A choice of walks from Henley into the Chiltern Hills,
Chilterns Conservation Board Leaflet.
1910: Henley in Thames Villages by Charles Harper.
THE DANGERS OF HENLEY - Voice from the bridge above:
"Oh, lor, Sarah, I've bin and dropped the strawberries and cream!"
43AD: Cooke, Thames (1811) has a curious story that,
according to Dion Cassius, a Roman who wrote some 80 history books, many
of which have survived, that a bridge at Henley
was crossed by Romans pursuing the British.
The story may have come via Camden in 1610 [see below] "But whether this bridge was here that Dio writeth the Romans passed over when they pursued the Britans along this tract, who below had swum over the river, hard is it for a man to say."
What Dio said, writing in Greek, in Book 60, Chapter 20, verses 4 & 5 was that the Romans, in 43AD, having landed on the south coast, almost certainly in Kent, make their way inland until they come to a river, ( thought to be the Medway ) where an army of Britons is waiting.
Dio specifically says that there is no bridge there, but the German auxiliaries swim across the river and attack the Britons from behind, while the main army forces its way across (presumably there was a ford of some kind).
There is a major battle, which the Romans win. Then:
The Britons retired to the river Thames, [ the word used is Ταμέσαν (Tamesan)]
at a point near where it empties into the ocean and at flood tide forms a lake.
This they easily crossed because they knew where the
firm ground and the easy passages in this region were to be found;
but the Romans in attempting to follow them were not so successful.
However the Germans swam across again and some others got over by a bridge a little way upstream, after which they assailed the barbarians from several sides at once and cut down many of them.
Try as I might I cannot make this refer to an early Henley Bridge! Sorry!
1225: The earliest unequivocal indication of a bridge is the remains of two stone arches
abutting the existing structure at either end, one (on the Berkshire side) excavated in 1985,
and the other forming part of the cellars of the Angel Inn.
Both have been dated on stylistic grounds to the late 12th century, suggesting that the bridge may have been built in connection with the creation of the planned town and the possible extension of the royal manor house;
the dating has been questioned in the light of later references to bridge repairs or rebuilding, though a bridge certainly existed by 1225, when the king granted custody of it 'at pleasure'.
This 12th-century bridge may have been entirely stone-built. A large masonry block discovered on the riverbed in midstream, with diagonal tooling similar to that in the end arches, has been interpreted as part of an ashlar-faced cut-water
1232: Patent Rolls –
The keeper of the bridge at Henley is to get his timber toll free from
1354: Burns – Two granaries upon Henley Bridge.
1385: The Chaplain of the Chapel of St Katharine in Henley Church is charged with repairing the bridge.
1496: Hermit authorised to collect alms for the Chapel of St Ann, at the bridge.
1498: Funds collected 'for making two arches of the bridge'
1530: Leland, Henley Bridge -
all of Tymbre, as moste Parte of the Bridgs be ther about. It was [previously?] of stone, as the Foundation shewithe at a low watar
1587: Lease of a house “lately built upon the bridge”
1610: Camden -
Henley upon Tamis, in old time called Hanlegauz, sheweth it selfe in the verie confines of the shires.
The inhabitants whereof bee for the most part watermen, who make their chiefest gaine by carrying downe
in their barges wood and corne to London: neither can it make report of any greater antiquity than that
in times past the Molinies were Lords thereof, from whom by the Hungerfords, who procured unto the
towne of King Henrie the Sixth the libertie of holding two faires,
it came by right of inheritance unto the honorable house of the Hastings.
And where now the Tams hath a wooden bridge over it, they say in times past there stood one of stone arched.
But whether this bridge was here that Dio writeth the Romans passed over when they pursued the Britans along this tract, who below had swum over the river, hard is it for a man to say.
1643 Parliamentary troops entering the town were delayed because 'the bridge was not quite laid down'
1645: a rate of nearly £50 was charged on the inhabitants after the bridge was 'broken down by military forces'
1669: Cosmo III’s Travels – a timber bridge at Henley.
1690: Henley Bridge -
Henley Bridge, 1690
1698: Henley Bridge -
Henley bridge in 1698, from Jan Siberechts' painting from the Wargrave road (Henley River & Rowing Museum)
In 1948, Country Life carried this black and white image of this same painting
Marsh Lock and Henley in 1698, from Jan Siberechts' painting
1719: the timber part had reportedly been rebuilt and the stone arches at the east end destroyed,
presumably leaving just the surviving buried arch.
During the following decades the timber structure was repeatedly damaged by floods and, though patched up, seems to have become increasingly unstable.
1754: major repairs to Henley Bridge. Henley corporation briefly supplied a ferry.
1769: Sambrooke Freeman of Fawley Court arranged for the structure of the old wooden bridge to be covered with boards representing a bridge at Florence, probably the 16th-century Ponte Santa Trinita.
1774: A great flood 'swept the bridge away'. However ...
1777: Old wooden bridge repaired - 'decayed and ruinous'
1781: Act passed authorising a new Henley Bridge.
1784-5: Old Henley Bridge demolished.
1786-7: New Henley Bridge built along the north side of the original bridge, by Hayward (whose monument is inside the church to the north of the west wall. He actually wanted to be buried in the bridge foundations.)
1792: Henley Bridge, just five years old, in Picturesque Views on the Thames by Samuel Ireland -
THE elegant bridge of Henley consists of five eliptical arches, with a handsome
ballustrade of stone-work, and is, in point
of simplicity and beauty of design, equal to
any structure of the kind on this noble river.
It is built from a plan of the late ingenious Mr. Hayward, of Shropshire, who did not live to see the work begun. ON the key-stone of the center[sic] arch, above the bridge, is sculptured a head of Isis; and on the other side, a venerable head of THAMES; both from the chisel of the accomplished Mrs. Damer, the excellence of whose works is too well known to need any comment.
THIS beautiful bridge was finished in the year 1787, at an expence of near ten thousand pounds. The former one was of wood, but the one prior to that was of stone, and of a very ancient date. Some traces of its piers are yet visible when the water is low.
Camden seems doubtful, whether this was the bridge over which, according to Dio, the Romans pursued the Britons, who, he asserts, crossed the river in this neighbourhood.
THE town of Henley is of great antiquity, and by some writers said to be the oldest town in the county ; it anciently belonged to the family of the Molins, from whence it came to the Hungerfords, by whose means, in the reign of Henry VI. a licence was obtained for two annual fairs : at present it has four.
Little remains in this town, worthy the attention of the curious. Its delightful situation on the Thames, and the richness of the adjacent country, must ever render it an object to be admired.
Henley Bridge, Samuel Ireland, 1792
1793: Henley Bridge (detail from Boydell) -
Henley Bridge, 1793
1795: An Asylum for Fugitive Pieces - [ apparently by Anon ] -
THE BRITISH PHOENIX.
TO THE HONOURABLE MRS. DAMER.
UPON SEEING THE HEADS OF THE THAMES AND ISIS,
DONE BY HER ON THE KEY STONES OF THE CENTRE ARCH OF HENLEY BRIDGE.
'TIS said one Phoenix, and but one, appears
Within a circle of five hundred years :
Far in Arabia's wilds the Bird, confined,
But for its ashes, might have 'scaped mankind.-
Nature of such a partial boon ashamed,
For other climes this rarity has framed.
Our Phoenix, now in Sculptor's form we trace -
May Thames and Isis grateful own her face.
For long as Isis shall with ambient wave.
The classic walls of fair Oxonia lave ;
Long as together both, in ampler tide,
Shall add fresh glories to Augusta's pride,
And on expanded bosom waft from far,
The fruits of Commerce, or the spoils of War ;
So long, to late posterity's survey,
Shall Henley's Arch the feathered pair display,
Transmitting thus the lovely sculptor's powers
Who caught this art from Greece, and fixed it ours !
1811: Print, the frontage of the Angel Hotel is clearly more wharf than anything else. If it has boats for hire they are probably for fishing.
Henley Bridge, 1811
1821: Henley Bridge by Dewint -
Henley. Drawn by P. Dewint. Novr 1, 1821.
1826: The Henley Guide Full text and prints -
HENLEY-UPON-THAMES is a clean and cheerful
town, situated near the base of a cluster of hills, in one
of the most agreeable windings of the River Thames. ...
Henley is entered from the London road over a handsome bridge, built of Headington stone. This beautiful structure was erected in the year 1786, from a plan by Mr. Hayward, of Shrewsbury, who died, however, before the work was begun.
The former bridge was of wood ; and there are still traces to be seen at low water of a bridge of stone prior to that of wood, which must have been of very ancient date.
The structure consists of five elliptical arches, with a handsome ballustrade of stone work, and is not excelled in simplicity or beauty of design by any bridge on the Thames.
The keystone on each face of the centre arch is adorned with a sculptured mask, from the elegant chisel of the Hon. Mrs. Damer, who resided for some time in the neighbouring-seat, called Park Place.
The one towards the north represents old father Thames, with fish playing in the wavy honours of his beard, and bulrushes inserted in the fillet which binds his temples. The mask on the reverse keystone exhibits Isis :
Her neck in whiteness rival to the snows,
Her dewy tresses floating as she flows.
The expense of erecting Henley bridge, was about £10,000.
1826, the Henley Guide
The views from the bridge are particularly fine. The meanders of the Thames abound with picturesque grace. On the Oxfordshire side a rich spread of meadow, ornamented with the noble mansion of Fawley Court, forms the foreground to a soft and lovely range of woody hills. The Berkshire margin rises boldly, but not with abruptness, to a loftiness of elevation which nature and art have united to adorn. Park Place, the beautiful domain of Ebenezer Fuller Maitland, Esq. engrosses this portion of the view and the plantations on every swell and fall of the scene are disposed in aid of picturesque effect.
1829: Henley Bridge was the finish of the first Oxford and Cambridge boat race which started just above Hambleden Lock. See the boat race. This gave the initial impetus towards the formation of Henley Regatta (The "Royal" came later).
1829: 'A Tour on the banks of the Thames' -
A short description of the view presented from the spot just mentioned [Henley Bridge] we shall now attempt to pourtray.
Looking down the river, to the left is beheld part of Henley town, and the square tower of its ancient and venerable church ; while further down, seated on a ridge of hills, and surrounded by comfortable farm houses, is seen the village of Fawley, and at its feet, in grandeur and in pride, stands Fawley Court.
Withdrawing the eye from this scene, and gazing down the stream, the view is terminated by [Temple island], which being in the centre of the water, at some distance from the place where we are now standing, gives to the river that lake-like appearance we have before alluded to, which illusion is farther confirmed by the hills rising in the distance, and closing in the view.
To the right, the prospect is bounded by wooded heights that stretch from this place on to Wargrave ... whose leafy tops waving in all the hues of an autumnal season, impart a charm and character to the scene both pleasing and impressive.
1830: Henley Bridge, Tombleson - surely the present bridge doesn’t rise to the centre in the bridge in this next picture does? Maybe the artist did not observe very accurately? But his editor made a point that his prints were accurate! What goes on? See Maidenhead Bridge for what may be a similar artistic distortion/perception.
Henley Bridge, 1830, Tombleson
1853: Henley Bridge -
Henley Bridge, 1853, during the Royal Regatta
1859: The Thames, Mr & Mrs Hall
... we arrive in sight of Henley
Bridge, a graceful structure of five arches, erected in 1787, and which
will be interesting to Art-lovers as containing two sculptured works —
Masks of the Thames and Isis — from the chisel of the Hon. Mrs.
Damer; * they decorate the consoles of the central arch, exhibit talent
of no common order, and are interesting as examples of that genius
which adopted the most difficult of all the arts as the occupation and
enjoyment of rank and wealth. *
* Anne Seymour Damer was a lady of noble descent. Her father, General Conway, was brother to the Marquis of Hertford; her mother the only daughter of the fourth Duke of Argyll; and she was cousin to Horace Walpole, who speaks enthusiastically of her graces of person and mind. She was a real lover of her art — an art so seldom practised by ladies — and honestly earned a reputation her position in the great world might have given her with less labour, had she not desired the judgment of connoisseurs, as well as the praises of titled friends. Her husband, the eldest son of the first Lord Milton, destroyed himself after he had been married nine years: he died in debt, and his widow sought consolation in renewed art-study, and travelled in Italy. Her father, the general, resided at Park Place — hence her contribution to the bridge. Walpole left her Strawberry Hill for life. She died in 1828, in the eightieth year of her age.
MASKS OF THE THAMES AND ISIS
* That toward the source of the river represents the Isis — a female head, round which water-plants are entwined; that on the other side is an aged male head, the Thames, crowned with bulrushes, and from whose flowing beard little fish peep forth. Both heads are very boldly executed, and have been highly eulogised by Horace Walpole.
The town of Henley is happily situated: above and below the scenery is
charming. A fine old church adds to its interest; and the bridge is one
of the most beautiful of the many that span the noble river.*
* The architect was a "Mr. Hayward": he died before the work was even commenced, but his designs and plans were adopted. His heart was evidently in his task, and the structure must be regarded as his monument. He had, it is said, frequently expressed a wish that in the event of his death before its completion, he might be interred beneath the centre arch, but his desire was not responded to. He lies, however, in the church close beside it, where there is a handsome tomb to his memory.
In this church, also, was interred the General Dumouriez famous in the early stages of the French Revolution: he died in the neighbourhood in 1823, at the age of eighty-four, having lived through the several eventful periods that intervened between his exile and the restoration.
In the churchyard was buried Richard Jennings, "the master-builder of St. Paul's".
1868: Henley Bridge from Hard Cash by Charles Reade –
... a silvery stone bridge, just mellowed by time, spanned the river with many fair
Through these the coming river peeped sparkling a long way above, then came meandering and shining down; loitered cool and sombre under the dark vaults, then glistened on again crookedly to the spot where sat its two fairest visitors that day; but at that very point flung off its serpentine habits, and shot straight away in a broad stream of scintillating water a mile long, down to an island in mid-stream: a little fairy island with old trees, and a white temple.
To curl round this fairy isle the broad current parted, and both silver streams turned purple in the shade of the grove; then winded and melted from the sight.
This noble and rare passage of the silvery Thames was the Henley racecourse. The starting-place was down at the island, and the goal was up at a point in the river below the bridge ...
1873: The bridge was a toll bridge until 1873, some of the proceeds being diverted to improve street lighting and paving along the main route through the town.
1881: George Leslie, "Our River" -
Henley, George Leslie, "Our River", 1881
1886: Henley Bridge, July, Joseph Ashby-Sterry
Listen to 'Henley Bridge'
Henley Bridge, in sweet July,
A gentle breeze, a cloudless sky !
Indeed it is a pleasant place,
To watch the oarsmen go the pace,
As gasping crowds go roaring by.
And O, what dainty maids you spy,
What tasteful toilets you descry,
What symphonies in frills and lace,
On Henley Bridge !
But if you find a luncheon nigh –
A mayonnaise, a toothsome pie –
The chance you’ll hasten to embrace !
You’ll soon forget about the Race,
And take your Giesler cool and dry –
On Henley Bridge !
1893: Henley Bridge, Francis Frith -
1893: Henley Bridge, Francis Frith
Lantern Slide (1883-1908) - Henley Bridge
Pictures by W.C.Hughes. Thanks to Pat Furley, research by Dr Wilson.
1900: Henley Bridge, Francis Frith -
1907: Henley Bridge, Watercolour -
1907: Henley Bridge, Watercolour
Henley Bridge, undated postcard
1929: A Thames Survey -
Henley Bridge is of excellent design, completed in 1789, and consists of five stone arches with keystones (carved by Mrs. Damer in 1785), cornice, and balustrade; semi-circular piers at the springing.
1932: In this (originally coloured) railway poster the Angel on the Bridge hard is given over to pleasure boating with people sitting around in deck chairs -
1943: Sydney R Jones' print, (not shown) of Henley Bridge,
the Angel and the Church,
gives much the same impression. It
shows eleven punts waiting for hire in the foreground at what is now the
headquarters of the Henley Royal Regatta,
and one punt coming upstream under the bridge.
2003: Photo –
Henley Bridge, Doug Myers
Henley, Ashley Bryant