The Thames (pronounced "temz") is a river flowing through southern England and connecting London with the sea.

Table of contents
1 Course
2 History
3 The Thames in Literature
4 Crossings of the Thames
5 Islands in the Thames
6 See also


It has a length of 346 kilometres (215 statute miles) with its source in the Cotswolds; it then flows through Oxford (where it is called the Isis), Reading, Maidenhead, Eton and Windsor. From the time it leaves Wiltshire, where it rises, it has traditionally formed the county boundary, firstly between Berkshire on the south bank and Oxfordshire on the north, then between Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey, Surrey and Middlesex, and between Essex and Kent. From the outskirts of Greater London, it passes Syon House, Hampton Court, and Richmond (with the famous view of the Thames from Richmond Hill), and Kew, before it passes through London proper, then Greenwich and Dartford before entering the sea in a drowned estuary, The Nore. Part of the area west of London is sometimes termed the Thames Valley whilst east of Tower Bridge development agencies and Ministers have taken to using the term Thames Gateway.

About 90 kilometres from the sea, upstream of London, the river begins to exhibit signs of tidal activity as the North Sea begins to affect it. London was reputedly made capital of Roman Britain at the spot where the tides reached in 43 AD, but a variety of factors have pushed this spot up river in the 2000 years since then. At London, the water is slightly brackish with sea salt.


Following the example of the local Celts, the Romans called the river Thamesis: Caesar (De Bello Gallica), Dion Cassius (xl. 3) and Tacitus (Annales xiv. 32).

Richard Coates has recently suggested that the river was called the Thames upriver where it was narrower, and Plowonida down river where it was too wide to ford. This gave the name to a settlement on its banks which became known as Londinium from the original root Plowonida derived from pre-celtic Old European 'plew' and 'nejd'. meaning something like the flowing river or the wide flowing unfordable river. see [[1]

The Thames provided the major highway between London and Westminster in the 16th and 17th centuries. The clannish guild of watermen ferried Londoners from landing to landing, and brooked no outside interference. A versifying waterman, John Taylor, the Water Poet (1580—1653), described the river in a poem commemorating a voyage from Oxford to London,

In the 17th and 18th centuries, during the period now referred to as the Little Ice Age, the Thames often froze over in the winter. This led to the first "Frost Fair" in 1607, complete with a tent city set up on the river itself and offering a number of odd amusements, including ice bowling. After temperatures began to rise again, starting in 1814, the river never again froze over completely. The building of a new London Bridge in 1825 may also have been a factor; the new bridge had fewer pillars than the old and so allowed the river to flow more freely, thus preventing it from flowing slowly enough to freeze in cold winters.

By the 18th century, the Thames was one of the world's busiest waterways, as London became the centre of the vast, mercantile British Empire. During this time one of the worst river disasters in England took place on September 3, 1878 on the Thames, when the crowded pleasure boat Princess Alice collided with the Bywell Castle killing over 640.

In the 'Great Stink' of 1858, pollution in the river became so bad that sittings at the House of Commons at Westminster had to be abandoned. A concerted effort to contain the city's sewage by constructing massive sewers on the north and south river embankments followed, under the supervision of engineer Joseph Bazalgette.

The coming of rail and road transportation, and the decline of the Empire in the years following 1914, have reduced the prominence of the river. London itself is no longer a port of any note, and the Port of London has moved downstream to Tilbury. In return, the Thames has undergone a massive clean-up from the filthy days of the late 19th and early- to mid-20th centuries, and life has returned to its formerly dead waters.

In the early 1980s, a massive flood control device, the Thames Barrier, was opened. It is utilised several times a year to prevent water damage to London's low lying areas upstream.

There are many bridges and tunnels crossing the Thames, including Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Lambeth Bridge, and the Dartford Crossing.

Photograph of the Thames taken from London Bridge looking towards Tower Bridge. (Photo taken by D. Alston.)

The Thames in Literature

Many books refer to the Thames. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome describes a boat trip up the Thames. Somewhere near the Oxford stretch is where the Liddells were rowing in the poem at the start of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Somewhere near here was where Alice fell asleep. The river is mentioned in both The Wind in the Willows and the play Toad of Toad Hall.

In books set in London there is Sherlock Holmes looking for a boat in A Study in Scarlet, Bill Sykes kills Nancy just near the river.

Crossings of the Thames

See Crossings of the River Thames for a full article. Famous crossings include

Islands in the Thames

Listed in upstream order.
  • Canvey Island
  • Isle of Grain
  • Frog Island, Rainham
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Chiswick Eyot
  • Oliver's Island, Kew
  • Brentford Ait
  • Lot's Ait
  • Isleworth Ait
  • Corporation Island, Twickenham
  • Glover's Island, Twickenham
  • Eel Pie Island, Twickenham
  • Trowlock Island, Teddington
  • Steven's Eyot
  • Raven's Ait, Hampton Court
  • Boyle Farm Island
  • Thames Ditton Island
  • Ash Island, East Molesey
  • Tagg's Island, Hampton Court
  • Garrick's Ait
  • Platt's Eyot
  • Sunbury Court Island, Sunbury
  • Swan's Rest Island, Sunbury
  • Rivermead Island, Sunbury
  • Sunbury Lock Ait
  • Wheatley's Ait
  • Desborough Island, Shepperton
  • D'Oyly Carte Island
  • Lock Island
  • Hamhaugh Island
  • Pharaoh's Island
  • Penton Hook Island
  • Truss's Island
  • Church Island, Staines
  • Hollyhock Island, Staines
  • Holm Island, Staines
  • The Island, Hythe End
  • Magna Carta Island, Runnymede
  • Pats Croft Eyot

See also

Other rivers with the same name include: