Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Shifford

Shifford Lock Cut was opened in 1898. The natural river looped south to the village of Duxford and then back again. The idea of the cut was not just to save one and a half miles of journey time, but to avoid the shallow waters of Duxford that were preventing many vessels from travelling further upstream, forcing them to turn and go back to Newbridge. That the whole project only took eighteen months from conception to opening showed the urgency that this project was seen to have.

Legend has it that King Alfred held a witan or English Parliament at Shifford in 890. Looking around at the surrounding countryside you could not imagine such a thing happening today. It would surely keep down the bills for “expenses” because there is nothing to spend them on. In fact, what a good idea. Get the MPs to stand around in an empty field. It would be a lot cheaper.

There is some debate among historical scholars as to whether or not this event actually took place. The only record of such an occasion is to be found in a 12th Century poem, “The Proverbs of Alfred” where the place name is given as “Sifford”. The whole thing may be fiction rather than fact. There is also an awkward historical point that this part of Oxfordshire did not come under Wessex administration until 910AD which is a little inconvenient for proving the story of a Witan being held in 890.

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