Thameside Molesey

Rowland G. M. Baker, 1989

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The piece of water separating Ash Island from Tagg's used to be called the Hog Hole. This name is often used on the Thames for a deep channel between two islands, although no reason is given. Probably, however, it is derived from a now obsolete word 'How' meaning a concave hollow. Wright's English Dialect Dictionary gives 'How-hole — a hollow, a depression'. As this was also sometimes spelled 'Houghie', a further progression to 'Hog-hole' would be an easy step.

As we stand here on the towpath and look across the river between the two islands, we can see on the Middlesex bank what appears to be a Swiss chalet. This is, in fact, an authentic fragment of Switzerland. Dismantled from its native soil in the latter part of the last century, it was brought over to be erected on this site in what was then the grounds of a large house called 'Riverholme', which stood, until a few years ago, a little way downstream.

A genuine piece of Swiss architecture might be considered incongruous on the shores of an English river, but such is the variety of the Thames scenery that even this characteristically continental structure dissolves harmoniously into the prospect. Unfortunately its status has gradually diminished since it was first raised here. From a summer house in a private garden it became a restaurant, and is now incorporated into a boat-building yard.

Tagg's Island was once Crown land, part of the manor and honour of Hampton Court. It has had several names during its history. In the early eighteen hundreds it was called Walnut Tree Island, and this is the name under which it usually went until it was acquired, about 1850, by Francis Jackson Kent, a Hampton lawyer and property speculator, who bought and developed much of the land of East Molesey in the middle of the century. After this it was often called 'Kent's Ait'.

When Kent purchased the island it was populated by a number of squatter families, who made a precarious living by cutting the osiers, or willow rods, which once grew in abundance and which they peeled, bleached in the sun, and made into baskets. These were not the sort of people Kent wanted on his island. He had bought it as an investment. It had to earn him money. The squatters paid no rent. Off the island they would have to go, and Kent evicted them lock, stock and barrel.

One of the people who was born and lived on the islands was a Mrs Hester Lock, who died in West Molesey in 1932 at the age of 102. She then had over 50 descendants still living, and the profusion of this family name in Molesey is undoubtedly due to her.

Legend has it that some of the people expelled were gipsies, who left their insular homes reluctantly, cursing Kent roundly, and saying that nobody connected with the island would ever prosper. Unquestionably no enterprise which has been ventured on the island has flourished for very long, although, as far as Kent himself was concerned, the malediction seems to have been so much water off a duck's back. He certainly prospered, and died worth a considerable fortune.

Soon after Kent acquired the island he appears to have rented a part to Joseph Harvey who started and ran the 'Angler's Retreat' on Ash Island. He now moved this entirely to the larger island. Kent also leased a piece to a boat-builder called Thomas George Tagg, thus formally introducing the island to the name which has stuck to it ever since.

The Tagg family was renowned along the riverside for its prowess on the water. They seemed to have immigrated to East Molesey from Thames Ditton in the early part of the last century. In 1841 two branches of the family occupied cottages in Bridge Road close to the Albion Inn. By 1906 a description of Surrey could mention Molesey as 'a noted port of pleasure boats, and the name Tagg, that has taken such banyan — like root here'.

The family was so well-known on the river that one was posed the question 'Why is the Thames like a shoe lace?' The reply to that was 'Because it has a Tagg [tag] at each end'.

Edward Jesse, the well-known naturalist and author, one of the founders of the Thames Angling Preservation Society, who lived at one time in the house which is now West Molesey Vicarage, wrote in a book called Anglers' Rambles in 1836: 'John Tagg, the worthy fisherman lets out boats and punts at Hampton Court, provides rods, lines and baits, and waits upon those anglers who employ him, with equal civility and attention. He is moreover one of the King's watermen, and manages a punt better than most men on the river. He is a great favourite in the neighbourhood'. This John Tagg is said to have a handsome fishing rod which had a brass plate on which was engraved: "Admittedly the chief among fishermen and propellers of punts, knowing full well the deepest waters of the Thames and its locks, especially acquainted with the springs of Diana and the streams that water the paradise of Bushey. A man known throughout the regions of the earth! A man, with scarcely his equal among mortals! An incomparable man! To him now, Brinsley and Frank Sheridan, the exponents of his praises, have endeavoured to offer this token of their admiration. Presented to John Tagg, for his many virtues and transcendant talents in Fishing, By Sheridans, Brinsley and Frank'.

Another author who mentions him was the sporting writer Martin Cobbett, who described him as 'one of the finest, handsomest men I ever saw. Jack the ever free and frolicsome, who once whitewashed a donkey on the fifth of November, bundled the creature into a barber's shop and wanted him shaved, saying that he was already lathered'.

Thomas George Tagg was known as Tom Tagg junior, to differentiate from his father, Tom Tagg senior, who was also, naturally, a waterman, and was brother to Harry who founded Tagg's Thames Hotel by Hampton Court bridge. Whilst Harry and another brother, Sam, took over their father's business, Tom junior branched out on his own. He was appointed a queen's waterman at the age of 21, and started building boats on the island. He had sufficiently succeeded by 1868 to reconstruct the boathouse, with larger space for boat-building and storage, and with residential accommodation above, into which he moved with his wife and six-year-old son, George, from their cottage near his father's in Bridge Road.

His energy was boundless, his initiative and business acumen considerable. He pioneered new methods of boat construction and boat letting. Cobbett says he 'was an inborn genius in devising craft, from a skiff to a steam launch. He was an honoured member of the Institute of Naval Engineers'. He also characterised him as 'One of the best friends I ever had. A rare good sort, a fine sportsman who could walk, run, and fight when fighting meant P.R. business, and would take on anyone who upset him, weight of no consequence'. (P.R. = prize ring).

His industry got larger and larger — and so did the size of the boats he created. By 1869 he was already constructing launches, a line from which he probably gained most repute. During six years in the 1880s he was awarded twelve gold medals when his launches were shown at exhibitions in both Britain and France. The list of customers and patrons looked like several pages from Debrett. For some reason he always christened his most prized launches Princess Beatrice. The first of these caused a sensation at Henley in 1887 when it appeared carrying the Prince of Wales and other British and foreign Royals. It eventually went to the Baltic for the use of the Russian Czar's family. The third, built in 1897, was at the time considered the handsomest launch on the Thames. Catering for up to 150 people it was described as 'luxuriously furnished and fitted. It has a spacious Promenade Deck, and contains Ladies Saloon, large Dining Saloon, Lavatories and Piano. Specially suitable for first class parties, and patronised by members of the Royal Family'.

Soon after his first arrival Tagg obtained a lease of the whole island, including the cultivation of the osier beds, and kept pigs, poultry, and cows as well — a veritable little farm. His enterprise knew no bounds and each undertaking seemed to flourish. In September 1872 he took over the licence of the Angler's Retreat, and entered into his new role of mine host with willing enthusiasm. Soon he was discussing with Kent, his landlord, the provision of a larger and more imposing hotel, to cater for the increased numbers of people using the river.

Within a year the new hotel was built. It was a much larger and more elegant structure than the old Angler's Retreat, with an entrance hall, bars, coffee room, smoking room, and bedrooms for guests, each with a verandah with views out over the river. The old beer licence was transferred, and shortly after, a full wine and spirit licence was granted.

Ripley's History of Hampton mentions that 'in excavating the foundations, which went seventeen feet through uninterrupted loam soil, the workmen came upon several interesting zoological remains, among others what were pronounced (by Professor Owen) to be the skull of an extinct species of goat, and the jawbone of a large boar's head, relics which mutely but eloquently explain the history of the island'.

Before long Tagg had transformed the island from a back-water beer house into a popular pleasure resort. It become a Mecca for society; Royalty, nobility, and millionaires rubbed shoulders with theatrical, artistic, and literary folk, swells, squanderers, and shadowy gents of all kinds. 'During the season', it was said, 'its well-kept lawn, dotted with chairs and tables, presents a very gay scene, thronged with well-known people, members of the theatrical and musical profession predominating. Especially is this the case at week-ends, when celebrities are to be seen in great numbers'. The Duke and Duchess of Fife, Sarah Bernhardt, and some others of whom mention will be made later, were particularly fond of the island. In 1885 it was described as 'truly a lovely and interesting place'.

Tagg's Island, too, was yet another convenient anchorage for the ubiquitous houseboat. From the 1880s the perimeter of the island was fringed with ranks of these exuberant floating juggernauts. A long line of vessels, their verandahs were bedecked overall with gaily striped and tasselled awnings, their railings, balustrades, and ornate carvings, freshly painted each season in rich and striking colours. Viewed from the towpath it was indeed a glittering sight. Perhaps the most dazzling of all was Mr John Bradford's Gipsy. A large houseboat, near the centre of the line as seen from the Molesey bank, it was covered all over with brilliant tiers of hanging baskets and tubs filled with vivid vermilion geraniums and other flowers of every hue.

River Dream and Gypsy houseboats

the River Dream with Gypsy beyond.

On a balmy Sunday evening, as darkness was spreading, the brightly coloured lanterns were lit, sending shafts of rainbow light streaming and reflecting across the shadowy water. The melodious tones of an old-fashioned brass-horned gramophone came from the upper deck. The very vessel itself seemed to burst into life. All around, on the Molesey towpath and in countless punts, people stopped and listened. It was surely such a scene which inspired Thomas Love Peacock, who lived at Shepperton, to write:

'While melting music steals upon the sky,
And softened sounds along the waters die,
Smooth flow the waters, the zephyrs gently play,
Belinda smiled, and all the world was gay'.

These free concerts continued for a number of summers and were much appreciated by the people, who used to make a special journey each Sunday down to the river to listen and to look. Unfortunately the owner of the island considered that it drew customers away from the hotel, and told Mr Bradford that he must stop giving the concerts or he would have to remove his houseboat from the island. This order almost broke the kindly owner's heart, he so enjoyed the pleasure his music gave to people. He could not bear to stop on the houseboat without playing the gramophone so he decided to sell the Gipsy and get right away from the place where he was much admired and had for many years done so much to brighten up the scene.

There are still floating homes to be seen moored around the island, but now they are mostly converted motor boats or barges. Yet one or two old houseboats linger. They are, however, mere shadows of their former selves. Stripped of their grandeur, like dowdy dowagers they squat majestically on the water, dreaming of the expansive glories of their youth.

In the earlier days, when the water was not contaminated with petrol waste nor the air polluted with jet-engine drone, the riverside was sweet and serene. Among those who could afford it, the fashion was to have a Thames houseboat, in which to relax in pleasant surroundings, to give gay parties, and to taste awhile the blithe Bohemian life. Molesey was a magnet which drew the great and the not so great, the famous, those who hoped for fame, and those to whom fame could come one day.

In the latter category two in particular stand out. The first was a young Scottish journalist, writing under the name of Gavin Ogilvy, who was just beginning to make a name for himself, and who hoped to make an even greater one. He did. Under his real name — J.M. Barrie — he became world-known as the creator of the eternally youthful Peter Pan. The second was a music hall actor called Fred Westcott.

James Matthew Barrie arrived in London in the mid-1880s after having served some time on a Nottingham newspaper, and his articles start appearing soon after in metropolitan magazines. With a kindred spirit and fellow Scot — J.L. Gilmour — he hired the houseboat Arcadia, and in July 1887 we find him extolling the virtue of houseboat life in an article in the British Weekly, a periodical which was usually of a much more sedate nature, as its subtitle, A Journal of Social and Christian Progress, implies. Barrie livened it up. In his writings of houseboats he says:

'A more delightful holiday for a family, I cannot easily conceive; and for a man who has to run up and down between his summer quarters and London, there is nothing to approach it. They are of all sizes. Mine was for a party of half-a-dozen persons. It was sixty-five feet long by about thirteen feet broad, and in appearance was simply a wooden house built on a barge. It consisted of five rooms — a saloon, three bedrooms and a kitchen. The saloon was much the largest room, some seventeen feet long. It was the full breadth of the boat, and a passage ran from it to the other end, off which doors opened into the bedrooms and kitchen. The ceilings were as high as in an ordinary house, and the deck was seated to hold fifty people. But one of the charms of a houseboat is that it makes a backwoodsman of you for the time. It is an utterly new life, because you leave conventionality behind you, and it has an educating influence in showing you how little man really needs here below'.

'All houseboats should be as pretty as swans on the water, and most of them are, for no one would care for houseboat-life who is not romantic in the sun, and if you are romantic you love the beautiful, and so you cannot help making your home on the river picturesque. It is easily done, for flower-pots make a garden of the deck, and what is prettier on a summer's day than a hammock swung beneath a Chinese umbrella? The river is so willing to meet you half-way in your desire to make it pretty in the moonlight that it takes the lighting of a fairy-lamp as the signal to unroll its panorama. A boy struts up the towpath with a penny whistle, or drifts down on his back in a dinghy, and the place and the hour make a musician of him. Skiffs flash by in a blaze of coloured lights. Listen to the water whispering among the reeds. Who said Nature slept in the night?'.

'All communication with the land is by small boat. You have a punt or dinghy for this purpose. The houseboat is anchored between trees near the bank of the river which is private ground, the public thoroughfare, or towpath, running along the opposite bank. For obvious reasons it is well to lie within easy distance of a village. Telegrams are brought to you (or rather to the opposite side of the river, where you must cross in your dinghy for them), and the shopkeepers, being largely dependent on houseboats also send purchases up the towpath. Letters must be called for at the post-office, unless a special arrangement is made'.

'The life is quiet but not monotonous, for no day is quite like another. Hundreds of boats pass by every hour, from shrieking steam-launches to Canadian canoes, and on Sundays there is a wonderful procession to church that blocks the landing stage and brings craft together that were built on many waters. Saturday is set aside for visitors who are going back by the last train but stay till Monday, and there are dells and clumps of trees all the way up the river, and all the way down it, where ladies love to pic-nic. I don't know what a houseboat would be like in winter. No one does. I think of trying it'.

In the quiet of these idyllic surroundings Barrie's pen worked with demoniac fury. He had thoughts of producing a novel, and wrote in another magazine — The St. James's Gazette — I see that I laid my plans with care when I moored this houseboat against the island at Moulsey. My purpose is to get on with my novel, doing the writing in the saloon and the thinking on the island; the western half of which is a straggling stretch of green hooped around with houseboats. Here and there is a tree to knock your hat off as you go round thinking. A more perfect place for planning a romance could not be imagined'.

Barrie's training as a journalist had impressed upon him the importance of maintaining the highest degree of authenticity and attention to detail in his writings, and in his early works the themes are inevitably based on the scenes and characters which surrounded him, which he knew well and which he could portray precisely. In his heroes we can easily recognise Barrie himself, a quiet ambitious young man, but not yet quite sure of himself, especially with the opposite sex. Tagg's Island and the houseboat Arcadia, as well as featuring in numerous magazine articles, became the setting for two chapters of his first full-length novel — When a Man's Single and the whole scenario for his first successful play — Walker London. Later, in a eulogy on the pleasure of tobacco smoking entitled My Lady Nicotine, the Arcadia was remembered yet again, and his favourite brand was given the name Arcadian Mixture.

In When a Man's Single Barrie also entitles one of the inns The Angler's Retreat. Obviously the name of the island's first hostelry was still remembered around the place.

Even Tagg's little farmyard, which had then dwindled to the presence of a solitary cow, was brought in to enliven the proceedings. He explains in a little piece called 'Round the Island', the style of which is somewhat reminiscent of another Thames writer — Jerome K. Jerome, 'Near this point lies a houseboat in blue and yellow, called the Victory; and in the Victory our pretty girl lives. I say our pretty girl because we all belong, more or less, to the island; also because she really is a pretty girl. Gilmour thinks so too; though this is hardly worth mentioning, as his opinion on such a matter is of small value. Once we saw the pretty girl looking in our direction; and Gilmour who is the last man in the world to interest a woman, thought that she was looking at him. This amused me a good deal at the time; for I have a strong sense of the ridiculous and now I never see that houseboat without having a laugh at the expense of Gilmour, who is a great friend of mine. Next to the pretty girl the most distracting influence on the island is the cow. There is only one cow, and I generally make a remark to it as I go past. It pays no attention; but that I do not greatly mind. I have studied the cow until I fancy I know more about it than most people. If it was the cow I wanted to think of instead of my hero, I fancy I could do it. There are also sad-looking men who bring fishing rods and stools to the island. They sit all on the stools, and pit themselves against a large-sized minnow, which one of them catches perhaps twice a week. Then the curious ones lay down their rods, and gathering round the minnow, watch it slowly dying on the grass. The jealous ones pretend not to notice, and however loud the successful angler may shout in his triumph, they never turn their heads. When I ought to be going round thinking I frequently find myself lying on the sward talking to the fishers. They are like myself in this respect — that they are all more hopeful than the circumstances seem to warrant'.

Walker London, a title which recalls a Victorian catch-phrase, was at first called The Houseboat, but had to be changed when the play had its premiere in the West End, as it was found that there was another which already had that title. It showed Barrie's obvious talents for stagecraft, and ran over 500 performances, a foretaste of his long line of box office successes. The stage directions for the first act set the scene: 'A houseboat on the Thames. Curtain rises on houseboat, blinds down. Time: morning. A canoe and punt, on bank at bow, tied to houseboat. Someone in the distance is playing a penny whistle. W.G. is lying on a plank, lazily writing a letter. Presently he sleeps. Nanny on deck fishing'. Like When a Man's Single, it tells the story of a rather ordinary young man with grand illusions who gatecrashes higher society, indulging itself on the houseboat at Tagg's Island, where the normal conventions were slightly relaxed, but pushes off rapidly when his real status is about to be found out.

After that first season Barrie gave up the houseboat, but he never forgot his rapturous days on the island, even though he did not visit Tagg's again for another thirty years. In 1919 he came back to dine, not in the hotel he had known, but in a grander affair. He was now famous, a household name. What memories must have crowded in as he looked again at the haunts of the struggling young journalist. He recalls them all — the houseboats — the small hotel — even Tagg's solitary cow — in a little memoir published in the 1920s thinly disguising himself as 'James Anon': 'I visited the scene lately and found it was now as grand as if it were being presented nightly at Drury Lane. There remained no houseboats of our humble kind; magnificent successors encircled Tagg's Island. Each seems to have a garden; there is a gorgeous hotel, and there are putting-greens and lawn-tennis courts and dancing galore: I was discomforted, because I had thought it a gay place in my day and that I had been seeing life. Now I know that by comparison we were all humdrum folk, living prosaically round a field with a cow in it, a cow that became the one companion of Anon. There was a little inn with a bar, where he sometimes went forlornly to listen to the swashbucklers from the other houseboats. Mr Anon thought that anybody in flannels was a swashbuckler. On the island in the heat of the day Anon and the cow often had the field to themselves, for the flannelled ones were at their offices in the city, and we are speaking of an age when women did not want to bask and be brown. The cow browsed, and Anon meditated'.

In 1889 Tom Tagg reached his fiftieth birthday, which he celebrated by announcing that he was branching out into yet another business venture. He had leased about three acres of land opposite the island on the Molesey shore, on which it was his intention to erect a boat club-house, a structure which would have a large boathouse at the ground level, above which would be club premises, with lounges, dining rooms, etc, and bedrooms over the top. Patrons would pay a yearly subscription to belong to the club, and would be able to come down, stay the week-end, hire a boat, play games like tennis or billiards, dine, or dance, all in the same establishment. 'The plans of the building', it was reported, 'have been approved of, and tenders are already being sought for carrying out the work. The structure will have a frontage of eighty feet, standing back forty feet from the towpath. It will be constructed of red brick, and of Gothic-Dutch architecture'. The architect was Mr A. Burrell-Burrell, of Chancery Lane.

The building was commenced soon afterwards and was constructed by a local builder, Mr E. Potterton of East Molesey. It was fitted throughout with all the latest innovations — electric light, telephone and electric bells.

It was formally opened on 2 May 1891. The Surrey Comet reported the event: 'Thanks to the enterprise of Messrs. T.G. Tagg and Son the neighbourhood is now in possession of one of the most picturesque-looking and perfectly equipped riverside club-houses in the kingdom. The building itself commands a view over one of the most delightful reaches of the Thames — from the Water Gallery to Garrick's Temple — The base of the building is occupied as a boat-house, and a highly attractive one it is likely to prove; the spacious grounds adjoining are tastefully laid out, and there are capital facilities for the enjoyment of lawn tennis bowling and quoits. The annual subscription at present is two guineas for home and one guinea for foreign and colonial; but we understand that fees will shortly be raised. The club premises comprise: On the first floor (a) A magnificent club-room, 60 ft X 30ft with parquet floor, capable of dining upwards of 300 people at one time. It is also eminently adapted for ball-room or smoking concerts. (b) A very fine reading room 30ft X 15ft. (c) Two fine billiard rooms. (d) A ladies drawing room. (e) A private dining room, for parties not exceeding 20. (f) A members lavatory. (g) A secretary's room, refreshment bar, etc. On the second floor (a) Six large bedrooms, for the use of members only, with balcony commanding views of the river and Hurst Park racecourse. (b) Bathroom and lavatory with hot and cold water, kitchen, etc. The formal opening took place on Saturday evening last, when, despite the unpropitious weather, about sixty members and friends assembled to partake of the banquet provided'. The magnificent parquet floor was composed of over 8,000 pieces of selected woods of 'every variety of grain and hue'.

In June 1897, on the hot sultry day of queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, Tom Tagg caught a cold, from which he died three days later. He was only 57. As a result the firm was taken over by his son George John Tagg, remembered by many Molesey people as 'Colonel Tagg', who had been taken on as a partner in the firm several years before. He was described in 1899 as 'a gentleman of considerable classical culture, and knowledge of belles lettres'. He had been educated at Hampton Grammar School and in France, before being trained as a marine engineer in which capacity he designed most of the launches built by the firm. During the First World War, because of his knowledge of the Continental waterways, and of boats and boating in general, he was appointed as Assistant Director of Inland Water Transport in France and Belgium and Liaison Officer with the allied armies and navies, with the rank of Lt Col. For his work in this respect he was twice mentioned in dispatches and was awarded the OBE and the French Croix de Guerre. In the Second War he joined the Civil Defence, and in his black beret was a familiar figure around Molesey.

However George Tagg was not the stubborn business type his father was. For a few years very little changed, and then, probably due to the effects of the Boer War, the advent of the motor car, and the changing social climate, high society and the better-off moved away from the river. Trade fell away, there were a number of poor seasons (it must be remembered that bad weather hits the riverside, and especially an island venture, much more heavily than most), and Tagg found himself in financial difficulties. To ease matters the hotel was taken over in May 1903 by a limited company, of which Tagg was one of the chief shareholders, but matters became worse and in the following year he was declared bankrupt, with liabilities amounting to £6,906.

In December 1904 all his assets were put up for auction, including the lease of the hotel, five and a half acres of ground on the island, and the boat-building premises, £850 worth of shares in Taggs Island Hotel Ltd, the freehold of the club and boathouse on the Molesey bank of the river, and the land between the club and the lock-house. The fleet of steam and motor launches, boats, skiffs, punts, and canoes, together with the plant and machinery and flags and bunting were also auctioned, as were the furniture and effects. The auction drew a large crowd of people, especially of boating and river men, 'many of whom', it was said, 'had no doubt spent many happy hours about the place', but apparently the bids did not flow as freely as the nostalgia, and a number of lots were withdrawn when the reserve price was not reached.

The club and boat-house was one of the lots not sold. Eventually it was taken over by a group of mainly local people whose members ran it under the name of 'The New Hampton Court Club'. After renovations and re-furnishing it was opened on 16 July 1906. The Surrey Comet prophesied: 'No doubt the club will supply a want'. This, in fact, it did until the 1920s, when the premises were eventually taken over by Watercraft Ltd, who used them for the manufacture of lifeboats and other sea-worthy motor boats, and was one of the first firms to use fibre-glass extensively for the construction of this type of craft. After a long period of successful boat-building here, offering employment to a number of local men, Watercraft closed down a few years ago and the site is now divided into factories, whose future at the moment seems uncertain. Nevertheless the building still nobly displays a plaque with the monogram 'TGT & Son', in proud memory of the magnificent splendour with which its life began, but which it was not for long able to sustain.

Meanwhile the hotel was still being run by 'Tagg's Island Hotel Ltd', but apparently without a great deal of success. In 1908 John Bradford, of the luxury houseboat Gipsy, wrote a letter to F.J. Kent, the owner of the island freehold, complaining about the bad state and decay of the island in general but of the hotel in particular. He suggested that a syndicate of business men should be set up to inject fresh capital into the place and to take over the running, stating that if this did not happen 'the better class of trade will be killed'. Several abortive attempts were tried to float such a company, but without success. Tagg's original lease was due to run out at the end of 1911, and it was imperative that a working solution be found as quickly as possible. The only practical proposition which stood any chance of success, and the one which was eventually adopted, involved another houseboat owner — Fred Westcott.


Tagg's Island and Hotel

The Island and Hotel in 1901.

Satsuma houseboat

Mr H. Hewitt's magnificent houseboat, Satsuma.

Platts Ait

Platts Ait seen from West Molesey, when the Immisch Electric Launch Co Ltd boasted 'Royal patronage' and did everything, from building to hiring, and from housing to mending steam, electric and oil-driven launches.

Tom Tagg and son Brochure

Tom Tagg and son Brochure

The Tagg dynasty carries on. (A note on the front of this brochure laconically remarks 'Left Island 1913 for good'.)

Gypsy houseboat

The Gypsy houseboat at Tagg's Island.


'Many people not only frequent the river in their spare time, but even live on it in houseboats...' says the legend on this painting of exotic weekend floating retreats at Tagg's Island early this century.

Swiss Chalet

The Swiss Chalet is now part of a boat building yard.

Tagg's Island sale notice

It was all up for grabs on 1 December 1904.

Barge Walk

The ladies board a launch at Barge Walk in 1905.

Tom Tagg's Boat Clubhouse

Tom Tagg's Boat Clubhouse was eventually taken over by Watercraft Ltd.

Tagg's Boat Clubhouse

His monogram is on the wall of the building.


The houseboats with their lanterns are a magnet for lesser vessels, as Edwardian Londoners relax.

ISBN 0 86023 414 2

Thameside Molesey was originally published by Barracuda Books, now part of Baron, publishers of heritage volumes - maritime, military, transport, sporting and local. It is made available here with the kind agreement of Radmore Birch Associates.

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