Boulter's Lock

Boulter's Lock is a lock and weir on the River Thames in England on the eastern side of Maidenhead (formerly in Cookham) Berkshire. A lock was first built here by the Thames Navigation Commission in 1772. The lock is on the western side of the river between the main (A4094) Maidenhead to Cookham road and Ray Mill Island. The name is also used for the immediate surrounding area.

The weir is some way upstream of the lock, at the northern end of Ray Mill Island. It is one of the most popular whitewater freestyle kayaking areas on the River Thames, as it has had modifications made to it, to allow kayakers to play on it without causing disruption to other river users.


The earliest reference to a flash lock is in the late 16th century, although a mill is known to have existed here in the 14th century. In 1746 it was written that there was no lock downstream of this lock. The 1770 navigation act did not allow the Thames Navigation Commission to build locks below Maidenhead Bridge, so the lock here built in 1772 was the lowest downstream of the eight first built by the Commission. Originally the lock was on the Taplow side and in 1773 an adjacent resident complained of trespass in his woods by the barge-crews who "very much misbehaved themselves by their indecent conversation and horrid oaths and imprecations". It was referred to as "Boltus Lock". A "bolter" was a miller and hence means "miller's lock" and originally referred to the mill at Taplow. It was exceptional that a lock-keeper's house was built in 1774. By 1780 the lock was reported as being in as bad a state as Marlow and in 1795, Phillips Inland Navigation complained of the deep hole and subsequent shoals caused by the force of water.

In 1825 the City of London complained of the condition of the lock and recommended it be rebuilt on the Berkshire side of the river. The new lock opened in 1828 and was known as Ray Mill pound after Ray Mill Island to which it was now adjacent. The lock cut created Boulter's Island.

This area of the river became popular for boating parties in the late 19th century and early 20th century as portrayed in the painting by Edward John Gregory. The lock was a popular place to visit on the Sunday after Royal Ascot when the wealthy and famous passed through the lock, often on their way to Cliveden. In 1899 an iron railing was placed round the lock to keep spectators at bay. In 1909 the Thames Conservancy purchased Ray Mill Island to provide for expansion of the lock and it was rebuilt in 1912.

The salmon ladder opened at Boulters Weir on 19 May 2000 by the Duke of Wellington was the last of a series built on the Thames. The last salmon caught previously at the weir was landed in 1821.


Ray Mead road/Lower Cookham road (A4094) runs alongside the lock, and there is a car park with ample parking off the road. There is a track onto the lock island.

Reach above the Lock

After the long cut beside the islands the reach opens out at the head of the Jubilee River on the Buckinghamshire bank. This is followed by Bavin's Gulls on Cliveden Deep with the spectacular hanging beech woods on the escarpment above which sits Cliveden, well known for the Cliveden Set and the Profumo Affair. The river then curves round to Formosa Island and the other islands where Cookham Lock is situated.

The Thames Path follows the western Maidenhead bank along the river until it cuts into Cookham, missing the lock.



A car park on Ray Mead road/Lower Cookham road (A4094) provides ample parking to the nearby lock. The Thames which runs parallel with this road can be used as a get in point, simply paddle upstream (left after leaving the car park) and when the river splits, turn downstream to face the weir. Do not shoot the weir - this is not permitted, causes problems with the lock keeper, and relations with the EA.


The weir consists of 6 radial gates which are opened according to the river levels.

  • Gates closed

For most of the summer, the weir is set like this. A canoe/kayak flume is installed by a group of kayakers after the main wet season has died down, and is in place until heavy rain is forecast in September or October.

The flume allows 'hole moves' to be performed, and side surfing. It's deep enough for you not to hit the bottom easily (approximately 4ft/1.2m deep). Short, low volume boats are recommended for maximum use.

  • 1 or more gates open

The same team of kayakers with co-operation from the Environment Agency (as of the 7th September 2006) have installed a new ramp in front of gate 3. The ramp is not adjustable, but in the future the intention is to allow adjustments of the wave shape, hopefully providing world class retentive waves/holes which can be surfed and freestyle moves executed. The installation is currently being tested.

Water levels

  • Flume - No gates need to be open, but there needs to be enough water coming over the steps to provide playable whitewater. During winter, the ramp is removed otherwise it could be damaged by heavy flows of water. After heavy rain the flume also becomes very sticky, and harder to get out of.
  • Ramp wave (radial gate 3 open) - Currently, vague information stands as:

  • 15 inches open - Wave/hole combination where most freestyle moves should be possible.
  • 3ft+ open - Large and fast hole. More difficult to paddle with.
  • 3 gates open - Large wave/hole, no clean eddylines. Can be shallow.

  • Other configurations - Unknown as yet.

Literature and the Media

The lock has been the subject of a number of paintings since it is very picturesque. For example, Boulter's Lock, Sunday Afternoon (1882–97) by Edward John Gregory (1850–1909) is probably his most well-known painting. Nicholas Pocock, the marine artist, lived at Ray Lodge.

See also


External links

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