Hilary & Scott Pereira

Duck's Walk

The area on the north bank of the Thames across the river from Richmond and between Richmond and Twickenham bridges is now known as Duck’s Walk. The area was originally part of Twickenham Park, which was largely parkland up to 1900, but was developed for housing from around the late 1800s [1]. Unlike other stretches of the river, there are no records of any industry, although a number of boatyards did develop along the riverfront in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is around this time too that the area now occupied by Duck’s Walk began to be referred to as The Jetty [2]. It is unclear exactly which area The Jetty covered, but it is assumed that it encompassed the area now known as Duck’s Walk, from Richmond Bridge to Twickenham Bridge.

Records from 1899 show that The Jetty was owned by Reverend Gill and Mr Trelawney. In 1920 the freehold was sold. However, a covenant was attached to the conveyance, which restricted the building of any 
structure (except fences) fronting nearby roads to the north of Duck’s Walk, except buildings of a minimum value. It also prevented the building of a tavern, inn or beer house and public or private lunatic asylum. No lime or bricks were allowed to be made or burnt on site. These restrictions, originating from the Reverend’s ownership of the site have endured and have protected the area from any development, unlike other stretches of the tidal Thames, making Duck’s Walk particularly amenable to residential craft.

Grand Victorian ‘houseboats’ did indeed congregate at Richmond during the summer months of the mid-late 1800s, although it is unlikely that these were permanent dwellings, and more likely treated as summer houses. These grand houseboats continued to populate the riverside in Richmond up to the 1920s. An article in 1924 described that ‘the river banks along this course are practically one continuous row of bungalows and houseboats’ [3]. However, these houseboats were rented as temporary holiday lets, rather than used as permanent residences. There were also more likely to have moored on the Richmond bank, opposite Duck’s Walk.

The first records of people occupying boats along The Jetty, Duck’s Walk was in the Electoral Register of 1937. And the first time a residential boat was recorded in the Census record was in 1945 at Bushnell Moorings, The Jetty. This is probably on the site where the Bushnells ran a business renting punts, skiffs and dinghies just downstream from Richmond Bridge [4]. From then until 1948 a number of residential boats were listed along the river there. It seems that in 1949 the name The Jetty ceased to be used in favour of Ducks Walk. Subsequently, boats were listed under Duck’s Walk but also under numbers 4, 5, 8, 9 & 10 Duck’s Walk.

It is likely that the proliferation of boats at Duck’s Walk after 1945 was due to the post-war housing shortage and the abundance of decommissioned war vessels that returned to boatyards like those at Richmond after the war.

One such boatyard was Richmond Slipways, which occupied Number 1, Ducks Walk. This commercial boatyard was taken over in 1947 by Commander Charles Herbert Lightoller, the senior surviving officer of the Titanic in 1912. He lived at and operated Richmond Slipways with his wife, Sylvia until passing away in 1952 [5].

Boats continued to be seen as cheap housing options for a long time after the war. In 1961, Valerie Coltman (then twenty) and husband Trevor moved afloat because they needed an affordable place to live at short notice [6]. “We were looking at caravan sites, but they seemed to be well out of the way” Valerie remembers. It was only after visiting Tough's Boatyard (where Trevor was doing an engineering job) that the idea of living afloat was suggested. Although they paid rent for a mooring, a boat offered the couple their own space at a time when they would not have been able to buy their own flat or house. “It was our own place, it was our own entity. You could make it unique and you could cruise around,” Valerie explains when asked why they initially came afloat.

The boat itself cost £750 – a reasonable price for the time – and rent for the mooring was affordable. However, there were certain standards that residents had to adhere to before obtaining the mooring at that time. 
Their landlord, Mr Driscal, insisted that pets, children and washing lines were prohibited and the boat must have a suitable appearance. This indicates a level of concern about the image of boat dwellers, who were perceived as ‘water gypsies’ by some.

In 1961, there were nineteen residential boats moored along Duck’s Walk up to the railway bridge. This was one of the largest communities along the river at the time, probably due to the proximity to the boatyard and the amenable conditions of the river, away from the industry further downstream.

The community during the 1960s is remembered as very close- knit. Valerie recalls that “when we first came it was all a big community”. Most residents were engaged with river life and spent a lot of time maintaining their boats or travelling up and down the river. Valerie recalls a strong community of ‘boat people’ who congregated at moorings like Duck’s Walk or at boatyards like Richmond Slipways. Almost all the boats were ex-war vessels (gun boats and landing craft) which had to be properly maintained, and so attracted people interested in boats. Hilary and Scott Pereira who moved into Duck’s Walk in late 1976 on their narrowboat had spent many years living afloat in Oxford, and were very much of this boat community [7]. They had spent time cruising on the canal systems and still do take their vessel on trips around England and abroad.

The community was still described as close in the 1980s when the mooring was occupied by lots of young couples. Over the years different people had moved in, for a variety of reasons. Brigid and Brian Proctor moved afloat at Duck’s Walk in 1982 [8]. They were looking for a flat to use when they were in London, but saw a houseboat as “much nicer, and we liked it here, it’s a lovely part of the river down in Twickenham.” Although they initially planned to live mainly in a house on the south coast, the couple “without even noticing we gave up looking for another house” and found themselves living on the river full time as it offered a kind of rural lifestyle within the city. Brigid and Brian have been on the river since then, over thirty years in total.

Even more recently, living afloat has been seen as increasingly trendy, a stark contrast to the ‘water gypsy’ label the landlord in 1961 was so concerned about [9]. The decline of the boatyards has meant less of a boating community on the river generally. This is coupled by the introduction of residents who are less concerned with boats, leading to more upmarket and pricey craft that are just ‘big square boxes’, rather than the ‘proper boats’, which were insisted on in 1961 [10]. Some of these larger craft are even let out as individual cabins, which has added to the decline in community and created an anonymity that never used to exist.

The sense of community is possibly also partly disrupted due to the formal arrangements along Duck’s Walk. Unlike other moorings along the Thames, many residents along Duck’s Walk actually own the river-side land to which they are moored. Thus, the boats are registered as individual plots and do not operate in any kind of communal renting arrangement or ownership. Boats are accessed through private gardens, rather than a common pontoon or Pier. Although this limits sociability to some extent, it does make them perhaps the most secure and desirable moorings along the tidal Thames.

[2] Interview with Valerie Coltman, London, 27 April 2016
[3] ‘Trip on the Thames’, Derby Daily Telegraph, 15 August 1924
[6] Interview with Valerie Coltman, London, 27 April 2016
[7] Interviews with Hilary and Scott Pereira, London, 27 April 2016
[8] Interviews with Brigid and Brian Proctor, London, 27 April 2016
[9] Interview with Valerie Coltman, London, 27 April 2016
[10] Interview with Hilary Pereira, London, 27 April 2016