Liquid History: a Trip on the Thames

Adam’s splendid birthday cake. The design is full of allusions, only one of which will perhaps be accessible to you.

I love the River Thames, and I love a river trip.  Our friend Adam’s birthday treat to himself and all his friends was just that.  A river cruise taking in everything from the London Eye, past wharves and warehouses, parks and pavilions, bridges and Big Ben.  I didn’t take my camera, expecting not to be tempted by photography.  I was tempted though, so thank goodness for my phone.

A view from the river cruiser.

I was tempted by what always seduces me about the River Thames: the old, battered,  rusted and gritty references to its industrial and commercial past and present.  The juxtaposition with new money: glittering ultra modern towers thrusting skywards, surrounded by squadrons of cranes. Expensive new housing where during my childhood there was only industrial waste.  Even a helicopter, on duty for …. something.

Dirty-British-coasters-with-salt-caked-smoke-stacks* – or their freshwater cousins anyway, share the waterways with commuter clippers, speedboats and long, slow, rust-coloured barges.  Rotting houseboats cling to the shoreline below busy streets and assertively up-to-the minute financial districts.

There are peaceful moments too.  Here is Battersea Park, and the Buddhist Peace Pagoda.  When I was a child, our flat in Victoria looked directly across at the four imposing towers of Battersea Power station.  It’s now decommissioned, and is a housing and residential development, though looking at this image, it’s hard to believe.

A line of cormorants occupies a pontoon below Cheyne Walk, one of Chelsea’s most desirable addresses.  And seagulls choose any old rusting buoy to rest on.

We finish near the Houses of Parliament.  This view is not quite right.  One iconic element is missing, all wrapped up in the manner of a Christo sculpture.  What is it?  No prizes… not even a river trip.

Returning to our riverside mooring. Goodbye, south London.

Click on any image to view it full size.

*from ‘Cargoes’, by John Masefield

 

14 thoughts on “Liquid History: a Trip on the Thames”

  1. Excellent photos from your phone and offering a thoughtful insight to the changes along the Thames. Looking through them all I feel so divided. I love the old warehouses reused for accommodation and I am a fan of some of the contemporary architecture. I understand that high density living is more environmentally sound and city living (according to many experts) is the future. And, I used to enjoy living in London myself, but I see from my daughter’s life there now, it is still tough for many and there are plenty of issues without satisfactory solutions. I wonder what Pugin would make of it all now?

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    1. Yes indeed. And all those social reformers and donors with their forward thinking housing schemes, like George Peabody. When I was a child I lived near what is now Tate Britain. To get there, we passed a large council development. These days, barely a flat in it is still social housing, and those that come onto the market change hands at over a million. Where those whom the development was designed to house now live is anybody’s guess.

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      1. Yes, I know that particular Peabody estate as in the 80s I had a friend who was a pattern cutter whose family lived there. Her dad was a London cabbie. She appreciated how lucky they’d been to live and grow up in a reasonably sized home in central London – as you say something that’s beyond ordinary folk these days. I should think George Peabody is spinning in his grave.

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  2. Your phone did you proud! When my sister married, she had her reception on an old wooden motor yacht, sailing up the Hudson River from New York–it was amazing. Any chance to get out on the water appeals to me!

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    1. I know you’re keen. I am within limits. A lake, a river, a calm sea – I’m coming. Squalls and tempests — noooooo. And squalls begin very quietly in my poor unseaworthy stomach.

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  3. Really interesting to see the city from the river, and the boats too, and to see how the river itself is so constrained, as it has been for such a very long time. Although the revival of inner city areas is not a bad thing, it is sad that such residential development is squeezing all but the very well-to-do out of the city.

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    1. Yes, London is such a difficult place to get a toe-hold if you’re Mr. or Ms. Average Earner. Holding the Thames in with sturdy embankents has certainly made it a very different place from the one shown in earlier paintings and engravings – but it’s probably as well.

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  4. I love a river trip, too. I haven’t been on the Thames since a Sunday school outing to Hampton Court when my brother aged about six years bought and drank a couple of cans of shandy on the boat and got somewhat tipsy, much to the amusement of the vicar and the consternation of my mother (Sunday School teacher).

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