A dozen or so things you never knew about the River Thames

The eighth in our series of 'I never knew that about the beauty spots of Britain'

Britain is the most beautiful country in the world when the sun shines. And even when it doesn’t there are myriad tales and facts galore to enhance the beauty, whatever the weather. Here are some of them – they may make you want to go there…

A dozen or so things you never knew about The River Thames (upper reaches) (maybe)

Described by the 19th century MP John Burns as ‘liquid history’, the River Thames runs from west to east through five English counties before it reaches London, through some of our island’s most beguiling countryside and past some of our most historic features. It is England’s longest river, 215 miles in length, separating Middle England from Southern England as it once divided the Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex.

  • In Gloucestershire, the Thames runs past the 12th century church of St Giles in Coberley where Dick Whittington’s mother lies. Charles II hid in the Rectory here disguised as a groom after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. A little further downstream are the gardens of Cowley Manor, where Lewis Carroll first met Alice Liddell, his Alice in Wonderland. The Palladian house is the former home of Sir James Horlicks, inventor of the milky drink, and he is said to step out of his tomb in the adjacent churchyard from time to time and stroll through the house greeting his guests with a cup of Horlicks.
  • In Wiltshire the Thames flows past the tiny Saxon church of St John the Baptist at Inglesham, full of so many architectural treasures that it inspired William Morris to found, in 1877, the first of the great preservation organisations, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings or SPAB.

Two geese at river lock on the river Thames at Oxford

  • In Oxfordshire the Thames runs past the field at Shifford where, in AD 890, King Alfred held the first recorded English Parliament, past the meadow at Godstow where Lewis Carroll first told the story of Alice in Wonderland to Alice Liddell, past the first English university at Oxford, past the abbey that marks the spot where St Birinus baptised the Saxon king Cynegils of Wessex as the first direct ancestor of our present Queen to become a Christian and the house at Mapledurham that inspired Toad Hall from the Wind in the Willows.
  • In Berkshire (and the Vale of the White Horse, formerly in Berkshire) the Thames runs past Sutton Courtney, the birthplace of the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, the burial place of George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm, and site of the home where Henry Herbert Asquith signed the document that took us into the Great War. Also the first fields cultivated by the world’s first seed drill invented by Jethro Tull at Wallingford, Winterbrook House near Wallingford where Agatha Christie lived and which she used as Miss Marple’s home in St Mary Mead, the original Hammer House of Horror at Oakley Court, the village of Cookham made famous by the paintings of Stanley Spencer, the bridge with the widest and flattest brick arches in the world at Maidenhead and the world’s largest inhabited castle at Windsor.
  • In Buckinghamshire the Thames runs past the home of W.H. Smith near Henley, the home of the Hellfire Club at Medmenham Abbey, the house in Marlow where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, the swimming pool where Christine Keeler met Lord Profumo and brought down the Macmillan government, Dorney Court where England’s first pineapple was grown and the playing fields of Eton where the Battle of Waterloo was won.

See part one – Outer Hebrides 

See part two – Inner Hebrides 

See part three – The Peak District

See part four – The Cotswolds

See part five  – Pembrokeshire

See part six  – the Cumbrian Coast

See part seven  – Aberdeenshire 

Find out more about Christopher Winn’s ‘I Never Knew That’ here

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Christopher Winn has been a freelance writer and collector of trivia for over 20 years and is the author of the million-selling I Never Knew That books which cover Great Britain and Ireland and New York. He has written for the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Express, the Guardian and the Spectator and has also worked for television with, amongst others, Terry Wogan and Joanna Lumley. He is married to artist Mai Osawa, who illustrates all his books.

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14th Jan 2019
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Very interesting article. I look forward to our next trip to Windsor

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