The Twickenham Museum
Exhibitions : Down by the Riverside

Whitton and the River Crane
A community formed on Birket's Brook and the River Crane

An early photograph of the River Crane

The Saxon Charters of 704 and 709 state that Tuican hom (Twickenham) was bounded on the east and south by the River Thames and to the north by a flooded plain situated about a tributary we know today as the Crane River. The higher ground to the north became what was known as Whitton Land, bounded to the west by Hounslow Heath and to the north and east by another watercourse that would later take the name Birket's Brook.

The hamlets of Whitton, in Twickenham parish, and Whitton Dean, in Isleworth parish, were born of this brook. In 1625, Henry Saunders, Bailiff of the Manor of Isleworth Syon, enclosed several parcels of Hounslow Heath, expanding his holding to include a substantial house. By 1680 it had become a private estate, known as Whitton Park. In 1722 this estate passed to Archibald Campbell, Earl of Ilay, later the 3rd Duke of Argyll. Birket's Brook was employed to fill a moat and other water features at Ilay's estate and that of his mistress in neighbouring Whitton Dean. In 1757 the brook was used to fill another large lake in the grounds of Kneller Hall. Today there is little to be seen of Birket's Brook: what remains of its course through Whitton is piped below ground.

Kneller Hall Lake

In 1544/5 a canal was formed between the Crane River at Twickenham and Isleworth to power water mills there. Water volume in the Crane was also increased by the introduction of a channel upstream bringing water from the River Colne. The Earl of Northumberland gained formal rights to this New River in 1604, and it later took his name.

Birket's Brook reappears in its natural state to the east of Rugby Road in Twickenham, where it takes the name of Whitton Brook. Both culverted and in its natural state, the brook flows south and east through the various industrial estates, Marlow Crescent and London Road as far as Moor Mead Bridge where it joins the River Crane to enter the Thames at Isleworth.

After an explosion at the powder mill

The River Crane continues, as Whitton's southern boundary, for the length of Crane Park between Hanworth Road and Hospital Bridge Road. The powder mill established here between 1766 and 1768 first started life as a corn mill and was converted to the perilous manufacture of Whitton's only industrial product, gunpowder. There were frequent, unwelcome, explosions and loss of life.

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