Our site’s title, ‘Where Smooth Waters Glide’, is taken from a poem. This poem was carved into a tree trunk at Little Wittenham, in old North Berkshire, in about 1845. Attributed to Joseph Tubb, an Oxfordshire maltster, it is one of many artistic works that feature the river.
Across centuries, the Thames has been romanticised, cherished and sometimes feared. To the Thames Valley it has brought income, pleasure and occasional disaster. But it is not an untamed force of nature: in fact, it has been and still is crafted meticulously by those who care for it.
Tubb’s poem describes his view from the top of Wittenham Clumps. Below him was Day’s Lock, one of the first pound locks built by the old Thames Navigation Commission. The pound dates from 1789. And it is thanks to the Commission and its successor, the Thames Conservancy, that Joseph Tubb could glorify those smooth waters.
The Commission and the Conservancy made the river that we know today – all those pound locks, weirs and towpaths used by tens of thousands of people every year. It was hard work, but these engineers and labourers created an aquatic highway that was safe, navigable and durable, and they kept its waters clean.
We have produced this site to celebrate the 250th anniversary of when they began their toil: the first meeting of the reformed Commission at Henley, on 9 May 1771. The minutes of that first meeting are kept in the Thames Conservancy archives, which span the whole of the non-tidal Thames and are now at the Berkshire Record Office in Reading. The archives show how much effort has gone, and still goes into caring for the river.
Joseph Tubb’s poem tree no longer remains. But his view does, as does Day’s Lock. And also the Thames: still romanticised, cherished and sometimes feared.