Our Village (Cookham, Berkshire). Exhibited at the Water-colour Society's Exhibition, London, 1873. [Click on the image to enlarge it.], Print of Fred Walker's watercolour
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Among the literary artistic and literary works associated with the quiet, Thames-side village of Cookham, to which Fred Walker was drawn in the 1860s, perhaps Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1908) best conveys a sense of the area's natural beauty. Grahame had lived at "The Mount" in Cookham Dean as a child, and returned to the village to write the children's book. However, the English landscape painter Sir Stanley Spenser (1891–1959) based his tributes to the village and surrounding countryside not on imaginary but actual villagers and village life. He even employed Cookham as the backdrop for a number of his religious paintings. Both Noel Coward in the comedy Hay Fever (1925) and Harold Pinter in the one-act play Victoria Station (1982) allude to Walker's adopted village.
In the summer of 1865, Fred Walker leased a modest cottage in the Thames village for his family — mother (d. 1874), sister Fanny (d. 1876), and brother, John (d. 1868). The house still stood in 1910 in the main street of the village, about midway between the railway station and the river. To this unlovely flint-walled cottage for the remaining ten years of his life Walker would frequently come, finding it yet another retreat from the London in which he grew up, from Bayswater, where he lived from 1863, and from the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him; "it was at Cookham the idea for The Bathers first took possession of Walker's mind, and that it was by the banks of the Thames he worked at and finally achieved that masterly canvas" ("England - Fred Walker's Cookham").
The stone bridge might be any late 18th c. bridge crossing any river in England — indeed, it resembles Grey's Bridge and others in the Hardy country, with its sign warning about the penalties of vandalism, but the little bridge across the Thames would have been the centre of village life prior to the coming of the railway. Unlike the far more prosaic Rainy Day at Cookham (1868), Walker imbues the scene with idyllic elements, including the fly-fisherman, five white swans, rural mansion screened by beeches, and medieval watch-tower. The presence of both high water in the river, flowers near the bridge, and trees in full leaf all suggest a late spring or early summer setting in which a mother and child, unconcerned about inclement weather, meet several neighbours on the bridge. No wonder that urbanite Fred Walker embraced Cookham as "Our Village."
Black, Clementina. Frederick Walker. London: Duckworth, 1902.
"England - Fred Walker's Cookham." Old and Sold: Turn-of-the-Century Wisdom for Today, 1910. Online version available from oldandsold.com. Web. 12 July 2018.
Walker, Fred. "Our Village." 1867. Online version available from Wikimedia.org. Web. 16 July 2018.
Last modified 16 July 2018