River and Rowing Museum
Recently, Henley-on-Thames has been most notable for the exploits of its blond Tory MPs, but the quiet Oxfordshire town has another, more enduring, claim to fame - its association with the sport of rowing.
The River and Rowing Museum is a relatively new museum which celebrates this association. There are three main galleries, dealing respectively with the history of rowing; the history of Henley, and the Thames itself. The Schwarzenbach International Rowing Gallery tells the story of international rowing in what is described in the publicity as ‘a truly dynamic way, allowing people to experience the sport and understand what it's like to compete on the water.’ In other words they have lots of interactive exhibits. Sadly, the highlight, ‘In the Cox’s Seat’, which aims to give a 360 degree panoramic experience of what it is like to participate in a race at Henley Royal Regatta was out of order when I visited, but there were plenty other items of interest to see.
The Invesco Perpetual Henley Gallery tells the story of the town from the stone age to the present. In truth, they struggle a little with the very early period as the town was not established until the twelfth century (no mention of Henley in Domesday Book). The popularity of the town really took off with the coming of the railway in the nineteenth-century, giving Victorian city-dwellers access to the river and surrounding countryside. This was the period of Jerome K Jerome’s novel 'Three Men in a Boat' and you can see a typical rowing skiff of the type mentioned in the book.
The river Thames gallery has information about the river itself, from wildlife to a model of the London Thames barrier.
Admission fee (July 2008) is £3.50 per head, or £7.00 to include the Wind in the Willows exhibit.
For those with children, the Wind in the Willows gallery downstairs, a series of models showing scenes from the book, is worth the additional admission fee.
- Family Travel
- Historical Travel
The Henley Bridge is a five-elliptical-arched stone road bridge that was built in 1786 and crosses the Thames on the between Hambledon Lock and Marsh Lock. The bridge stopped taking tolls in 1873.
- Historical Travel
St Mary's Church
St Mary's Church earliest recorded priest was Aumericus de Harcourt in 1204 although the first reference to the actual building is a charter of 1272 for repairs. The church was enlarged and remodelled in the 15th century and again in the 19th century and the tower was built in the 16th century. Further renovations were carried out in 1852-56 including the addition of the Great West Window.
- Religious Travel
The Town Hall is a Grade 2* Listed Building and was built in 1901 and replaced the old town hall that was taken down in 1898 and re-erected on Crazies Hill as a private home.
Nuffield Place is the former home of William Morris (not the Arts and Crafts one, but the founder of Morris Motors, later Lord Nuffield) who lived here from 1933 until his death in 1963. The house contains Lord and Lady Nuffield's personal possessions, just as they left them. Lord Nuffield was one of the richest men in the world at the time, but the house and contents reflect his modest tastes.
The house is now owned by the National Trust (since 2011) and is in the process of being developed for visitors. Some of the paving in the grounds at the moment is uneven, so you need to take care. There is a small tea room (my mother can recommend the coffee cake) and a shop.
Open: April - October from Wednesday to Sunday inclusive, 11.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.
I visited on Easter Saturday and although I got there 2 hours before closing time, all the house tickets available for the day had been allocated. As a result, I was reduced to peering through windows to see some of the interior, though there was a volunteer on duty outside giving talks about the history of the house. Do check the website (not just the smartphone app) before travelling there on a day that might be busy.
If you own a Morris, Wolseley or a vintage car associated with the Nuffield company may park right outside the house during your visit, but do let them know you are coming.
- Museum Visits
Stonor Park is one of the oldest manor houses in England. Home of Lord and Lady Camoys, the estate has been in the hands of the same family for 850 years. The family's Catholic faith is very clearly evident, most notably in the room occupied by St. Edmund Campion, Jesuit and martyr, and his companions in the 1580s. They were given refuge in the House in order to print in secret the famous 'Ten Reasons' pamphlet arguing against the Established Church of the time. There is a small permanent exhibition about this period.
The house is an E-shaped Tudor manor house behind a warm red brick facade with Georgian windows.This Georgian exterior conceals a much older collection of buildings, which have never been completely rebuilt, including a hall dating back to medieval times. The main public rooms, which were restored in the 18th and early 19th centuries contain fine furniture, family portraits, bronzes, stained glass, silhouettes, Italian pictures and drawings and a growing collection of contemporary ceramics.
A 14th century chapel of flint and stone with an early brick tower, where Mass continues to be celebrated, completes the main buildings.
The property was built on the site of a prehistoric stone circle, which can still be seen in the grounds.
A collection of the family's medieval correspondence has survived and provides a very useful source for medieval historians.
There are a tea room and gift shop. The tea room prices are quite reasonable, and the homemade cake is delicious.
• Sundays (31 March to 15 September inclusive)
• Bank Holiday Mondays
• Wednesdays (July and August only)
The Gardens and Chapel open at 1.00pm and the House opens at 2.00pm. Last entry to the house is 4.30pm. The House, Gardens and Park close at 5.30pm.
The Chapel is open to the public for Mass at 10.30am every Sunday.
- Religious Travel
- Historical Travel
Lovely Beer at Lovibonds Brewery
We moved to Henley-on-Thames in 2007, but it was a whole year and a half before we discovered Lovibonds. They had a stall at the annual Christmas fair in the town square - we had never tried craft beer before, but after a few tasters, we bought a mini keg of Henley Gold! Lovibonds is actually based in the Town Centre, and Lovibonds Tasting Room has become our ‘regular’ now – we must have walked past it dozens of times before, and funnily enough, many of the other regulars say the same thing : “We’ve lived here for years and can’t believe we’ve only just discovered it!”
Based on the site of the historic John Lovibond & Sons brewery, it’s tucked away in Greys Road Car Park, with a nice a beer garden with several picnic benches outside. Inside, there are a couple of large sofas, tables and chairs, and a bar serving Lovibonds’ four main brews, with occasional seasonal and guest beers as well. They also serve bottled and canned soft drinks, crisps and even wine for the non-beer drinkers, and you can buy bottled beer and mini kegs to take away, as well some Lovibonds branded merchandise.
The main thing you need to do at Lovibonds is to taste the beer, which you can do for free! What is more, you are given a comprehensive description of what you’re drinking and how it is made. The staff are really knowledgeable and friendly, and the tasters are generous. Although most of the beer is brewed off-site, some brewing actually does happen in the building. There is a small brewing plant on-site, where experimental and seasonal beer is made, for example, a the fresh hop IPA which is brewed from the hops which grow up the wall in the beer garden. You can watch them grow in the summer!
Lovibonds has started to have a couple of local bands in on the first Friday of every month to playing rock music, and most recently, jazz . We’ve also seen some great comedy there, as it hosts a couple of the comedy acts for the Henley Fringe Festival every year as well.
It opens every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, with BBQs every Saturday during the summer.
I’d really recommend Lovibonds as somewhere convenient to go when you’re visiting Henley Town Centre - and to discover that there are far more diverse things to drink in Henley than just the usual russet-coloured Henley Regatta tipple!
- Beer Tasting
Wind in the Willows
This special gallery at the River and Rowing Museum (see separate tip) contains a series of models of scenes from Kenneth Grahame's famous children's book, 'The Wind in the Willows', based on E H Sheppard's illustrations of Ratty, Mole, Badger and friends.
They are mostly static displays, so you really need the audio guide to bring them to life, but it's likely to appeal to children who are familiar with the book or who like cute animals.
Photography is not permitted inside.
Admission £7 (includes the River and Rowing Museum).
- Family Travel
- School Holidays
My favorite thing was the riverside walks by the River Thames. Beautiful sceneries, cute little ducks and swans, peaceful atmosphere.