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Histories of Windsor

The Promenade and Riverside
at Windsor

Updated May 2015

See also
Alexandra
Gardens
An artists 'adjusts' riverside postcards Promenade Panorama early 1900s
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There is more about the promenade, with extra pictures
and readers memories
here on the Windsor Forum


This article features 32 illustrations taken from postcard views and the
author's own photographs. Copyright The Royal Windsor Website.
Please allow a few moments for them all to arrive.

1886 Gathering Water

The Riverbank at Windsor in 1886

Engraving by Herbert Railton [1857-1910]. The gentleman kneeling is collecting water in a pitcher[!] and some boys have just arrived in a rowing boat during a fishing trip.

From 'The Sentinel' December 1886
Vol. II No. 15

(Described on the cover as 'A Popular Monthly Journal' and published by Thomas E Luff, 69 Peascod Street, Windsor. Price 1 penny)

A STEP TOWARDS IMPROVING WINDSOR AS A RIPARIAN TOWN
During the last few years, a very large sum of money has been expended in Drainage works and improvements by the Authorities of the Royal Borough, and necessarily the rates have been high in consequence, and probably will continue to be so for some time to come. Yet, bearing this in mind, we would advocate the purchase of a property which in their hands might greatly benefit the Town of Windsor. We refer to the fields known as the "Goswells," lying between the river and the Great Western Railway ­ for it is the only means of controlling effectually, the class of property, which eventually, might be erected thereon, should the land be purchased by any speculative builder. It is true that when the "Goswells" was offered for sale in London a few weeks ago, no investor could be found wishing to acquire a site at certain seasons of the year, liable to be flooded;
[See Flooding in the 1870s: Editor] but who can tell (bearing in mind the fact, the scarcity of Freehold Land to be secured in Windsor), how soon some speculator may not strike a bargain with the Trustees of Christ's Hospital. The price demanded is not an outrageous one, and therefore we would strongly urge the Borough Authorities to give the matter their earnest consideration, as we are convinced the acquirement of this property is the only means by which the approach to the river is capable of improvement, and the raising of the long-talked-of Embankment effected; which would go far towards improving the remainder of the land for building purposes.

This land was eventually bought by the Borough and is now in the care of the National Trust. See Alexandra Gardens and the Goswells. Within a few years the Promenade was created. The story as researched so far is included below.


Early Photographs of Windsor Riverside

Jennings Wharf by Windsor Bridge

Pathway to bridge

The wharf by Jennings Yard in the early 1900s

At the far end of the Promenade, adjacent to Windsor Bridge, was the wharf by Jennings' Yard (Courages' bonded warehouse). The wharf is illustrated above before it was handed over to Windsor Borough Council in the 1930s for the construction of the riverside walk and the steps up to Windsor Bridge. [See below].

The area that was to become the promenade and Alexandra Gardens

The area that was to become the Promenade and Alexandra Gardens and the path to Clewer.

The view above was taken to the east of the area that was to become Barry Avenue. There are horses grazing on the area that became Alexandra Gardens to the right. This tinted postcard has a divided back and is postmarked 1904. However, the view is believed to be from the very early 1890s or even late 1880s. It was published by Edmund Düsédau of London, Plaistow, [sic] no. 15. Interestingly the card is captioned 'LONDON - WINDSOR CASTLE'. Foreign visitors sometimes assume that Windsor is part of London and this may be the reason for the error in the captioning. Edmund Düsédau of Plaistow, London has not so far been found in any Internet searches as a postcard publisher, but it is possible that he had recently come to the UK and established a postcard business.

Victorian view

Sadly this image above is from a poor quality, cheaply printed, postcard so we shall continue to seek out a better version of this view, but we include it here in the meantime as it illustrates, possibly, the entrance to the Victorian swimming area visible in other views included below.

Prom Path White Gate

A similar view to the Düsédau postcard above, but now with a white fence too.
Note the newly planted trees and the stream has now disappeared. This may just possibly the postcard colourist 'tidying up' the view.
As with all coloured cards of the era, there is no way of guaranteeing that the colours reproduced were accurate as the colouring would have been done miles away and often years later to enhance an earlier photograph and extend its saleable life. See also our story An artists 'adjusts' riverside postcards where the picture has been extensively modified.


GWW 664

Yet another view of the pathway along the river, the 'kissing gate' and the fence. This by famous photographer George Washington Wilson from the 1880s.

The Promenade Takes Shape

view of promenmade construction 1893

A view across the river from The Brocas dated 1893 showing the initial stages of construction of the promenade. To see a similar view of the promenade after it was first completed, click here

The Promenade at Barry Avenue, Windsor, was first created in the early 1890s and has changed several times in the 1900s, reflecting the increase in the river's attraction as a leisure amenity rather than purely for commercial and travel purposes as had been the case in earlier centuries.
  There are records of coal being brought upstream as long ago as 1367 to the Castle, and Cotswold stone being transported by river for the construction of St George's Chapel in the late 1400s, but with the arrival in Windsor of the railways in 1849, a new and faster transport system came into being that was nothing short of revolutionary. Windsor was not alone in seeing the riverside subsequently change into a leisure area with newly created walks (promenades), coupled with tree planting and the provision of boat hire and seating areas. There have been suggestions that Alexandra Gardens should have extended to the river bank from the outset, without the roadway (Barry Avenue) intervening, but it was to be almost 100 years before plans were proposed (in 2002) to remove the road and link the gardens to the riverside coupled with revised car parking areas. See Story. Come 2003 and a new Liberal Democrat council and once again these plans were shelved.

 Originally just a sloping bank to the river, as illustrated in the Herbert Railton engraving above, the 1890s development created Barry Avenue following the route of the path to Clewer Church together with the first promenade. The avenue was named after Sir Francis Tress Barry, MP for Windsor, 1890-1906. On the opposite side of the road, to the south, Alexandra Gardens was created around 1900.

Construction of the Promenade

Work in progress [above] on the new riverside promenade, with the GWR railway arches beyond and the two boathouses used by Messrs. Boddy and subsequently by Arthur Jacobs, boat builders and hirers. It is unclear where these boathouses were originally built. In this view they appear to be on the main riverbank , but the boathouses are on the small island, Jacobs Island, that remains to this day. The boathouses had disappeared by the 1960s. Photo date approx. 1895.

It is close by on this stretch of riverbank that the well known steamer, 'Windsor Belle', was believed to have been constructed in 1901 by E Bourgoine. Later, in 1923, The 'New Windsor Castle' was constructed on Jacob's Island. Together with 'The Empress of India' these launches were a very well known sight on this reach of the Thames throught the 20th century. The 'Windsor Belle' has survived in lovely condition, but both 'The Empress' and the 'Windsor Castle' were eventually broken up in Sunbury in 2005 and 2009 respectively. There is more about the Windsor steamers here.

Promenade February 2000

Approximately the same area of The Promenade, Windsor. February 2000.

It is likely that the floods of 1875, 1877 and 1894 had prompted the building-up of the bank as an early form of flood defence for the town and refuse and rubble had been tipped for a long period to raise the road level above that of the area that was to become Alexandra Gardens. It was certainly effective because in 1947, when Windsor was flooded once more, Alexandra Gardens had to be pumped dry after the floods had receded, as the waters were trapped behind the embankment. [The Floods of 1947]
  The newly contoured banks formed a popular relaxation area for visitors and Windsorians alike, and there have been very many views published from the mid-19th century and throughout the 20th century of Windsor from The Brocas. The earliest photograph of Windsor, or so it claims, was taken from here. See below.

Perhaps the earliest photograph of Windsor? It was taken from The Brocas before 1863 when The Curfew Tower was reroofed.

Promenade 1900s

A crowd gathers and a band plays on the promenade during a Regatta early in the 1900s

A busy day on the promenade is illustrated above, showing the sloping grass bank, flagpoles, young lime trees and barrels planted with evergreen shrubs. At the top of the bank was a wrought iron fence and hedge which was to last until the mid 1930s when further development took place.

Swan uppers on promenade

Swan uppers corral the swans on the promenade in the reign of Edward VII, c. 1909. Note the wooden bankside, barrels of shrubs and grassy bank.

Promenade to west

Above is a view to the west, upstream, in about 1913, when the grass had given way to a pathway and the barrels removed.  Note the 1908 Dyson Memorial between the trees above the boys' heads. This is shown enlarged further down this page. The boathouses in the distance by this time had now been relocated on Jacob's Island.

The Ferry to the Brocas

The punts in the foreground belonged to the ferryman who would take you across the river to the Brocas. In Victorian times there was still a toll to be paid when crossing Windsor Bridge, plus it was quite a detour around the foot of the castle walls to get to the bridge. At that time neither Thames Avenue, nor the riverside walk linking the promenade and Windsor Bridge, existed and so a quick trip across the river on a punt seemed an acceptable alternative. In the 1950s I recall the fare was 3d, three old pennies, or about 1.5p in today's currency.

Ferryman

The ferryman poses midstream for the camera in the very early 1900s. He used a quant pole to propel his punt across the river by pushing the pole onto the riverbed. The passengers would sit on wooden benches along each side of the punt.
(Extract from a tinted postcard view)

Ferryman 1890s

Above is an earlier view of the ferry from the 1890s, quite possibly of the same ferryman, with either a passenger holding onto a pole to steady the punt on the Brocas side of the river, or perhaps helping the ferryman with a second quant pole - unlikely!  A quant pole is long enough to push down to the river bed and so propel the punt across the river at a healthy speed. The joke is that if the pole gets stuck in the mud of the river bed, the 'quanter' gets pulled into the water. The truth is, you let go!

Ferryman sv

This image was first published in 1896 and shows the ferry in the foreground and his passengers.

The Dyson Memorial

Dyson Memorial close up

The Dyson Memorial (Extract from 1913 photo reproduced above)

The Dyson Memorial was originally located on Barry Avenue, opposite the junction with Goswell Road as illustrated above, but is now located in Alexandra Gardens. The Memorial, in the form of a drinking fountain, commemorated Thomas Dyson who had founded 'Dyson and Sons, pianoforte dealers' in Thames Street in 1865 and who had became Mayor in 1890. Thomas Dyson actively promoted improvements in the town, such as the construction of the promenade.

The Dyson Memorial

The Dyson Memorial
in August 2002

The Promenade from 1910

The promeande to the east

The riverside promenade, c.1913, looking east.

In the photograph above there are clearly two paths and many seats along the length of the promenade. Also boats for hire are seen lined up along the riverside.

'Jack and Ivy' Visitors on Prom

A similar view but taken in 1926. Two visitors to Windsor, 'Jack and Ivy', are seen walking east along the promenade. They had earlier visited the castle.
  Below is another view of the same area looking upstream. It is hard to date precisely, but judging by tree growth and the gentlemen's clothes we estimate 1920.

Promenade looking upstream

The promenade looking upstream, perhaps in 1920, Note Jacob's boathouses in the distance on Jacob's Island. On the curve of the promenade, in a break in the hedge, the roof of the ferryman's ticket office can be seen

tinted riverside view

A hand-tinted version of a similar view. There seems to be a picnic table constructed around the large pine tree. The card is titled Alexandra Gardens, River Side, Windsor, which is not strictly true, Alexandra Gardens being on the other side of Barry Avenue. (From a postcard in the collection of the RWWS, Nov. 2005)

Promenade from Jacobs Island

This view is taken from Jacob's Island, on the slipway, and looks towards the promenade. The rowing boats are those of Messrs Jacob's. the boat houses would be immediately behind the photographer, to the right of this view. Approximate date 1910 and published by Valentine.

Colour PC from Jacobs Island

Here is the same view with some colour added by the postcard publisher Valentine. The colouring artist has also taken the opportunity to add in some ladies too! The ferryman is just visible in the distance.


The Promenade to the West

Downstream from the Arches

Barry Ave

Barry Avenue and The Promenade with Jacob's Island to the left.
This photograph is looking east towards the point at which the 1936 photo was taken.
Below is an earlier view from a similar point.

The area before the promenade was constructed

An 1880s view of approximately the same area before work on the promenade was commenced.

Adjacent Jacob's Island

A photograph taken adjacent to Jacobs Island with a bridge across to the island.

The above photograph was taken in the 1890s. In the background construction work is beginning on the promenade.

sailing Barge moored at Windsor

This view is from close by Jacob's Island looking upstream towards Brunel's 'bowstring' Bridge (GWR to Slough) probably around 1907. The sailing barge is to be seen in a number of Windsor postcards of the time. (See also [Alexandra Gardens] where there is a view of the gardens and the promenade taken from the arches of the railway line to Slough.

Barge by Prom

The same location, but looking downstream. Young willow trees seem to be planted by the river - see close up below. In recent years some of these have since fallen or been felled.

Extract

An extract from the above card showing the young trees planted along the line of Barry Avenue and what seems to be young willows close to the river bank. Shortly after this post card was published the refreshment kiosk was constructed, illustrated below.

The Promenade from the GWR arches

The same area of The Promenade, at the western end, near the GWR railway arches, in around 1912. Baths Island is to the left.

The Promenade by Baths Island 2

A similar view of The Promenade a year or two later, perhaps the summer of 1914. The card is postmarked November 1914. The trees have grown a little in this view and a lifebouy has now been installed on the grass slope. The sailing ship, seen clearly in the picture below, is just visible moored at Jacob's Island a short way downstream.

Baths Islands GWW

An early photographic view, probably late 1870s, by George Washington Wilson illustrating the two islands before they were joined to create Baths Island as we know it today. © The Royal Windsor Website 2007

Baths Island Stuart

The Swimming Baths 1904 by F G O Stuart

We were delighted to discover this photograph taken by F G O Stuart from the railway arch overlooking the Swimming Baths. The sailing barge features in a number of other views of this area including a contemporary view of Alexandra Gardens. To the left Baths Island seems now to be joined to Deadwater Ait. In a map dated 1897, the two islands are shown as separate. Even today, when the river levels rise, this is the point at which the water first finds its way across and separates the islands once more.
  The picture shows the reconstruction in 1904 of the Western Baths beside the railway bridge after they had been moved downstream, out of public view, at the request of Queen Victoria some years earlier. Please see our story The Windsor Swimming Baths for more information.
  Close examination of the picture, which has been tinted by hand, shows evidence of construction work continuing. The step ladder far left, two piles of planks far right, one by a small corrugated iron hut, and the other by the fence beside a second hut, as well as the outline of a wheel-barrow on the pathway to the right, all suggest 'work in progress'. It is possible that the large punt-like boat in the centre of the picture was actually used by the builders to install the steps and artificial riverbank. Beyond the area set aside for swimming centre left, the bank of the former Deadwater Ait has been planted up with shrubs between the trees. These may have been planted several years earlier, judging by their size, We shall continue researching the history of this area and would welcome any pointers or references that readers may be able to come up with.

The Sailing Barge

We have found two photographs said to date from October 1912 and illustrating some kind of 'inauguration' with a visit from the Mayor and councillors and other local dignitaries. If anyone has any further information we would be pleased to hear what the background story is.

The Mayor walks the plank!

The Mayor and party on board

The 1930s Improvements to the Promenade

In 1934 plans for further changes to the promenade were proposed including the narrowing of Barry Avenue, the removal of some of the lime trees, the construction of the wall along the length of the promenade and the provision of permanent, concrete pathways. In the photograph below, taken in 1936, it can been seen that the original tree planting remains complete, although in the years since a number of trees have been removed as they matured. The changes were completed in 1936 and altered the slope to the bank which was now more sharply 'stepped' with the construction of upper and lower walls in stone. Reinforced concrete posts featured electric lighting within elegant twisted glass shades. Note that the boathouses remain on Jacob's Island upstream.

The Promenade in 1938

The Promenade photographed in 1936, looking west.
Jacob's boathouses, middle right, are on Jacob's Island

Promenade 1935-6 East

Here is another view from a similar position but looking east. Although not clear in this postcard view, the promenade extension through to Windsor Bridge has yet to be constructed, dating this card to within a year or so of the promenade's modernisation in 1935-36. The original 'flame-like' frosted glass shades are clearly visible mounted on fluted columns, made from reinforced concrete.

The two postcard views above date from 1938 and must have been taken within a few moments of each other. To the left the ferryman can be seen posing rather awkwardly with his foot on a wall which is just a little too high for the position to be comfortable! His punt can be see lower left to take passengers across the river to The Brocas. The small pleasure boat, 'Avon***' is just visible and would be similar to 'The Angler' and 'Humble' which also offered river trips to visitors. Once again the pair of boathouses on Jacob's Island are clearly visible.

At the eastern end the promenade and steps up to Windsor Bridge were not completed until a year or so later.

This postcard view shows the newly completed promenade by the River Street slipway, but no access further downstream along to the bridge.

Barry Avenue 1960s

Barry Avenue in the mid-1960s looking east and the junction with Goswell Road. Note the car parking at that time was on the far side of the road. At the time of writing, 2006, parking is now on the river side of the avenue.

Barry Ave 2002

Barry Avenue and refreshment kiosk. May 2002.

Some of the 1930s improvements have since been removed, such as the reinforced concrete lamp posts with twisted glass shades and some lengths of the wall, particularly around the refreshment kiosk, which was altered in 2001.

Barry Avenue May 2002

The view along Barry Avenue to the east. May 2002

Barry Avenue and Alexandra Gardens (west)

The western end of Barry Avenue adjacent to the entrance to Alexandra Gardens.

Plans were announced in 2002 for the gardens to be extended across Barry Avenue to the promenade but these plans were scrapped in May 2003 when a new Liberal Democrat council was elected. See Car Park Plans

arches at Barry Ave

Barry Avenue and the car park entrance by the railway arches

The Promenade and Barry Avenue in 3D

The following 3D stereoviews date from the 1950s and come from a private, amateur collection. The three dimensional effect can be seen using a stereoscopic viewer. The Royal Windsor website has such viewers available from time to time. To contact us, please email Thamesweb.

A view of the Caf`é

Barry Avenue and the Promenade

Pleasure launches by the Prom with a rather bare Fireworks Eyot (Pr. Ait) beyond

By the slipway near theThames Hotel

Self drive motor boats moored at their pontoon by Wren's Old House Hotel

 

 

Beyond the Arches

West Prom Gardens

The lawns to the west of the railway arches where there was a miniature golf course until the late 1980s.
The boathouse and Leisure Centre are both visible in the distance.

In the mid-1930s the riverside beyond the arches of the GWR railway line, was known as the stone yard, presumably while the promenade itself was being modernised at that time. Later, probably immediately after the war, a miniature golf course was created on the area, upstream of the arches, stretching as far as the ISC boathouse. It is first mentioned in the RBNW booklets of 1949-50.

ISC Boathouse

The ISC Boathouse in 1937

Baths area

The former baths area upstream of the railway bridge

The backwater by the arches was used as the swimming baths which ran from around 50 yards upstream of the arches, under the railway bridge, and extended some 50 yards downstream. A small foot bridge, variously painted green, silver or blue through the ages, used to be installed under the railway bridge. It was later moved to the downstream end of Baths Island, perhaps in the 1960s, and later back to beside the railway bridge to allow cruisers access to overnight moorings in the backwater.

The area of the swimming baths upstream of the railway arches in around 1947 before being dismantled


The lawns are now regularly spoiled by the presence of Canada Geese. Their droppings, their webbed feet and the constant grazing all combine to turn the lawns into a messy morass in wet weather and not very pleasant in good weather. This was certainly not the case in the 50s where the riverside was solely the domain of swans and ducks. The Canada Geese are a comparatively recent arrival and should be culled! They are a nuisance to say the least.

Handrail Baths Isle

September 2006. The handrail just above water level
is still visible on Baths Island

Between the miniature golf course and the swimming area was a grassy slope, plus a large rockery and an artificial stream constructed from concrete and stone, meandering between the putting greens and the pathway along the river. At one point, close to the boathouse, the path crossed the stream via a miniature hump-backed bridge. As a child I recall wishing that this stream still flowed, though I have vague memories from the 1950s of each section still containing water.

Ornamental Stream Stonework

The stonework from the end of the ornamental stream
remains around this tree by the boathouse

Later, perhaps in the 1960s, the watercourse was filled with soil and planted up, but with the advent of the Leisure Centre development, all of this area, including the putting green, was turned into lawns with a small shrubbery on the higher ground, near the river, and which in recent times now features a wooden bridge.

There is more about the promenade, with extra pictures
and readers memories, here
on our Windsor Forum


See also
Alexandra
Gardens
An artists 'adjusts' riverside postcards Promenade Panorama early 1900s
History Zone
Home Page
The Thames
Index 
Royal Windsor
Home Page

 



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