Monday, October 16, 2017

Boatyards on the Aits

One of the focuses of this year's Totally Thames was the boatyards along the river.

As well a film (post to come), boatyards in Richmond there was also talk by archaeologist Dr Fiona Haughey on the boatyards on the aits. I'd been on one of her walks before looking at London's pre-history on the Vauxhall foreshore where we'd found some old flints and Anglo-Saxon fish-traps.

This talk covered a lot more than boatyards, covering histories of the London and the riparian counties going back up to 5,000 years ago, and given she is an expert on the history of the Thames this was packed full of interesting nuggets.

An ait is an island, in particular in the Thames, and the word goes back to the Anglo Saxon for little island. There were many more back in those days when the Thames meandered more and the tributary rivers had small deltas.

The word also was attached to various places, such as Battersea, where the island has now been absorbed into the land (as is the case for the island which used to be where Westminster is now).

Given the location in Brentford there were many local stories, such as why Brentford was such an important place (it connected the Thames, and hence the Port of London, with the British canal network). Another story was about the film The African Queen, much of which was filmed around Brentford including that scene where Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn went swimming.

The non-boatyard history of the aits was also covered, including that of Oliver's Island. This was once where the City of London had tolls for use of the river (after all, this bit is within the scope of the London Stones). Now that island is owned by the PLA and a nature conservation area where deer have been seen, swimming to/from land in the direction of Richmond Park.

Many of the aits were owned by Richmond to the south and they would often plant trees to hide the dirty industry of the north bank from the gentry living on the south.

There was of course coverage of the boatyards of the ait, but you can get a good idea by watching the film as in this post so will leave that to tell that particular story.

Dr Fiona ended up with the quote above which sums up brilliantly the joys of rivers and in particular the Thames.

No comments: