Most people associate Twickenham with rugby. As home to England Rugby with a stadium that seats a crowd of 82,000 for a big match, it’s most visitors’ reason for coming here. However, Twickenham has other claims to fame and just a fairly short walk along the Thames from Eel Pie Island, just off the high street in Twickenham, to Richmond Bridge (about 3km/2 miles) is a good indicator of all that Twickenham has to offer in terms of history and a beautiful location in SW London.
I set off soon after 9am this morning. It had been a foggy start as you’ll see from my photos, but by the time I got to Richmond Bridge, the fog had pretty much burned off revealing sun, blue skies and the promise of a fine autumn day. It takes me about 10 minutes from my house to head down to the centre of Twickenham where from King Street, I took a side road – Wharf Lane – down to the Thames and saw Eel Pie Island in front of me.
It’s said that Eel Pie Island may have been a ‘courting’ ground for Henry VIII. It gained its name from as far back as the 17th century when day trippers picnicked on pies made from locally caught eels. In more recent history, it became a famous venue for music in the 1960s when fans flocked to its hotel to hear bands such as The Who and the Rolling Stones when they were starting out.
The hotel closed in 1967 and was burned down in 1971. The island is private property and although you can cross the footbridge (built in 1957) on to it, you can’t access much of the island. It’s now home to small local business and there’s an artists’ community where many artists and crafts people have studios and workshops. Twice a year, during Art Open House weeks (June and December), you’ll find more of the island open to take a proper look.
There are lots of rowing and sailing clubs and so you’ll often see canoes or small sailing boats out on the river.
Walking along from the Eel Pie Island bridge towards Richmond, you’ll soon come to the Barmy Arms pub on your left.
The pub has a 400-year history and was previously called the Queens Head but when an owner started putting a Christmas tree there upside down, it was given the name ‘Barmy Arms’ – ‘barmy’ being the word for an eccentric or fool. The pub also has a music history and groups like the Rolling Stones, Genesis and Rod Stewart played there back in the area’s rock heydays in the sixties.
Just past the Barmy Arms you’ll see a passage leading to the Mary Wallace Theatre.
This tiny theatre is home to the Richmond Shakespeare Society, which was founded in 1934. The society regularly put on productions of Shakespeare plays but other plays too. In the summer they often perform in the nearby York House Gardens.
Just a little way further along Embankment, you’ll see the slightly raised area known as Champions’ Wharf with a sculpture park and ‘beach’ play area for children, complete with a ‘viking boat’ kids can play in.
As you make your way round from the river on to a road, to get into the park, you’ll see St Mary’s Church to your left. The 18th century poet, Alexander Pope, is buried there and gives his name to many local road like Pope’s Grove and Pope’s Avenue.
A sign high up in the wall, just to the left of the road sign, indicates the height the river flooded to in the 18th century – very high indeed! It no doubt accounts for the name of a nearby road: Flood Lane.
Walk up Church Lane and you’ll see the Twickenham Museum (open on Tuesdays and Saturdays) on the left.
At the top end of this road, to the left, is Church Street, one of the prettiest roads in Twickenham full of lots of small independent shops and cafés and restaurants (see: Masaniello, Corto Italian Deli, Pinchos, Osteria Pulcinella). On summer weekends evenings, the road is closed off and restaurants put chairs and tables outside for diners, bringing a touch of the Mediterranean to Twickenham.
Take a little wander down a number of small alleyways nearby and you’ll find pretty cottages and views.
Going back to the river, take the steps up into Champions’ Wharf and cross diagonally to an archway that takes you to a path alongside the river.
This is such a beautiful view. A little way along on the left, a path leads into some gardens, part of York House. There, to your left, you’ll be confronted by most amazing sight of a very elaborate fountain with sculptures.
The ‘Oceanides’ were carved in Rome in the 19th century and brought to UK in 1904 and then to York House by its last owner in 1909. York House is no longer privately owned, but local council offices.
Backtrack through Champions’ Wharf and back on to Riverside road. You’ll pass under a stone footbridge that leads from the gardens with the fountain into the main York House gardens. Further on, you’ll find The White Swan pub on your left.
The pub dates back to the 17th century. It has a large terraced area that’s great for drinking and eating in the summer with a view over to Eel Pie Island.
A little further on you’ll pass Orleans House to your left (the photo is from earlier in the year as at the moment the house is covered by scaffolding).
This palladium villa was built in 1710 for a politician. Nowadays it’s owned by the local council and is home to two galleries – in the main house and one in the stables at the back. There’s also a café. Although small, the galleries often display some interesting exhibitions.
Taking some steps up towards the river, you’ll find yourself entering the Marble Hill gardens.
In the distance you’ll see a children’s playground and café. This is where I used to bring my son and daughter when they were little; now we bring my grandson Freddie. To the right and the river, a little part of the towpath juts out with a great view.
It was still a little foggy this morning but in the far distance you can see the top of Richmond Hill and the famous Star & Garter Home. Until recently the Home was a place for wounded and disabled service men and women to convalesce – and enjoy one of the best views in London. Sadly it’s recently been sold to developers and is being turned into luxury flats! On the opposite bank to where you’re standing, you’ll see Ham House.
A very dark photo, I’m afraid, and at this time of the year, the house largely hidden by trees. The house was built in 1610 and is one of the most perfectly preserved houses from the Stuart period of history. The owner supported the king in the Civil War and was made 1st Earl of Dysart for his loyalty. It’s now owned by the National Trust – and said to be the most haunted house in England. Having had some rather disturbing experiences there, I have to say I think it is – and I’ve no great wish to go back!
If you want to cross to the other side, you can take a ferry at this point – just a few steps further on.
A ferry has crossed the river here since the 17th century. Today’s ferry, Hammerton’s Ferry, was started by Walter Hammerton in 1908. For £1 (cheaper for children) you can take a little boat across to Ham and Petersham.
Walking on you’ll soon see Marble Hill House on the left.
This Palladium House was built between 1724 and 1728 for Henrietta Howard, mistress to the Prince of Wales, later George II. On the far side of the house, bordering the park to the left, you’ll find Montpelier Row, said to be one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Britain.
The house on the far left was home in the 19th century to famous poet Alfred Lord Tennyson; in the 20th century it became home to famous rock star Pete Townshend of The Who for a few years. Nearby in another house, the poet Walter de la Mare lived. Twickenham has a rich history of poets and artists living here.
Back down on the river, if you continue towards Richmond, just past the view to Marble Hill House above, you’ll find a gate into the park and directly on the right a large black walnut tree.
It’s thought the tree was planted around 1720 and it’s the third oldest and largest tree in the country.
Continuing along the towpath, you’ll soon see the river opening up a bit and on the far side are Petersham Fields and you can see the top of Richmond Hill.
The view from the top has been famously painted by many artists; most famously by JMW Turner who lived in Twickenham – or it was where he had his country residence. His house, Sandycombe Lodge, built in about 1812, is the only house designed by Turner who early in his life wanted to be an architect. The house is currently undergoing renovation and will soon be open to the public.
A number of people live in boats moored along the river. I saw some barges with lots of solar panels on top, which seemed a great idea.
The riverside was becoming more built up. Across the river I could see a former pub that has now been turned into apartments – something that’s happening a lot around here.
In this next photo you can see houses on Richmond Hill along the top; to the right, the building with white paint on the bottom is the Bingham Hotel; its restaurant has one Michelin star.
By now I was close to my destination. To the left of the towpath I passed a children’s playground and café; behind are flats which are part of a development where once Richmond’s famous ice rink stood. A new ice rink was supposed to be built at another site in Richmond, but sadly that’s never happened.
Richmond Bridge was now in sight. The sun had come out and the stillness of the river meant there were lovely reflections on the water of the bridge, buildings and boats.
It’s a beautiful walk. I used to do it regularly but hadn’t in a while so it was nice to revisit all the views. It took me about 40 minutes. From here I headed into Richmond itself for a coffee, then took the bus home back to Twickenham.
This article and more walks in London are now available on GPSmyCity app. Click here for the link.