Henley-on-Thames Heritage Trail

Jan Siberechts: Henley 1692, showing old timber bridge.

The chalk stream entering the Thames still flows there, but is now very much smaller.

Map

Lcations are marked mostly by engraved stone slabs set in the pavement, but numbers 1 and 3 are tourist information notice boards. These notice boards are numbered but when renewed recently the Henley Heritage Trail information was omitted. There is long term parking both at the station and in Mill Meadows. Starting from Mill Meadows walk along the river frontage past the end of Friday Street where commercial premises have been converted into charming houses. Cross the Henley to London Road at the Angel and continue to the end of New Street. From here it is possible to look along the whole length of the Regatta course to Temple Island. Walk along New Street past the former Henley Brewery to the Kenton before retracing your steps to take the lane through the Church Yard. Turn right into Hart Street. At the crossroads walk a little way along Bell Street to the Old Bell before returning to the Market Place. Continue along Duke Street To the corner of Friday Street and the final paving slab on the Trail.

Points of interest

  1. Looking towards Henley from Mill Meadows The Trail begins in Mill Meadows, home to the internationally awarded River and Rowing Museum. Whilst looking downstream towards the bridge it can be difficult to imagine that because of its present day gentle riverside location and well tended public gardens, Henley in earlier days was effectively the head of navigation of the Thames. As the fourth largest internal port of the British Isles it daily shipped to London grain, malt, wool and the abundance of local timber, not only for building but also for domestic heating and cooking. The barges returning not only with the basic commodities like salt and fish, but also luxuries such as glass, silk and fine wines for the families of the grander households and the colleges of Oxford.

  2. The Angel on the Bridge The present bridge was constructed over a four year period and finally completed in April 1786. The original bridge was built slightly upstream around 1170 and its two stone abutments remain standing, with the one on the Oxfordshire side used as the beer cellar underpinning the front of the Angel on the Bridge. The model for Isis carved upon the upstream central keystone by Anne Damer was the niece to the Lord of the Manor.

  3.  Royal Regatta Course The Royal Regatta first rowed in 1839, regularly attracts international crews and lasts five days during the first weekend of July. The course is 2,112m and starts just below Temple Island on the Berkshire side. Uniquely for an international rowing event it is a knockout competition, with each race consisting of two crews racing side by side.

  4. Former Office of W H Brakspears The dominating buildings are those left by the brewing dynasty of W H Brakspear and Sons that formerly owned 150 pubs and supplied beer to hundreds of others. The building that was once the powerhouse with its 200ft deep artesian well is now a hotel whose sympathetic conversion has protected the feel of its proud industrial past.

  5. Kenton Theatre The Kenton Theatre was built in 1804, but quickly lost its theatrical purpose. However, in 1960 it regained its original use through the patronage of the artist John Piper and now boasts being the fourth-oldest purpose-built working theatre. New Street itself was not part of the original medieval town but in 1307 already was called Nywes Street.

    Retrace your steps back along New Street and take the narrow lane on the right after the former Henley Brewery Office leading towards the Chantry House and Church, passing almshouses endowed in 1664 and 1669.

  6. Chantry House The Chantry House, now a Grade I listed building was built circa 1450 by wealthy merchants. The main door facing the churchyard gives access to what is thought to have been the trading floor, with accommodation above and dry storage space in the loft. Below was an open fronted storage basement. The building was a school in the 16thC, later becoming the Grammar School.

  7. St Mary's Church St Mary’s Church began as a chapel. However, by the time it is first mentioned in 1202 it was well on its way of becoming an independent parish church. Construction of the tower is dated as from the mid-16thC.

  8. Catherine Wheel By the 1790’s Henley had a thriving commercial coaching trade and with its numerous inns, including the Old White Hart and Catherine Wheel, was well able to look after the daily scheduled services for destinations as far as Southampton and Holyhead. At times, Hart Street resembled the Wild West with coaches clattering through at speeds often so fast that lives, especially children, were placed at risk. Indeed, so perilous did matters become that the council threatened to prosecute various coachmen “who in passing create great danger to both themselves and others”.

  9. Old Bell At the cross roads of Market Place and Bell Street, which as the former North Street pre-dates the medieval planned town, look north for the oldest-known surviving house in Henley. This is the Old Bell; it has been tree-ring dated to 1325 with an impressive crown post to support its roof hiding behind a 1930s mock-Tudor facade.

  10. Town Hall Henley’s Town Halls have a history of going “walkabouts”. The first was the Guild Hall and stood at the crossroads, with a separate corn market further up the hill. It was only later the two were amalgamated. The new one was built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and completed in 1901, only after its predecessor had been carefully dismantled to become a private house. The still weekly Thursday market was granted by royal charter.

  11. Duke Street In January 1642 a mounted troop of Royalists entered Duke Street, unaware that a detachment of Parliamentarians with a loaded canon was already in occupation at the Market Place crossroads. One shot was to kill nine of the cavalrymen and this relatively high loss of life became known as the Battle of Duck Street, so called as the open stream, marking the parish boundary and much loved by the local ducks, cut across the road. Friday Street with its many attractive, timber-framed houses, most now hidden behind later facades, marks the boundary between the old town and the parish of Rotherfield Greys. The name of the street is probably derived from the former fish ponds in the rectory grounds at the corner of Friday Street and Thames Side.