My daughter recently moved to Twickenham, and after hearing her raving about the place and following her comment that she was never moving back to London, I had to go visit and find out why!
Twickenham is located on the River Thames between Richmond and Teddington; an ancient borough with a fascinating history dating back hundreds of years. The earliest written evidence for a settlement is a grant of 704AD, mentioning “Tuican hom”. By the time of the Norman Conquest it was part of the Manor of Isleworth. By the 18th century it had become the ‘classic village’ and was described as having an “abundance of curious seats”, as it attracted poets, painters and writers including Sir Godfrey Kneller, The Court Painter in 1709, Alexander Pope in 1719, Mary Wortley Montagu in 1720, Horace Walpole in 1747 and painters Samuel Scott and Thomas Hudson in 1749 and 1756. various members of the French Royal Family, in exile, spent time here in the 1800s.
I arrived via bus from Richmond and enjoyed the quaint houses and churches along the route. The high street of Twickenham – King Street – is nothing to write home about….it’s lined with the usual array of stores and charity shops, Starbucks, banks, pubs and what-not!
Just off this main thoroughfare is where you will find the character that lies behind this town. Church Street; a stroll along this delightful street will leave you enchanted with it’s character and quaint albeit modern shops. A book shop,
a few restaurants and an ancient pub or two line the street on both sides as well as a number of other little shops and stores. Church Street has always been at the heart of Twickenham village, dating to back to when the parish was largely a farming community using the river for transport of goods and people.
Sweetshops, tandoori, bookshops,
a pub and a gorgeous tea-room are a must-see.
Passing a store named Sweet Memories we stepped inside and indeed it was sweet memories….jars and jars of sweets that reminded me of the sweet shops we used to inhabit as children back in the 60’s. A delightful lass who goes by the name of Carla charmed us with her cheery greeting and sunny smile. Sweet heaven all round.
Further along is the aptly named Sweetie Pies Boutique Bakery….
walking through the door your nostrils are assailed with the delicious aroma of cake and icing….eyes widening with delight as you first see the gorgoeus little cakes on display; decorated with swirls of butter icing and topped with icing roses, ice-cream cones, ducks, stars, hearts, 100’s and 1,000’s, in an array of pastel colours designed to tempt the tastebuds and makes it hard to refuse, never mind decide which to choose.
A short walk takes you past The Fox Pub,
probably the oldest pub in Twickenham, steeped in local history and first mentioned in the Sion Manor Court Books dated October 1700, by it’s previous name The Bell. It changed it’s name to The Fox around 1749. At one time time there were at least 4 other pubs in Church street none of which remain, besides The Eel Pie Pub est 1777.
At the far end of Church Street is a little piazza, with a number of shops, none of which I really registered, coz I was so enchanted by the story board and a giant sized chess board! What fun 🙂
Across the road from Church Street is of course the church! St Mary’s, not one of the most beautiful or even quaint looking churches I have ever seen, but pleasant to the eye none-the-less. The churchyard was sadly quite bare with most of the graves probably dug up in years gone by and the headstones that line the perimeter walls the only reminder of the folks buried there (or not).
Traipsing down Church Lane we passed Flood Lane,
so named coz when the Thames floods the waters rise that high. A plaque on the church wall reads : March 12th 1774 the water came rising up to this mark. The mark was a good 8foot from the road level. The house on the corner had a flood board across the front door.
A couple of steps further (not far at all) is the River Thames, she of might and wonder. A colourful boat named ‘Rastamedeus’ was moored in the berth, stranded by the tide now out.
I walked out as far as I could to take some photos of the river on both sides from a different angle (just because I could). Retracing our steps we climbed a short flight of steps onto the start of Champion’s Wharf where we saw a couple of very interesting sculptures, one of which looked like a bed of square mushrooms. Very bizarre.
Strolling along the Thames path we ventured into York Gardens to behold the magnificent, marvellous, wonderful fountain adorned with a group of Italian marble statues representing the “Oceanides”. What an enchanting sight.
A cluster of naked nymphs, either sitting on rocks or attemptimg to climb them, all gazing up at the beautiful venus that rides standing up and naked on the backs of two rearing, winged sea-horses. There is quite a story behind these beautiful creatures and they were very nearly destroyed at one stage of their lives; thankfully for us….they were not! There is some uncertainty as to who was the sculptor.
The gardens are beautiful; filled with roses and a fountain or two, and what were lovely green lawns a week ago, now browned in the searing heat of the last few days.
A flight of marble, balastraded steps take you to the top of a bridge that crosses the road below and into the gardens of York House. A sight to behold.
Imposing and enormous it sits majestically overlooking the lawns below. York House was named after the Yorke family who owned the land from 1381 – 1539. The present house was built in 1637 and it’s first owner Andrew Pitcarne, later followed by The Earl of Manchester, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, Sir Alexander Johnson, Anne Seymour Damer, Archbishop Cleaver, the Comte de Paris, the Duc de’Orleans and lastly Sir Ratan Tata. It became a Town Hall when Twickenham became a Borough in 1926. The Orleans princes left their mark with the fleur-de-lys on the stonework and rainpipes.
Continuing our walk was strolled along the Thames path, the river, calm and mighty, moving inexorably to the sea, just beyond the balstrades.
Lining the path are a number of wooden benches, some of which bore memorial plaques to people now residing in a place we cannot see: Simeon Randall, Pauline Anne Hope and a wee lass of just nine years old. I love that people put up these benches in memory of loved ones, and it is my desire to have one too. Problem is that I have so many favourite places I would not know where to be! Maybe in all of them. 🙂 I need to set up a ‘bench’ fund.
Continuing our stroll we passed beneath the wides and shady branches of a beautiful beech tree: York House cut-leaf beech, one of London’s great trees. Across the way we could see the boat-yards of Eel Pie Island, still to be explored. Turning back at this point we once again passed the fountain for a 2nd look, as beautiful then as before. A heron sat still as one of the statues, peering intently at the pond waters, looking for tea I am guessing; sensible bird 🙂
Thence we made our way to the Sweetie Pies shop for tea and cupcakes; of course.
The shop is a delight, the proprietor a young lass as sweet as her fare. We dithered over which to choose and for me the Black Forest cake with cherries on top, a creation with tightly budded roses and a wee hedgehog won the day.
My daughter chose one with ice-cream cones and another with a sprinkling of coloured stars.
That and a couple of pots of tea served on fine china with china tea-cups made us feel very posh. The interior of the shop is tiny and cosy; the ‘Powder Room’ boasting a loo so small I asked they were expecting Snow-White and the 7 Dwarfs!?
Replete, our taste-buds satified we meandered on down towards the river-front once again and so on towards Eel Pie Island, passing the Barmy Arms pub, with a great view from the patio.
On the way I noticed a story-board with snippets of island history. Once upon a time there was a great hotel that hosted the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Who, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart and David Bowie amongst others.
The South of England’s answer to Merseybeat. The hotel met it’s demise in 1971 after a fire hastened it’s demise; now a housing estate – Aquarius.
Stepping by an armada of ducks and swans that thought I was there to feed them we marched onto Eel Pie Island via the narrow pedestrian walkway. How thrilling to visit an island in the middle of the Thames!
Eel Pie Island, also know as ‘Twickeham Ait’, it appears on Moses Glover’s map of 1635. Cropping of withies to make baskets for the trapping of eels continued until the 19th century. By 1737 there was an inn called ‘The Ship’ later ‘The White Cross’. In 1830, a new hostelry was built was built and the island became a resort for summer visitors.
And what visit it turned out to be. The island may be in the 21st century, but life on the island has remained entrenched in the 1960’s.
The houses are tiny, cute and quaint (those that we could see), and at the far end via the boat-yard is an artist’s enclave that is seriously straight out of the Woodstock era.
Ramshackle would best describe the air of fading history. The enclave is a higgedly-piggedly mix of wooden and tins shacks, mostly in a state of external disrepair and look like they’re on the point of falling down. The cyclists club boast a marvellous mix of old metal painted sign-boards recalling products of a bygone era.
‘Punch’ ; ‘Lion’ ; HMV and others. Scattered about as if tossed aside by a giant hand grown tired of it’s toys, now rusting and overgrown with weeds and wild plants, lie a variety of old machinery the likes of which you seldom see these days. Relics!
Further along and illegally gained via a gated entrance (I don’t care for barriers) we entered what appeared to be a cluster of offices, a modern structure in a vintage setting. If you were wonering what happened to Tweety Bird, well, he is held captive in the jaws of the monster, a now abandonded building crane. Poor birdy.
Wonder if the same will happen to Twitter?!
We strolled about the enclave, amazed that people could actually reside amongst this conglomeration of chaos; a delight of everything and nothing….one such ramshackle structure asks ‘anyone for Pimms’.
I could probably pitch a tent in the wee forest we chanced upon at the far end of all this and live happily (albeit uncomfortably) and no-one would even notice. I noticed a hanging cage that houed a skeleton and wondered if that was the remains of Hansel or maybe Gretel :).
The place is littered with junk and bits and bobs, a veritable hoard of what I guess an artist would call ‘useful’ stuff. Flowers abound and a nasturtium in full bright orange glory dominates the scene lending some colour to what is despite all the ‘stuff’ quite a dull bleached area.
Making our way back off the island we headed off to The White Swan for lunch. Along the way we passed under the bridge that leads to York House and walked passed ‘Dial House’, home to a magnificent sundial mounted above the front door; gorgeous. Dial House was owned by various members of the ‘Twining’ family till the death of Elizabeth Twining on Christmas day 1889. (
on Riverside at Twickenham takes its name from the painted sundial in the centre of the front of the house.
This type of sundial is known as a vertical dial and the enthusiast would describe it as a vertical, declining dial because it does not face due south. Such dials are said to be declining so many degrees east or west of south, so that the gnomon, the rod that casts the shadow of the sun, is angled to one side or the other of the vertical centre line. For the same reason, the hour markers are not quite symmetrical, starting in this case, after 6 o’clock in the morning and ending at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The perfect south-facing dial would start at exactly 6am and end at 6pm.)
The whole area is so pretty and green, trees and vines overhang the road and provide much appreciated shade. On the way and just before the pub we passed ‘Sion Row’, circa 1721, a fine terrace of Georgian houses built at around the same time as the houses of Montpelier Row, and developed by Capt John Gray.
The name ‘Sion Row’ comes from the ancient manor of Isleworth Syon. On this road and situated in prime positions are some wonderful Victorian houses; one of which ‘Aubrey House’ lends an air of Southern beauty, reminiscent of the houses in New Orleans, USA.
Arrriving at the White Swan Riverside on Ferry Road,
I noticed that it was as lovely in the flesh as it was last week when I noticed and watched the video that had been posted on my facebook timeline, which when I opened it; lo and behold there was my friend Francesca, creator of the video having lunch in glorious weather on the patio of the pub. She intereviewed a lass who was eating fish&chips which looked so delicious I decided that I would have the same for my lunch. Alas this was not to be; the fish delivery was delayed and would not be there in time. Instead we ordered Cumberland Sausages and mash with onion gravy
– a meal fit for the Duc d’Orleans and the Sir Ratan Tata (ok, maybe not him…he may not have partaken of the delicacy..being that it is pork). However, there is no such restraint for me and I tucked into what was the most delicious meal of S&M I have ever eaten. The sausages were fat and juicy and my tastebuds exploded with pleasure. This was accompanied by a glass of Coca-Cola. I went the whole hog (excuse the pun) and thoroughly enjoyed a totally yummy but exceptionally unhealthy lunch. My cholesterol levels went ballistic I am sure 🙂 The pub is very pretty and the patio is right on the rivers edge, with bright yellow umbrellas lending it an air of gaiety and loads of bright flowers everywhere.
Replete, bellies full and bursting we decided a brisk walk would work off the effects, so setting off along Ferry Road we caught up with the Thames path again. Along the way we passed some fabulous houses, one of which leaned drunkenly and in a state of sad disrepair but ever so gorgeous right on the waters edge. I had to wonder about flooding!
Along the way we passsed the remaining part of Orleans House, home of Queen Caroline, King george II’s wife. The first house built on this spot in 1661, all that remains is the Baroque Octagon Room.
We meandered along and reached the Hammerton Ferry berth, and almost took a ride, but decided to postpone that for another time. As we walked we passed Marble Hill House,
built for King George II’s mistress – cheeky bugger had his mistress living a stones throw from his wife!!! Not only that but the grounds of Marble Hall House are way larger than his wife’s. I would not have put up with that!!! Mind you the gardens at Orleans House were far prettier, so there!
Walking towards and not far from Richmond we noticed a couple of folk who had stranded their boat onto a fence on the bank. How on earth they got the boat up there is beyond me.
The story goes that they had moored at the bank to picnic and the water level dropped stranding them there. A nice young man had offered to help them dislodge the boat and eventually they sailed off into the sunset (I think). It was quite hilarious watching their efforts to get loose and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole spectacle.
Rounding the bend we noticed the buildings that dominate the skyline not far from Richmond Bridge, so turning we retraced our steps and returned to the village and home, where we crashed after the heat of the day and had a wee rest. Once it was cooler we played table tennis, without the table, in the back garden, which was brilliant fun and then my delightful offspring treated me to an impromptu show of bubbles.
It was coming on for dusk by the time we returned to the village and before boarding the bus for home we took one last walk to Church Street. All the restaurants put their tables and chairs out onto the street at night and the whole street is turned into an alfresco dining area, a delightful tableux of soft lighting and pretty buildings.
And so to home. A marvellous day.