“THE River Thames is one of Spelthorne borough’s greatest assets – and we simply don’t make enough of that fact.” Those were the words of former major and borough councillor Judith Wood-Dow of Staines as she prepared to board the traditional shallop, Jubilant, at the Thames Lodge hotel a couple of weeks back.
And it was to try to address that shortcoming that Judith came up with the idea for having an annual Spelthorne River Day during which the incumbent mayor is rowed along the Thames, waving jovially to those living beside it or enjoying their leisure hours upon it.
Judith told me how it came to pass.
“Spelthorne is twinned with the town of Melun in France – it’ s a suburb to the south-east of Paris – and when I was mayor in 2000, we made our annual courtesy visitor to the town and took part in their river day. They have an annual festival to celebrate the Seine and I thought what a great idea it was and how it would be equally appropriate for us to do that in Spelthorne.”
One thing led to another and Judith had pulled together the Spelthorne version.
“We had people putting out bunting along the route and waving and clapping from the banks. Some of the councillors turned out to cheer us through the locks and we had quite an impressive flotilla of small boats behind us at the end,” Judith recalls.
Originally, the shallop – an eight-oared replica of an 18th century royal barge built by craftsman Mark Edwards in his boathouse in Richmond – was rowed upstream from Sunbury’s Rivermead Island to Staines but starting last year with Caroline Spencer’s mayoralty, the route was changed to go downstream from Staines to Sunbury. A much more sensible idea to go with the tidal flow when you’re rowing three-quarters of a ton of boat!
Sadly, this year the weather was disappointing and the stately procession didn’t attract as many supporters as in previous years.
But I do commend Spelthorne for maintaining this tradition and for recognising that the dear old Thames is a major asset for the borough that maybe we take a bit too much for granted sometimes. Here’s looking forward to next year’s trip – I might even offer to lend a hand on a oar if they’re looking for a volunteer crewman…
MANY thanks to all those readers who have contacted me to talk about their experiences of swimming in the Thames. I’ve been a bit short of space in the last couple of weeks and haven’t been able to revisit the subject but I will come back to it soon to share those memories.
Whilst on the subject of memories, I’ve been contacted by a man keen to learn more about the motor torpedo boats that we supposed to have been built in this area during the Second World War. Does anyone have any information about that?