Surveying the foreshore

On a beautiful, sunny Autumn day in November, the Thames Discovery Programme and Richmond Archaeology Society met for a combined foreshore walk and inspection. The RAS were leading the walk on this occasion. The area of foreshore of interest was the stretch adjacent to the site of Richmond Palace. Most of the Palace has long gone, but the gatehouse and wardrobe buildings still exist. Unfortunately, there had been a lot of rain recently, so the river did not drop as much as expected. We decided to start at the bridge end of the embankment.


Foreshore in front of boatyard

We engaged a representative of the boat yard in conversation and requested a copy of the tide tables which he usually kept. Interested in what we were up to, he volunteered to lecture us on the history of the embankment, foreshore, boatyard and bridge. His knowledge and delivery was impressive and I summarise a few of the interesting items as below:

Up to 300 workers made their living from this foreshore. The towpath was moved from the Middlesex side of river to the Surrey side and Lightermen and boatyard workers and owners were involved in various legal battles for their rights to work on the foreshore. The Government decision was that the rights of the Lightermen and boatyard staff have to be respected, as they were there first. Hence, a number of boat slipways and steps into river were installed when the terrace and embankment was built.


Inside under bridge arch boat workshop
Entrance to old Toll House from this location

A ferry was operating before the bridge was built and was large enough to carry a horse carriage, although in a rather precarious manner. Rumour has it that William Hogarth got into a fix on the ferry and was swept up the river, no doubt after he had a slap-up dinner and all the accessories with his mates.

When the bridge was built, boatyard workers were shareholders, and also used the space under the arches for boat building and repairs. The bridge had a toll house when first built. The top part of the toll house on the bridge has gone but some of the lower part of the house still exists. Entrance to the toll house being from one of the under bridge arches used by the boatyard. A warren of arches is accessed from some of the other under bridge arches. We were shown the remains of the entrance to the stairs within one of the arches under the bridge.

Note: Having lived locally for many years, I have seen the fabulous boats which have been made by this boatyard, and the craftmanship is top notch. I hope this skill is not lost in the future.

Dragging ourselves away from this interesting interlude, we made our way back to the foreshore near the old Palace. After our Riverpedia human bones workshop last weekend, we were all keen to test out our new skills on any bones found. Many bones were picked up and were deemed to be from various animals. Further along the forehore, wooden piles or stakes were seen, and these have already been deemed to be remains of the old Palace jetty and crane which use to be used for unloading vessels. The wood of these structures has already been dated back to the time of the Palace.


Richmond Palace was nearly as big as Hampton Court, and is first shown on a drawing dated 1562. A nice model of the Palace is in Richmond Museum above Richmond Main Library. The Royal connections to Richmond go back to the 12th century, but it reached its last phase in the reign of Henry VII. He named it Richmond after the Earldom he kept in Yorkshire. When his son, Henry VIII, took over, Henry used it, together with the Palace at Greenwich, as his main residence. Later Henry VIII made Hampton Court his main residence.


The remains of the Palace jetty

After assessing the remains on the foreshore we all decided to walk to the remains of the Palace itself, which would give the FROG members who were not local a chance to take in some further history. It was from this point that we terminated our session and it was generally of the view that it had been a lovely walk taking in some of the culture on offer in this area.

I am looking forward to the next TDP meet-up…