I seem to be on something of a roll here with articles about islands – but, hey, there are loads of islands on our stretch of the Thames, so why not?
My old mate Doug ‘the ancient angler’ Millsom phoned me this week having seen my piece on Thames Ditton Island to ask what I knew about D’Oyly Carte Island, just downstream from Shepperton Lock and I had to confess that the sum total of my knowledge was that it was once owned by Richard D’Oyly Carte, the famous Victorian entrepreneur who became famous for staging the light and comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan and for his forays into the hotel business which included building The Savoy (and the Savoy Theatre next door), Claridges, Simpsons-in-the-Strand and The Berkeley.
The island, which can only be reached on foot across the bridge from the Weybridge side of the river, was apparently originally called Folly Island although here Doug Millsom raised another query.
He told me: “When I was young, me and all my friends used to call it ‘Lady May’s Island’ but I really don’t know why.”
Well, Doug, truth to tell, nor do I. Despite a lot of digging around on the internet, I can find no references to Lady May’s Island so I’m going to throw it open to Riverwatch readers and hope that some kind soul can put us both out of our misery…
Anyway, whatever its original name was, the island that now bears D’Oyly Carte’s name was purchased by him from the proceeds of his successful theatre and hotel businesses in central London.
Reports say that D’Oyly Carte was boating on the Thames in 1887 with his two sons when he first saw the island and fell in love with the idea of having a country residence in the middle of the Thames.
When it came up for sale not long afterwards, he bought the island and built a very grand manor house on it, which he and his family used from time to time.
When, nearly ten years later, he came up with the idea of converting the house to a hotel – as a possible overflow for customers from the Savoy, the plan was scuppered by local magistrates who refused to grant him a licence to sell alcohol.
Nowadays, the house – renamed Eyot House – looks a little the worse for wear and the descendants of D’Oyly Carte are long gone.
But the island now provides moorings for dozens of boats and is home to a boatyard and marine slippage business.
Another slight mystery is why the bridge connecting the island to the Weybridge towpath is called the Chinese bridge – does anything thing it looks that oriental…?