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£30,000 Face Lift for Oliver Cromwell's Thames Island

Replacing the stones at Oliver's Ait (click on image to enlarge)
Replacing the stones at Oliver's Ait
(click on image to enlarge)

The Thames island, Oliver’s Ait, below Kew Bridge, has been given a £30,000 face lift by Port of London Authority (PLA) engineers to protect it from erosion.

Tree roots had disturbed the stone work which protects the narrow upstream end of the 120-metre long and ten-metre wide wooded island from the force of the river.

Following tree management work, a PLA-managed team of four worked daily on Oliver’s Ait for five weeks, repairing and replacing the stones of the so called upstream cut water, which faces the erosive force of two daily ebb tides which run in excess of four knots. The water levels in this stretch of the tidal Thames can rise and fall by as much as six and a half metres or 21 feet.

PLA civil engineering department team leader on the job, Lee Walker said:

“The downstream side of the Ait, where the cut water is shallower, is in very good condition. The island is a unique natural haven on the Thames and the work we’ve done will protect it for years to come. We will be keeping a close eye on it with further regular maintenance over the coming years.

“I have rowed past here many times – it is a real river feature – and we have found evidence of the foundations of the old boatyard that had once dominated the Ait over the years. It has a fascinating history.”

The PLA team that worked on the Ait were based at Kew Marine Moorings on the south bank and ferried themselves and their equipment across to the island in a dinghy with an outboard. The works were planned as part of a long-term management programme developed by the PLA’s planning, civil engineering and environment teams, working with the London Wildlife Trust and tree experts.

Members of the local community and regulators were consulted on the plans. The London Wildlife Trust will be co-ordinating the community’s involvement with the ongoing care of the Ait, supporting the PLA’s programme of maintenance and improvement works.

Commenting on the work done on the island, chairman of Strand on the Green Association, Robert Colvill, said:

"The PLA have approached the task in a practical frame of mind, and after listening carefully to local opinions. The result has been a treatment of the revetments which is sympathetic, effective, and probably cost-efficient as well."

Further revetment works are planned for the autumn, when birds and bats will not be affected.

Notes to Editors:

  • Oliver’s Ait is named after Oliver Cromwell who, according to legend, made the Bull’s Head on the north bank of the Thames at Strand on the Green his temporary headquarters during the English Civil War of 1642-1651.
  • A secret tunnel which linked the Bull’s Head and Oliver’s Ait to allow persecuted priests to escape via the river is an added element to this legend.
  • No evidence to support the headquarters story or the tunnel has ever been found.
  • In 1777 the City of London’s Navigation Committee built a wooden toll booth in the shape of a small castle to levy charges on passing craft to pay for improved navigation.
  • A barge was moored alongside to take the toll – it gave its name to another Strand on the Green pub, the City Barge.
  • By 1865 Oliver’s Ait was a place where barges were built and repaired. There was a Smithy on the island until it was demolished in 1990.