Teddington Lock

Teddington Lock is a complex of three locks and a weir on the Thames between Ham and Teddington (London Borough of Richmond upon Thames).

Richmond Lock, farther downstream, was built in 1894 to maintain a navigable depth of water in the upper tidal reach of the river, while Teddington Lock was first built in 1810. It is the lowest full tide lock on the Thames, and Teddington Weir, which marks the river’s usual tidal limit, is the lowest of the weirs.

Adjacent in Ferry Road is one of only a few surviving boatyards on the tidal reach of the river. Formerly Tough’s Boatyard, its Boathouse (now Grade II listed) is in current use as offices and a chandler’s shop. It was probably built in 1862, and its first known tenant was James Messenger, a champion sculler who established a flourishing business at the yard. From 1862-1890 he held the post of Queen’s Bargemaster. He gained a reputation for building, in addition to smaller boats, unusual custom built craft such as the Lady Alice, a five sectioned boat commissioned by Sir Henry Morton Stanley for his second African expedition. Messenger also built the Nautilus canoe for Baden-Powell, and a twin-screw launch, Daisy, for use by the Church Missionary Society in central Africa.

Around 1900, the boathouse was one of many similar scale boathouses on the Thames, built to serve the burgeoning river based leisure industry, as comically portrayed in Jerome K Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat” (1889) – initially intended to be a serious travel guide. (See my post of 7/7/18.)

The shipbuilders, Thornycroft’s, had a yard (also now Grade II listed) at Platt’s Eyot, farther upstream, and the Teddington yard supplied them with vessels during World War I.

In the 1930s, the yard was acquired by the Tough family, who had a long association with the river as lighter men and boat builders. The boatyard gained historic associations in 1940 as the muster point for one hundred of the “Little Ships”, organised locally by Douglas Tough towards the evacuation of Dunkirk. By 1945, between its two yards in Ferry Road and Manor Road, the business employed 220 men.

Stephen Hales (1677-1761), who made major contributions to a range of scientific fields, was in 1709 appointed perpetual curate of the parish of Teddington. He argued that “…seafarers, that valuable and useful part of mankind, have many hardships and difficulties to contend with, so it is of great importance to obviate as many of them as possible: and as the noxious air in ships has hitherto been one of their greatest grievances, by making sick and destroying multitudes of them; so the finding of a means to prevent this great evil, is of vastly more consequence to navigation, than the discovery of the longitude; as being a means of saving innumerable more lives, than that would do.”.

Francis Darwin, botanist son of the naturalist Charles, wrote of Hales:

“He attracted the attention of Royalty, and received plants from the King’s garden at Hampton Court. Frederick Prince of Wales, the father of George III, is said to have been fond of surprising him in his laboratory at Teddington. This must surely be a unique habit in a Prince, but we may remember that, in the words of the Prince’s mock epitaph, “since it is only Fred there’s no more to be said.”.

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