Town Guide

River Thames River Thames, London, 1K
The River Thames is the very heart of London. It was the reason that the area was first settled, and it has played a significant role in the city's life ever since.

Running from west to east, it divides the city in two. The origins of the name aren't certain, but it is known that the Romans called the river Tamesis.

The first bridge to be built across the river was built by the Romans between AD100 and AD400. It was built on the site of today's London Bridge. Until the 18th century this was the only bridge across the river, but since then many more have been built, including the famous landmark Tower Bridge.

The river has played an important role in the city's life for a variety of reasons. Obviously it provided food and drinking water for London's inhabitants, but it was also important as a means of transportation and communication.

The river was so important to London's inhabitants that numerous disputes over rights to it took place over the years. But it has also been subject to much neglect. In the 17th century, the Thames had so much rubbish in it that in winter it would actually freeze over. Londoners took advantage of the ice by holding huge Festive Fairs on the frozen river.

And by the Victorian era the river was so polluted that if someone fell into the river they were more at threat from poisoning than drowning! Much of the wildlife of the river died out and the Thames was one of the most polluted rivers in the world.

But over recent years the river has seen a dramatic turn around. Great efforts have been made to clean up the river, and strict laws have been passed against polluting the Thames. The efforts have been worthwhile for the wildlife has returned to the river - even salmon has been caught in the Thames in the past few years! And the Thames has gained the enviable distinction of being the cleanest metropolitan river in Europe, possibly in the world.

Today there are plenty of pleasant riverside walks and boat trips available so that you can enjoy the river. One of the best known and popular districts of London to head for in order to enjoy the river is Greenwich. For all of its history the Thames has been subject to great tides and subsequent flooding. The worst flood to be recorded happened in 1953 when several hundred people were drowned.

In response to the continued floods the Greater London Council decided to build a flood barrier. Built between 1972 and 1984 the Thames Flood Barrier is one of the most impressive modern landmarks in the whole of London.

That Boat Race

The Thames is also the venue for one of the most famous races in the world - the Oxford v. Cambridge University Boat Race.

The first of these races between Oxford University and Cambridge University took place in 1829. And since 1845 the annual event has taken place on an 8km stretch of the Thames between Putney and Mortlake.

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