Taggs Island

Taggs Island, Richmond upon Thames

A crowded Thames atoll formerly called Walnut Tree Island or Garrick’s Upper Eyot, located between Hampton and Hampton Court

Taggs Island seen from Hampton Court Road

From the 1850s the conve­nient nearby presence of Hampton Court station drew day-trippers to the island’s shabby pub and skittle alley, the Angler’s Retreat. Thomas Tagg set up both a home and a boat-building business here in 1868 and soon acquired the lease on the Angler’s Retreat and rebuilt it as a hotel, where guests included the French actress Sarah Bernhardt. Grand house­boats were moored around the island, one of which was rented in 1887 by Peter Pan author JM Barrie.

George Tagg took over his father’s business but poor summers and unfavourable economic condi­tions forced him to sell up in 1903. Tagg remained manager of the island until 1912, when it was acquired by the impre­sario Fred Karno, who built an opulent hotel that he called the Karsino, and an equally luxurious houseboat for himself, the Astoria. Charlie Chaplin is said to have stayed on the boat.

Custom was initially brisk at the hotel but the outbreak of the First World War brought about a decline in trade from which it did not recover, despite relaunches as the Thames Riviera and later the Palm Beach.

In 1941 AC Cars set up a manu­fac­turing unit on Taggs Island and constructed a Bailey bridge. During the Second World War the company manu­fac­tured guns, flame throwers, fire­fighting equipment, aircraft parts and radar vans here. After the war the company switched to building three-wheeler ‘invalid cars’ (meaning cars for the disabled rather than vehicles that were not valid cars). Produc­tion ceased in the mid-1960s.

Karno’s hotel was demol­ished in 1971, by which time most of Taggs Island had become derelict. In 1983 a new bridge was built and in the following year the centre of the island was excavated to create a lagoon that increased the capacity for house­boats – many of which look more like houses than boats and are not designed to move, other than up and down a little. The island presently has a popu­la­tion of just over 100, living on 62 floating homes.

The musician David Gilmour bought the Astoria in 1986 and converted it into a floating studio. Pink Floyd’s albums A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell were recorded onboard.

Postcode area: Hampton TW12