Treasures by the Thames
45 must see places, chosen by people who live or walk on the river.
During the 18th Century, Arcadia, an idyllic pastoral landscape was created along the Thames between Hampton and Kew. Magnificent royal and aristocratic palaces, gardens and parks were constructed linked by a series of avenues, set within a framework of meadows, woodland and bustling historic waterside villages. Today this short stretch of the Thames is recognised as one of the world’s great river landscapes and although less than 10 miles from London provides a real countryside in the city – a place to discover and to escape the hustle and bustle of modern city life.
The Thames Landscape Strategy Treasures by the Thames invites you to explore 45 of the most interesting places along the river that have been selected by members of the public, local people, and those who work on the Thames. Attractions range from the mighty royal palaces to intimate riverside pubs, a bat super highway to jaw dropping views. Whatever your passion, Treasures by the Thames will help you find out more about the Arcadian Thames and the people who have helped shape this most special of landscapes.
You can download a copy here: Treasures by The Thames Leafet
“I assure you Chiswick has been to me the finest thing this glorious sun has shined on” Alexander Pope 1732
Owned by English Heritage, Chiswick House and Gardens is England’s first and one of the finest examples of neo-Palladian architecture. It was designed by Lord Burlington to emulate the style and elegance of ancient Rome that he had seen on his Grand Tours of Italy. The spectacular gardens (currently being restored) filled with classical temples, statues and obelisks were the first to be laid out in the new style of the ‘English landscape movement’ inspired by the View from Richmond Hill a few miles up the Thames.
For more information phone: 020 8995 0508.
Strand on the Green is a narrow walkway on the river with wonderful historic houses and pubs popular with walkers and locals.
Steam power comes alive at London’s KewBridgeSteamMuseum. Built in the 19th century to supply London with water. The museum is recognised as the most important historic site of the water supply industry in Britain and houses the world’s largest collection of steam pumping engines. KewBridgeSteamMuseum is closed Mondays.
For more information phone: 020 8568 4757.
4 Brentford Junction Grand Union Canal
Brentford is one of England’s best surviving canal junctions and London’s gateway to the national waterway network. The junction provides a fascinating insight into the capital’s fast disappearing industrial past where the visitor can watch the construction and repair of traditional narrow boats or walk beside a working lock. Many steps throughout.
The London home of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland built on the site of a medieval abbey contains some of the finest Robert Adam interiors in the UK. The Capability Brown designed parks and gardens are slowly being restored. Cattle still graze Syon’s waterside meadows – the only natural riverbank left in Greater London and a haven for wildlife.
For more information phone: 020 8560 0882.
6 Kew Green
A splendid ‘village green’ surrounded by a host of Georgian buildings and many great pubs and restaurants. St. Anne’s Church has a historic interior with Royal connections dating back to Queen Anne. Cricket is played on the green during the summer.
KewGardens is home to the world’s largest and most diverse collection of living plants and a World Heritage Site. Lose yourself in the outstanding conservatories, the wide open spaces, stunning vistas across the river to Syon House and intriguing wildlife gardens.
For more information phone: 020 8332 5655.
Built by Sir William Chambers for George II to observe the transit of Venus in June 1769 the King’s Observatory can be viewed between two great obelisks marking the line of the Kew meridian that was once used to measure the ‘King’s Time’.
9 Riverside Wildlife
Just 60 years ago the River Thames was biologically dead. Since then it has been cleaned up and is now one of the cleanest metropolitan estuaries in the world supporting over 120 different species of fish including eels, flounder and sea lamprey. The riverside is managed for a variety of species including kingfisher, the pussy willow, black poplar and purple loosestrife. On summer evenings look out for bats that roost in old trees coming out at dusk to feed on insects. A single bat can eat a staggering 2000 midges in one night!
10 Thames Islands
Some of the most fascinating places along the Thames are the islands, ‘aits’ or ‘eyots’ as the smaller islands are known. EelPieIsland is named after the dish served at the famous hotel whilst Brentford Ait was artificially enlarged in the 19th Century to hide industrial Brentford from KewGardens. Isleworth Ait is one of the last refuges of two of the UK’s rarest invertebrates the German hairy snail and the two lipped door snail. CorporationIsland in Richmond has an important heronry whilst on LottsIsland in Brentford a small creek was the location for many of the outdoor scenes from the film ‘The African Queen. Legend has it that two ring necked paraqueets escaped during filming – their numbers now total 15,000!
11 Wet Woodland Along the Kew Towpath
Between Kew and Richmond, the Thames Path meanders through one of the most remote and rural stretches of the river in London. Running alongside the towpath is a water filled ditch (fed by the spring tides) that supports an extensive area of ‘wet woodland’ – an important habitat for beetles, ducks and many nesting birds including the electric blue kingfisher. On the riverbank look out for lengths of ‘willow spiling’ – a traditional way to stabilise the river bank recently reintroduced by local volunteers.
The Thames Path is a wonderful 184-mile walk and one of only 15 National Trails in England and Wales. It follows the River Thames from its source in the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier near Greenwich in London, travelling through some of Britain’s finest countryside.
Although located 30 miles from the sea, the river at Richmond is tidal. Approximately two hours after high water three large sluices are lowered across the river at Richmond Lock and Weir. This is to maintain a minimum depth of around 1.5 metres between Richmond and Teddington as the tide ebbs out. Without the lock, the river would largely empty at low tide making boating almost impossible. The Thames Estuary has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world (up to 7m) giving the river below Teddington much of its character.
14 Old Isleworth
One of London’s most charming ‘villages’, Isleworth is a quiet backwater nestling alongside the tree covered ‘ait’. With stunning views and several old riverside pubs, Isleworth is well worth a visit. In the graveyard of All Saint’s church is a 17th Century plague pit. JMW Turner lived nearby at Ferry House. At low tide a series of ancient fish traps can be seen near to the London Apprentice pub.
Originally laid out in front of Henry VII’s RichmondPalace, the Green was used for great Tudor tournaments and jousting pageants. Today the Green is home to the rich and famous. Picturesque lanes lead towards Richmond’s famed shopping centre full of designer shops, restaurants and boutiques. RichmondPalace was built in 1497 and was the favoured home of both Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth I who died there in 1603. The historic Gatehouse and Wardrobe building remain to the present which along with Old Palace Lane, form an interesting link between the river and Richmond Green.
Near to Asgill House the Thames Path follows the route of Cholmondeley Walk – one of the first public footpaths in the country. Laid out in the 18th Century, the footpath originally consisted of two separate paths – a lower, wetter path next to the river for tradesman and a drier route above for more ‘polite’ members of society.
17 Richmond Riverside
Bustling Richmond Waterside is the place to promenade on a warm summer’s evening taking in the splendour of the Quinlan Terry riverside development before heading up Richmond Hill to watch the sun slowly set. Nearby on Whittaker Avenue is the Richmond tourist information centre and RichmondMuseum. Traditional Thames rowing boats are still made at Richmond that can be hired by the hour or for longer camping trips. Passenger boats leave throughout the day to Kingston, Westminster and Hampton Court.
18 Richmond Bridge
The bridge was built between 1774 and 1777 replacing an ancient ferry – now the oldest over the Thames in London.
19 Messing About on the River
For centuries the Thames was London’s main transport route and today is still the best way to see the river. Take a trip aboard one of the passenger boats that have plied their trade for almost 150 years between Kew and Hampton Court. Alternatively hire a traditional Thames skiff at Richmond Bridge Boathouses or Molesey Lock.
20 The Great Trees of London
The riverbank is home to some of London’s most important species of tree including ash, alder, oak, lime, black poplar and willow. The most notable of each type are marked with a small plaque to signify their status as a ‘Great tree of London’. Look out for these whilst walking the Thames Path.
21 The Terrace Gardens
A classic example of a Victorian municipal park complete with hothouses, formal flower beds, rockeries, a tea house, grottos and a statue of the Thames River God. The gardens have recently been restored to their former glory with splendid views opened to the Thames.
22 The View from Richmond Hill
“Heavens! What a goodly Prospect spreads around, Of Hills, and Dales, and Woods, and Lawns, and Spires, And glittering Towns, and gilded Streams, till all, The stretching Landskip into smoke decays!” James Thomson
The ‘jewel of the Arcadian Thames’ is best seen from the Terrace Walk at the top of Richmond Hill. The View (the most painted in London) has inspired poets, painters, writers and landscape gardeners for centuries. Immortalised in verse, the View is the only one in the UK to be deemed so special that it is protected by an Act of Parliament. Watch the sun go down with a pint from the Roebuck pub or catch the early morning sun for those special photographs.
Retaining a distinctly village character, Petersham is quite special. Celebrity spotting is the order of the day at Petersham Nurseries whilst nearby a herd of cattle graze Petersham Meadows.
A magnificent Thames-side Palladian villa managed by English Heritage, built in the 1720’s for Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk and mistress to King George II. See the extravagant gilded rooms in which she entertained famous poets and wits of the age including Pope, Gay and Swift. Explore the 66 acres of beautiful riverside grounds, enjoy a game of tennis or simply a walk along the river.
For more information phone: 020 8892 5115.
Orleans House is named after the Duc d’Orleans (the rightful King of France following the French Revolution who lived at Twickenham in exile). The building now houses a fascinating art gallery that is free to enter. The adjoining stables have recently been converted into a riverside education centre and cafe funded by the Heritage Lottery. The woodland garden is slowly being restored tracing elements of its Regency origin to a design by the Garden History Society.
Scratch beneath the surface and Twickenham is full of historic gems. Stroll along the riverside between Marble Hill and the Embankment taking in the back streets and alleyways to discover a world of waterman’s cottages, boat sheds, splendid Georgian Terraces and pubs untouched by the 20th Century.
What better way is there than to wind away the hours at a riverside pub and the Arcadian Thames has plenty to choose from. The London Apprentice at Isleworth, the White Swan and White Cross on Richmond Waterfront, the White Swan and Barmy Arms in Twickenham, The Anglers at Teddington, the Boaters at Kingston, The Albany Thames Ditton and the Mitre at Hampton Court to name just a few of the best.
In the riverside gardens of this splendid 17th Century villa a magnificent statue of leaping horses and naked ladies reclining on scallop shells can be seen alongside a genuine Victorian pissoir! York House is now the home of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.
EelPieIsland is best viewed from the gardens of York House or Twickenham Embankment where the working boatyards can still be seen (described by Pope as ‘a little seaport in miniature’). The island was home to the infamous Eel Pie Club where the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds and the Who all played their first gigs. Unfortunately the hotel burnt down in the 1970’s.
Currently being restored, Strawberry Hill House was built in 1747 by Horace Walpole who reintroduced the ‘gothic’ style to the English landscape. Nearby, the site of Alexander Pope’s Villa (now demolished although the grotto survives) and RadnorGardens enjoy the same views across the river that Pope treasured. It was at his riverside villa in ‘Twitnam’ that Pope developed his ground breaking philosophy to ‘consult the genius of place in all’ – ideas that still form the bedrock of the modern conservation movement.
31 Ham Towpath
Between Ham House and Richmond the Thames path is at its most rural in London. The meandering gravel towpath is often covered by the tide so can be wet even on the driest summer’s day. Views to Richmond Hill and across the river are superb and the area is always a good spot to watch river wildlife. Small tidal streams run alongside the river that can be crossed by wooden boardwalks.
Forever immortalised in the song ‘The Ferry to Fairyland’ Hammertons Ferry is now the last surviving foot ferry on the Tidal Thames. For £1 the visitor can cross the river making it possible to combine a trip between Marble Hill House, Orleans Gallery and Ham House – what a way to spend an afternoon!
33 Ham House
Ham House is owned and managed by The National Trust and is regarded as the finest surviving 17th Century house and garden in the UK. The interior is quite stunning and often used as the set for many notable period dramas. The gardens have slowly been restored and include the famed Wilderness and Kitchen garden. Period techniques are used to cultivate vegetables for the Orangery restaurant located within the walled Kitchen garden.
For more information phone: 020 8940 1950.
34 Ham Avenue – The Bat Super Highway
Radiating from Ham House is a series of 17th Century avenues the most complete Carolean landscape in the UK. Officially at risk just a few years ago, the London’s Arcadia project has been restoring the avenues for the past six years planting new trees and magnificent native hedgerows full of wild flowers, dog rose, thorns and fruit trees. The avenues form one of London’s bat super highways – a green link between bat roosting grounds in RichmondPark with feeding areas on the river.
A National Nature Reserve, RichmondPark is the largest open space in London and home to a herd of 800 Red and Fallow Deer that can trace their ancestry back to King Henry VIII. At the centre of the park is the stunning Isabella Plantation – at its best in May when the rhododendrons are in flower.
A bronze age burial mound and reputed to be the spot where King Henry VIII paused from a hunting trip to ensure that Anne Boleyn had been duly executed, King Henry’s Mound has one of the best views in London. To the east a key hole vista leads to the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral exactly ten miles away whilst to the west the panorama across the Arcadian fields of Ham and Petersham is breathtaking. Nearby Pembroke Lodge has been restored and is now open to the public for a variety of home cooked meals, teas and coffee.
Teddington Lock is the largest lock on the Thames and the place where the sea meets the freshwater river. Take a seat and watch the life of the river pass by – pleasure cruisers, skiffs, steamers and narrow boats. From the lock island is a lovely view across the weir to Teddington Film Studios. Many notable shows have been produced in the area – the famous Monty Python fish slapping dance for example was filmed on the Lock immortalised now by a blue plaque.
CanburyGardens is a wonderful Victorian park laid out for the enjoyment of the river. Brass bands play on summer Sundays.
Kingston is a bustling commercial centre located on the banks of the Thames. At its centre is the ancient market place where today street entertainers, fruit and vegetable stalls and cafes fill the square. Nearby is the newly opened RoseTheatre.
Kingston was the first Royal settlement along the Arcadian Thames, where many Saxon kings were crowned. Legend suggests that this was due to the mystical character of the area that in those days would have been a small marshy island surrounded by wood and bogs. The Coronation Stone or ‘King’s Stone’ can still be seen near the ancient ClatternBridge over the HogsmillRiver.
Hampton Court is a Royal landscape without equal. Managed by Historic Royal Palaces, much of the Tudor building survives including the Royal kitchens and the Great Hall. The State apartments were designed by Sir Christopher Wren for King William and Queen Mary who lived at the Palace from 1689. The Thames-side gardens include the restored PrivyGarden, the Long Water, the deer park and the famous Hampton Court Maze.
For more information phone: 0870 752 7777.
42 Bushy Park
A RoyalPark, much of Bushy was first enclosed in the early 16th Century by Henry VIII to use as a deer park whilst staying at HamptonCourtPalace. Miles of the 1530’s park wall, a large herd of deer and many splendid oak trees survive from this period.
43 Molesey Lock
A classic example of a traditional Thames lock built in 1815. Look out for eel passes on the weir. Nearby, Bridge Street is full of excellent cafes and antique shops just a short stroll from Hampton Court.
44 Hurst Park
HurstPark has a long association with sport including the first game of golf played outside of Scotland and the site of the infamous Cockney Derbies. Cricket has been played on the meadows since 1731. The first England international was held at the club and during a match in 1795 the LBW rule was introduced to the game. Today the riverside is a quiet backwater, a perfect place for a picnic with splendid views across the river to Hampton. Look out for sky larks that nest in the long grass.
Restored by the TempleTrust in the 1990’s, Garrick’s temple to Shakespeare is open to the public on Sunday afternoons throughout the summer.