The numerous islands that dot around the River Thames look like pretty idyllic places to hang out, especially in summer.
But what would it be like to be stuck on one, so you couldn’t actually get off?
That’s essentially what happened to a group of island residents at the sparsely populated Wheatley’s Ait at Sunbury Lock.
In 2006, the Environment Agency upped the costs of using the bridges.
The ten families who lived here were used to paying about £60 a year each to use the bridges, that connected the island, but the EA who owns the bridges, decided to put this up to £7,000 per year.
As Miranda Vickers outlines in her book, “Eyots and Aits, Islands of the River Thames“, this was basically a disaster for the islanders.
They offered to pay £4,000 a year, but the EA blocked the road bridge and posted a notice that anyone using the foot bridge would be trespassing.
The EA also banned deliveries of milk, post, gas and fuel.
The islanders had no choice but to try to use boats or punts to make the crossing, but this was very difficult for the elderly and dangerous because of the nearby weir.
Eventually they reached an agreement where each household agreed to pay £700 per year for use of the bridges.
A decade before this there were already signs the islanders weren’t happy with the amount of interest – or lack of – they were getting from the local authorities.
The Staines & Ashford News carried a letter stating: “I wonder how many of your readers understand why the Walton Society managed to obtain such a huge majority in the recent elections.
“Perhaps one of the reasons is it is the ONLY party which either knows or cares that we exist. It is extraordinary that not one of the other so-called main parties ever visits Wheatley’s Ait let alone inquires in times of stress, such as flooding, whether we need any help.”
But the island is an interesting island, and today residents live there in bungalows in a spacious and idyllic setting.
The Fishing Gazette nicely described the beauty of the spot in 1879 stating: “The fishing from this island is very good for roach, dace, perch.
“It is used a good deal in the summer months by picnic parties, who, underneath a row of trees in the broiling sun of hot summer’s day, can be shaded from the intensity of the heat, and enjoy their refreshment with ease and comfort.”
It’s always been a difficult place to get to though. For a long time, the only access was by boat from the Walton side of the river.
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Today most islanders can use a bridge that was built in 1946.
There’s history here too. Once upon a time bronze age weapons, including a long bronze spearhead and a bronze age sword, were discovered – showing that the island had been important in prehistoric times.
Until 1895, the island was used mainly to harvest osiers, which would have been woven into all manner of objects such as baskets, chairs and even boats.
In 1927, the upstream part of the island was bought by the Thames Camping and Boating Association which – though it’s unclear at time of writing if this is still the case – ran one of the oldest campsites on the Thames here.
In August 1914 a doodlebug flying bomb fell on Tumbling Bay near the island, destroying several of the bungalows on the island, killing one man and blinding another.
Today the island remains a peaceful place, a tranquil spot away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
You can buy copies of the book, “Eyots and Aits, Islands of the River Thames, here.
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