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The history of the River Thames

The Thames was once a tributary of the River Rhine becoming a river in itís own right as the surface of the earth changed over many thousands of years. The Thames is one of the UKís longest riverís and by far the most important! The riverís importance developed with the growth of the City of London

†Providing a means of trade and transport the river Thames linked the villages and towns inland with the trading capital of London and the sea for international trade. Today, the Thame is a growing area for boat hire and chartered boats for hosting events and private engagements

The river in Central London thrived on trade, in fact London thrived on the Thames! At times the Thames was so full of barges you could walk across it simply by hopping from one barge to another! Huge dock networks and canals were constructed to try and keep the river free for boats to travel. These include the West India Docks where you now find Canary Wharf, the Rotherhithe Dock network which is now largely filled in, the Royal Docks which now hosts Londonís City Airport and the Grand Union Canal and Regents Canals.

The ships brought goods and trade to London. When they arrived they were often unloaded by barges known as lighters. These Thames Lighters were driven by the tide being skillfully navigated by a single lightermen with one oar he used as a rudder to skilfully postion the barge in specific tidal sets to harness the flow of the water to travel up or down the river. Evidence of the trade is still clear today with many of the old working wharves redeveloped into luxury residential apartments, but retaining their working names; Tea Trade Wharf, Spice Wharf, Gun Wharf, to mention but a few!

Taxi style boats were used for crossing the river due to the lack of bridge crossing points. The small taxi boats were piloted by Watermen licensed to take passengers over the river. The queen even had her own Watermen to pilot her royal waterborne transport!

One of the most important ships in British heritage now rests in a dry dock at Greenwich in the heart of Naval London on the banks of the Thames. The Cutty Sark was the fastest Tea Cutter in the World holding the record for a staggering 10 years. She was even known to overhaul more modern steam powered ships!

Being a tidal river, fed by a network of tributaries the Thames often flooded causing disease and misery as well as fertilising the flood planes. In the winter it was known to freeze and Londonís residents would ice skate.

Today the River Thames is much quieter with only a few commercial craft mainly transporting generally waste or aggregates. The rest of the boats are party boats and private leisure craft for hire and charterFind Article, but the busy trading centre of London is now limited to the Port of Tilbury down by the QEII bridge 20 miles from the centre of London.

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Keith McGregor is a partner of Strawberrysoup, a web design agency with offices in Chichester and Bournemouth. Strawberrysoup specialise in creative web design, content managed websites, search engine optimisation, search engine marketing and graphic design

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