Thames / Brent Confluence

Thames / Brent Confluence

Tower + Tower Bridge

Tower + Tower Bridge

 

The River Thames is a river that flows through southern England, most notably through London. At 215 miles (346 km), it is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom, after the River Severn. It also flows through Oxford (where it is called Isis), Reading, Henley-on-Thames and Windsor. The lower reaches of the river are called the Tideway, derived from its long tidal reach up to Teddington Lock. It rises at Thames Head in Gloucestershire, and flows into the North Sea via the Thames Estuary. The Thames drains the whole of Greater London.

Its tidal section, reaching up to Teddington Lock, includes most of its London stretch and has a rise and fall of 7 metres (23 feet). Running through some of the driest parts of mainland Britain and heavily abstracted for drinking water, the Thames' discharge is low considering its length and breadth: the Severn has a discharge almost twice as large on average despite having a smaller drainage basin. In Scotland, the Tay achieves more than double the average discharge from a drainage basin that is 60% smaller.

Along its course are 45 navigation locks with accompanying weirs. Its catchment area covers a large part of South Eastern and a small part of Western England and the river is fed by 38 named tributaries. The river contains over 80 islands. With its waters varying from freshwater to almost seawater, the Thames supports a variety of wildlife and has a number of adjoining Sites of Special Scientific Interest, with the largest being in the remaining parts of the North Kent Marshes and covering 5,449 hectares (13,460 acres).

 

The Thames, from Middle English Temese, is derived from the Brittonic Celtic name for the river, Tamesas (from *tamēssa), recorded in Latin as Tamesis and yielding modern Welsh Tafwys "Thames". The name may have meant "dark" and can be compared to other cognates such as Russian темно (Proto-Slavic *tĭmĭnŭ), Lithuanian tamsi "dark", Sanskrit tamas, Irish teimheal and Welsh tywyll "darkness" (Proto-Celtic *temeslos) and Middle Irish teimen "dark grey". The same origin is shared by countless other river names, spread across Britain, such as the River Tamar at the border of Devon and Cornwall, several rivers named Tame in the Midlands and North Yorkshire, the Tavy on Dartmoor, the Team of the North East, the Teifi and Teme of Wales, the Teviot in the Scottish Borders, as well as one of the Thames' tributaries called the Thame.

Indirect evidence for the antiquity of the name 'Thames' is provided by a Roman potsherd found at Oxford, bearing the inscription Tamesubugus fecit (Tamesubugus made [this]). It is believed that Tamesubugus' name was derived from that of the river. Tamese was referred to as a place, not a river in the Ravenna Cosmography (c.AD 700). The river's name has always been pronounced with a simple t /t/; the Middle English spelling was typically Temese and the Brittonic form Tamesis. A similar spelling from 1210, "Tamisiam", is found in the Magna Carta. The th spelling lends an air of Greek to the name and was added during the Renaissance possibly to reflect or support a claim that the name was derived from the Thyamis in Epirus, from where early Celtic-speaking groups were wrongly thought to have migrated to Britain.

The Thames through Oxford is sometimes called the Isis. Historically, and especially in Victorian times, gazetteers and cartographers insisted that the entire river was correctly named the Isis from its source down to Dorchester on Thames and that only from this point, where the river meets the Thame and becomes the "Thame-isis" (supposedly subsequently abbreviated to Thames) should it be so called. Ordnance Survey maps still label the Thames as "River Thames or Isis" down to Dorchester. However, since the early 20th century this distinction has been lost in common usage outside of Oxford, and some historians suggest the name Isis is nothing more than a truncation of Tamesis, the Latin name for the Thames.

For merchant seamen, the Thames has long been just the "London River". Londoners often refer to it simply as "the river" in expressions such as "south of the river".

The river gives its name to three informal areas: the Thames Valley, a region of England around the river between Oxford and West London; the Thames Gateway; and the greatly overlapping Thames Estuary around the tidal Thames to the east of London and including the waterway itself. Thames Valley Police is a formal body that takes its name from the river, covering three counties. The administrative powers of the Thames Conservancy have been taken on with modifications by the Environment Agency and, in respect of the Tideway part of the river, such powers are split between the agency and the Port of London Authority. In non-administrative use, stemming directly from the river and its name are Thames Valley University, Thames Water, Thames Television productions, Thames & Hudson publishing, Thameslink (north-south railways passing through central London) and South Thames College. Historic entities include the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company.

The marks of human activity, in some cases dating back to Pre-Roman Britain, are visible at various points along the river. These include a variety of structures connected with use of the river, such as navigations, bridges and watermills, as well as prehistoric burial mounds. A major maritime route is formed for much of its length for shipping and supplies: through the Port of London for international trade, internally along its length and by its connection to the British canal system. The river's position has put it at the centre of many events in British history, leading to it being described by John Burns as "liquid history".

Two broad canals link the river to other river basins: the Kennet and Avon Canal (Reading to Bath) and the Grand Union Canal (London to the Midlands). The Grand Union effectively bypassed the earlier, narrow and winding Oxford Canal which also remains open as a popular scenic recreational route. Three further cross-basin canals are disused but are in various stages of reconstruction: the Thames and Severn Canal (via Stroud), which operated until 1927 (to the west coast of England), the Wey and Arun Canal to Littlehampton, which operated until 1871 (to the south coast), and the Wilts and Berks Canal.

Rowing and sailing clubs are common along the Thames, which is navigable to such vessels. Kayaking and canoeing also take place. Major annual events include the Henley Royal Regatta and the Boat Race, while the Thames has been used during two Summer Olympic Games: 1908 (rowing);1948 (rowing and canoeing). Safe headwaters and reaches are a summer venue for organised swimming, which is prohibited on safety grounds in a stretch centred on Central London.

Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs

Houseboats at Twickenham

Houseboats at Twickenham

Below Teddington Lock (about 55 miles or 89 kilometres upstream of the Thames Estuary), the river is subject to tidal activity from the North Sea. Before the lock was installed, the river was tidal as far as Staines, about 16 miles (26 km) upstream. London, capital of Roman Britain, was established on two hills, now known as Cornhill and Ludgate Hill. These provided a firm base for a trading centre at the lowest possible point on the Thames.

A river crossing was built at the site of London Bridge. London Bridge is now used as the basis for published tide tables giving the times of high tide. High tide reaches Putney about 30 minutes later than London Bridge, and Teddington about an hour later. The tidal stretch of the river is known as "the Tideway". Tide tables are published by the Port of London Authority and are available online. Times of high and low tides are also posted on Twitter.

The principal tributaries of the River Thames on the Tideway include the rivers Brent, Wandle, Effra, Westbourne, Fleet, Ravensbourne (the final part of which is called Deptford Creek), Lea, Roding, Darent and Ingrebourne. At London, the water is slightly brackish with sea salt, being a mix of sea and fresh water. This part of the river is managed by the Port of London Authority. The flood threat here comes from high tides and strong winds from the North Sea, and the Thames Barrier was built in the 1980s to protect London from this risk.

The River Thames contains over 80 islands ranging from the large estuarial marshlands of the Isle of Sheppey and Canvey Island to small tree-covered islets like Rose Isle in Oxfordshire and Headpile Eyot in Berkshire. They are found all the way from the Isle of Sheppey in Kent to Fiddler's Island in Oxfordshire. Some of the largest inland islands, for example Formosa Island near Cookham and Andersey Island at Abingdon, were created naturally when the course of the river divided into separate streams.

In the Oxford area the river splits into several streams across the floodplain (Seacourt Stream, Castle Mill Stream, Bulstake Stream and others), creating several islands (Fiddler's Island, Osney and others). Desborough Island, Ham Island at Old Windsor and Penton Hook Island were artificially created by lock cuts and navigation channels. Chiswick Eyot is a familiar landmark on the Boat Race course, while Glover's Island forms the centrepiece of the spectacular view from Richmond Hill.

Islands of historical interest include Magna Carta Island at Runnymede, Fry's Island at Reading, and Pharaoh's Island near Shepperton. In more recent times Platts Eyot at Hampton was the place where Motor Torpedo Boats (MTB)s were built, Tagg's Island near Molesey was associated with the impresario Fred Karno and Eel Pie Island at Twickenham was the birthplace of the South East's R & B music scene.

Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (commonly known today as the Houses of Parliament) were built on Thorney Island, which used to be an eyot.

 

Various species of birds feed off the river or nest on it, some being found both at sea and inland. These include cormorant, black-headed gull and herring gull. The mute swan is a familiar sight on the river but the escaped black swan is more rare. The annual ceremony of Swan Upping is an old tradition of counting stocks.

Non-native geese that can be seen include Canada geese, Egyptian geese and bar-headed geese, and ducks include the familiar native mallard, plus introduced Mandarin duck and wood duck. Other water birds to be found on the Thames include the great crested grebe, coot, moorhen, heron and kingfisher. Many types of British birds also live alongside the river, although they are not specific to the river habitat.

The Thames contains both sea water and fresh water, thus providing support for seawater and freshwater fish. However, many populations of fish are at risk and are being killed in tens of thousands because of pollutants leaking into the river from human activities. Salmon, which inhabit both environments, have been reintroduced and a succession of fish ladders have been built into weirs to enable them to travel upstream.

On 5 August 1993, the largest non-tidal salmon in recorded history was caught close to Boulters Lock in Maidenhead. The specimen weighed 14 1⁄2 pounds (6.6 kg) and measured 22 inches (56 cm) in length. The eel is particularly associated with the Thames and there were formerly many eel traps. Freshwater fish of the Thames and its tributaries include brown trout, chub, dace, roach, barbel, perch, pike, bleak and flounder. Colonies of short-snouted seahorses have also recently been discovered in the river. The Thames is also host to some invasive crustaceans, including the signal crayfish and the Chinese mitten crab.

Aquatic mammals are also known to inhabit the Thames. The population of grey and harbour seals numbers up to 700 in the Thames Estuary. These animals have been sighted as far upriver as Richmond. Bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises are also sighted in the Thames.

On 20 January 2006, a 16 – 18 foot (4.9 – 5.5 metre) northern bottle-nosed whale was seen in the Thames as far upstream as Chelsea. This was extremely unusual: this whale is generally found in deep sea waters. Crowds gathered along the riverbanks to witness the extraordinary spectacle but there was soon concern, as the animal came within yards of the banks, almost beaching, and crashed into an empty boat causing slight bleeding. About 12 hours later, the whale is believed to have been seen again near Greenwich, possibly heading back to sea. A rescue attempt lasted several hours, but the whale died on a barge.

Thames at Westminster

Thames at Westminster

Thames at City Hall

Thames at City Hall

The River Thames has played several roles in human history: as an economic resource, a maritime route, a boundary, a fresh water source, a source of food and more recently a leisure facility. In 1929, John Burns, one-time MP for Battersea, responded to an American's unfavourable comparison of the Thames with the Mississippi by coining the expression "The Thames is liquid history".

There is evidence of human habitation living off the river along its length dating back to Neolithic times. The British Museum has a decorated bowl (3300–2700 BC), found in the river at Hedsor, Buckinghamshire, and a considerable amount of material was discovered during the excavations of Dorney Lake. A number of Bronze Age sites and artefacts have been discovered along the banks of the river including settlements at Lechlade, Cookham and Sunbury-on-Thames.

So extensive have the changes to this landscape been that what little evidence there is of man's presence before the ice came has inevitably shown signs of transportation here by water and reveals nothing specifically local. Likewise, later evidence of occupation, even since the arrival of the Romans, may lie next to the original banks of the Brent but have been buried under centuries of silt.

Some of the earliest written references to the Thames (Latin: Tamesis) occur in Julius Caesar's account of his second expedition to Britain in 54 BC, when the Thames presented a major obstacle and he encountered the Iron Age Belgic tribes the Catuvellauni and the Atrebates along the river. The confluence of the Thames and Cherwell was the site of early settlements and the River Cherwell marked the boundary between the Dobunni tribe to the west and the Catuvellauni tribe to the east (these were pre-Roman Celtic tribes). In the late 1980s a large Romano-British settlement was excavated on the edge of the village of Ashton Keynes in Wiltshire.

In AD 43, under the Emperor Claudius, the Romans occupied England and, recognising the river's strategic and economic importance, built fortifications along the Thames valley including a major camp at Dorchester. Cornhill and Ludgate Hill provided a defensible site near a point on the river both deep enough for the era's ships and narrow enough to be bridged; Londinium (London) grew up around the Walbrook on the north bank around the year 47. Boudica's Iceni razed the settlement in AD 60 or 61 but it was soon rebuilt and, following the completion of its bridge, it grew to become the provincial capital of the island.

The next Roman bridges upstream were at Staines) on the Devil's Highway between Londinium and Calleva (Silchester). Boats could be swept up to it on the rising tide with no need for wind or muscle power.

 

A Romano-British settlement grew up north of the confluence, partly because the site was naturally protected from attack on the east side by the River Cherwell and on the west by the River Thames. This settlement dominated the pottery trade in what is now central southern England, and pottery was distributed by boats on the Thames and its tributaries.

Competition for the use of the river created the centuries-old conflict between those who wanted to dam the river to build millraces and fish traps and those who wanted to travel and carry goods on it. Economic prosperity and the foundation of wealthy monasteries by the Anglo-Saxons attracted unwelcome visitors and by around AD 870 the Vikings were sweeping up the Thames on the tide and creating havoc as in their destruction of Chertsey Abbey.

Once King William had won total control of the strategically important Thames Valley, he went on to invade the rest of England. He had many castles built, including those at Wallingford, Rochester, Windsor and most importantly the Tower of London. Many details of Thames activity are recorded in the Domesday Book. The following centuries saw the conflict between king and barons coming to a head in AD 1215 when King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta on an island in the Thames at Runnymede. Among a host of other things, this granted the barons the right of Navigation under Clause 23.

Another major consequence of John's reign was the completion of the multi-piered London Bridge, which acted as a barricade and barrage on the river, affecting the tidal flow upstream and increasing the likelihood of the river freezing over. In Tudor and Stuart times, various kings and queens built magnificent riverside palaces at Hampton Court, Kew, Richmond on Thames, Whitehall and Greenwich.

As early as the 1300s, the Thames was used to dispose of waste matter produced in the city of London, thus turning the river into an open sewer. In 1357, Edward III described the state of the river in a proclamation: "...dung and other filth had accumulated in divers places upon the banks of the river with... fumes and other abominable stenches arising therefrom."

The growth of the population of London greatly increased the amount of waste that entered the river, including human excrement, animal waste from slaughter houses, and waste from manufacturing processes. According to historian Peter Ackroyd, "a public lavatory on London Bridge showered its contents directly onto the river below, and latrines were built over all the tributaries that issued into the Thames."

 

During a series of cold winters the Thames froze over above London Bridge: in the first Frost Fair in 1607, a tent city was set up on the river, along with a number of amusements, including ice bowling.

In good conditions, barges travelled daily from Oxford to London carrying timber, wool, foodstuffs and livestock. The stone from the Cotswolds used to rebuild St Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire in 1666 was brought all the way down from Radcot. The Thames provided the major route between the City of London and Westminster in the 16th and 17th centuries; the clannish guild of watermen ferried Londoners from landing to landing and tolerated no outside interference. In 1715, Thomas Doggett was so grateful to a local waterman for his efforts in ferrying him home, pulling against the tide, that he set up a rowing race for professional watermen known as "Doggett's Coat and Badge".

By the 18th century, the Thames was one of the world's busiest waterways, as London became the centre of the vast, mercantile British Empire, and progressively over the next century the docks expanded in the Isle of Dogs and beyond. Efforts were made to resolve the navigation conflicts upstream by building locks along the Thames. After temperatures began to rise again, starting in 1814, the river stopped freezing over. The building of a new London Bridge in 1825, with fewer piers (pillars) than the old, allowed the river to flow more freely and prevented it from freezing over in cold winters.

Throughout early modern history the population of London and its industries discarded their rubbish in the river. This included the waste from slaughterhouses, fish markets, and tanneries. The buildup in household cesspools could sometimes overflow, especially when it rained, and was washed into London's streets and sewers which eventually led to the Thames. In the late 18th and 19th centuries people known as Mudlarks scavenged in the river mud for a meagre living.

In the 19th century the quality of water in Thames deteriorated further. The dumping of raw sewage into the Thames was formerly only common in the City of London, making its tideway a harbour for many harmful bacteria. Gas manufactories were built alongside the river, and their by-products leaked into the water, including spent lime, ammonia, cyanide, and carbolic acid. The river had an unnaturally warm temperature caused by chemical reactions in the water, which also removed the water's oxygen. Four serious cholera outbreaks killed tens of thousands of people between 1832 and 1865.

Historians have attributed Prince Albert's death in 1861 to typhoid that had spread in the river's dirty waters beside Windsor Castle. Wells with water tables that mixed with tributaries (or the non-tidal Thames) faced such pollution with the widespread installation of the flush toilet in the 1850s. In the 'Great Stink' of 1858, pollution in the river reached such an extreme that sittings of the House of Commons at Westminster had to be abandoned. Chlorine-soaked drapes were hung in the windows of Parliament in an attempt to stave off the smell of the river, but to no avail.

A concerted effort to contain the city's sewage by constructing massive sewer systems on the north and south river embankments followed, under the supervision of engineer Joseph Bazalgette. Meanwhile, similar huge undertakings took place to ensure the water supply, with the building of reservoirs and pumping stations on the river to the west of London, slowly helping the quality of water to improve.

The Victorian era was one of imaginative engineering. The coming of the railways added railway bridges to the earlier road bridges and also reduced commercial activity on the river. However, sporting and leisure use increased with the establishment of regattas such as Henley and the Boat Race. On 3 September 1878, one of the worst river disasters in England took place, when the crowded pleasure boat Princess Alice collided with the Bywell Castle, killing over 640 people.

 

The growth of road transport, and the decline of the Empire in the years following 1914, reduced the economic prominence of the river. During the Second World War, the protection of certain Thames-side facilities, particularly docks and water treatment plants, was crucial to the munitions and water supply of the country. The river's defences included the Maunsell forts in the estuary, and the use of barrage balloons to counter German bombers using the reflectivity and shapes of the river to navigate during the Blitz.

London Bridge 1616

London Bridge 1616

Frozen Thames 1677

Frozen Thames 1677

In the post-war era, although the Port of London remains one of the UK's three main ports, most trade has moved downstream from central London. In the late 1950s, the discharge of methane gas in the depths of the river caused the water to bubble, and the toxins wore away at boats' propellers.

The decline of heavy industry and tanneries, reduced use of oil-pollutants and improved sewage treatment have led to much better water quality as compared with the late 19th and early- to mid-20th centuries and aquatic life has returned to its formerly 'dead' stretches.

Alongside the entire river runs the Thames Path, a National Route for walkers and cyclists. The Thames Path is a National Trail following the River Thames from its source near Kemble in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier at Charlton, south east London. It is about 184 miles (296 km) long. A path was first proposed in 1948 but it only opened in 1996.

The path's entire length can be walked, and some parts can be cycled. Most of the path is on the original towpath but in some places it is not possible at several points where towpath traffic crossed the river using ferries. but apart from Shepperton to Weybridge Ferry The ferries no longer operate and in places such as Shiplake, Whitchurch-on-Thames and Moulsford, there are diversions away from the towpath. At other places, there are replacement connections such as at Hurley, where the Temple Footbridge was built in 1989.

The Thames Path Cycle Route is a black-signposted route that follows the river between Putney Bridge in the west and Greenwich in the east. It mostly follows the Thames Path, but diverges in various sections, especially where the path follows a footpath-only route. It also links National Cycle Route 1 (east of London) with National Cycle Route 4 (west of London).

In the early 1980s a pioneering flood control device, the Thames Barrier, was opened. It is closed to tides several times a year to prevent water damage to London's low-lying areas upstream (the 1928 Thames flood demonstrated the severity of this type of event).

In the late 1990s, the 7-mile (11 km) long Jubilee River was built as a wide "naturalistic" flood relief channel from Taplow to Eton to help reduce the flood risk in Maidenhead Windsor and Eton.

One of the major resources provided by the Thames is the water distributed as drinking water by Thames Water, whose area of responsibility covers the length of the River Thames. The Thames Water Ring Main is the main distribution mechanism for water in London, with one major loop linking the Hampton, Walton, Ashford and Kempton Park Water Treatment Works with central London.

In the past, commercial activities on the Thames included fishing (particularly eel trapping), coppicing willows and osiers which provided wood, and the operation of watermills for flour and paper production and metal beating. These activities have disappeared. A screw turbine hydro-electric plant at Romney Lock to power Windsor Castle using two Archimedes' screws was opened in 2013 by the Queen.

The Thames is popular for a wide variety of riverside housing, including high-rise flats in central London and chalets on the banks and islands upstream. Some people live in houseboats, typically around Brentford and Tagg's Island.

The river is policed by five police forces. The Thames Division is the River Police arm of London's Metropolitan Police, while Surrey Police, Thames Valley Police, Essex Police and Kent Police have responsibilities on their parts of the river outside the metropolitan area. There is also a London Fire Brigade fire boat on the river. The river claims a number of lives each year.

As a result of the Marchioness disaster in 1989 when 51 people died, the Government asked the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Port of London Authority and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) to work together to set up a dedicated Search and Rescue service for the tidal River Thames. As a result, there are four lifeboat stations on the River Thames at Teddington (Teddington lifeboat station), Chiswick (Chiswick lifeboat station), Victoria Embankment/Waterloo Bridge (Tower Lifeboat Station) and Gravesend (Gravesend lifeboat station)

 

The Thames is maintained for navigation by powered craft from the estuary as far as Lechlade in Gloucestershire and for very small craft to Cricklade. From Teddington Lock to the head of navigation, the navigation authority is the Environment Agency. Between the sea and Teddington Lock, the river forms part of the Port of London and navigation is administered by the Port of London Authority. Both the tidal river through London and the non-tidal river upstream are intensively used for leisure navigation.

The non-tidal River Thames is divided into reaches by the 45 locks. The locks are staffed for the greater part of the day, but can be operated by experienced users out of hours. This part of the Thames links to existing navigations at the River Wey Navigation, the River Kennet and the Oxford Canal. All craft using it must be licensed. The Environment Agency has patrol boats (named after tributaries of the Thames) and can enforce the limit strictly since river traffic usually has to pass through a lock at some stage. A speed limit of 8 km/h (4.3 kn) applies. There are pairs of transit markers at various points along the non-tidal river that can be used to check speed – a boat travelling legally taking a minute or more to pass between the two markers.

The tidal river is navigable to large ocean-going ships as far upstream as the Pool of London and London Bridge. Although London's upstream enclosed docks have closed and central London sees only the occasional visiting cruise ship or warship, the tidal river remains one of Britain's main ports. Around 60 active terminals cater for shipping of all types including ro-ro ferries, cruise liners and vessels carrying containers, vehicles, timber, grain, paper, crude oil, petroleum products, liquified petroleum gas etc. There is a regular traffic of aggregate or refuse vessels, operating from wharves in the west of London. The tidal Thames links to the canal network at the River Lea Navigation, the Regent's Canal at Limehouse Basin and the Grand Union Canal at Brentford.

Upstream of Wandsworth Bridge a speed limit of 8 knots (15 km/h) is in force for powered craft to protect the riverbank environment and to provide safe conditions for rowers and other river users. There is no absolute speed limit on most of the Tideway downstream of Wandsworth Bridge, although boats are not allowed to create undue wash. Powered boats are limited to 12 knots between Lambeth Bridge and downstream of Tower Bridge, with some exceptions. Boats can be approved by the harbour master to travel at speeds of up to 30 knots from below Tower Bridge to past the Thames Barrier.

Until enough crossings were established, the river presented a formidable barrier, with Belgic tribes and Anglo-Saxon kingdoms being defined by which side of the river they were on. When English counties were established their boundaries were partly determined by the Thames. On the northern bank were the ancient counties of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Middlesex and Essex. On the southern bank were the counties of Wiltshire, Berkshire, Surrey and Kent.

The 214 bridges and 17 tunnels that have been built to date have changed the dynamics and made cross-river development and shared responsibilities more practicable. In 1965, upon the creation of Greater London, the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames incorporated the former 'Middlesex and Surrey' banks, Spelthorne moved from Middlesex to Surrey; and further changes in 1974 moved some of the boundaries away from the river. For example, some areas were transferred from Berkshire to Oxfordshire, and from Buckinghamshire to Berkshire. On occasion – for example in rowing – the banks are still referred to by their traditional county names.

 

Many of the present-day road bridges are on the site of earlier fords, ferries and wooden bridges. At Swinford Bridge, a toll bridge, there was first a ford and then a ferry prior to the bridge being built. The earliest known major crossings of the Thames by the Romans were at London Bridge and Staines Bridge. At Folly Bridge in Oxford the remains of an original Saxon structure can be seen, and medieval stone bridges such as Newbridge and Abingdon Bridge are still in use.

Kingston's growth is believed to stem from its having the only crossing between London Bridge and Staines until the beginning of the 18th century. During the 18th century, many stone and brick road bridges were built from new or to replace existing bridges both in London and along the length of the river. These included Putney Bridge, Westminster Bridge, Datchet Bridge, Windsor Bridge and Sonning Bridge.

Several central London road bridges were built in the 19th century, most conspicuously Tower Bridge, the only Bascule bridge on the river, designed to allow ocean-going ships to pass beneath it. The most recent road bridges are the bypasses at Isis Bridge and Marlow By-pass Bridge and the motorway bridges, most notably the two on the M25 route Queen Elizabeth II Bridge and M25 Runnymede Bridge.

Railway development in the 19th century resulted in a spate of bridge building including Blackfriars Railway Bridge and Charing Cross (Hungerford) Railway Bridge in central London, and the spectacular railway bridges by Isambard Kingdom Brunel at Maidenhead Railway Bridge, Gatehampton Railway Bridge and Moulsford Railway Bridge.

The world's first underwater tunnel was Marc Brunel's Thames Tunnel built in 1843 and now used to carry the East London Line. The Tower Subway was the first railway under the Thames, which was followed by all the deep-level tube lines. Road tunnels were built in East London at the end of the 19th century, being the Blackwall Tunnel and the Rotherhithe Tunnel. The latest tunnels are the Dartford Crossings.

Many foot crossings were established across the weirs that were built on the non-tidal river, and some of these remained when the locks were built – for example at Benson Lock. Others were replaced by a footbridge when the weir was removed as at Hart's Weir Footbridge. Around 2000, several footbridges were added along the Thames, either as part of the Thames Path or in commemoration of the millennium. These include Temple Footbridge, Bloomers Hole Footbridge, the Hungerford Footbridges and the Millennium Bridge, all of which have distinctive design characteristics.

Before bridges were built, the main means of crossing the river was by ferry. A significant number of ferries were provided specifically for navigation purposes. When the towpath changed sides, it was necessary to take the towing horse and its driver across the river. This was no longer necessary when barges were powered by steam. Some ferries still operate on the river. The Woolwich Ferry carries cars and passengers across the river in the Thames Gateway and links the North Circular and South Circular roads. Upstream are smaller pedestrian ferries, for example Hampton Ferry and Shepperton to Weybridge Ferry the last being the only non-permanent crossing that remains on the Thames Path.

 

Emirates Air Line (Cable)

The Emirates Air Line is a cable car link across the River Thames in London, England built by Doppelmayr with sponsorship from the airline Emirates. The service opened on 28 June 2012 and is operated by Transport for London. In addition to transport across the river, the service advertises "a unique view of London". The duration of a single crossing is ten minutes (reduced to five minutes in rush hour as the service speed is increased).

The service, announced in July 2010 and estimated to cost £60,000,000; comprises a 1-kilometre (0.62 mi) gondola line that crosses the Thames from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Victoria Dock, to the west of ExCeL London. Construction of the cable car began in August 2011. The cable car is based on monocable detachable gondola (MDG) technology, a system which uses a single cable for both propulsion and support, used also on the metrocable in Medellín, Colombia. The MDG system is reportedly cheaper and quicker to install than a more complex three-cable system which would allow larger-capacity cars.

 

London River Services

Before the construction of London's bridges and the Underground, the River Thames had served as a major thoroughfare for centuries. Attempts to regulate the transport of passengers and goods began in 1197, when King Richard I sold the Crown's rights over the Thames to the City of London Corporation, which then attempted to license boats on the river. In 1510 Henry VIII granted a licence to watermen that gave exclusive rights to carry passengers on the river, and in 1555 an Act of Parliament set up the Company of Watermen and Lightermen to control traffic on the Thames. For centuries the only bridge across the Thames was London Bridge. Crossing the river by wherry (small wooden rowing boat) was a common mode of transport.

Passenger steamboats were introduced in 1815 and the use of the river as a means of public transport increased greatly. River services ran from Gravesend, Margate and Ramsgate via Greenwich and Woolwich into central London. By the mid-1850s about 15,000 people per day travelled to work on steamboat services – twice the number of passengers on the newly emerging railways. With increased congestion on the river, collisions and other accidents became correspondingly more frequent, most notably with the Princess Alice disaster at Woolwich in 1878.

While the introduction of large steamboats and bridge construction had taken business from the Thames watermen, the growth of the railways took passengers away from the steamboat services and the use of the river for public transport began a steady decline. River service companies struggled financially, and in 1876 the five main boat companies merged to form the London Steamboat Company. The company ran a half-hourly service from Chelsea to Greenwich for eight years until it went bankrupt in 1884. Nevertheless, river services continued under different management into the next century. Many of the Thames paddle steamers around this time were built by the Thames Ironworks at Bow Creek.

In 1905 the London County Council launched its own public river transport service to complement its new tram network, acquiring piers and investing in a large fleet of 30 paddle-steamers.[8] Frequent services operated from Hammersmith to Greenwich. The LCC river service was not a success; in the first year it ran up debts of £30,000. It was shut down in 1907 after only two years' service.

Numerous proposals for "river bus" services were considered throughout the 20th century, although the few that were realised were cancelled after a short time in service. During World War II, from 13 September 1940 to 2 November 1940, a temporary wartime river bus service was introduced, running every 20 minutes, between Westminster and Woolwich using converted pleasure cruisers provided by the Port of London Authority to replace train, tram and trolleybus services which were disrupted by the bombing of the Blitz. London Transport bus inspectors and conductors issued and checked the tickets onboard the boats.

With the move of the Port of London downstream in the 1960s, regular river transport was limited to a few sightseeing boats. In 1997 Secretary of State for Transport John Prescott launched Thames 2000, a £21-million project to regenerate the River Thames in time for the Millennium Celebrations and boost new passenger transport services on the Thames. The centrepiece of these celebrations was to be the Millennium Dome, but there was also a plan to provide a longer-term legacy of public transport boat services and piers on the river.

The Cross-River Partnership, a consortium of local authorities, private sector organisations and voluntary bodies, recommended the creation of a public body to co-ordinate and promote river services. This agency, provisionally titled the Thames Piers Agency, would integrate boat services into other modes of public transport, take control of Thames piers from the Port of London Authority, and commission the construction of new piers. The result was the formation in 1999 of London River Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London.

Commuter river services run to a timetable through the day with more frequent services during peak rush hour times. Most services run seven days a week, although some do not operate at weekends. Many operators offer discounted fares to Travelcard holders. The main lines of operation are: Embankment – Woolwich. Putney – Chelsea Harbour – Cadogan – Embankment – Blackfriars. The catamaran-hulled vessels have on-board coffee bars, airline-style seating, are wheelchair-accessible and have bicycle racks.

Leisure boats are aimed mainly at the tourist market; as they do not usually provide rush hour services, they are not normally suitable for commuting. Some boat companies run regular scheduled services, others may run twice daily, only on certain days of the week, or only during certain months of the year. Boats may also be chartered for private hire. Destinations are often tourist attractions such as the Tate Galleries or Hampton Court Palace. Bankside – Waterloo – Millbank (Tate to Tate). Festival Pier - High Speed RIB Tours (Operated By Rib Tours London). London Eye River Cruise. Multilingual Circular Cruise. Greenwich Pier Sunday Evening Thames Sightseeing Cruise (Campion Launches). MV Balmoral and Paddle Steamer Waverley Cruises from Tower Pier. Richmond – Kingston – Hampton Court. Tilbury/Gravesend – Greenwich. Westminster – Kew – Richmond – Hampton Court. Westminster – St Katharine's Hop-on, Hop-off circular service. Westminster – Waterloo – Tower – Greenwich. Westminster Pier - High Speed RIB Tours (Operated By Thames Jet). Westminster Pier – St. Katharine Pier - Greenwich Pier – Thames Flood Barrier (Barrier Gardens Pier) (Operated by Thames River Services).

 

Location : Westminster Pier, Victoria Embankment, London SW1A 2JH

Transport: Westminster (Circle Line, District Line, Jubilee Line). London Buses routes 148 and 211 stop outside

Opening Times: City Cruise Timetable

Opening Times : Circular Cruise Timetable

Tickets Single Cruise: Adult £10.00;  Child £5.80.;  Concession; £7.00

Tickets Return Cruise: Adult £14.00;  Child £7.00.;  Concession; £9.80

Tickets : Adult £7.70;  Child £3.80.

Tickets Emirates Air Line : Adults £4.50 (£3.50 Oyster); Children £2.50 (£1.70 Oyster)

Tel: 020 77 400 400