20 Walks From 20 The Barons: Bridges & Ferries: No 2

This walk begins at the Hammertons Ferry Landing, on the Twickenham bank of the Thames below Orleans House Gardens. It is a continuation of the Bridges and Ferries Walk from St Margarets Station to Ham House Ferry Landing, which you can find in Blog 23. Both also work as self-contained walks, offering insights into the historic area around the luxury apartments at 20 The Barons.

Today, the Hammertons Ferry offers a cheap way to cross the Thames between Orleans House and Ham House, creating a link between Twickenham and Ham. It is maintaining a long tradition, with the service first recorded by the Privy Council in 1652 when it prohibited its running after sundown. In Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit (1857), Arthur Clennam uses the Twickenham Ferry to visit Ham: “He crossed the river by the ferry, and strolled along a footpath through some meadows.” The boat is also celebrated in Twickenham Ferry, a ‘river ditty’ of 1878:

“The ferryman’s slim, and the ferryman’s young,
And he’s just a soft twang in the turn of his tongue,
And he’s fresh as a pippin and brown as a berry,
And ’tis but a penny to Twickenham Town.”

We follow the path away from the river towards St Margarets, then turn left on to Riverside. This takes us through Orlean House Gardens towards Twickenham, with the Thames to our left. The view from here was described by Colen Campbell in 1710:

“Here is an admirable prospect of the most charming part of the Thames, where the eye is entertained by a Thousand Beauties not to be conceived but from this station.”

Orleans House takes its name from Louis Phillipe, Duc d’Orleans, later King of the French, who rented it for his family from 1815 to 1817. The house was built in 1710, as Twickenham became a fashionable location for country villas. Much of the original house has been destroyed, but the surviving buildings include the baroque Octagon, an ornate banqueting hall that was visited by George I in 1724. The house has a fascinating history, and is now home to the Orleans House Gallery.

Our walk continues along Riverside. You will pass Lebanon Park road on your right, before coming to the White Swan Inn at the junction with Ferry Road. Originally called The Swan, this seventeenth-century inn was the first home of Twickenham Yacht Club – hence the swan emblem on the club’s burgee. It is a beautiful place to stop for a pint of Naked Ladies (named after the statues in York House Gardens). Nearby is the yacht club’s current home, the York House boathouse where they moved in 1924.

Continuing along Riverside, past Sion Road, we are walking through York House Gardens, remnants of another of Twickenham’s great estates. Turn left into the Italian Gardens, where you will find the aforementioned statues at the Italian Fountain. The naked ladies were installed before the First World War by the last private owner of York House, the Indian industrialist Sir Ratan Tata.

Follow the path down to the riverside, then along the Thames to Champions Wharf. This area has been enlivened by a play beach with a Viking longship and a traditional Victorian water taxi called a wherry. Beyond it, turn right up Church Lane to discover St Mary’s, built on the site of an 11th-century church and incorporating a 15th-century tower. Look for the brass to Richard Burton, the king’s cook, dated 1443. In the crypt, Sir William Berkeley is entombed in “lead exactly fitted to the shape of the body.” Also commemorated here are the poet Alexander Pope, beneath a stone slab engraved with a P; actress Kitty Clive; and tea merchant Thomas Twining.

Return to the river by walking back along Church Lane, which bears right to join with The Embankment. The Twickenham Museum is an excellent repository of local history, and well worth a visit. Church Wharf at the bottom of Church Lane was once flanked by warehouses and workshops supplied by river barges. You can pause for refreshments at the Barmy Arms public house, once the Queen’s Head, which dates back to the 1600s.

Running alongside Eel Pie Island, The Embankment was the bustling heart of medieval Twickenham. It is a wonderful area to explore. The street names celebrate the riverside tradition, as you pass Flood Lane, Bell Lane and Water Lane before arriving at Wharf Lane. Here, opposite the west tip of Eel Pie Island, Twickenham’s Town Wharf was once surrounded by busy industries.

If you have time, you might like to cross the footbridge to Eel Pie Island. Originally called the Parish Ait, then Twickenham Ait, Eel Pie Island appears on Moses Glover’s famous map of 1635, with a note that it “hath bin a boulding (bowling) alley.” It has a history as a place of lively, often illicit, entertainment. There was an inn there since 1737, first The Ship then The White Cross. The Island Hotel, built in 1830, became popular with pleasure steamers and boating parties, but was in decline until legendary jazz and r’n’b concerts saw a revival in the Fifties. In 1970, the hotel was refused a licence, and it burned down the following year.

Returning along The Embankment, you can retrace your steps to Hammertons Ferry, and then walk across marvellous Marble Hill Park to return to St Margarets.
20 Walks From 20 The Barons: Bridges & Ferries: No 2

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