It has had its share of dramas, freaks of weather, tragedy and laughter. Such is the idyll, charm and character of Sunbury Court Island, that [relative new-comer] David Garrett felt compelled to compile a history of the place and its residents to leave as a testament. With the help of long term residents, past residents, and a good deal of time spent looking up archives, electoral rolls etc, David was able to piece together the comings and goings of this special little place.
The island itself used to form parts of the estate of Sunbury Place (now Sunbury Court) and was uninhabited until the 1920’s.
Sunbury Court had undergone a huge refurbishment, destined to become a gentleman’s club, but had pushed its owners into bankruptcy. The Salvation Army purchased the house from administrators, and the land around and the islands were purchased by a builder, Edward Wright who set about building houses on the island. By 1924 advertisements were appearing in the press offering prospective buyers a “riverside picnic for life”. Prices started at £470 leasehold and offered the attraction of mains drainage and all mod cons.
The area around the pedestrian access island offered various amenities. There was a Vaughans, a little store at one side ofMarkway House selling tobacco and groceries, with tea rooms at the other side where you could hire punts and dinghies, offering the opportunity for exploring the backwater of Swans Rest Island and Rivermead Island even meandering through the gardens of Monksbridge.
Through the decades Sunbury Court Island has attracted a succession of residents involved in show business; dance, art, media, film, theatre, entertainment and music. Eve Taylor was one of the first female music managers working with the likes of Adam Faith, Val Doonican and Sandie Shaw. Barbara Wilkinson was a ballet principal of the Royal Ballet School, tutoring in her latter years none other than Darcey Bussell. The world of show biz also brought with it the associated parties on the island and many a famous face has been spotted there.
In his research, David heard many rumours, and many turned out to be unfounded. One of the most unlikely however, proved true. A famous resident in the late 30’s was none other than King Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, Lion of Judah, who stayed in no 29 during parts of his exile. Apparently he used to go down to the Phoenix by boat with one of the other residents at the time.
The island has had its fair share of the elements! In the winter of 1962/3 not only could you walk across the backwater, but also across the Thames. The recent flooding is just the latest for islanders who used to have a Venice like system of planks they could erect to enable islanders to keep dry feet when visiting each other. Today most own a pair of waders, and just accept that it is parts of island living. The houses themselves seem safe from the water. The 1987 hurricane left a cable spitting blue sparks flailing about until help arrived.
There has been romance, with a daughter of no 10 Riverside and the grandson of no 1 meeting by chance and 44 years later they are still married. There has been tragedy, with untimely deaths and there has been new birth, the latest was little Benjamin arriving at number 1 at the end of 2012. Most residents seem to come to the island and stay for decades. The current longest term resident is Diana Dodd who has been there 43 years and counting.
So the cycle of life goes on. Sunbury Court Island really is a microcosm. David Garrett has encapsulated it from both a historical perspective to a record of life through the eyes of generations of residents. His picture and history book “Our Island Story” is available to purchase and is a real treasure for future generations. It is steeped in passion and pride for island living and is a tribute to the colourful residents of this beautiful community.
David’s research is ongoing, and he would be interested to hear from anyone with island stories or photos; he can be contacted on 01932 788889 or firstname.lastname@example.org.