About the Thames

Section 1 – Thames Head to Eynsham

Researched and written by Jeannette Briggs and photos by Stephen Worsfold

The actual source of the River Thames is disputed! However, most people know that there is a spring in the Cotswold Hills marked by a stone block bearing the inscription: "The Conservators of the River Thames 1857 – 1974: this stone was placed here to mark the source of the River Thames". It is in Tewksbury Mead, a meadow located 3 miles SW of the town of Cirencester, and this stone also marks the beginning of the Thames Path, a long distance National Trail that continues all the length of the Thames to the Thames Barrier at Woolwich. This section of the Thames runs through the glorious part of England known as the Cotswolds.


Thames Head stone - photo reproduced by kind permission of Jim Batty-  http://www.jimbatty.com

On this first stretch of its journey the Thames is traversed by two major road bridges, the Foss Way (the A433) at Thameshead, and the A429 near Kemble. Thereafter you can cross the Thames at Parker’s Bridge near Mill Farm Ewen (the first village on the Thames), and at Neigh Bridge near the village of Somerford Keynes, before the river winds its way through water meadows en route to Cricklade. It passes under two small bridges at Waterhay and Bournelake, before it is crossed by the main A419 (called Ermine Way).

The next footbridge to cross the Thames is at Eysey, and a further Thames Path footbridge is a mile further downstream at Water Eaton. A road bridge crosses the Thames at the hamlet of Castle Eaton next to the old pub called the Red Lion, and further downstream another road bridge crosses the Thames between Kempsford and Hannington Wick. Soon the Thames reaches Lechlade.

 


 The infant Thames in the village of Ashton Keynes - Photo by Colin Smith and reproduced by kind permission. 


If you are lucky enough to be a tourist in this area do visit www.cotswolds.info. for a lot more useful information about the towns and villages in the Cotswolds section of the River Thames.

The actual source of the River Thames is disputed! However, most people know that there is a spring in the Cotswold Hills marked by a stone block bearing the inscription: "The Conservators of the River Thames 1857 – 1974: this stone was placed here to mark the source of the River Thames". It is in Tewksbury Mead, a meadow located 3 miles SW of the town of Cirencester, and this stone also marks the beginning of the Thames Path, a long distance National Trail that continues all the length of the Thames to the Thames Barrier at Woolwich. This section of the Thames runs through the glorious part of England known as the Cotswolds.

At Lechlade the Ha’penny Bridge, with headroom 15’6" crosses the Thames.This famous old bridge was opened in 1792 to replace a ferry which operated at Lechlade Wharf. It obtained its curious name because this was originally the toll charged to cross the bridge. (A half-penny would be worth less that one quarter of one new penny nowadays). The high arch of the bridge was specifically designed to allow the passage of Thames sailing barges upriver to Lechlade wharf without the need to lower their tall masts. For all intents and purposes, this bridge marks the limit of navigation for most powered craft on the River Thames.

 

Lechlade Ha'penny bridge A detail from the Ha'penny bridge Badge

A mile downstream the Thames is crossed by St John’s Bridge (headway 13’10"), a graceful bridge above St John’s Lock. This and the adjacent lock take their name from St John’s Priory which was founded at Lechlade in AD 1250, and dissolved by Edward IV in AD 1472 during the Wars of the Roses.
 


Lechlade- St John’s Bridge


The next road bridge to cross the infant River Thames is at Radcot, but before this is reached the Thames is traversed by 2 footbridges, namely Bloomer’s Hole and Eaton footbridge (headroom 9’9"), which enable the Thames Path to change sides, criss-crossing the river. Bloomer’s Hole is a (very) recent addition to the Thames. Commissioned by the Countryside Agency to enable the Thames Path to cross the river the two great steel beams (clad in wood) were flown into place by a giant Chinook helicopter in AD 2001. It looks much older than it actually is.
 

At Radcot Bridge (headroom 11’4") there are two stone bridges – the one that is next to the Swan public house dates from 1787, when the navigable channel which it spans was created. The second stone bridge is the second oldest across the River Thames – its piers date from the 13th century, and we know from ancient Saxon documents that there was a stone bridge here in this exact spot as early as AD958. This lovely old bridge is constructed of Cotswold stone quarried at Taynton, and the three pointed arches are all mediaeval. Radcot Bridge is considered to be one of the most difficult to navigate on the River Thames, especially if you are coming downstream with a following wind behind you – be careful, or you might wind up slamming into the old bridge and damaging both your boat and some historic masonry!  (I know from personal experience......!)

Below Radcot Bridge a footbridge at Old Man’s Bridge (headroom 14’) near Grafton Lock is the next small bridge to cross the Thames, and this is followed in 3 miles by the bridge across Rushey Lock where the Thames Path crosses the river from the south bank to the northern one. At Tadpole Bridge (headroom 12’2") the road from Bampton to Buckland crosses the Thames – this is a late 18th century single- arch stone bridge. After this there is a longish stretch of the river before a footbridge at Tenfoot Bridge comes into view.

At Newbridge you come across a beautiful old six-arch stone bridge (headroom 11’6") which was first built in 1250 and rebuilt during the 15th century. It is believed that it is so named because it is slightly younger than the bridge spanning the old non-navigable channel at Radcot. Whatever the reason behind its name, it is actually one of the very oldest bridges to cross the Thames! It was damaged during the Civil War when a battle occurred between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians near here.


New Bridge - Photo by Jeanette Briggs

A small footbridge called Hartsweir Footbridge (headroom 10’9") traverses the Thames at Moreton. This footbridge was built to maintain the right of way that used to exist over Hart’s weir. After this there is a particularly long stretch of the River without any bridges at all, until you reach Swinford Bridge outside the town of Eynsham.


Swinford Bridge was built by the Earl of Abingdon in AD 1770, and is one of 2 surviving bridges to charge a toll – in this case one of 5p for cars to cross the bridge. Pedestrians can cross free of charge. It is in dire need of repair.

If you are lucky enough to be a tourist in this area why not visit www.cotswolds.info.  which will give you a lot more detailed information about the little towns and villages in and around Lechlade to Swinford Bridge. The whole of this area is within the beautiful Cotswolds district of south Oxfordshire.

Researched and Written by Jeannette Briggs

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