Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Marlow

Classic View of Marlow
Classic View of Marlow

Moving along the river starts to bend, and the curve gradually reveals one of the classic Thames views, the spire of All Saints Church and the fine outline of the suspension bridge stretching across the water.

The bridge was designed by William Tierney Clark (1783 – 1852) and opened in 1832. There had been a bridge across the river at Marlow since the days of Edward III. The need for the new bridge was that the old wooden bridge had proved insufficient and had collapsed in 1828.

William Tierney Clarke had studied under the supervision of two of England’s greatest civil engineers, Thomas Telford and John Rennie. Such was the effect of his new bridge across the Thames that in 1838 the he was asked to design a similar bridge (the Szechenyi Chain Bridge) to cross the River Danube and link the two cities of Buda and Pest to form Budapest. This was to be a much longer bridge, nearly three times the size of its smaller prototype. When completed it had a span of 660 feet and at the time was the longest bridge in the world. There are commemorative plaques on both bridges marking the connection between them. Neither bridge today is the original. The Szechenyi Bridge had to be rebuilt after it suffered wartime damage, and in 1965 Buckinghamshire County Council restored the Marlow Bridge replacing the original ironwork with steel.

On the opposite side of the river is the Compleat Angler Hotel, one of the most famous on the Thames. It is named after the book written by Izaak Walton (1593 – 1683) and first published in 1653. This hotel is frequented by the rich and famous, and offers superb cuisine and accommodation. One of the hotels claims to fame is that in 1999 it became the first public restaurant outside of London to be visited by The Queen for a meal. This gives it more than a little “one-upmanship” on all of the other hotels who can merely claim that Jerome K Jerome mentions them in “Three Men in a Boat”.

For a small size town Marlow has had more than its fair share of notable residents. A memorial in the porch of All Saints Church commemorates Sir Miles Hobart, who was instrumental in starting one of our more quaint Parliamentary traditions. Hobart began the practice of Black Rod having the door of the House slammed in his face. He was Member of Parliament for Marlow and became famous when he locked the door to Parliament and refused entry to the Kings Messenger during a debate. For this little escapade he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Shortly after his release he was killed in an accident when the horses on his carriage bolted on Holborn Hill. This monument was paid for at public expense by Parliament and is the first example of a public memorial in England.

The poet, Percy Shelley also lived in Marlow for a while, and a plaque on Albion House in West Street commemorates this. He wrote “The Revolt of Islam”, one of his major works, while at Marlow. The title is somewhat misleading in this present age because it has very little to do with Islam as we would know it today. The plot of the poem is that the leading two characters, Laon and Cyntha stage a bloodless coup against the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. At the same time Mary Shelley, Percy’s wife, wrote her most famous novel “Frankenstein”.

The Shelleys great friend and literary colleague, Thomas Love Peacock, also lived in West Street, at number 67. There must have been something very literary in the air in West Street because a century later the writer T.S.Elliot (1888 – 1965) moved into number 31 and stayed for two years at the end of the First World War.

The attractiveness of Marlow with its charming riverside landscape coupled with close proximity to London makes it a very attractive place to live, and celebrities abound. How fitting then, that Marlow’s most celebrated current resident should be one whose success in life is due to all of his work on the river. Sir Steven Redgrave, five times Olympic champion is celebrated with a bronze statue in Higginson Park, just upstream of the bridge. He is looking across the river at the finishing post for the annual Marlow regatta.

Seven Corner Alley
Seven Corner Alley

From Marlow Bridge the Thames Pathway takes another of its excursions. From the bridge to the lock there is no footpath, and in times gone by the horses would have to be unharnessed and walked to the downstream end of the lock, while the barges were hauled by long ropes through the lock. The path is known as “Seven Corner Alley”, but I reckon the man who named it lost count somewhere. The pathway goes up the side of the bridge, over the road, up the street, cuts through the churchyard, over another street, round “The Two Brewers” pub, then twists and turns until I find myself back at the riverside.

The Two Brewers, Marlow
The Two Brewers, Marlow

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