20 Great Walks From 20 The Barons
“TWENTY bridges from Tower to Kew -
Wanted to know what the River knew,
Twenty Bridges or twenty-two,
For they were young, and the Thames was old
And this is the tale that River told.”
― Rudyard Kipling
The River Thames has been at the heart of life in Richmond and Twickenham for centuries. The story of the area is one of islands and bridges, ferries and watermen, wharfs and riverside taverns, with generations of local families having made their livings on the river. Here, the Baron leads you on the first part of his favourite historic riverside walk on the Thames Path. The walk will help you explore the Surrey side of the river and can be completed in an hour, or much longer if you wish to explore the historic sites.
From St Margarets Station, a stone’s throw from the luxury apartments at 20TheBarons, first take a 20-minute stroll north along St Margarets Road to reach the River Crane just above Railshead Road. You are now at a splendid starting point for several walks. The River Crane, an 8-mile-long tributary of the Thames, heads off to the south-west; and a West London Waterway Walk runs alongside the Crane passing the gunpowder mills and Shot Tower, Crane Park Island Nature Reserve and the Duke of Northumberland’s River. But we retrace our steps south and turn left into Railshead Road, then down to the Thames. The riverside path will lead us to Richmond Lock and Footbridge. Walking either side of the river here, you are on part of the Thames Path, a 184-mile walking route that follows the river from its source in the Cotswolds all the way to Greenwich.
On the right, shortly before you reach the lock, is The Boathouse, once owned by The Who’s Pete Townsend, who ran Eel Pie Studios from here. Beyond, is Richmond Lock and Footbridge, built in 1894 by engineer F.G.M. Stoney. The Thames is tidal here, as it’s downriver of Teddington Lock, and this lock controls the flow. Crossing the footbridge to the Richmond side, we turn right and follow the riverside path alongside Richmond’s Old Deer Park, part of the royal estates since medieval times. We continue beneath two bridges. The Grade II-listed Twickenham Bridge, with concrete arches, bronze balustrades and Art Deco details, was built in 1933 and carries the main road (A316) between St Margarets and Richmond. This stylish bridge was built after the original design, with 70-foot towers, was abandoned following a petition organized by the Daily Telegraph. Beyond this is the splendidly colourful Richmond Railway Bridge, constructed in 1848 as the line was extended from Richmond to Windsor. As the plaque shows, it was rebuilt in 1908, and is Grade-II listed.
Our footpath carries on until we turn left into Old Palace Lane. Passing the White Swan pub, built in 1777, we continue to a key site in Richmond’s royal history. After passing Palace House, Old Palace Lane bends right into The Green. We continue with Richmond Green on our left before turning right into The Wardrobe, leading to Old Palace Yard. Here, in 1497–1501, Henry VII built the magnificent Richmond Palace, so named because the king and his father were earls of Richmond, in Yorkshire. The three-storey building had towers topped with pepper-pot domes, a moat, a chapel, wine cellars, a tennis court, gardens surrounded by two-storey galleries and a gate topped with statues of trumpeters where Trumpeters House now stands. Between the palace and the Thames were the Great Orchard and Crane Piece, where a riverside crane unloaded provisions. The palace was the scene of many historic events. Catherine of Aragon gave birth to Henry VIII’s ill-fated son, Henry, here in 1510. Catherine, her daughter Mary, and Anne of Cleves all spent time here. Elizabeth I spent Christmases at the palace, and was entertained by Shakespeare’s theatre company. She died here in 1603. Little remains of the original palace, but you can see examples of Tudor brickwork. After circling Old Palace Yard, we return along The Wardrobe and turn right along The Green, before turning right into Friars Lane, which returns us to Old Father Thames.
Turning left, we continue along Riverside to the White Cross Inn. Built on the site of the Franciscan Friary in 1748, this was originally the Watermans Arms, but was rebuilt in 1838 and named the White Cross. Here, we find St Helena Pier, where the 300-year-old ferry company, Turk Launches, offers boat trips all the way to Hampton Court. Passing Water Lane on our left, we continue along the riverside until we reach Richmond Bridge.
This is another site rich in history. For centuries, the twelfth-century London Bridge and Kingston Bridge were the only bridges spanning the lower reaches of the Thames, so the ferryman’s trade was vital and vibrant. A ferry from Ferry Hill (now Bridge Street) to Twickenham Meadows was operating here before 1442, when John Yong is recording taking over the licence from Thomas Tyler. There was one boat for foot-passengers and another for horses and carts, and the service continued until 1777, when Richmond Bridge was completed. Designed by James Paine and Kenton Couse, this beautiful structure, 300 feet in length, is built in Portland Stone with 5 elliptical arches. It was described in The London Magazine of 1779: “A simple yet elegant structure, and, from its happy situation… one of the most beautiful ornaments of the river and the country adjacent.” To pay for its construction, it operated as a toll-bridge until 1859, with charges of half a penny for foot passengers, a penny if pushing a wheelbarrow, sixpence for a baker’s cart drawn by one horse, and one shilling and sixpence for a vehicle drawn by four horses. Cattle could cross for three shillings and fourpence a score. Although it was widened in 1937, most of the original design is preserved in the Grade-1 listed bridge we see today: London’s oldest surviving Thames bridge. If you climb onto the bridge, turn left, and walk along Bridge Street to Bill’s, you will find the original milestone showing distances to other towns and bridges.
Continuing along the riverside walk beneath Richmond Bridge, we reach the River Thames Visitor Centre, set in a Thames lighter constructed in 1900. Beyond this, we follow the Thames bank all the way to Buccleuch Gardens and Petersham Meadows. Always taking the right-hand path to stay close to the river, we pass Glover’s Island, formerly known as Petersham Ait. One of the many islands or ‘aits’ in this stretch of the Thames, in 1872 it was purchased for £70 by local boatman Joseph Glover. Seeking £4,000 for the island in 1898, Glover caused a scandal by threatening to sell it to Pear’s Soap for the erection of advertising hoardings. A local benefactor eventually stepped in to prevent the island becoming a soap-box.
Passing River Lane, we continue to Ham House Ferry Landing. Taking the ferry across the river, we can return to St Margarets Station by heading north along Orleans Road and Crown Road. A longer route will be offered with Part Two of the Bridges and Ferries Walk.