Monkey Island is a small island in the River Thames in England, on the reach above Boveney Lock near the village of Bray, Berkshire. It is now occupied by a hotel, but sports an interesting history involving grotesquely painted monkeys and the Duke of Marlborough.
The island passed to the Englefield family in 1606. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, Oxfordshire stone was shipped downstream in barges for rebuilding of the City. On their return, the barges carried rubble to be dumped on the Thames islands. Such London rubble gave Monkey Island today's solid foundation, and raised it high enough to eliminate the danger of serious flooding.
Palladian architect Robert Morris was enlisted to design and build both buildings at a cost of £8,756. The ninth Earl of Pembroke was also involved in the design of the Temple; the Duke paid him £2,277 for his work from 1745 to 1748.
Reflecting the craftsmanship of the time, the Duke had the Pavilion built out of wood blocks cut to look like stone – an original feature that can be seen today. Inside the Pavilion, perhaps the Duke’s most intriguing mark is the delightful Singerie paintings of the Monkey Room. Spencer commissioned the French artist Andieu de Clermont to paint these captivating and unique scenes of monkeys doing rather humanlike activities – shooting, fishing, smoking – and it is known they were completed before 1738. Andieu de Clermont is also known for his paintings in Langley Hall in Norfolk.
The curious nature of the Duke’s décor later led some to call the island “Marlborough’s Folly.” Indeed, Lady Hertford described the Pavilion soon after it was finished with both a hint of admiration and amazement:
The parlour, which is the only room in it except the kitchen, is painted upon the ceiling in grotesque, with monkeys fishing, shooting etc., and its sides are hung with paper. When a person sits in this room he cannot see the water though the island is not above a stone's cast over: nor is he prevented from this by shade: for, except for six or eight walnut trees and a few orange trees in tubs there is not a leaf upon the island; it arises entirely from the river running very much below its banks.
The Temple, built one hundred yards from the Pavilion, was originally open on the ground floor like a market stall. The Duke’s fine and eclectic decorative taste is again evident in the first-floor room that was once a billiard room. Its grand ceiling – with Neptune, shells and mermaids in high relief plasterwork of Wedgwood style – is said to be the work of Roberts of Oxford circa 1725, though some accounts attribute it to carver William Perritt.
The Duke of Marlborough died in 1758. Monkey Island was later purchased in 1787 by Henry Townley Ward, Esq., who later bequeathed it to P.C. Bruce, Esq., of Taplow.
The middle of the twentieth century saw extensive additions and refurbishment to the island. The footbridge that connects it to shore was added in 1956 after Christopher Reynolds purchased the island. In 1963 the dining area of the Pavilion was increased with the addition of the River Room, a large glass-walled building that hangs just over the Thames. Named in homage to the Duke, the Marlborough Room was added in 1970 at the upstream end of the building, whose walls were painted with battle scenes. In the same year, the Temple was extended to provide a further thirty bedrooms. The Pavilion and Temple are both Grade I listed buildings.
As proprietor from 1956 to 1971, Mr Reynolds brought renewed vigor to the island with his thoughtful additions. Monkey Island also enjoyed continued popularity: In 1964 it played host to a ball in aid of Oxfam, which was covered in Tatler under the headline “Oxfam-On-Thames.”
In 1967 Mr Reynolds produced Monkey Island’s own journal, “The Islander.” The first issue told of the popularity of the island’s Club Suppers, Island Luncheon Club for Ladies, and entertainment provided by Jimmy Fraser and Mike Allen.
In 1986, then-owner Major Fitzwilliams sold the island to Basil Faidi, who further restored the Grade I listed buildings. The island was acquired by Dr Andreas C. Papadakis in September 2007.