Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

St Johns Lock and Father Thames

Old Father Thames
Old Father Thames

Leaving the buildings of Lechlade behind, it is a short walk across a couple of fields to the first of the 46 locks of the Thames.

St John’s Lock derives its name from a priory that was established here in 1250, which unfortunately no longer exists.

The requirement for a lock here came from the opening of the Thames and Severn canal that I passed a short while ago. It was necessary to maintain a navigable depth of water from the end of the canal once vessels had moved on to the main river. The original pound lock was constructed of stone by J.Knock in 1790.

The first lock house was built in 1830. Previously to that date the lock keeper had always resided at the nearby Trout Inn, but the Thames Navigation Commission brought in a rule that prohibited publicans from being lock keepers, and so he had to move. I wonder how this would play with 21st century employment legislation? Anyway, the lock keeper may well still have spent all his time in the hostelry because the lock fell into a poor state of repair and had to be restored in 1867. Further deterioration followed and the lock was replaced in 1905.

I have reached a significant marker on my journey, for upon reaching St.John’s Lock it is time for me to pay my respects to Old Father Thames. The old boy reclines by the side of the lock, keeping a watchful eye on the boats as they pass through.

The statue was commissioned to stand by the fountains in the grounds of Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was sculpted from a solid block of Portland stone by Rafaelle Monti, a renowned Italian sculptor of his day. Monti was born in 1818 and studied his art in Vienna and Milan before coming to England in 1848. His exhibitions at the Royal Academy soon made him much in demand and many fine works were crafted by him until his death in 1881.

Old Father Thames spent his early years at Crystal Palace, and was fortunate to survive the fire that destroyed it in 1936. The Thames Conservancy purchased him in 1958 and sited him at Trewsbury Mead where the pathway begins. There he stood in loneliness with just a few sheep and an occasional walker with whom to pass the time. He must have been relieved when in 1974 he was moved to his current location at the first lock on the river.

I can only imagine that he must be much happier here than at his former location at the source. Here he can be content as he is surrounded by the bustling activity of the lock as boaters, walkers and those simply passing the time all enjoy his river.

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