The Old River Thames
There is a dark and glistening river that flows through my dreams – it is the old river Thames, carrying away the filth and debris of the city and, in return, delivering the riches of the world upon the flood tide rising. How much I should like to have known London as it is recorded in these photographs – with a strong current of maritime life at its heart.
The broad expanse of water in Central London is curiously empty today, yet a century ago when many of these magic lantern slides from the Bishopsgate Institute were taken for the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society, it was a teeming thoroughfare with wharves and jetties lining the banks. In the (reversed) glass slide above, you see barges unloading their cargo next to the Houses of Parliament and you might deduce that this method of transport could provide an answer to the congestion problems of our own era, if it were not for the fact that all the wharves have gone long ago.
Each day the tide goes up and down by twenty feet. For half the day, the water flows in one direction and for the other half in the other direction, with a strange moment of stillness in between while the tide turns. Such is the surge engendered that the force of the current at the centre presents a formidable challenge to a lone rower and would defeat any swimmer. In spite of our attempt to tame it with the flood barrier, the Thames manifests a force of nature that deserves our respect, especially as the water level rises year by year.
You might think that the river has become merely a conduit for drainage and an itinerary for tourist trips these days, yet do not forget that this mighty river is the very reason for the location of London, here on the banks of the Thames.
Shipping near Tower Bridge, c. 1910
St Paul’s Cathedral from the river, c. 1920
Tower of London from the river, c. 1910
Wandsworth Creek, c, 1920
Off Woolwich, c.1920
Greenwich pier, c. 1920
Steamboat pier at Chelsea, c. 1870
St Paul’s Cathedral from Bankside, c. 1920
Billingsgate Market, c. 1910
Houses of Parliament from South Bank, c. 1910
Tower of London from the Thames, c.1910
Ice floes on the Thames, c. 1920
St Paul’s Cathedral from Bankside, c. 1910
Victoria Embankment, c. 1920
Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race at Putney Bridge, c. 1910
St Paul’s Cathedral from Waterloo Bridge, c. 1920
London Docks, c. 1920
Customs House, c. 1910
Lots Rd and Battersea Bridge, c. 1910
Somerset House was on the riverfront until the Victoria Embankment was constructed in 1870.
Images courtesy © Bishopsgate Institute
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