Chiswick Eyot, Hounslow
An uninhabited ship-shaped island lying off Chiswick Mall in a stretch of the Thames known as Corney Reach
Flint tools and Neolithic and Roman pottery have been discovered on Chiswick Eyot (pronounced chizzik ait), indicating that there may once have been a small settlement here.
By 1800, osier beds around the island were producing willow shoots that were used to make baskets for the market gardens of Chiswick. Commercial cultivation continued until the mid-1930s, when the borough of Brentford and Chiswick bought the island from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
Chiswick Eyot used to be more than an acre larger than it is now (which is presently about three acres), but all of the part that used to lie within the Hammersmith borough boundary has slipped away into the Thames. This erosion problem prompted a proposal in the 1970s to raze the entire island but the plan was shelved in the face of public resistance. Instead the banks were shored up during the following decade.
In 1993 Chiswick Eyot was declared a local nature reserve and it is now cared for by Thames 21 and the Old Chiswick Preservation Society. As the photograph below suggests, the island is accessible at low tide – but the preservation society asks people to go across only during one of the work days arranged as part of the environmental management programme. This is to help protect the eyot’s fragile ecosystem – and for health and safety reasons. The Chiswick lifeboat has sometimes been called out to rescue explorers marooned by rising waters.
Except for Frog Island – an artificially created waste management facility at Rainham – Chiswick Eyot is the most easterly of London’s Thames islands. It is the only insular obstacle along the ‘Championship Course’ that is used for the Oxford and Cambridge boat race.
Writing in 1902, CJ Cornish reported that a resident reed warbler was “locally supposed to begin his song with the words ‘Chiswick Eyot! Chiswick Eyot!’ which indeed he does pretty exactly.”
In 2010 a homeless pensioner claimed to have been living on Chiswick Eyot and the BBC gave his story some credence. Hounslow council “sent representatives” to the island, who found no evidence of recent human habitation.
Postal district: W4
Blog post: Lois Walpole: Chiswick Eyot Osier Holt