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A line drawn on a map

by
08 February 2013

In the 1920s and '30s, the artist Donald Maxwell provided travel pictures for the Church Times. To mark the Oxford Movement's centenary in 1933, he charted a 'pilgrimage' from Gravesend to Oxford

Upstream:The Road to London, the Thames at Gravesend

Upstream:The Road to London, the Thames at Gravesend

BETWEEN the wars, the Church Times had its own resident artist. Donald Maxwell contributed regular pictures and travelogues. His "Travels with a Sketchbook" section appeared almost weekly, featuring cathedrals and lesser churches up and down the country. He drew regularly for the paper from 1927 until his death in 1936.

Maxwell was an official artist to the Admiralty in the First World War, and a prolific author of travel books. His researches took him across Europe, and to the Middle East and India.

One, more domestic, journey, charted in the Church Times, was turned into a book, A Pilgrimage of the Thames (Centenary Press, 1932). The author started the journey in Gravesend, where an enthusiastic river pilot was keen to pick out landmarks, mostly pubs. "'Tell me about the churches,' I interrupted, in as stern a manner as I could command. 'What are those two in sight?'

"'St Andrew's,' replied the pilot, 'and St George's. The little one on the quay is called the Fishermen's Church. It belongs to the St Andrewes Waterside Church Mission. St George's is the parish church. It's an interesting old place, and there is a Princess buried there.'" And so, his pilgrimage began.

His meandering journey took in the docks of London, Blackfriars, Westminster, Richmond, Sunbury, Staines (which Maxwell calls "the Bruges of Middlesex"), Eton, Maidenhead, Marlow, Dorchester, Littlemore, and Oxford.

Finally, from the top of Iffley Church, he looked over Oxford, in the evening light. "Its many towers glinted as if studded with a hundred facets of amethyst and amber. The sun sank down in a burning mist behind them and it seemed a City of Dreams - nay, more than a City of Dreams - a City of Dreams Come True. . . So, here upon the highest point we can find, and with Oxford as El Dorado of our vision, we will indeed, as we have vowed, end our pilgrimage of the Thames."

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