The Twickenham Museum
Exhibitions : Down by the Riverside

Twickenham Riverside
Ferries and an early commercial centre where wealthy people chose to live.

Richmond Ferry

The river has long been a highway for the movement of goods and people. For centuries the only bridges across the lower reaches of the Thames were London Bridge and Kingston Bridge, and the main means of crossing was by ferry. The earliest ferry in the area was at Richmond, where Richmond Bridge was opened in 1777. This ferry, which carried vehicles and beasts, existed before 1442, the year that, following Thomas Tyler, John Yong was granted the licence.

After 1585 the Company of Watermen and Lightermen introduced a one year apprenticeship, extended to seven years in 1603. This encouraged dynastic succession and families such as the Hammertons are a well known family of watermen, ferrymen and boat builders who are recorded in Twickenham as early as 1610.

An 18th century view of Twickenham Riverside

On the river commercial barges had to be dragged upstream although sails could be used to help the journey back. Teams of men are shown straining on ropes in illustrations, showing the drudgery involved. Later, horses were employed to draw boats along the riverside. Tolls were payable and in 1789 a towpath was established on the Richmond bank, forming a continuous passage.

As the population increased in the 19th century public health became a problem: the river became an open drain, its levels reduced by several feet following removal of the old London Bridge in about 1830. The issue was only resolved when, following delayed adoption of the 1858 Local Government Act, a drainage system was installed for the town, and completed in 1882. Also, after 1855 water extraction at Hampton for domestic use sometimes made barge navigation impossible. This problem remained until Richmond half lock was completed in 1894, stabilising the flow of water.

Twickenham Ferry

The foundation stone of Richmond Bridge was laid in 1774 and, in 1777 Richmond ferry ceased to operate. This had little effect on Twickenham ferry, whose traffic was with Ham and Petersham. This ferry, owned by the Earl of Dysart, was included, in 1659, on a list of local ferries forbidden to work between sunrise and sunset. In 1743 the Earl won an action against a nearby ‘pirate’ ferry.. However in 1915 his successor lost his action against Walter Hammerton who had started a ferry in 1908. This, celebrated in song as “The Ferry to Fairyland” provided access to Marble Hill, now a public park

Twickenham Ferry was licensed to Henry Horne in 1788. He had been managing the White Cross Inn on Eel Pie Island since 1780. There had been an inn on the island since at least 1737, initially called The Ship and, later, the White Cross on the Ayte. Earlier, Moses Glover’s map of 1635 noted that the central plot “hath bin a boulding (bowling) alley”. The premises of the White Cross were replaced in 1830 by a grander building, capable of accommodating parties of nearly 200. Known as the Island Hotel, it was popular with boating parties and pleasure steamers. At the hotel there was music on summer evenings with a vocalist performing from the balcony. However, the famous fisherman Francis Francis noted the decline in the eel population: fillings for the pies which gave the island its name.

The Eel Pie Island Hotel

By the 1950s there were few boating visitors and The Island Hotel was losing money. However, in 1957 it was given new life as a club for popular and jazz music, and its owner built the footbridge, which replaced the chain ferry. In the 1960s many groups, including the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Black Sabbath played here. By 1970 the building had fallen into disrepair and the refusal to renew the drinks licence brought closure. In 1971 it burnt down and houses now occupy the land.

Twickenham Yacht Club racing near Hammerton's Ferry

During the 19th century leisure occupations multiplied on and beside the river. The Twickenham Rowing Club was formed on Eel Pie Island in 1860 and soon had a membership of over 100. Its boathouse and clubhouse was constructed in 1880. A piece of music: “The Oarsman’s March”, scored for piano, was composed in celebration.

The Twickenham Yacht Club, founded in Richmond in 1897, and flourishing today, moved here in 1924, taking a boathouse formerly part of the York House estate acquired by the Council that year.

William Charles and Walter Hammerton Twickenham Yacht Club racing
in a coxed four at Twickenham near Hammerton’s Ferry

Boat building firms were established locally and on the island, and firms hired out leisure craft. Well known establishments included Charlie Shore’s on The Embankment, taken over by Hammertons in 1926. For many years the Boys and Girls Regatta and Water Carnival, founded by Charlie, and continued by his family until 1950, was a much enjoyed annual event with fireworks, sideshows and contests such as the greasy pole, as well as water sports.

The open-air swimming bath in c. 1960

A big change came in 1924 when Richmond House, with its large land, was bought by the Council and demolished. The purchase was funded by the sale of part of the land for commercial development along King Street. A substantial area was retained as open space and later accommodated the swimming baths opened in 1935. The baths were closed for in 1980. Since then there have been a number of aborted proposals for this land.

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