The initiative for the formation of the Hampton Riverside Trust in 1996 came from local concern about the future of the Hampton Ferry. The Ferry had run between the Molesey Bank and Bell Hill in Hampton since certainly 1519 and probably earlier. The Ferry had seemed to have lost its importance after the closure of Hurst Park Race Course (and the beginning of the construction of the Wates Estate) in 1962; there had been several race meetings, in the years before the closure, with the Ferry bringing large crowds to and from the Race Course. But no longer. Local people seemed to have forgotten the Ferry’s existence and the tendering process for the renewal of the Ferry’s licence was in the offing. The previous licence holder, Councillor George Kenton, had died and there were strong rumours that a Company was threatening the commercialisation of the Ferry area which would almost certainly lead to the disappearance of the Ferry itself.
A group of about 30 local residents, led by local Councillors Marshall Lees, Bryan Woodriffe and Bob Parslow met in the Headquarters of the Hampton Sailing Club in April 1996 and, with the Ferry issue in mind, declared the formation of the Riverside Trust. The influence of the three Councillors and the local supporters led to the lease of the Ferry passing to David and Sue Bedford and John and Esther Cook and the Ferry was saved, with the Ferry area staying in public use.
The Trust continued in its work, with Marshall Lees as its Chairman and Peter Heath as its President, becoming a Registered Charity in 1999 with its declared aims being ‘to enhance the appearance and amenities of the Riverside at Hampton…and to improve the public access and usage of the river’.
The initial concern may have been the safety of the Ferry but there had also been the long standing worry about the condition of David Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare, built by Garrick in his riverside garden in 1756. Council property since the 1930s it had been allowed to decay into an appalling state. HRT was able to exert a highly significant influence, working in partnership with the local Council, The Thames Landscape Strategy and, in particular, the Temple Trust in a successful campaign, widely funded, to restore what had been a local embarrassment to the splendid attraction that it is today. In 2004 a new Trust was formed ‘Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare Trust’ with the Chairman of HRT becoming, ex officio, a Trustee.
The Trust continued with its work, with Marshall Lees retiring as Chairman in 2001 and Ronald Smedley elected in his place and remaining in office until 2012.
The Trust had no power but it did have influence – often with positive results, including:
The installation of new traffic controls
The establishment of a Swan Haven near to Garrick’s Ait
The development of Garrick’s Ait
The nature of new craft on Tagg’s Island
The improvement of public toilets at Bell Hill
The future of Platt’s Eyot and the decay of the listed Thorneycroft buildings (still unresolved)
The building of 1 Johnson’s Drive (case lost)
Extended opening hours at The Bell (a compromise reached)
Educational initiative at Garrick’s Temple in cooperation with Thames Explorer Trust
The installation of online site (thanks to John Inglis), ‘Hampton Past and Present’, a joint venture with Hampton Society.
The restoration of Bell Hill – probably the most demanding project of HRT’s existence:
Bell Hill had been turned into a public park in 1863 and extended in 1910. It had become an appalling eyesore and desperately needed to be rebuilt. An approach to the Heritage Lottery Fund seemed likely to succeed – but not so. After unsuccessful approaches to other charities the Council (owners of the site) finally agreed to a £100,000 restoration which proved to be highly successful. Two Interpretation Boards, created by HRT and installed in 2009 and funded by the Council’s Small Grants Fund, brought the initiative to a successful conclusion.
The last initiative of HRT was the creation of ‘Hampton Matters’, an hour long DVD with ten separate ‘chapters’ concerning life in Hampton today (and some of its history). All copies were donated to The Greenwood Centre, Hampton Society and Twickenham Museum, with a copy left with Richmond Library’s Historical Resources. The Director was the Chairman, working with Len Brown, a former BBC colleague.
In 2011 HRT formed a Riparian Committee. It consisted of three riverside dwellers – Colin Hunter, John Sheaf and Suellen Raven. The purpose was to explore the possibility of amalgamating with representatives from Molesey. The suggestion was successful and resulted in the creation in 2012 of The Hampton and Molesey Riverside Trust in the place of Hampton Riverside Trust, with Peter Parker CBE as Chairman.
A river has two banks!