So what does the Henley Society actually do? Find out here

One of the most frequently asked questions of our Executive Committee is ‘what does the Henley Society actually do?’ 

And so in the spirit of informing, we list below our activities, both successful and not so much so,  from the start of 2020.

  • Raised approx. £11,000 to reinstate 19 Victorian Terrace House Signs
  • Lobbied Network Rail (unsuccessfully) to de-graffiti and repaint the Mill Lane Overbridge
  • Lobbied Henley Town Council to improve the Gravel Hill Amenity site
  • Restored the commemorative plaque to Past President Raymond Youle as a part of the above initiative
  • Responded to two Government White Papers on our current Planning system and Planning for the Future
  • Provided three Committee Members to sit on the Joint Henley Harpsden Neighbourhood Plan Review Committee – a five year task
  • Lobbied HTC to empty the towns litter bins more frequently
  • Sponsored the trial of two solar compactor bins in the town for a total of eighteen months
  • Campaigned to stop the proposed building of a Premier Inn  at the Station Car Park
  • Arranged a talk by Dr Michael Redley on ‘Aldermen and Mayors -the life of Henley before WW1’
  • Supported the campaign run by Amanda Chumas to stop HGVs using Henley as a rat-run
  • Lobbied SODC to have the Kings Rd (Waitrose) car park lavatories better cleaned  – resulting in them taking the work in-house
  • Lobbied SODC to carry out extensive renovations to the Greys Road Car Park lavatories – now completed
  • Lobbied HTC to reduce the number of A-boards in the town centre resulting in a new policy of one board per retail outlet
  • Lobbied HTC for better pavement and street cleaning
  • Arranged a talk at our 2021 AGM by John Howell MP for Henley
  • Persuaded ZZoomm (the broadband company) to provide 500 spring bulbs which our members planted in the grass triangle adjacent to the Three Horseshoes PH
  • Together with HTC renovated the Phillimore Fountain
  • Planted 8 trees on the southern entrance to town on land at the junction of Sheephouse Lane/Reading Road
  • Liaised with Townlands Hospital on a primrose planting project in their gardens
  • Arranged two Music on the Lawn events -2022 and 2023
  • Opposed plans to turn the Red Lion Hotel into a C2 Residential Home
  • Raised member concerns re the re-routing of the water away from the Thames Farm site in Shiplake towards Henley
  • Lobbied to bring about the re-opening of the Friday Street Slipway
  • Carried out a town wide membership campaign which resulted in increasing the membership from 253 to over 600
  • Re-connected an Australian living in Melbourne with a Henley family he had not been in touch with for over 60 years (achieved within 36 hours of receiving the request)
  • Provided car park attendants at the Bell Surgery during Covid vaccinations
  • Arranged  a talk at our 2022 AGM by Cllr Ken Arlett – subject – The JHHNP Review
  • Celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the first social housing in Henley (in Western Avenue)
  • Arranged a talk by Alan Pontin ‘Henley’s need for more housing- and how it can be sympathetically achieved’
  • Arranged a visit to the Commandants Parade at Royal Academy Sandhurst
  • Campaigned against the building of 8 flats on land between Pack and Prime Lane and Parkside
  • Arranged two walking tours of Henley historic buildings built by Charles Clements led by Dr Michael Redley
  • Arranged a talk by Simon Spearing (Theatre Manager) on The Kenton Theatre, the Past, Present and Future – and the ghost
  • Arranged a talk by the Queens Swan Marker, David Barber on Swan Upping and the health of our Swan population
  • Laid memorial wreaths at the Remembrance Day Service 2020 to 2023
  • Assisted Town Hall staff in pulling together the ownership history of the Friday Street Slipway
  • Published our book –‘The Henley Society-the first 60 years’
  • Financed a replacement sign at Peartree Cottages Rotherfield Greys for Henley and District Housing Trust
  • Arranged a talk by Simon Clinton ‘Save Wild Tigers’
  • Donated a lime tree to HTC for planting at Freemans Meadow
  • Outing to Fawley Hill for their September Steam Fair
  • Arranged 3 meetings with various Henley Town Centre Managers to make our points about the town
  • Arranged our 60th Anniversary Breakfast meeting at the Catherine Wheel
  • Placed a plaque on the exterior of the Catherine Wheel commemorating our 60 year association with them
  • Arranged a talk by Peter Hancock ‘Life in Henley in the 30s and 40s and a showing of his rare footage of the first Regatta after WW2
  • Lobbied strongly (but unsuccessfully) against the construction of a 115 bed room Care Home on the Smith’s Hospital site, Fair Mile
  • Consistently supported the  Henley Traditional Boat Fair
  • Consistently supported the Henley Farm & Country Show
  • Arranged a trip to the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon, North London
  • Arranged a talk by Richard Anderson ‘Life at RMA Sandhurst’
  • Arranged a talk at our 2023 AGM by Alison Foster Project Director, on changes at the Royal Berkshire Hospital
  • Lobbied OCC regarding the missing paving slabs on Henley’s Grade 1 Listed  Bridge
  • Lobbied OCC regarding the proliferation of potholes evident in the town
  • Lobbied SODC about the Lack of a ‘Ladies Only’ cubicle at the Kings Road Car Park
  • Lobbied the Environment Agency re the closure of the Horsebridge at Marsh Lock
  • Arranged a talk by Oxford Historian, Liz Woolley  subject -‘William Morris -Lord Nuffield and his generosity’
  • Redesigned the Society’s web site –
  • Lobbied for the restoration of the historic Pest House at Townlands Hospital
  • Financed and sited an information board at the Pest House at Townlands Hospital
  • Lobbied the owners of the Imperial Hotel – empty for many years- about its future
  • Lobbied OCC/SODC/Wokingham Borough re the removal of the ‘H’ graffiti on Henley Bridge
  • Asked  SODC to replace worn street signs at Boston Road and West Street
  • Lobbied Gardiner Place to appoint cleaners to regularly clean the alleyway between Market Place and Kings Rd Car Park
  • Lobbied Sainsbury’s to better maintain their staff smoking area adjacent tro their shop, and to provide butt bins
  • Lobbied Starbucks (unsuccessfully) to better clean the area adjacent to their café
  • Arranged a talk by Charles Whittaker on Augustus Pugin
  • Arranged a talk by volunteers from  the Thames Valley Air Ambulance volunteers, at which talk our members contributed over £1,100 to Air Ambulance Funds
  • Arranged a talk at our 2024 AGM by the Deputy Mayor of Henley on the Strategic Plan for Henley 2024-29
  • Supported the Henley Community Land Trust in their quest for more affordable housing in Henley
  • Lobbied Gail’s Bakery to reduce the amount of commercial waste left on the pavement overnight for later collection
  • Lobbied Henley Town Council to repair the bus shelter on Greys Road (near Top Shops) and to remove graffiti
  • Lobbied Henley Town Council to better publicise the underused town bus service, and to provide timetables
  • Annually reviewed, and commented on, every Planning Application before HTC before determination by the Planning Authority, SODC. This amounts to approx. 300 applications per year

Whilst carrying out this work we have expanded our membership from 253 to over 600 and maintained our annual and life subscription rates at prices set in 1993

Society provides Information Board at the Pest House, Townlands Hospital

Following the recent partial restoration of the Pest House at Townlands Hospital the Henley Society has had sited alongside the building, a plaque explaining the purpose of the building and some of its history.

The Pest House, now Grade 11 listed, was the isolation unit for the nearby workhouse and was used to house inmates carrying infectious diseases.

For a week in 1794 the Pest House held a certain Silas Tomkyn Cumberbache who had fled Cambridge University in the face of a huge debt built up as a result of his taste for drugs, drink and women.

He joined the Light Dragoons based in Reading only for it to be discovered that he was totally incapable of riding a horse. He was therefore assigned to look after a fellow recruit who had caught smallpox, and Cumberbache and his charge ended up in the foul conditions of the Pest House for eight days and nights. Cumberbache turned out to be none other than Samual Taylor Coleridge the poet (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.)

He found his stay a miserable experience about which he later wrote. and by which his later work was influenced.

Geoff Luckett. the Society’s Chairman said that ‘this interesting piece of Henley’s rich history should be preserved and hence the Society’s wish to commemorate it,’

The plaque includes two QR codes one of which directs you to the Society web site and the other to the Assendon on-line Museum for more information.

2024 Annual General Meeting


Our 2024 AGM was held on March 21st at Shiplake Memorial Hall.

Please see the links below to the Draft Minutes and a transcript of the speech delivered to the meeting by the Deputy Mayor Cllr Rory Hunt.

Draft Minutes AGM 2024

Speech by Cllr Rory Hunt, Deputy Henley Mayor


Picnic On The Lawn



‘Picnic on the Lawn’

Sunday 4th August 2024

Gates Open 1.00pm Gates Close 5.30pm

The Eyot Centre, Wargrave Road, Henley on Thames RG9 3JD



Bring your own picnic and drinks and enjoy listening and dancing to the music of Barry Owen and the Main Attraction on the lawns of this popular riverside venue.

Plenty of space available for you on the grass and ample parking for your cars

Tickets £20 per person

are now on sale

Please order by sending payment directly to our bank account-

Lloyds Bank

Sort Code 30 94 13

Account number 00001781

Account – Henley Society

Hard tickets will not be issued for this event but your name will be on an admissions list at the gate

Please note that the venue rules state ‘no personal barbecues allowed and only assistance dogs permitted entrance’.


Horse Drawn Canal Boat Trip on the Kennet and Avon Canal

Tuesday 4th June 2024

Hatfield and Reading Turnpike

This is a short story about one local turnpike.  At one time there were three turnpikes around Henley; one to Hurley and Maidenhead, one to Dorchester and Oxford and one, the subject of this article, which went through Henley from Hatfield to Reading.

The route of the Hatfield Reading Turnpike

Where did this start? In the 16c, an Act of Parliament made parishes responsible for the upkeep of highways within their boundaries.  This system was sufficient to maintain the local roads in many rural parishes, but where parishes had major highways passing through, it proved inadequate. The vehicles that damaged the roads were from other parishes, especially major stagecoach routes.  So parish residents did not benefit nor had the necessary resources.  As a result, some major highways became quagmires barely passable in winter.

In the early 18c, to reduce this burden on parishes, the first turnpike trusts were set up, each by Act of Parliament.  These gave powers locally to collect road tolls for maintaining the major highways.  By the 1830s, over 1,000 trusts administered around 30,000 miles of turnpike road in England & Wales, taking tolls at almost 8,000 toll-gates.

Toll House in Tidmarsh near Pangbourne

The term turnpike had originated from the military practice of placing a pikestaff across a road to block and control passage. Upon payment of the toll, the pike would be “turned” to one side to allow travellers through.

The new turnpikes were administered directly by the local justices of the peace.  The trustees could erect gates as they saw fit, demand labour or a cash equivalent, and appoint surveyors and collectors.  In return, they repaired the road and erected mileposts. The expectation was that the trust would borrow the money to repair the road and repay that debt over time with the road then reverting to the parishes. In reality, the initial debt was rarely paid off and the trusts were renewed as needed.

‘Gout Track’

One of the less likely routes set up was the ‘Hatfield and Reading Turnpike’, nicknamed the ‘Gout Track’.  It was created in the 1760s to provide a route that connected the Great North Road (the modern A1) with the Holyhead Road (A5) and the Bath Road (A4).  By 1881 it was one of the last of the turnpikes to have its tolls removed.

It is said that the Marquis of Salisbury, who lived at Hatfield House, wanted a route to the Great West Road that avoided central London, giving onward access to the spa towns of Bath and Cheltenham where, as a sufferer of gout, he often took the waters. This would also spare him the discomfort and congestion of London’s cobbled streets. With the Earl of Essex, who suffered from a similar affliction, and others, they sponsored an Act of Parliament passed in 1757 for the building of a road from Hatfield to Reading. Then the Reading and Hatfield Turnpike Trust was set up by a further Act passed in 1768. The turnpike ran from Hatfield through St Albans, Watford, Rickmansworth, Agmondesham (now Amersham), High Wycombe and Marlow, thence splitting to access the Great West Road; one at Knowl Hill and the other at Reading, that through Henley-on-Thames; in all some 50 miles.

The Trust lasted until 1881 and was one of the last Turnpike Trusts operating in the country.  Analysis of toll receipts shows that traffic was lighter than on the great trunk routes it was connected to.  Nevertheless, it stimulated the local economies along its route in trades like farriers, foraging and inn keeping.

The end of the Turnpikes

Many turnpike trusts were wound up under General Acts of Parliament between 1873 and 1878. The transfer of resources and sale of assets to repay loans were supervised by the Local Government Board which acted as arbiter in the case of disputes. Toll-houses were sold, gates torn down and responsibility for the main roads passed to Highway Boards. Bond-holders were paid off with any residual funds, though some did not get a satisfactory return on their investment

Under the Highways Act of 1878 all ‘disturnpiked’ roads became “Main Roads” as did some ordinary highways. By the Local Government Act 1888 the entire maintenance of main roads was passed to County Councils.

Structure of Turnpike Acts

The powers granted to a turnpike trust were viewed with suspicion. In effect the trustees were given powers to charge for use of an existing resource, the highway. Unlike the later canals and railway builders they were not creating a new facility and so their rights were restricted. Powers were only granted for a specific length of time and the trusts were not expected to make a profit, merely raise and use sufficient money to improve and maintain the road. Each trust was empowered through an individual Act of Parliament that closely specified what the trustees were permitted to undertake to achieve their objectives.  Most acts contained a long list of those who were exempt from tolls. Exemptions fell into a number of categories; e.g. local farmers going about their husbandry tasks, officials and the military on county or national business, religious observance, voting, those involved in road maintenance and then groups who had negotiated concessions to permit the particular Act to pass.

What is left today?

Most milestones and toll houses have long disappeared.

Hatfield Road
St Albans                                                      








                                                                                                             Little Chalfont


Road classification by the newly formed Ministry of Transport in 1922, saw the route form parts of:

A414 – Hatfield to St Albans

A412 – St Albans – Watford – Rickmansworth

A404 – Rickmansworth – Amersham

A416 – Amersham – High Wycombe – Marlow – Knowl Hill

A32  –  Marlow – Henley – Reading

Later, in 1935, the A404 was extended along the A416 section between Amersham and the A4 making it easier for those who wanted to use the route.  The A32 section through Henley was renumbered the A4155 (later the A32 started south from Riseley but now it starts at Alton).

Administering such a long road through three counties through one body was problematic and so the 1829 Act specified three Districts.  The First District ran from the north end of Caversham Bridge, being the boundary of the Borough of Reading, to the Three Horse Shoes in Henley and from Henley turnpike road near the Bell Inn to the SW corner of a barn on Thomas Wethered’s land entering Marlow.  It then also covered the road from Marlow Bridge to the 31 mile-stone on the Maidenhead Turnpike.  The second and third Districts covered the remainder of the turnpike to Hatfield.

Local relics

The book ‘Henley-on-Thames – A History’ by David C Whitehead refers to the turnpike.  Elsewhere, there is recorded that on the road between Caversham and Henley there was a gate just south of Henley town and another further north of the town where the river turns east at Greenlands. A gate was placed on the main road at Marlow.  Another gate in the village of Bisham controlled the road over Marlow Bridge towards the Maidenhead Road.

Obelisk in centre of Marlow, possible to be relocated

Nearby, it is understood that milestones can still be found at Chenies, Little Chalfont, Medmenham, Greenlands, and Burchett’s Green.  Also, there is alleged to be the remains of a toll-house just south of Henley.  All waiting for some local research!


Angus Ross for Henley Society

November 2023

Thames Bridge House

News revealed recently in the Henley Standard, of the redevelopment of Thames Bridge House alongside the Regatta HQ, took us by surprise as we were not aware of the application. This was because the relevant Planning Authority is Wokingham Borough Council not SODC and we did not therefore receive notification of the proposal. We are hoping that we have ‘plugged’ this gap by requesting that WBC advise us of new planning applications in Remenham Parish.

Joint Henley and Harpsden Neighbourhood Plan

Henley Town Council, at its meeting on 8 December 2022, agreed to adopt the Joint Henley and Harspden Neighbourhood Plan Review covering the years 2020-2035, replacing the previous 2016 Plan.

Download the plan here.