Interesting facts about the River Thames

river thames

The River Thames is a river that flows through southern England.

With a total length of 346 kilometers (215 miles), the Thames is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom.

It rises at Thames Head in Gloucestershire, and flows into the North Sea via the Thames Estuary.

While it is best known for flowing through London, the river also flows alongside other towns and cities, including Oxford, Reading, Henley-on-Thames, Windsor and Berkshire.

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The River Thames basin area covers 12,935 square kilometers (4,994 square miles). It covers a large part of South Eastern and a small part of Western England

The Thames has 38 main tributaries including the rivers Thame, Pang, Kennet, Jubilee and Evenlode.

The River Thames contains over 80 islands ranging from the large estuarial marshlands of the Isle of Sheppey and Canvey Island to small tree-covered islets like Rose Isle in Oxfordshire and Headpile Eyot in Berkshire.

river thames island

Below Teddington Lock (about 89 kilometers (55 miles) upstream of the Thames Estuary), the river is subject to tidal activity from the North Sea.

Its tidal section has a rise and fall of 7 meters (23 feet).

Over 200 bridges cross the river. The first was built in London by the Romans almost 2000 years ago, near to the spot where London Bridge is now.

Several central London road bridges were built in the 19th century, most conspicuously Tower Bridge, the only Bascule bridge on the river, designed to allow ocean-going ships to pass beneath it.

tower bridge

The Thames passes by some of the sights of London, including the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.

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The Air Line aerial over the Thames from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks has been in operation since the 2012 Summer Olympics.

londons air line over river thames

The River Thames provides two-thirds of London’s drinking water.

The Thames supports a variety of wildlife and has a number of adjoining Sites of Special Scientific Interest, with the largest being in the remaining parts of the North Kent Marshes and covering 5,449 hectares (13,460 acres).

Various species of birds feed off the river or nest on it, some being found both at sea and inland. These include cormorant, black-headed gull and herring gull. The mute swan is a familiar sight on the river but the escaped black swan is more rare.

river thames birds

With its waters varying from freshwater to almost seawater, the Thames providing support for seawater and freshwater fish; However, many populations of fish are at risk and are being killed in tens of thousands because of pollutants leaking into the river from human activities.

The Thames, from Middle English Temese, is derived from the Brittonic Celtic name for the river, Tamesas, recorded in Latin as Tamesis and yielding modern Welsh Tafwys “Thames”. The name probably meant “dark” and can be compared to other cognates such as Russian темно, Sanskrit tamas, Irish teimheal and Welsh tywyll “darkness” and Middle Irish teimen “dark grey”.

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Some of the earliest written references to the Thames occur in Julius Caesar’s account of his second expedition to Britain in 54 BC, when the Thames presented a major obstacle and he encountered the Iron Age Belgic tribes the Catuvellauni and the Atrebates along the river.

There is evidence of human habitation living off the river along its length dating back to Neolithic times.

The River Thames has been a subject for artists, great and minor, over the centuries. Four major artists with works based on the Thames are Canaletto, J. M. W. Turner, Claude Monet and James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

river thames claude monet

The Water Music composed by George Frideric Handel premiered on 17 July 1717, when King George I requested a concert on the River Thames. The concert was performed for King George I on his barge and he is said to have enjoyed it so much that he ordered the 50 exhausted musicians to play the suites three times on the trip.

The Sex Pistols played a concert on the Queen Elizabeth Riverboat on 7 June 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year, while sailing down the river.

In 2006 British swimmer and environmental campaigner Lewis Pugh became the first person to swim the full length of the Thames from outside Kemble to Southend-on-Sea to draw attention to the severe drought in England which saw record temperatures indicative of a degree of global warming. The 325 kilometers (202 miles) swim took him 21 days to complete. The official headwater of the river had stopped flowing due to the drought forcing Pugh to run the first 42 km (26 miles).

There are approximately 37 major rowing clubs along the Thames, not including the Universities clubs. The Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge has been running since 1829 and Henley Royal Regatta has taken place since 1839.

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