The Twickenham Museum
Exhibitions : Down by the Riverside

Hampton Court - a royal residence on the river
Bridges, locks and the railway

The first bridge at Hampton Court

Monarchs visiting Hampton Court from London came by water. Church bells were to be rung in every parish as they passed: failure to do this incurred a fine. In 1536 the Water Gallery at Hampton Court Palace was built through the southern wall of the Mount Garden. The Gallery was over 170 ft (52 metres) long and incorporated a landing stage for the King’s Barge with a Pleasure Gallery above. It was part boat house, part disembarking jetty and part recreational riverside grandstand.

The river crossing where Hampton Court Bridge now stands was by ford during the dry season or, from at least 1536, travellers could take the ferry at the same place.

The first bridge was opened in 1753. Of flimsy construction, it was replaced in 1778. A third bridge was opened in 1865 on the line of the second bridge, demolished the previous year. The present, fourth, bridge opened in 1933 just downstream. Construction involved demolition of the Castle Hotel on the Molesey side, the removal of houseboats and diversion of the Rivers Mole and Ember.

A very crowded Molesey Lock with a steam launch c1890

Lock systems on the upper Thames were developed from 1770. Initially flash locks were built, with a single gate which released a large amount of water when opened. The scouring helped navigation but lowered upstream water levels for a time. Later, pound locks were introduced which stored a smaller volume of water between two sluice gates. A pound lock at Molesey, just upstream of Hampton Court Bridge, was opened in 1815. Weirs were constructed here at the same time, joining the lock to Ash Island and another connecting the island to the Middlesex bank.

The railway came to Hampton Court in 1849 bringing visitors to the Palace, opened to the public in 1838. By the time the trams arrived in 1903, nine hotels and two restaurants offered lunch, tea and dinner near the Palace and the river. The dining room at Clegg’s Hotel opposite Hampton Court Green (now the Charlton Hotel) could accommodate 500. Charles Whatford had established a boat building business on the Molesey bank before 1850 and boat hire around the bridge became popular.

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