The Thames, Britain’s Great River – Part One

Courtesy of Quagmi:

 

“My Thames above all the rest.”
John Milton

ChristChurchMeadow

Courtesy of Mattia Bicchi:

 

“The Thames is no ordinary waterway,
it is the golden thread of our nation’s history.”
Winston Churchill

Courtesy of New London Architecture:

The Thames is a very special river because it has witnessed so many national and political events, and it has such a world-famous history. The basic facts are: the Thames is 215 miles/346 km long and is the second-longest river in Britain, after the Severn, which is longer by 5 miles. SourceΒ  – Thames Head. Mouth – North Sea, Thames Estuary. The Thames runs along the borders of nine English counties and has 134 bridges. Along the Thames’ border are cities – London, Oxford, Henley-on-Thames, Reading, Windsor.

From source to mouth (courtesy of Reizenlangsrivieren):

 

Most of the Thames’ energy is lost in turbulence and friction. The river flows in loops and it defies the prediction of its direction. As it is, it flows east, then north-west, then west, then south, then north. The difference between high and low tides varies greatly in places. During the Roman occupation, it was a difference of over 3 feet, today in the area of London Bridge, it is between 15 and 22 feet (4.5 and 6.7m). The high tide has risen greatly over a period of two thousand years. The reason is that the south-east coast of England is sinking slowly into the water at the rate of approximately 12 inches (303mm) per century. In 4000 BC the land beside the Thames was 46 feet (14m) higher than it is now, and in 3000 BC it was 31 feet (9.4m) higher. It is expected that this combined with other aspects, predicts that the Thames Barrier will have to be rebuilt to provide adequate protection for London. The Thames has now been controlled by many generations but it is still work in progress. The river has taken the same course for thousands of years after being pushed southward by the glacification of the ice age. Various stretches of the Thames have correspondingly different characters and atmospheres, and its own history. This is why more than one part is needed to cover the Thames’ illustrious history, called also for that reason – the liquid history.

Frost Fairs, London’s frozen Thames (courtesy of Museum of London):

 

The Thames is a symbol of eternity and an image of the nation. Those who visit this country only need to travel along the Thames’ borders to see picturesque villages, with thatched, picture-postcard cottages, and beautiful gardens, or towns and cities where architecture dates back hundreds of years, like in London, Oxford, Henley-on-Thames or in Windsor. Without the Thames, there would no London or any others. The Thames has been for centuries a source of water, a sewer, a source of power, food, recreation, and a playground – it is a provider of the many necessities of life, and the creator of our civilization. The Thames helped London to grow and prosper, and the river in its magnificence represents Englishness itself.

“Reflections on the Thames” performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra Core (courtesy of Damian Andrzejcuk):

 

The Thames at Oxford

A typical English cottage

WherwellCottage

An example of the architecture of Christ Church, Oxford

TomQuadChristChurch

Courtesy of Kit Sullivan:

 

Anyone planning a visit to the UK in the hopefully near future should include Oxford in their plans. It is a remarkable city as even every pebble, every stone or step is steeped in dramatic history.Β  The central and most significant part is Oxford University. While there is no clear date of its foundation, teaching existed at Oxford in 1096 and progressed considerably from 1167 after Henry II banned English students from attending the Paris University. The oldest Oxford Colleges are Balliol and Merton. It is a moving experience to look at the steps of the 1000-year-old tower at Broad Street or to touch the sarcophagus of the knight John de Nawers resting for eternity in Christ Church Cathedral, with his faithful dog at his feet, and not to feel emotional at touching history.

ChristChurchNowersTomb

And what a dramatic history! The oldest church in Oxford, St Michael at the North Gate, with the tower built around 1000 years ago, the creation of Christ Church first by Cardinal Wolsey, then remodeled by King Henry VIII after the two fell out, the burning at stakes outside Balliol College of notable clergymen during the Catholic reign of Queen Anne, the taking over the University by King Charles I when he was battling with the Parliamentarian army and stayed in Christ Church, the dreadful times of Cromwell, and later on, the more intellectual times of producing philosophers, writers, poets, and Prime Ministers.

Courtesy of Irina Palok:

 

In Christ Church Deanery’s garden, there is still the tree under which sat Lewis Carroll with a young daughter of the Dean, when he told her the incredible stories about Alice in Wonderland, now read by millions of children all over the world. It was one of my favourites too, and I read it probably one hundred times. The story of a little girl who followed the white rabbit underground into a magical world of adventures is never out of print and was made several times into films. Lewis Carroll had a malleable attitude towards space and place that was well portrayed on the screen. And that is only a tiny part of Oxford’s unique history.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, pen name Lewis Carroll

LewisCarroll
The Dean’s daughter, Alice Liddell, his inspiration

AliceLiddell

Alice talking to the wonderful, always disappearing into thin air, magical Cheshire Cat

Cup.410.g.74 opposite page 35

The Mad Hatter’s tea party

AliceTenniel

A hundred years on, the Alice tree is still attracting the attention of visitors to the Deanery.

AliceTreeChristChurch2

Lewis Carroll’s Oxford (courtesy of EduSakon):

 

At Oxford, like in Venice, tourists and locals equally enjoy the punts on the Thames in gondolas, sorry kayaks. Utter bliss.

Before I write about another famous city gifted to us by the Thames, I have to mention what is abundantly growing along the borders of this river – herbs. The medicinal properties of the herbs growing beside the Thames have been known for centuries. Comfrey was used to calm ulcers, St John’s Wort was a cure for depression, the bugleweed was used as a sedative, yellow bedstraw treated infection of the feet, marigold for the eyes and the skin, a meadowsweet potion for inflammation of the eyes. Sweet sedge, that grows in the Thames water was scattered on the floors of houses and churches to make them smell fragrant. The seventeenth-century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote about the healing power of herbs. Common yarrow was known to the Thames’ bargemen to help close up open wounds and prevent swelling and inflammation. Many of the herbs are used even today by alternative medicine. It can be said, that like the herbs it grows, the Thames itself can heal.

Bugleweed

Marsh Marigolds

Common Yarrow

Henley-on-Thames is a beautiful town, famous for the rowing event that is known as the centre of the international sailing competition. The town is consistently voted as one of the best places to live in Britain. Henley nestles at the base of the Chilterns, which is considered to be the nicest stretch of the River Thames. The town was created as a planned medieval town in the twelfth century by the royal initiative. By 1250 Henley was a flourishing market town beside the Thames. Rowing is at the heart of Henley. The first Henley Regatta was held in 1839. Since then Henley Royal Regatta has had every reigning monarch as its patron. There are two majestic statues of Gold medallists at the River and Rowing Museum, opened in 1998. It is very much worth a visit for its history of rowing in the UK and also for the history of the town of Henley.

Courtesy of HenleyRoyalRegatta:

 

The statues of the champion rowers, Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent, at the River and Rowing Museum

Courtesy of Humphreys of Henley:

 

In the first week in July, one can see flamboyantly dressed people drinking Pimm’s in the hospitality marquee. Grace Kelly attended the Regatta with her brother Jack Kelly, Jr who won the Diamond Scull in 1947 and 1949. In the Angel on the Bridge pub, there is a plaque on the floor commemorating one of her visits – Grace Kelly stood here. In 2003 the Women’s Quadruple Sculls trophy was named in her memory.

The plaque at the Angel on the Bridge pub

Grace Kelly (centre) at Henley Royal Regatta

The traditional dress code for the exclusive Stewards’ Enclosure is strictly enforced. It states: “Gentlemen are required to wear lounge suits, or jackets or blazers with flannels, and a tie or cravat. Ladies are required to wear dresses or skirts with a hemline below the knee and will not be admitted wearing divided skirts, culottes, or trousers of any kind. Similarly, no one will be admitted to the Stewards’ Enclosure wearing shorts or jeans. Whilst not a requirement, it is customary for ladies to wear hats.”

Moment of winning!

0_Royal-Ascot-2019-Day-Five

349_164yellow-and-orange-bow-tie

Regatta – dress style

A win at Henley Regatta is the ultimate triumph for most rowers. A picnic is very much part of the Regatta tradition. The town has also many thriving businesses – ‘the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker’, also craft shops, bookshops, a brewery, and many old-fashioned pubs. There are the Henley Symphony Orchestra and the Kenton Theatre, which is the fourth oldest theatre in the country, established in 1805. Henley offers many cultural activities, including the Literary Festival and the Blues and Jazz Festival.

HenleyLiteraryFestival

765f49059f6e078b98e8faa14e0acc50

Blossoming flowers and greenery around the Georgian door of an old house’s brick facade on the river Thames

51b9b44c2c195d59912ef5f853818f56

Her_Travel_Edit_Henley_on_Thames_Door

Henley-On-Thames-River-Thames-To-Town-HdrHenley maintains its bid to be the most attractive town by hanging over 170 baskets around. There is also a band playing during the summer weekends. It needs to be said that while many celebrities live here and there are opulent mansions scattered around, there is a close, friendly community that includes everyone living in town. The countryside around Henley is stunning whatever the time of the year. In the spring there are here the finest bluebell woods, in the summer harvest golden hay bales and grazing cows contrast with deep green hedgerows, the autumn brings the crisp air and smell of fallen leaves, and brambles laden with blackberries, and the ground covered with acorns and conkers. Winter’s views around Henley are also impressive, although they could bring some floods.

To see more you will have to come and visit yourself.Β  The best book about this extraordinary town is ‘Portrait of Henley-On-Thames’ by Jim Donahue. Originally from the US, he has been living in the Henley area for close to twenty years now and is regarded as native. My notes are based on his book. Thank you, Jim.

Suite No. 1 from the “Water Music”: Air-Andante by Handel (courtesy of Millie):

 

DucksRowersOxford

 

77 thoughts on “The Thames, Britain’s Great River – Part One

  1. I can’t wait to read this Joanna and will read thoroughly. It looks like an amazing piece as always.. ! who are we kidding.. I know it is!~. The pictures alone are divine! πŸ’–

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was born no too far from the Thames. As a young child I was taken for walks and we would feed the gulls (I suppose they were?) and the pigeons at Trafalgar Square. When I read about England I get a yearning for something I lost but one never knows how different life may have been.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Wonderful post, Joanna. I would love to visit all of these gorgeous sites, so beautiful . Thanks for sharing.πŸ’•πŸ’•

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I read a book three men in a boat and it was based on Thames river. I have never visited that place but it was an amazing description in the book and your post made me nostalgic..

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I had no idea a hot pink door could look so pretty. My favorite picture is the cottage in Oxford, wow.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Will have to read to know Thames. Your write-up is always unique. While reading, one can visualise as if it has been seen earlier through eyes πŸ‘οΈ.
    Very good post ☺️
    Regards πŸ™

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you, Arun, for your wonderful comments! Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  9. Thank you, Khushi, for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  10. Thank you, Cindy, for your generous comment! Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for your kind comment on your life. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  12. Another revealing presentation, with fun, exciting facts and pics that want me want to visit! You have a knack for knowledge and willingness to share it…Joanna thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you, Grace, for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you, Tony, for your generous comments. I am glad that you like it. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  15. Another fantastically researched and illustrated post Joanna. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Thank you, Peter, for your kind comments. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  18. It’s great to see a piece on The Thames, London landmark. It has been an inspiration for many artists as you have beautifully depicted through photos and videos. Right from the unpredictable direction of its flow to Oxford, Christ Church and Alice tree and then Henley and its rowing museum all put together are very interesting to go through.

    But I was impressed most by the medicinal properties of herbs. I also loved the Regatta traditions and traditional dress code for Stewards’ Enclosure, and 170 hanging baskets really amazing. A beautiful presentation indeed!

    I can’t wait to read Part Two. I always learn a lot by going through your posts. Thank you so much, Joanna. Keep doing good work for the benefit of readers.

    Like

  19. My pleasure , Joanna.πŸ’•

    Like

  20. Thank you, Kaushal, for the wonderful words of your comments! I love Christ Church and I had the honor to dine at that table surrounded by the portraits of the greats ( 14 Prime Ministers, writers, philosophers, etc.), the spectacular windows, silver candelabras, and the excellent food and inspiring conversations. You will like the following parts as their are going to show
    the amasing sights of London and its history. I love this country because it offered me freedom and safety.

    Joanna

    Liked by 3 people

  21. Fabulous photos and information, Joanna! I’d love to visit someday. Thank you for this beautiful presentation.
    ~Lauren

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Thank you, Lauren, for your very kind comments. A visit to London is highly recommended, by the end of the series, you will have a detailed guide!
    Thank you again, Lauren. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  23. just had a chance to peruse more closely and love all of the aspects of the river in different light and energies of night and day. I so love the narrative on the history which is always fascinating and a refresher. Wow the projection of 11 million people is astounding . great pictures and visuals as well dear.. thank you so much! πŸ’–

    Like

  24. Thank you, Cindy, for spending more time reading and so very kindly commenting! It is greatly appreciated!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  25. You’re so welcome!πŸ’–

    Like

  26. It’s my pleasure, Joanna! Great to know that you enjoyed the hospitality of Christ Church. I’ll look forward to the following parts.

    Like

  27. Thank you, Kaushal, I will make sure that you will enjoy the following posts1

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Fascinating write-up & additions as always, Joanna. I love the old architecture, the many colorful flowers, and the healing herbs growing by the river! Looking forward to seeing it all first-hand! 🌞

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Thank you, Lisa, for your kind comments. I love it when my post makes the reader want to visit the place! There are six more parts about the Thames and the wonders of London. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I’m hooked. You’ve sprinkled pixie dust all over this post. Now all I need is reservations.πŸͺ„πŸͺ„πŸͺ„

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Thank you so much!! This is the most delightful comment! You have six more parts to read!

    Greatly appreciated!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  32. It is a really fascinating post, Joanna! Great work, thanks for sharing!

    Like

  33. Thank you, Jyothi, for your very kind comments. Greatly appreciated!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Another wonderful article; geography, history, literature, nature, music, sport ..
    Your posts are a wonderful mix of many elements, all combined to obtain something that enters our hearts

    Like

  35. Thank you, Luisa, for your so very kind and moving comments! I do hope you will equally enjoy the next six parts coming in soon, starting next Saturday, all about the Thames and London.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  36. I lived in London for a few years and never saw the Thames as a river at all. It was just a big grey obstacle that had to be crossed. Upriver it must be pretty though. Funny you mentioning Jack Kelly. He and my dad were friends, grew up in the same neighbourhood, and my dad knew Grace too although she wasn’t allowed to run around with the boys. My dad told me Jack was a boxer. I didn’t know he was a rower as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Thank you, Jane, for adding interesting facts from your life! I am glad that you have found something of interest in my post.
    Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  38. It will be a pleasure to read all of them also because they will bring back many wonderful memories πŸ’™πŸ’™πŸ’™

    Like

  39. Thank you, Luisa, you are a gift to me!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  40. πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ’•

    Like

  41. I didn’t see the blackbird post though.

    Like

  42. An amazing post with beautiful pictures and interesting Information.

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Thank you, Rupali, for your very kind comments! Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  44. Thank you also, Luisa, for the hearts!

    Joanna

    Like

  45. Another charming story. I used to row. We had a Henley lake for practice near St. Catherines in Ontario, Canada. Good memories. I did visit the rowing club in England at Oxford. And saw punting at Cambridge. Lovely! πŸ’—

    Like

  46. Thank you for your kind comments. It is wonderful that my post brought happy memories for you. Let’s see what I can tempt you with in the next 6 installments of the history of the Thames!
    Thank you again. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close