A Conversation for NaJo Nov 2018
Deek Started conversation Last Week
Mrs D and I took the dog for a walk this afternoon. Once in while we take a turn along the towpath along the Thames. There’s several choices of walks of a couple of miles, all within a few minutes drive of home, that give a breath of fresh air and pleasant views. Most of the these few miles have more history attached to them than you could shake a stick at. Some places are the scene of earth shattering events, others are the location of more prosaic events that nonetheless have altered peoples lives to greater or lesser extents. One such place is a ‘country mile’ of riverbank just upstream from the royal palace of Hampton court.
It is known that the Vikings came this way. A Viking sword was found in the river upstream and that they sacked and pillaged their way to Chertsey Abbey, which they destroyed and murdered the abbot and 90 priests.
Here, where we were walking, on an open space on the south bank, the local residents and historical society of Molesey have financed the construction of a ‘heritage marker’ which commemorates events that have taken place on the open land previously known as Moulsey Hurst. It records the use of the land as a recreational area for Londoners that brought them flocking there on high days and holidays to watch horse racing, prizefighting and cockfighting..
The river became a means of transport for commerce but naturally was shallow with marshland spread wide on either side. During dry seasons heavily loaded boats could be stuck in the shallow waters and marshes for weeks at a time with their cargos perishing. This brought about the damming and channelling of the river and eventually the creation of a weir and lock to aid navigation. This was enhanced to create a bridge over the weir which eventually led to the impressive stone and brick Hampton bridge
The first balloon ascent in England was recorded from these fields, second only to the flight by the Montgolfier brothers, it ended in near disaster. Later during the Great War, the land was taken over by the fledgling Royal Flying Corps and was a training and distribution Center until after hostilities ceased
At least three duels were fought here, one ending in a fatality. A professional athlete attempted to run a four minute mile, naked to reduce air friction, but just failed by three seconds. An aviator landed upside down in surrounding trees while trying to watch the racing on the Hurst, and had to be rescued by a horse and cart.
The waters above the lock became known as ‘The Hampton Riviera’ and anybody who was anyone had a houseboat moored there. Each tried to outdo the others and the size and expense lavished on these ‘gin palaces’ became legendary. One of the greatest and most expensive, the ‘Astoria’, belonging to showman Fred Karno, is still moored there today, but in use as a recording studio.
On the other side of the river the prominent feature is the spire of Hampton church which is the scene of a chapter in ‘Three Men in a Boat’. Almost alongside is a small temple built by the actor Paul Garrick to Shakespear in the grounds of his house.
In London, repeated Cholera epidemics resulted in waterworks being constructed on the Surrey side of the river to supply London with clean water. The resulting spoil from digging out the filtration beds created a new island in the river. Built on that island a company manufacturing electric powered motor boats hired out the boats for pleasure use. They also created a chain of recharging points that extended almost the length of the river.
And there’s more… I feel an h2 entry coming on.
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