Another Source of the Thames

Travelling through Gloucestershire on our way to Cornwall we paused at Seven Springs. We have passed along this route a few times and never given it thought. This time we decided to have a coffee at a well-equipped van in a lay-by just off the A436. Like many lay-bys it used to be part of the original road before it was straightened. As we wandered around the picturesque site under the shade of beech trees we noticed a set of steps down to a small stream running under the road and to decided to investigate.

Coffee by the springs (7)

The stream was crystal clear with water bubling from a series of springs (and yes there were seven). We had stumbled on the reason for the name of the hamlet but it turned out we had also come across something a bit more intersting.

Investigating Seven Springs

Where the stream passes under the main road we found a stone embeded in the bridge proclaiming in Latin "Haic Tuus O Tamesine Pater Septemgeminus Fons". Obviously something Thames related - I never learnt Latin.

Latin Inscription

It all became clearer when we discovered a grubby notice in the lay-by from the local parish council who stated the sites claim to be the "the ultimate source of the Thames". It was Coberley Parish Council who arranged to the engraved stone to be set into the bridge. The waters from the seven springs form the River Chum and this flows into the Thames at Cricklade. On the basis that the waters at Thames Head sometimes run dry, and the waters from Seven Springs do not, they consider their claim to be the true source is convincing.

The Parish Council also point out on the notice that regarding this as the Source of the Thames adds an extra 14 miles to its length making it 9 miles longer than the River Severn and the longest river flow in the UK. So perhaps the answer to the quiz question "What is the UK's longest river?" could be the Thames, or perhaps more accurately the Chum/Thames.

Either way, I still can't get out of my head the Michael Bentine (It's a Square World) sketch where they search for the Source of the Thames. They find it to be a dripping tap in a field, they turn it off and this drains the whole river.

Over and Under the Hill - Potterspury History Group

For some years I have been helping lead some of the Over and Under the Hill events at Stoke Bruerne where participants explore Blisworth Tunnel by boat and walk back over the top with guides. Last Saturday we held a special version for our village history group. With the warm and dry spell of weather we managed to fill trip boat Charlie. The tunnel element of the event never fails to impress. Despite travelling through the tunnel on Albert you get a new perspective sitting in Charlie near the water line when you can concentrate on looking at the side passages and the wonderful colours of the mineral deposits on the walls.

Familiar view

Checking the route

Boat Horses in the quarry field

We carried out a reconnaissance on the Thursday before the trip and some our pictures are from that walk.
A group of happy walkers ready for the tunnel

In the tunnel and looking at interpretation material

Leaving Charlie at Blisworth

Finishing with a meal for over twenty at the Navigation Inn it was a memorable event.  The next event like this is at the end of August which is being organised by Trip Boat Charlie.

Kelmscott Manor

Almost 12 years ago we had a trip up the Upper Thames and moored up at Kelmscott overnight. This was following the summer 2007 floods that devastated the Cotswolds and caused havoc across central England. We had planned to visit the former summer home of William Morris, Kelmscote Manor but, although the floods had subsided, the damage to the house was so bad it was closed to the public. We particularly remembered that even the Plough Inn was out of beer because of the flooding and an unfortunate couple who had travelled from Norfolk in their camper van to visit the manor and had slept overnight outside only to discover it was closed for the rest of the year.

Since then we have not been back along this stretch by boat, so when we found ourselves travelling through the Cotswolds a week ago we decided it was about time that as William Morris enthusiasts we visited Kelmscott. We were not disappointed.   

Kelmscott village does lie a little off the beaten track but it is delightful. A visit to the manor can effectively become a visit to the whole village since there are connections throughout to Morris family (William, Jane and May) and their fellow Pre-RaphaeliteDante Gabriel Rossetti who had a complex relationship with the Morris family . Just look at the map supplied by the manor.

We arrived late morning on a glorious summer's day and parked in the village car park (a field) designated for manor visitors. After "the pub with no beer" episode twelve years ago we visited The Plough and had a great lunch. The inn has several rooms so would make a good centre for walkers since it's not far from the Thames Path. It was busy and one of their outside rooms was set up for a party. I discussed the floods with the staff - it appears that the wooden floor of the pub was destroyed by the floods so they now have one in stone.

A pub with beer - this time

On the gentle walk to the manor we passed the cottage that has a wonderful stone carving of William Morris and I was also taken with some unusual nearby stone fencing.

William Morris contemplating life
Memorial Cottages 1902 - carved by George Jack
 Quite a different field boundary
The manor is not a large property if you are familiar with visiting stately homes, and you will soon become aware that it had a long history before Morris lived there. Visiting this building is all about William Morris and his work, but there are other little gems, notably by his daughter May who lived there for many years following his death.

William Morris's Bed  

Jane Morris's Bed decorated in Willow Boughs 

It is a widely held view that Willow Boughs (which we have decorating Albert) was inspired by the backwater of the Thames that passes through Kelmscott.


Split-stepped staircase installed by the Society of Antiquaries in 1962

Attic bedspread

Jane and William Morris

Cartoon of Morris fishing on the Thames

The gardens and outbuildings shouldn't be forgotten. Maggie and I were particularly taken by the massive mulberry tree in the back garden. It was too early in the season for ripe fruit but maybe in late August?

Kelmscott Manor's magnificent mulberry

A Three-seat Privy

The Manor owned by the Society of Antiquaries of London and is only open Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer. Also this year it will close for an extended works, mostly associated with the outbuildings and infrastructure so next year they may have quite a short season. I did ask the guides about the damage done in 2007. It appears that none of the artifacts were damaged but they had to have a new floor at the rear of the building.

Morris's Topcoat

The mooring at Kelmscott is a very short walk to the manor and is a delightful setting. Although we moored up there in 2007 and have now visited the manor, we still aspire to do both things at the same time. I suppose that is icing on the cake? - talking of which the manor does cream teas!

Kelmscott moorings

Down the River by H E Bates (1937-1979)

Having posted about the 1987 (50th) edition of this book, I began to look for earlier versions which I soon realised had wood-engravings for illustrations - I just love wood-cuts. It soon became clear that the first edition of 1937 had been reprinted in 1968 and 1979 and these editions used the same illustrations. Although I prevaricated (I like using that word), when eBay advertised a copy of the 1979 edition for less than £4:00 I couldn't resist buying another copy.

The hardbacked copy came with its original dust jacket complete with a charming illustration. The book boasts 83 wood-engravings; some full page, some included in the text and some decorating the chapter headings.

Lace Making

The book has a much more old-fashioned feel to it than my later edition and this version has paper quality which is surprisingly heavy gauge. It is altogether a better version printed and produced version as long you appreciate, as I do, the black and white engravings.

Title Page

Agnes Miller Parker's illustrations are extraordinary and invoke some of the same atmosphere as the Denys Watkins-Pichford work later had in Tom Rolt's Narrow Boat.

One example of just how "alive" the engravings are is the group of illustrations that accompany the story of Quintus that Bates relates when discussing the characters that lived near his home close to the Nene. It is a story of  the close (and somewhat ambivalent) connection working-people had with their pigs in the early 20th century. Bates' grandfather and his friend Quintus used to spend long periods admiring their pig and discuss her litters. Many in our Northamptonshire village also kept pigs; I bet they had similar discussions. The writing describing the characters and their views of life is first rate, but just add a few wood-cuts and it moves to another plane.

Quintus, pigs and piglets

According to the dust jacket, which contains a reprinted a review from The Observer published in 1937, "Very few modern books  have been so brilliantly illustrated". Over eighty years later I would certainly agree.

 Look out for copies of this edition from the usual on-line sources - you won't be disappointed and they probably won't be expensive.

Down the River by H E Bates

Having recently spent an idyllic holiday on the River Nene, I revisited a book we have had for some time. H E Bates, the famous novelist came from Rushden and wrote an evocative book about the rivers of eastern England "Down the River". There are several editions but ours is the 1987 (50th anniversary) edition which has illustrations by Peter Partington.

The book is based around two rivers, the Nene and the Great Ouse and is full of wonderful descriptions of the wildlife, flowers and people living alongside. 

Our copy has an inscription by Maggie's father Hugh, "To a family who have the luck to live between the Two Rivers". He was referring to the Chapter titled The Twin Rivers ad the fact that we live between the Two Rivers and we agree that we are lucky living in this area. With the inscription and its memories we particularly treasure this copy.  

Black-headed Gulls - we saw a lot recently near Woodford

A Lock


There are chapters on fishing, wild flowers, water mills, and otters but unusually there is an interesting chapter on lace-making. The villages in South Northamptonshire have a long history of lace-making and we live opposite a row of cottages that was a lace making "factory".  We can relate to the stories Bates relates about the craft because our village has similar. The history of how the art arrived in our part of England is retold and this is important. .

There are a least two other editions with first edition, published in 1937, having wood engravings by Agnes Miller Parker. However, the 1987 edition is widely available through the usual second-hand book sellers for around £12.  Its a good read and the illustrations of the edition we have are charming.

Researching for this post has convinced me that we must also get a 1937 edition because it is illustrated with wood cuts - I love wood cuts.