Bisham Abbey

1910: Bisham in Thames Villages by Charles Harper.

Marlow, from ‘The Genius of the Thames’ by Thomas Love Peacock

Delight shall check the expanded sail
In woody Marlow's winding vale:
And fond regret for scenes so fair
With backward gaze shall linger there.

1839: Mrs Shelley's note on “The Revolt of Islam” -

'During the year 1817 we were established at Marlow, in Buckinghamshire. Shelley's choice of abode was fixed chiefly by this town being at no great distance from London, and its neighborhood to the Thames.
The poem was written in his boat, as it floated under the beech groves of Bisham, or during wanderings in the neighboring country, which is distinguished for peculiar beauty. The chalk hills break into cliffs that overhang the Thames, or form valleys clothed with beech; the wilder portion of the country is rendered beautiful by exuberant vegetation; and the cultivated part is peculiarly fertile.
With all this wealth of nature which, either in the form of gentlemen's parks or soil dedicated to agriculture, flourishes around, Marlow was inhabited (I hope it is altered now) by a very poor population.
The women are lacemakers, and lose their health by sedentary labor, for which they were very ill paid. The poor-laws ground to the dust not only the paupers, but those who had risen just above that state, and were obliged to pay poor-rates. The changes produced by peace following a long war, and a bad harvest, brought with them the most heart-rending evils to the poor. Shelley afforded what alleviation he could.

1886: 'Drifting Down' by Joseph Ashby-Sterry -

DRIFTING down in the grey-green twilight,
O, the scent of the new-mown hay !
The oars drip in the mystic shy light,
O, the charm of the dying day !
While fading flecks of bright opalescence
But faintly dapple a saffron sky,
The stream flows on with superb quiescence,
The breeze is hushed to the softest sigh.
Drifting down in the sweet still weather,
O, the fragrance of fair July !
Love, my Love, when we drift together,
O, how fleetly the moments fly !

Drifting down on the dear old River,
O, the music that interweaves !
The ripples run and the sedges shiver,
O, the song of the lazy leaves !
And far-off sounds - for the night so clear is
Awake the echoes of bygone times ;
The muffled roar of the distant weir is
Cheered by the clang of the Marlow chimes.
Drifting down in the cloudless weather,
O, how short is the summer day !
Love, my Love, when we drift together,
O, how quickly we drift away !

Drifting down as the night advances,
O, the calm of the starlit skies !
Eyelids droop o'er the half-shy glances,
O, the light in those blue-grey eyes !
A winsome maiden is sweetly singing
A dreamy song in a minor key ;
Her clear low voice and its tones are bringing
A mingled melody back to me.
Drifting down in the clear calm weather,
O, how sweet is the maiden's song !
Love, my Love, when we drift together,
O, how quickly we drift along !

1889: Jerome K Jerome -

From Marlow up to Sonning is even fairer yet ...
It was while floating in his boat under the Bisham beeches that Shelley, who was then living at Marlow (you can see his house now, in West street), composed THE REVOLT OF ISLAM.

1870s: Towpath Bridge above Marlow, George Leslie -

Towpath Bridge above Marlow, George Leslie, 1870s
Towpath Bridge above Marlow, George Leslie, 1870s
Towpath Bridge above Marlow, 2004
Towpath Bridge above Marlow, 2004

Bisham Church, Left bank

1889: Jerome K Jerome -

Just before you come to the abbey, and right on the river's bank, is Bisham Church, and, perhaps, if any tombs are worth inspecting, they are the tombs and monuments in Bisham Church.

1793: Bisham Church and Abbey -

Bisham Abbey 1793 Boydell
Bisham Abbey. June 1, 1793. J. Farington R.A. delt. J.C. Stadler sculpt.
(Published) by J. & J.Boydell, Shakespeare Gally. Pall Mall & (No. 90) Cheapside London.

1870:  Bisham Church, Henry Taunt -

Bisham Church, Henry Taunt, 1870
Bisham Church, Henry Taunt, 1870
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT01555

1890: Bisham Church and Abbey, Francis Frith -

1890:  Bisham Church and Abbey, Francis Frith
1890:  Bisham Church and Abbey, Francis Frith

1906: Bisham Church, Mortimer Menpes -

Bisham Church & Abbey, Mortimer Menpes, 1906
Bisham Church, Mortimer Menpes, 1906

1992: Skyscan's Aerial View of Bisham Church in The Secret Thames -

Bisham Church
Skyscan's Aerial View of Bisham Church.

2004: Bisham Church -

Bisham Church, 2004
Bisham Church, 2004

Bisham Church History

1881: George Leslie -

Nothing can be finer than … Bisham Abbey and Church, Temple Mills, Hurley and Harleyford;  as a typical piece of Thames scenery it has no equal in my estimation.
The little church at Bisham has not escaped the restorer’s hands;  its situation is however its great charm, and cannot fail to attract the gaze of the passer by.
Inside the church, the old tomb of the Hobbies is interesting, and the exquisite colouring of the window, with its wonderful coats of arms in it, may serve to help an artistic mind through the tedium of a dull sermon. [!]
  I never pass Bisham Church without seeing one or perhaps two artists at work from it, seated on the tow-path opposite.  There must have been a great number of drawings made of this prettily composed little group, but I never recollect seeing any at the various Exhibitions.


Bisham Abbey, Left bank

Bisham Abbey and Church, 1811

1834: Tombleson -

Bisham Church and Abbey, Tombleson, 1834

1881: George Leslie continues -

The abbey itself is never quite so popular with the artists as the church and trees;  why, I do not know, for the colouring of the old house is superb, and there is a forsaken romantic look about the whole place which disposes one strongly to believe in the ghost story of the Lady Hoby, who, dressed in black and white, is said to haunt the building by way of expiation for having beaten to death the little child who blotted her writing-books.

1885: Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames:

Bisham is chiefly celebrated for its abbey, the seat of G H Vansittart, Esq., which dates from the time of King Stephen. In 1338 it became a priory. Subsequently it was given by Henry VIII to Anne of Cleves. Queen Elizabeth once resided here, under the charge of the Hobys, and appears to have had a "good time" ...
The porch and great hall, which are portions of the oldest part of the building, are exceedingly fine; and the drawing room, which contains a bay window built spcially for the Princess Elizabeth, is remarkable for some very goold old stained glass. There is a remarkable tapestry bed-chamber, with an entrance to a peculiarly constructed secret room high up in the wall;
and on the ground-floor is a very satisfactory ghost-room, which is said to be haunted by the apparition of one of the Ladies Hoby, who beat her little boy to death for inking his copies, and is now condemned to continual vain attempts to wash her own hands in a ghostly basin which goes before her as she walks. Unfortunately it is not clear whether anybody has actually seen the ghost, but it is said that, during a period of repairing, a number of blotted copy books of the time to whch the legend refers were found secreted in the room - evidence, which as ghost stories go, is quite enough for all practical purposes. ...
In the dining room is a very jovial portrait of a certain Rev.Peregrine Hoby, who appears from his complexion to have thoroughly enjoyed the good things of this life ... and the gem of the collection will be found over the mantelpiece in the shape of a brilliant portrait of Henrietta Maria, by Van Dyck.


Henrietta Maria by Van Dyck
Henrietta Maria by Van Dyck.

[ Van Dyck painted 35 portraits of Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. Whether this is the Bisham version I leave to art historians. ]

1885: Bisham Abbey, Henry Taunt -

Bisham Abbey, Henry Taunt, 1885
Bisham Abbey, Henry Taunt, 1885
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT4843

1893:  Bisham Abbey, Francis Frith -

1893:  Bisham Abbey, Francis Frith
1893:  Bisham Abbey, Francis Frith

1906: Bisham Abbey, Mortimer Menpes -

Bisham Abbey, Mortimer Menpes, 1906
Bisham Abbey, Mortimer Menpes, 1906

Bisham Abbey Sailing & Navigation School

2004: Bisham Abbey -

Bisham Abbey 2004
Bisham Abbey in 2004

1889: Jerome K Jerome -

From Marlow up to Sonning is even fairer yet ...
Grand old Bisham Abbey, whose stone walls have rung to the shouts of the Knights Templars, and which, at one time, was the home of Anne of Cleves and at another of Queen Elizabeth, is passed on the LEFT bank just half a mile above Marlow Bridge.
Bisham Abbey is rich in melodramatic properties.  It contains a tapestry bed-chamber, and a secret room hid high up in the thick walls.  The ghost of the Lady Hoby, who beat her little boy to death, still walks there at night, trying to wash its ghostly hands clean in a ghostly basin.
Warwick, the king-maker, rests there, careless now about such trivial things as earthly kings and earthly kingdoms; and Salisbury, who did good service at Poitiers.

1992: Bondig Bank given to the Thames Society -

Bondig Bank, a beautiful stretch of riverbank opposite Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre, is situated halfway between Marlow and Temple locks.
Miss Margaret Dickinson, a relative of the last private owner of Bisham Abbey, and a long time member of the Society, donated this stretch of bank to the Society in 1992.
A landscape architect who recently visited the bank, expressed her delight to see that the Society had planted reeds and spiral willows to prevent bank erosion and in her opinion, more of the bank should be protected in this way.
There is always work to be done, in particular, path and fence repairs together with pollarding of the willows, in order to maintain the bank as a place to walk and enjoy, as well as being the perfect habit for birds, plants and insect life.
There are two benches situated on the bank, one in memory of Mr John Parton who founded the Society in 1962 and the other in memory of Mr Derek Simmonds, who was a committee member of the Middle Thames Branch for many years.
It is the aim of the Society to manage the bank in such a way as to encourage plants and wildlife. In May 2006 Roger and Frances Wilding of the Wycombe Wildlife Group, conducted a survey on behalf [of the Thames Society] and suggested that in some areas, the stinging nettles should be pulled up rather than strimmed to encourage more attractive flowering wild plants local to the area.
Anyone interested in helping with the maintenance of the bank or with any specialist knowledge on bank management please contact the River Thames Society Administrator.