River)
Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Where two rivers meet, overseen by a pair of sentinel-like gigantic gasholders at the confluence of the River Kennet and Old Father Thames, is Kennetmouth. Hundreds of people pass by this spot daily, on trains, on boats, on bikes or on foot, probably with little knowledge of the history that revolves around this leafy corner of Reading.
Stone Age tools discovered in the area show evidence of human activity here dating back some 10,000 years to the last Ice Age. Further archaeological evidence suggests that this area was given over to agriculture during the Iron Age, and indeed, it remained farmland during Roman times, when Earley Wharf is thought to have been established at Kennetmouth as a staging post for the nearby important Roman Town of Silchester. Around 600 AD, Saxon settlers from northern Germany arrived in the Reading area, their presence demonstrated by excavations of nearby cemeteries, south and east of the River Kennet which would form the early town's natural boundary.
The importance of Kennetmouth as a hub of riverine trading peaked after 1810 when the Kennet and Avon canal was completed between Reading and Bristol by engineer John Rennie, thereby opening up a trade route between the key English ports of Bristol and London.
The importance of the canal, though, was eroded in 1841 when engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel managed to complete the Great Western Railway link between Reading and Bristol, having previously connected Reading with London in 1840. The railway crosses over the River Kennet at Kennetmouth, and the 'landmark' horseshoe bridge there was constructed in 1891 as part of the widening of the Reading - Twyford line railway bridge over the Kennet. Indeed, this impressive timber-clad iron-truss structure, once used as the method for horses towing barges to cross the river, is now a listed structure.
At the same time that the railway was completed (1841), Thomas Huntley and George Palmer went into partnership as manufacturers of biscuits and tin-boxes, soon to become the largest and most important biscuit works in England. And while Kennetmouth had no direct impact on the manufacture of biscuits themselves, it is documented that workers at the factory took leisure at Kennetmouth, hiring boats from Wheeler's Boathouse which was established there.
Refreshment and Leisure
While contemporary Kennetmouth offers little in the way of refreshment except a place to rest, libation is available a few minutes walk away along the River Kennet at either the Jolly Anglers or the Fisherman's Cottage public houses. Although angling is restricted on the Thames, there is some free water on the River Kennet between Horseshoe Bridge and County Weir (adjacent to Reading's Inner Distribution Road).
Heading west, over the Kennet via the Horseshoe Bridge and along the Thames, all sorts of comestible products are available at the Tesco superstore.
But, heading east, along the Thames towpath, you pass the erstwhile Dreadnought Pub, a onetime vendor of the local Simonds brews, but now home to the Thames Rowing Club1. Nothing is available here to eat or drink but it is possible to mess around in boats, and an occasional 'eight' will zip past you on the river. A bit further east along the Thames towpath, you happen upon the Thames Business Park and, perhaps more famously, Sutton's Industrial Park, one-time bulb cultivators, and the third of the three industrial Bs2 around which Reading once prospered.
For the time being, Kennetmouth is protected. Various road schemes along the banks of the River Thames have been thwarted by vigorous campaigning, and for the time being Kennetmouth and its horseshoe bridge are safe. A small monument, comprising a plaque embedded in a tree stump, commissioned by Newtown Globe Group and funded by the Environmental Trust, celebrates this fact.