MR. AND MRS. S. C. HALL'S BOOK OF 1.tiE THAMES.*
THERE is a peculiar attraction in descriptive topography whose source is not so obvious at first sight. There is little in it that the statist would call " information" ; not much more that the rather larger minded philanthropist would term "useful know- ledge." Landscapes, with the simple vegetation or common creatures they present to the observer, are nothing very extraordinary. Antiquities continually turn up, but imperfect as regards class, and not very complete individually. More solid knowledge in the shape of industrial pursuits may be included; but for the real topographical attraction they must appear in their picturesque, not their profitable or improved form. Neither can topography gene- rally possess the sustained interest, which is above all other in- terest; though stories illustrative of actual life and some of its most powerful passions may possibly fall into it. Yet let but a writer present his subject without too much effort, or too la- boured an archinology, and almost every one feels attracted, even if it be only a simple guide-book. The very suggestion of coun- try air, "fresh fields and pastures new," the wild wood, the shady fanes, the quiet villages, and drowsy-looking farms, come upon the mind with a feeling akin to that which the originals produce. Besides these sensations common to the subject, "the Thames from its rise to its fall" has other attractions. Its waters are connected with the whole period of our history, from the time when the first Caesar with difficulty forced the passage somewhere above bridge ; the maritime and commercial greatness of Eng- land are inextricably associated with its waters ; poets have laid their scenes upon its banks, and sung of its stream ; and what is as much for the purpose of Mr. and Mrs. Hall, its singleness com- pels unity, succession, and variety. From the fountain head to the cliffs of Sheppy, the Thames is but one ; yet what a succession of subjects and what an extraordinary variety for the explorer, who makes his way along its banks or glides upon its waters. Yet nothing is perfect ; and before we can begin to trace the river, its name and origin have to be settled. Is it Thames all the war? or Isis for a large portion ? Is the so called "Thames Head' the true source. On the first point we think our t,opogra- pliers succeed in showing from Roman, Saxon, and Anglo-Norman authorities that it is properly the Thames throughout—that Thames is "the traditional, the geographical, and the legal title of the river." About the source we must confess we are not quite so clear. Authority is doubtless in favour of the "Thames Head near Cirencester; " but science puts in an objection. The source of a river is that fountain which, is furthest from its mouth ; and " the Churn, which rises at Seven Springs about three miles from Cheltenham, and joins the Thames at Crieklade, is farther from the Nore than Thames Head, by perhaps fifteen miles." Our doubt, however, is not so much scientific as matter of fact. The alleged fons et origo of the river has no water for one half of the year. Science in the shape of the Thames and Severn canal, (which leaves & former river at Lechdale, and passes close to the whilom source) drains the country half dry by means of a steam-engine. This is the condition of affairs during the accessible months.
"Having journeyed about three miles from Cirencester, along the Ake- man Street of the Romans, crossed the Thames and Severn canal and ar- rived in sight of a railway, the shrill whistle of which broke the solitude of the place, and sadly jarred upon the mind at the moment, we reached a small valley in which we had reason to believe we should find Thames Head. But neither maps nor books gave us any aid as guides. We natu- rally expected to trace the river to its source by tracking the signs that water almost invariably leaves on the line through which it passes along the meadow-
• Which, with a livelier green, Betrays the secret of its silent course.'
"But for such water-marks we sought in vain ; there were neither alders, nor osiers, nor rushes to be seen ; we observed nothing that could in any degree indicate the meanderings of a river. Fortunately, however, we en- countered a venerable shepherd of the plain, who conducted us at once to the birthplace of the more venerable father. This is a well, which, when Boyden published his History, in 1794, was enclosed within a circular wall of atone raised about eight feet from the surface of the meadow ' ; the stones have fallen, the well is now filled in ; it was with difficulty we could ascertain that it contained water—that water being in the sunny month of June many feet below the surface ; but in winter it rises, forces itself through all impediments, ascends in thick jets, and overflows the valley, making its way to greet those earlier tributaries that await its coming to mingle with it and journey to the sea, most loved of all the ocean's sons.' 'Thames Head' is, therefore, pictured in the accompanying engraving, merely as a heap of stones, overwhelmed by trees of no great size. There is not, as we have said, a single water-plant in its vicinity ; the bank of the canal forms its background.'
Nor is the absence of water in the well made up for by any in the neighbourhood. In June, which is often not so parched as August and September, you must march a mile from its source to get to the stream.
A walk along the first meadow brings us to the great Bath Road, under which there is a tunnel formed to give a passage to the Thames when the waters are out.' [Or, perhaps more accurately, the engineer of the Bath Road threw an arch over the Thames.] In June it was dry ; sheep were feeding at its entrance ; but in winter it is too narrow for the rush of the stream which has then gathered in force.
"Close by this tunnel, and about half a mile from Thames Head, is the engine-house of the Thames and Severn Canal, which by continual working to supply water to the canal, drains all the adjacent springs, and is no doubt the main cause of absorbing the spring-head of the river. This engine-house is an ungainly structure, which the lover of the picturesque may well wish away ; but although a blot upon the landscape, it is happily hidden from the valley in which the Thames has its birth. The course of this canal we shall describe when we reach its terminus at Lechdale.
* The Book of the Thames from its .Eise to ita Fall. By Mr. and Mrs, S. C. Hall. Published by Hall and Virtue. " Half a mile further, perhaps, and the burns begin to gather into a com- mon channel ; little trickling rills .c_ear as crystal, rippling by hedgesides , make their way among seoges, the water-plants appear, and the Thames assume Ethe aspect o is perennial stream ; so i trans on its course and brings us to the village of Kemble."
" Resuming our walk by the river hank we reach The First Bridge which crosses the Thames—all previous passages having been made by stepping- stones laid across in winter, and removed in summer. This bridge, which leads from the village of Kemble to that of Ewen, is level with the road, the river flowing through three narrow arches ; it is without parapet. Hence along the banks for a considerable distance, there is no footpath of any kind ; the traveller who would explore its course must cross hedges and ditches, and avoid the main road to Ewen—an assemblage of cottages and farm-houses. And a delicious walk it was to us beside the river, pleasures being augmented by difficulties in the way ; the birds were singing blithely in small wood-tufts ; the chirp of the grasshopper was gleeful in the mea- dows; cattle ruminated, standing knee-deep in adjacent pools ; the bee was busy among the clover, and, ever and anon, darted across the stream the rapid kingfisher, the sun gleaming upon his garb of brilliant hues.
• • •
"Soon after we leave the valley in which Thames is born, and where its infant wanderings are but promises of strength, the river becoines well-de- fined and of no inconsiderable breadth and depth, its waters have gathered force, and are tinned to profitable uses. A mile or so of pleasant walk along its banks, and we reach The First Mill on the Thames—tho earliest effort to render it subservient to the wants of man, ministering to industry and pro- ducing wealth. The mill is sufficiently rude in character to be picturesque; it is in an open court, fronted by an old pigeon-house and occupied by a pleasant and kindly miller who reasonably complains that the engine of the canal frequently leaves him without water to move his wheel.
Another walk through meadows to Asheton Keynes ; and "thence our path lay to Waterhay Bridge, and than across seve- ral sloping fields laden with corn, from the elevations of which above the river are obtained many fine views ; and so we enter the ancient market town of Cricklade, in Wiltshire." Here the rivers Churn and Rey meet, and jean, their waters with the Thames. And here, whatever the right name, we are fairly on the main stream. It is not, however, used for navigation till Lechdale, where the Coln joins it and the canal leaves it. Of late years, however, this navigation has much fallen off; and for the reasons clearly stated in this bit of solid information, combined with the general character of the river's banks to Oxford.
"We have now arrived at that point in the Thames where it becomes navigable for boats of burden ; this canal conveys in barges, each from thirty to sixty tons, the produce of the four quarters of the globe into several parts of England ; the port of Bristol is thus united with that of London ; other canals are combined with this ; so an internal communica- tion was formed, the value of which may be readily estimated before the in- troduction of steam. But the railways have planed this mode of traffic al- most in abeyance, the canals are comparatively idle and ere long perhaps, will be altogether deserted. The passage of a boat through the lock is now an event of rare occurrence • it is seldom opened more than once or twice in a week. Greater speed is attained by the railway of come, the chief impedi- ment arises from the cost incurred in passing through the locks and weirs along the Thames,—strange as it may seem, the expense hence arising to a laden boat of sixty tons burden, between Teddington where the locks begin, and Lechclale where they terminate is not less than thirty pounds. The natural consequence is, that steam absorbs all the traffic except of places remote from stations, and then boats are in use only for heavy cargoes, chiefly timber and coal. The barges here used are necessarily long and narrow—the ap- pended engraving will convey an accurate notion of their form ; they are generally drawn up the river by two horses and down, the river by .one along the "towing-path "—a foot-path by the river-side. The towing- paths between Lechdale and Oxford in consequence of the causes we have observed upon, are BO little disturbed as to be scarcely perceptible : they are for the most part so "grass o'crgrown " BIB to be distinguished from the meadow only after a careful search. Indeed, all along the Thames bank to Lechdale and much lower, and almost until we approach Oxford, there is everywhere a singular and oppressive solitude : of traffic there is little or none; the fields are almost exclusively pasture land ; the villages are usually distant; of gentlemen's seats there are few, and these arc generally far off; mills are principally situated on ' back-water ' and but for the plea- sant cottages, nearly all of which are peasant hostelries which, in their im- mediate relation to the locks and weirs necessarily stalk on the river bank, with now and then a ferry house, the whole of the landscape for nearly forty miles from the river source would seem as completely denuded of po- pulation as an African desert. Between Kemble and Lechdale we did not meet two boats of any kind, and only at the lockhowies did we encounter a dozen people—except at the few villages of which we have taken note. This loneliness has its peculiar charm to the wayfarer." And as with Oxford the solitude and wildr Te;Seases, so the interest changes. There is more variety ; mor‘Achness of land.- soaps and associations ; more of history, cult's+, ation, art, indus- try, wealth, everything. But we know not tnat there is more of charm. Neither youth maturing into womanhood, nor the wife passing into matronhood, nor "An age that melts in unperceiv'd decay, And glides in modest innocence away,"
can vie with the freshness of the little child. Morn may have its drawbacks, but there is nothing like it.
But wherever the river goes, Mr. and Mrs Hall faithfully at- tend us, noting its beauties telling the stories of its banks, call- ing up the associations connected with its edifices, lofty or humble, entire or ruined, and not omitting, as we have seen, useful in- formation when fairly claiming insertion. Nor are these things all. Botany ny is not forgotten ; the plants of the successive locali- ties are gathered and described. In like manner the birds and. fishes are presented to the reader, with many hints for the lovers of the gentle craft ; and this is done as with the plants, aptly as they occur. In celebrated show-places' as Oxford and Windsor, for which guides abound, only the broad external features are given. Perhaps as Father Thames draws near his termination, the narra- tive is less full. But what is there in the biography of old age or in the marshes of Essex ? or for that matter of Kent, which has pretty well as much marsh land on the Thames as Essex ; but it does not meet the traveller's first sight.
The book is illustrated by some three hundred wood-engravings, beginning with Thames head, and not ceasing till we have passed beyond Sheerness, the junction of the Thames and the Medway, and the Nore Light, and are fairly within hail of the Reculvers. The Book of the 77same8 forms a very handsome volume, alike interesting for its literary contents, its characteristic illustrations, and the effect of its ensemble ; so that even those readers who have already encountered the matter scattered through the "Art Journal," may not object to possess it in a collected and revised form.