C. J. Cornish

The capture of a 4-lb. grilse in the Thames estuary in December, 1901, raised some hopes that we might in course of time see salmon at London Bridge. Mr. R. Marston, a great authority, in an article on "The Thames a Salmon River," in the Nineteenth Century, has given many reasons why he fears that this will not be realised. The question is not so much whether the salmon can come up, as whether the smolts, or young salmon, could get down through the polluted water.

At the head of one of the smaller Thames tributaries, a few miles from the river, lies Ewelme, the ancient Aquelma, so called from the springing waters which rise there. There are trout in the brook and excellent water-cresses higher up, which are cultivated scientifically. Also there was a political row in Gladstonian days over an appointment to the living. But the real interest of this exceptionally beautiful Thames-valley village is that it is a survival, almost unchanged, of a "model village" made in the time of the Plantagenets.

It has been said that Thames eyots always seem to have been put in place by a landscape gardener. Chiswick Eyot is no exception to the rule. It covers nearly four acres of ground, and lies like a long ship, parallel with the ancient terrace of Chiswick Mall, from which it is separated by a deep, narrow stream, haunted by river-birds, and once a famous fishery.

Fresh water is almost the oldest thing on earth. While the rocks have been melted, the sea growing salter, and the birds and beasts perfecting themselves or degenerating, the fresh water has been always the same, without change or shadow of turning. So we find in it creatures which are inconceivably old, still living, which, if they did not belong to other worlds than ours, date from a time when the world was other than it is now; and the fresh-water plants, equally prehistoric, on which these creatures feed.

Fish and flour go together as bye-products of nearly all our large rivers. The combination comes about thus: Wherever there is a water-mill, a mill cut is made to take the water to it. The larger the river, the bigger and deeper the mill cut and dam, unless the mill is built across an arm of the stream itself. This mill-dam, as every trout-fisher knows, holds the biggest fish, and where there are no trout, or few trout, it will be full of big fish, while in the pool below there are perhaps as many more. Of all the food fishes of our rivers the eel is really far the most important.

"Please, sir, a man wants to know if he can see you, and he has brought a very large fish," was the message given me one very hot evening at the end of July, at the hour which the poet describes as being "about the flitting of the bats," plenty of which were just visible hawking over the willows on the eyot. Thinking that it was an odd time for a visit from a fishmonger, I was just wondering what could be the reason for such a request when I remembered a talk I had had at the ferry a week or two before on the subject of the continued increase of fish in the London Thames.

In the late autumn of 1893, one of the driest years ever known, I went to the weir pool above the wood, and found the shepherd fishing. The river was lower than had ever been known or seen, and on the hills round the "dowsers" had been called in with their divining rods to find the vanished waters.

In the Thames Valley there are two very distinguished breeds of sheep - the Cotswolds at the head of the watershed, and the Oxford Downs, near Wallingford. Wallingford lamb is supposed to be the best in the market. There are also the Berkshire Downs sheep, but these are, I think, more obviously cross-bred, or else of the Hampshire breed. The Cotswold sheep are probably a very old breed. They are evidently the original of the woolly "baa-lamb" of the nursery, with long, fleecy wool. The Oxford Downs are a short-woolled sheep.

Now that every large town and many small ones are adding new reservoirs, often of great size, to hold their water supply, these artificial lakes play an important and increasing part in the wild life, not only of the country, but of cities, and even of London itself. Immense reservoirs have been made near Staines, and others are being added close to the London river.

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