Wargrave Local History Society

Historical Walk - The River Loddon area

June 1999

As part of the Wargrave Village Festival, the Wargrave Local History Society's June meeting was a walk in the Loddon area of the village.

The walk began by the station. The line opened in 1857. Following several petitions by the Parish Council, a station was provided at Wargrave - first used for the Wargrave Regatta on August 18th 1900. The station was much used by those who lived on the island formed by the Thames, the Loddon and St Patrick's Stream - the area of the walk. Until the 1930's the only bridges were near Borough Marsh.

The river is liable to flood - particularly in the winter, although not unknown in summertime. The highest recorded flood was in 1894 and the worst in living memory in 1947. This has affected the style of many of the houses, being built on piers to keep them above the normal flood levels. Others are of unusual style, as they are built over river inlets, with boat space underneath the living accommodation.

The first house built at the mouth of the Loddon, was 'Cape Farewell', in 1910, by Major Arthur Vigor. A small stream separated the "point" from the rest then, so that, even now, the house and end of the garden are in Oxfordshire, and the rest of the garden in Berkshire. In 1964 there was a disastrous fire, but it was rebuilt almost as before, although without a thatched roof. Spelt 'Faeirewell' on old maps, the name means 'mouth of the beautiful stream' - it being at the point where the Loddon and Thames meet.

Like several homes along the Loddon, 'Loddon Court' began as a houseboat, called 'The Syrinx', which was pulled up onto the land, and slowly 'grew'. 'Loddon Acres' was built about 1906, by Mr Oppenheimer, then President of the National Rose Society, costing 1000. He made an ornate rose garden of 51 beds - in 1956 this took the gardener three whole days to weed.

The River Loddon is crossed by "Bridgeman's Bridge" - named after Mr Bridgeman, who lived at River Close, on the other side. He had the bridge built in the 1930s, so he could get to the station more easily. It is now leased by Loddon Residents Ltd. Before it existed, the way to cross was by boat, or even by swimming across. Nearby is the 'Peri', replacing another of the houseboats. Like many along the Loddon, the houseboat eventually sank!

In 1910, Milward Harding bought a little houseboat, the 'Greta'. Later he ordered a houseboat from the Army and Navy Stores - the 'Nirvana'. There were no main services, so cooking and lighting were by paraffin, and water was pumped up by hand. Between 1918 and 1920, 'Laughing Water' was built on this site. There were no bridges to this area then, so the materials had to be brought by river. The original house was a long low thatched building, right on the waters edge, but burnt down in the 1920's, and again in the late 1930's.

Most of the following houses date from after World War 2 and have gardens running down to the Loddon. 'Eden Cottage' developed from a houseboat called 'Cloneed'. The first part of 'Farthings' - built in the early 1920's by artist Hector Seale - was the Studio, but being at ground level tended to flood in the winter. As they saved up their 'farthings', the rest was built on stilts to avoid the worst of the floods. Even that did not cope with the big flood of 1947. Further along is 'Three Barns' which was belonged to Borough Marsh when it was a farm. It was used for a television film about the art historian Sir Anthony Blunt some years ago - Martin Harley wrote at the time about this in the Wargrave News.

Then comes 'Barnacre Cottage'. In 1949, some 12th century stones were dug up here and at Borough Marsh, and the remains of two are in the cottage gate posts. For many years this was the home of the actress Angela Baddeley ('Mrs Bridges' in the television series 'Upstairs/Downstairs'). Opposite is 'Borough Marsh House', built about 1760, when it was called 'Borough Farm'. There is also a reference to 'Burwey Marsh' in 1651. The artist Walter Field lived here in the late 19th century, and his friend Tennyson is known to have visited him there. In the old days, the house was very isolated, and was reputed to be haunted.

The Loddon Residents' Association was absorbed, in 1967, into the new Loddon Residents Ltd, formed to take over responsibility for the area. In addition to maintaining the road and bridges, they monitor planning for the area, so that the island will retain its unspoilt peaceful character for the future.