Public Houses in East & West Molesey
Rowland G. M. Baker, 1981
Bridge Road, East Molesey
In the 1870s Harry Tagg, a member of a well-known family of local watermen, leased a piece of land along the River Bank near to Hampton Court Bridge, on which he raised a boat-building works. This building still stands on the corner of what is now Feltham Avenue, although, of course, that road was not in being when the workshop was erected. Soon afterwards he leased a further strip between this works and Bridge Road, on which he had a house constructed, part of which he opened up as refreshment rooms.
Both sides of the business flourished, and before long Tagg dreamed of expansion. At the corner of Bridge Road and River Bank (then called Barge Road), in the crutch of the two pieces of land he leased was a meadow, known locally as "Griffen's Corner", on which he not only had his eye, but also managed to acquire. He then negotiated an extension to his lease of the other two plots of land, i.e. the piece on which the boat works stood and the piece on which the refreshment rooms stood, up to ninety-nine years from 1877, when the original lease had started. That his intention was to build an hotel on the site is clear from the wording of the new lease, which included the clause, "If at any time during the said term the Lessee shall obtain a License for and shall use the premises for the sale of wine beer or spirits an additional rent of £5 shall be payable" .
He now had the whole corner from Bridge Road, along River Bank, to Feltham Avenue, all under his control, and plans for the new hotel, which was intended to be the most modern and up-to-date in the district, were submitted to the East Molesey Local Board and passed at their meeting in January 1887 . By November of the same year it was reported that "Mr. Tagg has finished the Hotel to the satisfaction of the Board" .
He named it the "Thames Hotel", although to everybody it was known simply as "Taggs", and it was still so called by local people even long after the founder had died and left its management to others.
A provisional innkeeper's license was allowed as soon as the hotel was finished, which at the next brewster sessions Tagg applied to have made absolute. Three magistrates inspected the premises, and reported that "they found everything perfectly satisfactory", and the license was granted accordingly .
The Tagg family was one of the best-known in Thameside circles. Harry and his brother Tom, who opened similar enterprises on Tagg's Island, with both boat-building and hotel facilities, had the acumen to lift themselves up from being the sons of a local waterman to the top rank of wealthy Thames entrepreneurs. Although it must be admitted that they were greatly aided by the circumstances of the day, by being in the right place at the right time, just when the exploitation of the river for pleasure was moving towards its zenith. From early beginnings they had branched out from being employed by others helping with boats, to owning and hiring out boats themselves, to building boats, to building bigger boats, and culminating, in order to cater for the whole needs of their patrons, in the refreshment business.
"It was a happy idea of his", one writer said of Harry, "to have the whole place built for the express purpose of meeting the ever-increasing needs of the boating public, who can thus have their aquatic and physical requirements catered for practically under one roof. For here we have an excellent hotel and restaurant with commodious and adequate boathouses and premises adjoining and communicating - the whole built from the designs of an eminent architect, aided by the practical knowledge of the essentials, the outcome of long experience, of Mr. Tagg himself. No expense or trouble has been spared to make the place comfortable and convenient to a high degree. Mr. Tagg has a fine fleet of saloon launches on hire, licensed to carry from 230 to half-a-dozen persons, and also has galore of boats, punts, and Canadian canoes, letting by the day, week or month, all at moderate inclusive charges .
In fact, the guide books vied with each other in laudation of Mr. Tagg's venture. Another wrote: "The Thames Hotel is no mere riverside inn; it is a handsome modern hotel, and restaurant, furnished and managed in a style which would do credit to any West-end club. The hotel wing has a very imposing appearance with its turret roof and white stone facings, and its interior arrangements have been designed to furnish a comfortable and stylish establishment. All the latest improvements have been introduced for the comfort and convenience of persons staying at the Thames Hotel, or for those who merely pay it a flying visit. There is a handsome dining saloon, a coffee room, suites of private apartments, smoking room, splendid billiard room, on the ground floor, and no less than twenty-five well-appointed bed-chambers for the use of the public, all these rooms being fitted, furnished, and decorated in most luxurious fashion. Besides all this, there is excellent stabling for customer's horses. In the large dining saloon dinners a la carte are served, and also the well-known 'coaching luncheons', and from what we have ourselves seen of the capabilities of the management and the perfection of the cuisine, we can vouch for the fact that the many encomiums passed on the establishment are thoroughly well deserved" .
Surely it was not for nothing that Mr. Charles Dickens, the son of the great novelist, wrote of Molesey that it "is chiefly interesting to excursionists from the point of view of refreshments" .
Harry Tagg was also a well-known whip, and the hotel became a temple for coaching enthusiasts. Special runs were laid on for devotees, to bring them down for the "coaching luncheons" already mentioned. As the present writer well recalls from the days of his youth, what a colourful sight it was to see the glittering coach, pulled by six sleek, prancing, perspiring, steeds; passing over the old bridge, with the guard shrilling a long tattoo from his gleaming horn. People travelled long distances to glimpse the sight, in much the same way as zealots of steam locomotives do today.
For sometime the coach was the "Vivid". "In our opinion", one guide book said, "there can be no pleasanter drive than from the Hotel Metropole, from which the coach starts, down to the pretty neighbourhood of East Molesey. The coach is often driven by Harry Tagg himself, and it goes without saying that during the season it is largely patronised by those who enjoy a drive behind a team of high-class cattle" .
When the electric tramway came, soon after the turn of the century, bringing cheap travel to the Metropolitain masses, and Hampton Court within a half-day's excursion, Tagg seized the opportunity to turn the upper part of the boat house into a restaurant capable of seating three hundred people. "The approach", it was said, "is by a wide staircase from the road on to a balcony, and so into the room, the interior of which is painted white and beautifully adorned with flowers, palms, &c., and the view across the river is most pleasant. Mr. Tagg is nothing if not original, and in furnishing the place he has been fortunate in securing some of the handsome fittings from the Royal Aquarium and from "Simpsons". On the spacious balcony teas can be supplied in the open air if required in full view of the river".
In those halcyon days the whole façade of the hotel, boathouse, and restaurant, was covered by dozens of hanging baskets with flowers of every variety. A truly colourful sight. Even the land on the other side of River bank, down to the water's edge, was laid out as a garden. In May 1891 it was announced that: "Mr. Harry Tagg of the Thames Hotel and boat building works, has made arrangements with the Molesey Band" (yes Molesey had its own band in those days) "to play a selection of music this Saturday afternoon from 5 to 6.30 on the lawn of the hotel". How pleasant it must have been to have the musicians playing by the river without their melody being drowned by the eternal roar of motorised traffic .
After retiring from the trade, Mr. Tagg built himself a bungalow in Hurst Road, West Molesey, and died in March 1925 .
The present "Thames" is but a ghost of its former self. Gone is the decorative turret. Gone are the colourful flower baskets. Gone are the punts and dinghies. Gone are the thousands who once thronged the riverside, and patronized its crowded bars. Dispersed to faraway fields by motor car and jet plane. Will the glories of Thameside ever return?
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