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Thames history

1. The name ‘Thames’, from Middle English Temese, is derived from the Celtic name for the river, Tamesas (from *tamssa), recorded in Latin as Tamesis and underlying modern Welsh Tafwys "Thames" - the name probably meant "dark"

2.  Experts reckon that the River Thames once flowed from Wales to Clacton and became a part of the River Rhine!  This was before the North Sea was in existence when Britain was still connected to mainland Europe.

3. The north bank of the Thames (near where the Queen’s Jubilee river pageant will finish) was the first known London settlement, established by the Ancient Britons, it later became the Port of London.

Model of the Roman Port (click on image to enlarge) Image (c) Museum of London
Model of the Roman Port 
(click on image to enlarge) 
Image © Museum of London

4. They had identified a point on the river where there was deep water close to a shallow river ford which is where London (not Tower) Bridge stands today. This opened up a trading route.

5. The Romans developed the port which allowed vessels trading from the Mediterranean and further field to come into the safe river berths on the north bank and unload.

6. At that time grain and wine and other products were exported from Britain to near continental Roman ports.

7. The Romans built a bridge here over the river in AD55 using piled structures for the foundations.  A small trading settlement grew up around the wharves and bridge which later became known as Londinium.

8. The settlement and bridge were destroyed during Queen Boudicca’s British revolt against the Roman occupiers.

9. The bridge and township were rebuilt and developed in the 2nd Century with strong city walls and Londinium became the provincial capital of Roman Britain.

Model of the old London Bridge (click on image to enlarge) Image (c) Museum of London
Model of the old London Bridge
(click on image to enlarge)
Image © Museum of London

10. Up until 1750, when Westminster Bridge was opened, London Bridge was the only crossing over the Thames.

11. The Saxon and medieval bridges at London Bridge remained based on original Roman piers until they were replaced by 19th Century engineer, John Rennie.

12. Remains of the Roman piled foundations were discovered in the river in 1981 and the shallow areas of the river created by those old foundations still exist in the river.

13. Five past or present palaces line the banks of the tidal river at Richmond, Kew, Westminster, the Tower of London and Greenwich.

14. Handel’s Water Music premiered on 17 July 1717, when King George I requested a concert on the River Thames. The concert was performed for the King on his barge and he is said to have enjoyed it so much that he ordered the 50 exhausted musicians to play the suites three times on the trip.

15. The first recorded Frost Fair was held on the frozen River Thames in London in 1608 with tents, side-shows food stalls and ice bowling.

The Frost Fair of 1684 (click on image to enlarge) image (c) Msuem of London
The Frost Fair of 1684 
(click on image to enlarge)
Image © Museum of London

16. The last Frost Fair was held in February 1814. It lasted four days and an elephant was lead across the river at Blackfriars Bridge.

17. Frost Fairs took place when the Thames was shallower and before Victorian engineers built the embankments which act as flood protection and form road routes along the river.

18. The Thames in post-industrial Victorian London was virtually an open sewer. Action followed when a sitting of the House of Commons had to be abandoned because Members of Parliament were overpowered by the smell.

19. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is built in Taynton stone, quarried in the Cotswolds and carried down the River Thames by barges from Radcot.