Ian Hendry – Rowing Home Across The Thames To ‘Sphinx’, Pharaohs Island, Shepperton [1966]

Picture above: Ian Hendry rowing home across The Thames to ‘Sphinx’, Pharaohs Island, Shepperton in December 1966.

In The Footsteps [And Paddle Strokes?] Of Nelson

– Ian Hendry and Janet Munro, Living On Pharaohs Island, Shepperton In The 60s

Whilst carrying out some research for this article, I came across some recent property details and photographs of Ian Hendry and Janet Munro’s former home, named Sphinx,  located on Pharaohs Island, Shepperton. The island was given to Admiral Nelson after his victory in the Battle of the Nile (1798) and was subsequently used as his fishing retreat. The island’s name is clearly a testament to this achievement, as are most of the house names which nearly all have an Egyptian theme. This connection with an aspect of Nelson’s life is interesting, as Ian was born in Ipswich, a mile or so from Nelson’s former country residence, Roundwood House, which he owned from 1795 – 1801. Nelson, The Battle of the Nile and his Ipswich connection are discussed in more detail below.

Living on the island can be make some people feel quite isolated at times, as Janet Munro experienced after she first moved there with Ian in the early 60s. This period in their lives is described in great detail in Gabriel Hershman’s biography on Ian,  Send in the Clowns – The Yo Yo Life Of Ian Hendry.

The sense of isolation is compounded by the fact that there is no connecting bridge to the ‘mainland’, so rowing boats and launches are needed to reach the ‘outside world’. This isolation was further brought home to me when I received an email from someone last year who helped to sell Sphinx in the 70s;  he told me that the new owner had to wait until The Thames was sufficiently frozen over before they could slide a large Aga cooker across the ice to his newly acquired home. Rather them than me!

 

Picture: Aerial view of Pharaohs Island, Shepperton

Picture: View across The Thames in Winter to Sphinx, Pharaohs Island, Shepperton.

Pharaohs Island – Key Facts

The island has a length of 280 m and a maximum width of 60 m. Shepperton Lock is 270 m downstream and two other channels leading to weirs diverge off after the island to its southeast. These channels then surround Lock Island and Hamhaugh Island. The island is only accessible by boat, with the facilities of Lock Island downstream and moorings there or by the pub The Thames Court almost opposite it’s eastern tip on the nearer, north bank.

 

For those interested in history, an outline of The Battle Of The Nile and Nelson’s former country residence in Ipswich is given below. For those more interested in the property and seeing some rare pictures of Ian and Janet at Sphinx from the 60s, juxtaposed with more recent colour pictures of their former home, then you are welcome to skip this part and scroll to see them below!

The Battle Of The Nile [1798]

The Battle of the Nile (also known as the Battle of Aboukir Bay) was a major naval battle fought between the British Royal Navy and the Navy of the French Republic at Aboukir Bay on the Mediterranean coast off the Nile Delta of Egypt from 1 to 3 August 1798. The battle was the climax of a naval campaign that had ranged across the Mediterranean during the previous three months, as a large French convoy sailed from Toulon to Alexandria carrying an expeditionary force under General Napoleon Bonaparte. The British fleet was led in the battle by Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson; they decisively defeated the French under Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d’Aigalliers.

Painting: “The Destruction of L’Orient at the Battle of the Nile” George Arnald, 1827, National Maritime Museum, in Greenwich, London, England

Bonaparte sought to invade Egypt as the first step in a campaign against British India, part of a greater effort to drive Britain out of the French Revolutionary Wars. As Bonaparte’s fleet crossed the Mediterranean, it was pursued by a British force under Nelson who had been sent from the British fleet in the Tagus to learn the purpose of the French expedition and to defeat it. He chased the French for more than two months, on several occasions only missing them by a matter of hours. Bonaparte was aware of Nelson’s pursuit and enforced absolute secrecy about his destination. He was able to capture Malta and then land in Egypt without interception by the British naval forces.

With the French army ashore, the French fleet anchored in Aboukir Bay, 20 miles (32 km) northeast of Alexandria. Commander Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d’Aigalliers believed that he had established a formidable defensive position. The British fleet arrived off Egypt on 1 August and discovered Brueys’s dispositions, and Nelson ordered an immediate attack. His ships advanced on the French line and split into two divisions as they approached. One cut across the head of the line and passed between the anchored French and the shore, while the other engaged the seaward side of the French fleet. Trapped in a crossfire, the leading French warships were battered into surrender during a fierce three-hour battle, while the centre succeeded in repelling the initial British attack. As British reinforcements arrived, the centre came under renewed assault and, at 22:00, the French flagship Orient exploded. The rear division of the French fleet attempted to break out of the bay, with Brueys dead and his vanguard and centre defeated, but only two ships of the line and two frigates escaped from a total of 17 ships engaged.

The battle reversed the strategic situation between the two nations’ forces in the Mediterranean and entrenched the Royal Navy in the dominant position that it retained for the rest of the war. It also encouraged other European countries to turn against France, and was a factor in the outbreak of the War of the Second Coalition. Bonaparte’s army was trapped in Egypt, and Royal Navy dominance off the Syrian coast contributed significantly to its defeat at the Siege of Acre in 1799 which preceded Bonaparte’s return to Europe. Nelson had been wounded in the battle, but he was proclaimed a hero across Europe and was subsequently made Baron Nelson—although he was privately dissatisfied with his rewards. His captains were also highly praised and went on to form the nucleus of the legendary Nelson’s Band of Brothers. The legend of the battle has remained prominent in the popular consciousness, with perhaps the best-known representation being Felicia Hemans’ 1826 poem Casabianca.

On returning to England, after his victory in the Battle of the Nile, Nelson was given an island at Shepperton on the Thames, in part recognition for his great service to the country. That island, as mentioned above, was named Pharaohs Island.

Lord Nelson’s Country Residence, ‘Roundwood House’, Ipswich [1795-1801]

That isn’t the only connection that Ian had with an aspect of Nelson’s life. Ian Hendry was born in Ipswich on 13th January 1931, a mile or so away from where Nelson once owned his country residence.

This extract from an article in the local Ipswich Star tells the story:

“Nelson’s country home Roundwood House, was situated in what is today east Ipswich. Demolished in the late 1960s, little is left today of the house but in St John’s Primary School, in Victory Road, there hangs a plaque which reads “The brickwork to which this panel is secured was taken from Roundwood House which occupied this site from 1700 AD until its demolition in 1967. It was owned by Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson from 1795 to 1801.”

 

Picture: Roundwood House, Ipswich. Owned by Lord and Lady Nelson from 1895 to 1801, it formed one part of the Round Wood Farm estate. Once located in an area of open farmland with woods and a country road running through to Woodbridge, the farmland gradually became developed with housing, schools and playing fields. Two local schools, Sidegate Lane Primary School and Northgate High School are named after former entrances onto this estate, whilst local roads such as Nelson Road and Victory Road give a permanent reminder of the history of this area.

Bought for £2,000, the house was never lived in by Nelson but his wife Lady Frances Nelson did take up residence.

David Jones, keeper of human history at Ipswich Museum said: “In some ways Nelson’s links to Ipswich are part of a sad story. Lord Nelson used Roundwood to put up his wife and his ageing father. He never stayed there with his wife, preferring the company of Emma, Lady Hamilton.

He said: “Lady Nelson was expected to take part in big social events in Ipswich every time her husband secured a great victory. But her husband was never there and everyone knew she had been dumped by him in favour of his mistress. She was in an awkward position.”

After the success of the Battle of the Nile in 1798, Nelson then a Rear Admiral, was made an honorary freeman of the town in his absence, and in 1800 Nelson was made High Sheriff of Ipswich.

After his victory, Nelson arrived back in England at Great Yarmouth. Letters between Nelson and his wife show he was expecting to stay at Roundwood while she was busy preparing accommodation for him in London.

But as he made his way from Yarmouth with Sir William and Lady Hamilton in tow he did pass through the town and visited Roundwood.

In 1801 Lord and Lady Nelson finally went their separate ways and the house was sold for £3,300.

Today Roundwood Road marks the western edge of the Roundwood estate.

At Ipswich Record Office in Gatacre Road there are documents relating to Lord Nelson and Roundwood House. Collections manager Bridget Hanley said: “On November 4, 1797, the Ipswich Journal – forerunner of The Evening Star and one of the first newspapers in the country – reported that ‘The gallant Admiral Nelson purchased Roundwood House.’”

Though still owned by the church, the Poor Rate Book of 1796 to 1805 of St Margaret’s parish is held by the record office.

Mrs Hanley said: “The poor rate was a tax levied on people to help pay for the provision for poor people in the parish. It was a kind of precursor to the welfare state. Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson is mentioned in the accounts of 1799 when he paid poor rate of £1 2s and 8p.”

Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson

Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté KB (29 September 1758 – 21 October 1805) was a British flag officer in the Royal Navy. He was noted for his inspirational leadership, superb grasp of strategy, and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded several times in combat, losing the sight in one eye in Corsica and most of one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife. He was shot and killed during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar near the Port City of Cadiz in 1805.

 

Sphinx, Pharaohs Island, Shepperton

Picture: Ian Hendry with Janet Munro and their new arrival Sally [and a very excited Poodle!]

Picture: The stairs to the garden have been realigned, but not much else has changed.

Picture: The verandah/ terrace overlooking the garden

Picture: The garden leading to the boat landing area

Picture: Ian Hendry and Janet Munro arriving via the launch, with a very young Sally!

Picture: The boat landing area today…

Picture: The living area leading to the verandah/ terrace with steps down to the garden

Picture: In the reception room/ lounge – Ian Hendry, Janet Munro and pets!

Picture: The reception room/ lounge in more recent times

Picture: Ian Hendry and Janet Munro on the main staircase

Picture: Recent view to the main staircase

Picture: The kitchen then….Ian Hendry, Janet Munro and their Poodle!

Picture: And now….

 

Sphinx – Daily Telegraph Property Article From 2006

I came across an article in the Daily Telegraph from 2006, which featured Ian and Janet’s former home when it came up for sale. Back then, the asking price was £1.1 million.

Extract below:

“It is just over two centuries since Lord Nelson was given an island in the River Thames as a place where he could do a spot of fishing. Pharaoh’s Island was one of many honours he received after winning the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

No wonder the 23 houses on this parcel of land moored among the weeping willows at Shepperton all have Egyptian names in deference to the unusual site on which they sit.

More extraordinary still is the fact that they can be reached only by water. To arrive at The Sphinx you must first leave your car by a private mooring on the towpath, then jump in your boat and nose it towards the island. You disembark at the slipway, and if it is dark the lights turn on automatically to guide you up the path to the front door.

This house is incredibly rare. It is the biggest on the island, positioned at one end with water on three sides……The reason someone will buy it is because it is incredibly isolated – but that is the same reason why some won’t consider viewing it.

Living on this island combines all the pleasures of a Swallows and Amazons lifestyle, with the challenge of coping when storms make river crossing difficult and the waters start to rise.

At The Sphinx, the emphasis is on pleasure. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, half an acre of garden skirting the water’s edge, a large verandah with steps down to a heated pool that has underwater lighting and an all-weather canopy. Swans glide past the bottom of the lawn.

Exactly 208 years ago Horatio Nelson, barely recovered from losing his arm the year before, foiled Napoleon’s planned invasion of Egypt. After searching the Mediterranean for the French fleet he eventually found it at Abu Qir Bay. The battle on the night of August 1 incurred huge French losses and riotous English rejoicing.

Speaking of it later at a dinner, Nelson said the battle was absolutely unique for three reasons. “First, for it having been fought at night; secondly, for its having been fought at anchor; and thirdly, for its having been gained by an admiral with one arm.”

His dinner companion, unused to his lack of modesty, thought he had taken a little too much champagne.”

 

To see some more photographs of Ian Hendry and Janet Munro at home on Pharaohs Island, please click on the link below:

Ian Hendry + Janet Munro – At Home on Pharaohs Island c.1964

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Until next time,

Neil Hendry
Editor, Official Tribute To Ian Hendry

Further Reading

A detailed account of the life and work of Ian Hendry in the new biography:

Read: ‘Send in the Clowns – The Yo Yo Life Of Ian Hendry’ by Gabriel Hershman

Send In The Clowns - The Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry

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