Bell Weir Lock was first built 200 years ago in 1817 and was originally known as Egham Lock. Over the 60 years that followed, the weir collapsed due to the weight of ice, and then the lock itself collapsed a few decades later. Both the lock and weir were rebuilt in 1867 but had to be rebuilt again in a more robust stone material ten years later.
The original, charming lock house was on the riverbank by the lock itself. At some point in history, it was converted to a pub called The Angler’s Rest, which is believed to have sadly burned down in 1911. The Runnymede on Thames Hotel now sits on the very site of the former lock house and pub.
Despite the less than ideal start to the lock’s life, Bell Weir Lock started to see better days. Photos from the early 1900s show well-dressed Edwardian day trippers passing through the lock in wooden skiffs and rowing boats. Even then, interested passers-by on the riverside path stopped to enjoy the sight of the passing boat life.
Egham Lock was renamed as Bell Weir Lock after its first official lock keeper, Charles Bell, who was first employed by the Thames Navigation Commissioners in 1917. He earned what was considered a good wage of £4 per month for his services. Given the absence of a lock house, Charles Bell was asked to provide his own accommodation, but since he was a local man, he was happy to stay in his own home. Unfortunately, Charles Bell didn’t return from World War I and it’s locally believed his wife subsequently took over his lock keeping duties.
Nowadays, Bell Weir Lock and the area directly around it attract a range of wildlife. On the ground, foxes, badgers and deer are regularly spotted. The weir attracts an eclectic mixture of birdlife too, including kestrels, kingfishers, brightly coloured parakeets, sparrowhawks and woodpeckers. A number of years ago, an extremely rare bald eagle was also spotted around Bell Weir Lock. Alas, the eagle was not local to the area. An Irish landowner reported a lost bald eagle at around the same time – and the eagle at Bell Weir Lock turned out to be one and the same. The landowner travelled to the area, caught the bird and transported his precious cargo safely home.
Visit Thames also reports another odd moment in Bell Weir Lock’s more recent history. One of Charles Bell’s lock keeper successors once found a bag of papers floating in the lock. These papers were none other than a full set of floor plans for the Bank of England. The police were called and gratefully retrieved them…
Today, the Bell Weir Lock provides an interesting focal point from the terrace and lawns of The Runnymede on Thames Hotel. Although the boats and people have changed a little over the last couple of centuries, it’s still a fascinating spot to watch the world go by. Observing the rhythm of life on the River Thames is a pastime that will surely never get old.