Unless you are one of those lucky souls who actually has the River Crane gurgling away at the bottom of your garden you may be unaware of the river or forgotten it. In the early 1930’s the writer A.G Linney paid a visit to the river and was so taken by what he saw that he later described it as “A Rivulet of Happy Families” – a little flowery perhaps but true nevertheless. Well, the Crane does flow through St Margarets, doesn’t it, which most of us think of as a demi-paradise, full of happy people skipping down flower-strewn streets to enjoy coffee at one of the many outlets. This is what Linney wrote in 1932…
…During one summer I made a voyage up the River Crane of an evening about high water in a skiff. It was wearing to the close of a sweltering day, and the cool, green tunnel which the mouth of the little stream presented was captivating. Tall grass hung down over the rough camp-shedding on one side, and trees swept their branches on the other, right down to the water.
About a hundred yards from the river the road to Richmond passes over the Crane, and immediately beyond it one was astonished to come upon a flourishing boat-building yard, of which no hint appears until you are close up to it. Squeezing our way past the boats, we went forward up the next section of the stream, here, perhaps twelve or fifteen feet wide. The (Port of London) Authority’s jurisdiction ends, I believe, at the bridge where Talbot Road passes over the Crane River; and I suppose that the Middlesex County Council here takes over.
From here we were moving slowly along between ends of back gardens belonging to modest middle-class houses. The gardens, as we saw them in the golden light of a hot summer evening, were fully appreciated by their owners for whole families were sitting in arbours or on the turf enjoying the end-of-a-day rest… People came running down, calling, “Look, here’s a boat!” Family bathing was in full swing from every back garden; youngsters were splashing around, full of glee; City typist daughters had hustled back from the office to don their chic bathing suits and gay rubber caps, and were either swimming seriously, or posing for admiration on the banks; even respectable papas had got out their bathing suits and come in for a dip, so that grey heads or bald craniums showed above the little waves of the little stream.
Just before we had drifted down to Talbot Road Bridge a native was fishing. I asked him if he had ever caught anything; rather plaintively he replied, “Not yet.” He looked about twenty-one years of age.
Emerging into the Thames through the tunnel of green I vowed that I must never even cast an eye at the River Crane save near high water, or should see that Rivulet of Happy Families as a mere trickle in the middle of slimy mud.
— “Lure and Lore of London’s River” by A.J. Linney (pub 1932.)
It is 80 years since Linney made his trip up the Crane but the river still flows between banks of grass and willow and alongside middle class gardens. The boat building yard has gone and so have the swimmers. Maybe we are more fastidious about hygiene or maybe fears of pollution coming down from Heathrow or sewage releases coming up from the Thames have put us off but it hasn’t deterred the wildlife along the river’s length, the herons and the kingfishers or the fish and eels that lurk in the deeper pools. Nor has it deterred the local volunteers who regularly clear out the rubbish and monitor the cleanliness of the water. Forgotten or overlooked it may be but the Crane is still our rivulet of happy families – and long may it remain so.
— from Martyn Day
Credit: The photographs of the River Crane were taken by Amanda Day LRPS