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Some people, local estate agents mainly, insist on calling St Margarets ‘the village’ even though most of us know that our slice of paradise is really a ‘dormitory’ or ‘a railway town’ which didn’t really come into existence until the railway station was opened on Monday 2nd October 1876. Before then it was about 2,000 acres of pasture, arable land, wood and common. We should be grateful that we live in ‘St Margarets’. The local businessmen who helped pay for the new station wanted to call the neighbourhood ‘Ailsa Bridge’. Phew!

In fact St Margarets is one of four wards that make up another village, the village of Twickenham, the other wards being South Twickenham, Twickenham Riverside and West Twickenham. Local historian Edward Ironside wrote glowingly about the area in 1780…

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“Twickenham is a handsome populous village, pleasantly situated on the river Thames, between Teddington and Isleworth (or, as it is commonly pronounced, Thistleworth), to the eastward of the former, between two brooks that here fall into the river, and in the county of Middlesex. Its distance from Teddington is rather more than a mile, much the same from Isleworth and about 3 miles from the market towns of Hounslow and Brentford… it is in length three miles, two furlongs, one mile and a half broad and in compass nine miles, six furlongs… the number of houses are computed at about 350 or upwards and its inhabitants as near as I can calculate, about two thousand.”

The ‘two brooks’ that Ironside writes about are the River Crane which empties into the Thames at Railshead in north St Margarets and the Duke of Northumberland’s River, an artificial watercourse that does the same in Isleworth.

It is a bit of a mystery how Twickenham got its name. Edward Ironside (1736-1803), never known for his precision, suggested…

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“From the termination of the name, ‘ham’, which in the Saxon language signifies a village, one would be inclined to think that it was such in Saxon times.; as likewise its neighbour Thistleworth, or as formerly written Giestleworth; for ‘worth, wearth, or werd’ signifies ‘a place situated between two rivers’.

“As to the other parts of the word, they may be compounded of the Saxon ‘Twy’ and ‘Ken’: the first of these signifies two or double and is used in composition in the names of other places, as in Twyford in Leicestershire; that is ‘two fords’… The word ken signifies to look; so that ‘Twy-ken-ham’ may signify a village with two views, as it hath a view of Kingston one way and Isleworth the other.”

The cartographer John Norden (1547-1625) had a stab with..

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“Twickenham, or Twicknam,is so called either because the Thames near this place seems to be divided into two rivers by reason of the islands there, or else from the two brooks which near the town enter into the Thames; for Twicknam is the same as Twynam, ‘quasi inter binos amnes situm’ - a place situate on two rivers.”

Even the Twickenham Local History Society is unable to come to a firm conclusion…

The history of Twickenham can be traced back to at least 704 A.D. when the name, then spelt ‘Twicanhom’, first appears in writing in a charter. The origin of the name is uncertain: ‘ham’ and ‘wic’ were Saxon words both indicating small settlements, while ‘hamm’ meant land in a river bend, dry ground in a marsh or river meadow, which could apply to the area between the Rivers Thames and Crane, parts of which were marshy. A link to a personal name ‘Twicca’ has been suggested but has no documentary basis.

Twickenham didn’t figure much in historical records until comparatively modern times. It isn’t mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 and completely ignored by gazetteer Campden in his progress from Kingston to Thistleworth along the north bank of the Thames in the early 1700s. Like St Margarets Twickenham only started to develop with the coming of the railway in the mid-19th century and since then it has really made its mark…

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  • Home of the oldest Roman Catholic University in the UK.
  • Home of one of the UK’s major film studios.
  • Home of the last king of Portugal, Manuel 2nd, and where he died in 1932.
  • Birthplace of Blues and R&B in the 1960’s and proving ground for internationally recognised bands like the Rolling Stones, The Who and the Yardbirds.
  • Endless historic houses, estates and royal parks…
  • Home to even more writers, actors, dancers, poets, musicians, composers and assorted creatives (whatever that means!)
  • Its own brewery.
  • Largest Rugby Stadium in the world… with the Stoop as a useful ‘spare’.

“Rugby is a good occasion for keeping thirty bullies far from the centre of the city.”

OSCAR WILDE

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As for the rest we live in a pleasant suburb, surrounded by history and open spaces, with easy access to London and at least one major international airport, with enough coffee shops to satisfy the most finicky palette, a river with pleasant walks and pubs and a neighbourly population who really do seem to get on with each other. While we can walk shoulder to shoulder with the ghosts of those who once lived and worked here, people like Dickens and Turner, Pope and Tennyson, and Maria Fitzherbert and Vincent Van Gogh we don’t need the fanciful description ‘Village’ do we? We’re far better than that.

"What better place than this then could we find
By this sweet stream that knows not of the sea,
This little stream whose hamlets scarce have names,
This far-off lonely mother of the Thames."

WILLIAM MORRIS

Credit: The picture of ‘The Thames at Twickenham 1700’ is by Peter Tillemans (1684-1734)

– from Martyn Day