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When the Thames froze, as in the winter of 1739-40. it was traditional to hold a Frost Fair. Printing presses on the ice turned out these souvenirs. Near London Bridge people are watching bear-baiting. More people are waiting in line for a slice of ox being roasted nearby. Stalls sold jewellery and other fairings.

The river was used for pageants and other great occasions. It provided some of the greatest shows ever seen on water, one of which was the Lord Mayor’s Show that continued until 1856. The participating barges of the City Livery Companies became more ornate and the processions more elaborate. Barges were covered with gold leaf and some rowed with oars of silver. In the 18th century, the procession included dramas and pageants.

It was an actor who established one of the most enduring of river traditions. In 1715, Thomas Doggett was so grateful to a local waterman for his efforts to ferry him home on a bad night, pulling against the tide, that he set up a rowing race for professional watermen. The winner receives not only prize money but also the coveted scarlet coat and badge, hence the name of the race, Doggett’s Coat and Badge. The race is still rowed from London Bridge to Chelsea on August 1 so long as this does not fall on a Sunday.

Each new Lord Mayor of London went by barge to Westminster to be sworn in and in 1805 Nelson’s funeral procession went from the Deptford Hard to the Vauxhall steps for his interment in St. Paul’s. On that day there were waves of over a metre and the barge carrying Nelson’s coffin nearly sank.

There was an enormous expansion in trade and by Jane Austen’s time London was the world’s busiest port, resulting in the building of London Docks to cope with increased trade. The construction of toll roads from the mid 18th century started to attract passenger traffic away from the river. The Industrial Revolution led to the rapid expansion of the canal system at the end of the century linking the south and the Thames with the industrial North and Midlands.

By the late 18th Century the City administered and taxed the Port of London, and formed the governing authority for the river from Staines Bridge to the Medway, rendering William Blake’s phrase about the ‘charter’d Thames’ particularly apt.

Unfortunately the development of the City led to rising public-health hazards. Symptomatic was the worsening condition of the river (as discussed in Susannah Fullerton’s paper) -- ironically, the off-shoot of progress, with increasing amounts of sewerage being desposited. Yet most private water companies extracted their piped (drinking) water from the river between Chelsea and London Bridge. The introduction of the oil burning ships in the period just after Jane Austen’s death caused even greater pollution to the river.

Jane Austen does not mention the Thames in any of her novels or even in her letters. Perhaps by the time she visited London and was old enough to appreciate the river there was nothing worth saying about it.

Kingston Bridge, London, UK, is a strategic crossing point over the River Thames in South West London. It carries a total of approximately 50,000 vehicles per day with some 2000 vehicles per hour crossing in each direction at peak times.

There has been a crossing of the Thames at Kingston since Roman times. It is believed that the first bridge of timber construction was built in AD43 following the Roman invasion of England. Over the centuries it was rebuilt and repaired on several occasions.

 

The wooden bridge was eventually replaced in 1828 by a masonry arched bridge, Figure 2, which was widened on the south side in 1914. Spanning the river are five elliptical arches with Portland stone facades with a bold cornice and balustraded parapet. Semi-circular cut waters carry flat panelled piers surmounted by balcony projections that form recesses in the balustrading. Above the springings the 1914 bridge is separated from the 1828 bridge by a small gap which can only be seen from the river. The façade of the 1914 bridge is a replica of the 1828 original using similar Portland stone and ornamental features.

 
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