AS regular readers of this column will doubtless have gathered by now, I’m a keen student of the history of the Thames in these parts and I love reading accounts of life on the river from days gone by.
So I must once again thanks my old friend Peter Bailey from the Sunbury and Shepperton Local History Society for lending me a bound volume of copies of the magazine ‘Lock to Lock Times and River Life’ a weekly newspaper published in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries, which turned the spotlight on events on the Thames.
In addition to copious news about what vivacious society types were doing with their luxury launches around Henley and Marlow, the old paper also contains a wealth of information in the columns of its wanted and for sale ads, like the following example from the edition dated May 21, 1898:
“Staines: Riverside residence – for sale occupying choice position on charming reach of the Thames; steps to water and nice garden; it contains double dining, drawing and five bed rooms. Full offices. Freehold only £850.”
Five bedrooms? River frontage? £850!!! I wonder what that property is worth today…
But for a pure magical step back into the social mores of the 1890s, how about this snippet culled from a column written by someone known only as Carissima entitled simply: ‘Fashions for River Wear’.
It reads: ‘Surely at no other time does the typical Englishwoman look so well as in the trim business-like attire that is de rigeur for use on the bosom of Old Father Thames.
‘Parisian dames display their charms to best advantage in the glitter and brilliancy of la grande toilette, but the Englishwoman’s beauty lights up, as with a torch, under the pleasant influence of soft river air and is shown, as a picture, in the fair setting of green banks and sparkling waters.
‘Perhaps the flirting also has something do to with this beautification? For we all know that this enjoyable exercise is an inseparable condition of punting on the Thames.’
(Which, very roughly translated for today’s uncouth youth, means: Wear something alluring girls – we’re off for a snog in the punt!)
Carissima then proceeds to provide a careful guide to what the well-dressed woman should be wearing if she’s venturing onto the river.
‘Broadly speaking, everything must be neat, compact, tailor-cut and unspoilable. Fussy costumes of lace, silks and satins are outside the pale. Parasols are a necessity; petticoats, shoes and stockings must be daintiest of their kind, for they are unavoidably revealed to the admiring gaze of our male escorts when stepping into and out of the boat or when reclining luxuriously amid the many cushions with which every well-regulated boat is provided.’
It’s enough to send you staggering for the smelling salts, isn’t it chaps?
Have a very enjoyable Christmas.