Turn the page
Picturesque England
Turn the page

The Thames - Its Picturesque Beauties


ONDON'S noble river has even yet great claims to be considered picturesque; its width, its full free stream, its grand bridges, must assuredly win admiration. Of course it has lost much of its picturesque appearance since the days when royal and princely pageants chose it for their pathway; and when the barges of Essex and Cecil were moored by the steps that led from their lovely gardens to the stream; when swans floated on its tranquil surface, and the Thames waterman was himself a picturesque adjunct to the stream.

Now, embarking from Blackfriars bridge, we steam up a rather muddy river, over which pass innumerable skiffs, barges, luggers, and penny steamers; but the banks are crowned with noble buildings.

The Houses of Parliament with their rich carvings and campanile, the towers of the Abbey, the many great buildings, are worthy of the stately stream; while the extensive and separated buildings of St. Thomas's Hospital on the left bank speak eloquently of modern philanthropy; and Lambeth Palace and the Lollards' Tower are full of the memories of the past. Then following with our eyes the Embankment on the right hand, we see the gray walls of Somerset House, Cleopatra's Needle, and the young foliage of Charing Cross gardens.

Onward steams our boat, and soon we reach the Chelsea Hospital Gardens, and the building devoted by Nell Gwynn and her royal lover to the disabled soldiers of England - a deed of thoughtful goodness on the part of poor Nelly, which has won for her a gentler judgment than she might have hoped to gain.

Cheyne Walk and its embankment are pretty; and the old chronicles recall the days when he who rests in the church - the brave and good Sir Thomas More, dwelt in the (then) rural village of Chelsea, and entertained the Tudor tyrant in his home; when bluff Hal walked in the garden with his arm round More's neck, and Lady More spoke of it as a sign of the royal affection; but the chancellor, with his shrewd smile, told her that nevertheless Henry would send his head to the block remorselessly for ever so slight an offence. He read character only too truly. Here the river spreads into the wide and beautiful reach by Battersea, and on the left is Battersea Park, where, in summer, are hedges of tall white lilies, and a semi-tropical garden full of lovely flowers.

The boat steams on, and we reach still lovelier banks, with trees to the water's edge. Putney bridge with the picturesque church and palace of Fulham, the residence of the Bishop of London; and then Hammersmith, also extremely pretty with trees and passing boats, and by-and-by Kew Bridge with its tree-crowned banks, its willows dipping into the stream on the shore, and the little island, and we pass the gardens where earth's loveliest flowers from all lands are reared, and where verdant lawns and noble trees offer a summer solace to hard- worked London.

And beautiful Richmond is gained at last, with its perfect hill, commanding a charming view of the river, and its park, also "a thing of beauty."

The old name of Richmond was Shene, or the "bright palace," and here was a noble palace, occupied, and alas, destroyed by Richard II. For at Shene he had lived in great happiness with his beloved queen, Anne of Bohemia, and when she died, he could not endure the sight of the place where she had dwelt. He had the buildings pulled down and removed. Henry V. rebuilt Shene, and Henry VII. changed its name to "Richmond," that of his own earldom in Yorkshire.

View of the Thames at Richmond bridge

Here his granddaughter Elizabeth entertained her royal wooer, Eric, fourth king of Sweden; and it was here she died, a broken-hearted lonely old queen. "A view of the Thames front of Richmond Palace represents a long line of irregular buildings with projecting towers, octagonal and circular, crowned by ill-shaped turrets intermixed with small chimneys having somewhat the shape of inverted pears."

Richmond Park is the property of the Crown; and it was enclosed by Charles I., - "in the grounds of the lodge belonging to the Earl of Errol there is a raised piece of ground called Henry VIII.'s Mound." It is said that he stood here to watch for the signal from the Tower of London which assured him of the death of Anne Boleyn. It is in a direct line with the Tower, which is easily seen from thence with the naked eye on a clear day.

"In beauty the grounds of this charming lodge (with reference to their extent), are exceeded by few in this kingdom." 1

The trees in Richmond Park are almost entirely oaks: two very large ones are called the king and queen. We have not space here to describe all the lovely scenes on the banks of the Thames. We must leave Clieveden with its towers and Medenham with its ancient Abbey, and all the lovely home scenes on the great river, to those who choose to take a well repaid voyage up to its source. It is full of beauty, as the exhibition of riverside views by Mr. Halswell has taught us. We shall close our brief sketch with Wordsworth's celebrated sonnet on the Thames in early morning, composed on Westminster Bridge, September 3rd, 1802.


Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty.
This City now doth as a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers and domes, theatres and temples lie,
Open unto the fields and to the sky;
All bright and glittering is the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep
The river glideth at his own sweet will
Dear God I the very houses seem asleep,
And all that mighty heart is lying still.

Sir John Denham has also rendered poetic homage to the Thames. We subjoin a few lines from "Cooper's Hill."

Thames I the most loved of all the Ocean's sons
By his old sire, to his embraces runs,
I tasting to pay his tribute to the sea,
Like mortal life to meet eternity;
Though with those streams he no resemblance hold,
Whose foam is amber and their gravel gold:
His genuine and less guilty wealth to explore,
Search not his bottom, but survey his shore,
O'er which he kindly spreads his spacious wing,
And hatches plenty for the ensuing spring.

Nor are his blessings to his hanks confined,
But free and common as the sea or wind,
When he to boast or to disperse his stores
Full of the tribute of his gracious shores,
Visits the world and in his flying towers
Brings home to us and makes the Indies ours;
Finds wealth where his, bestows it where it wants,
Cities in deserts, woods in cities plants,
So that to us no thing no place is strange,
While his fair bosom is the world's exchange.
O, could I flow like thee I and make thy stream
My great example, as it is my theme,
Though deep, yet clear, though gentle, yet not dull;
Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.

Written in 1643.

* * * * * *

1. Jesse's "Gleanings"

Turn the page
Picturesque England
Turn the page
Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004