Thames Boat Trips: More Than A River Boat Experience
We’ve been working on the Thames since 2008, and in that we’ve learnt a lot about this famous river. So to give you some pointers, this article is dedicated to the history of the Thames, so that the next time you’re on one of our boat trips you can take in some of the sights armed with some useful and interesting information.
A Bit About The Thames
The Roman Influence on the Thames
The Romans had a profound influence on the Thames and its development. In AD 43, the Romans famously invaded Britain, landing in Kent. Pursuing the ancient Britons along the banks of the Thames, they came to the first fordable point of the river. Under the rule of the Emperor Claudius, the Romans occupied England and recognised the economic importance and value of the River Thames. As a result, it became a major trading port, allowing Roman vessels to trade products such as grain and wine with other countries, as well as offering routes via roads to the rest of Britain. It was the Romans who erected the first bridge over the Thames. The bridge was built entirely of wood and stood a little down-stream from the present London Bridge.
Middle Ages on the Thames
During the Middle Ages, economic prosperity and the foundation of 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 and destruction.
Once King William had won total control of the strategically important Thames Valley, he went on to invade the rest of England. He had several castles built, including those at Wallingford, Rochester, Windsor and, most importantly, the Tower of London. A consequence of his reign was the completion of the 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.
Early Modern Period of the Thames
During a series of cold winters, the Thames froze completely. When the ice was thick enough and lasted long enough, Londoners would take to the river and celebrate the Frost Fair, a tent city that was set up on the Thames offering several amusements, including ice bowling. They even led an elephant across the river below Blackfriars Bridge.
After the temperature began to rise again, starting in 1814, the river stopped freezing over. The building of a new London Bridge in 1825, allowed the river to flow more freely and prevented it from freezing over in cold winters.
The Great Fire of London
The City of London was virtually destroyed in 1666 when a fire, which started in the king’s baker shop, spread through the timber buildings of the Old City. The fire was the second disaster to strike the capital in the space of just 12 months, following the Great Plague. The fear at the time was that the fire would pass across the River Thames and begin to set fire to the south of the city, though fortunately, that never happened. The catalogue of destruction was appalling: in just four days 13,200 houses were destroyed and over 100,000 people made homeless. And all because a maid had failed to put out the ovens at the end of the night in the King’s baker shop.
The Importance of the Thames for Trading
In good conditions, barges travelled from Oxford to London carrying wool, timber, foodstuffs and livestock. The Thames provided the major route between the City of London and Westminster in the 16th and 17th centuries. To help reduce the shipping queues, the first dock was constructed below Tower Bridge in 1661. Over the next 200 years, to meet the every-expanding merchant fleet, the number of docks grew greatly in number and size, culminating with the Albert Dock in 1880.
By the 18th century, the Thames was one of the world’s busiest waterways. Efforts were made to resolve the navigation conflicts upstream by building locks along the stream.
Victorian Era on the Thames
The quality of the water in the Thames had been deteriorating for decades but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the problem became extremely pronounced. Due to the ride in population and dumping of raw sewage into the Thames, the river was filling up with harmful bacteria. As a result, four serious cholera outbreaks killed tens of thousands of people between the years of 1832 and 1865.
During ‘The Great Stink’ in 1858, the pollution of the River Thames had reached such an extreme that chlorine-soaked drapes were hung in the windows of Parliament to stave off the smell of the river, but to no avail.
To fix the problem, a concerted effort was made to construct massive sewer systems on the north and south river embankments, under the supervision of engineer Joseph Bazalgette. Similar undertakings also took place to improve the quality of the water by building reservoirs and pumping stations on the river.
20th Century Thames
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.
In the post-war era, most trade was moved downstream from central London. The decline of heavy industries on the Thames improved the water quality greatly in comparison to the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries.
The Thames Today
The Thames has been host to two Summer Olympic Games: 1908 rowing and 1948 rowing and canoeing. Rowing and sailing clubs are common along the Thames and a path runs alongside the river, offering a National Route for walkers and cyclists. The River Thames has also been the setting for many Hollywood films, a gateway to important artistic and cultural centres, many of which you will see on The Thames Rib Experience. For more information on the sites we visit, check out our article on the most popular London sites we pass on our famous boat trips.
So much of London’s history lies on the river, making a Thames River Boat Experience the perfect way to get to know London and enjoy yourself at the same time. As you journey along the river, our guide will provide you with a wealth of knowledge about the vast number of wonderful sites that London offers. What better way to see London’s sights than from the most famous waterway in the world? Experience more of London’s sights than ever before and do it all without getting stuck in the crowds.
River Boat Trips on the Thames with Thames RiB Experience
There are lots of ways to see the Thames but by far the best way is to join us on one of our boat trips. It’s an exhilarating ride that will take you past all the major landmarks and experience the river Thames in the most exciting way possible. We have different trips available, so for prices and info see the links below: