The time to watch reflections, misshapen by passing boats, or the surge of a flood tide ruffling the surface of the river, has been balm to the soul and a welcome escape during the lockdowns and uncertainties of Covid. Occasional tweets of water pictures and some kind remarks have prompted me to search through my archives to compile the small gallery below, which I hope you will glide through and enjoy. There are those who, through their work on the river, understand its moods, complexities and dangers. I simply watch from the safety of its banks, struck by the beauty and infinite variety of patterns, shapes and colours in constant evolution, etched by winds and coloured by skies.
PATTERNS AND TEXTURES
NOTE It was Tristan Gooley in his book How to Read Water, who directed my attention to clues and patterns to be seen ‘from puddles to the sea’. I can’t pretend to come anywhere near to interpreting the finer details of his observations but he has taught me to look, and for that I am grateful.
…with photographs by Twitter photographer friends.
Once again, I’ve called upon a few Twitter friends to join in a virtual trip along the tidal Thames, this time with their views of the river in springtime.
Artist Ruth Wadey not only recognises the possibilities for a good photograph, often capturing fleeting moments on the river and the skies above, she also has perfect views along the Thames at Twickenham. She is a BBC Weather Watcher known as #ruthiebabes and if you look out for her images, you will notice that apart from her riverscapes, she has a real affinity with clouds. You can visit her online gallery to see a full range of her work, including her paintings, and follow her on Twitter @ruths_gallery
Astrid Tontson has kindly lent me two of her photographs for this springtime look at the tidal Thames. However she is best known for her breath-taking images and short videos of dawn scenes in Bushy and Richmond Parks. You can follow her on Twitter @Astrid_Tontson, where you will find links to her Instagram images and Youtube films. Watch them on full screen with the sound on and you will, for a moment, forget about the world outside. ‘Photographer shares stunning photos of Royal Parks’: A lovely interview with Astrid Tontson by Orlando Jenkinson of the Richmond & Twickenham Times, May 19, 2020.
The Bulls Head is a lovely Grade II listed riverside inn, licensed since 1772, once used by riverboat and barge captains to organise the hiring of crews along with the distribution and delivery of cargoes. Standing next to Kew Rail Bridge with its distinctive lattice work, The Bulls Head has lovely views over the river. You can follow the Landlady’s personal tweets @TheBullsHeadW4
Liz Anderson is an accredited “Thames Mudlark, writer, blogger and photographer, passionate about London’s history.” You can discover what mudlarking involves and read her engaging and thoughtful articles here: A Mudlark’s Diary. You can also find her on Twitter: @liz_lizanderson and Instagram: lizanderson2.
Kristi Tange, a keen photographer often walks by the river, recording scenes and nature in the Hammersmith and Barnes areas. You can follow her on Twitter @KristiTange
Publisher and photographer Andrew Wilson lives in Putney. His beautiful nature photographs brighten up my Twitter timeline and he has written about, and photographed, many Thames-side areas for his delightful series of books on Wild London. You can follow him on Twitter @wildlondonpics and you can discover more about him in this Time and Leisure article and on his website here.
Wal Daly-Smith, Director and Founder of Thames Ranger Marine Services, was the first of my interviewees on this site, not only helping me at the beginning but being there from then on to answer a whole variety of questions. Photography, most particularly of the Thames, has been an important theme running through his life. See his ‘Views from the River’. See some of his Thames pictures here.
Anne Johnson is longtime friend and occasional visitor to London. Her picture is from April 2018.
Jon Carruthers’ striking images always stand out in my Twitter timeline. He has photographed most of the tidal Thames from Teddington to the Hoo Peninsula in Kent. Sensitive to the ever-changing nature of the river, he captures boat traffic, and records London’s riverside architecture in a whole colour chart of light. You can follow him on Twitter @carruthers_jon
Emily Lovell is a freelance photographer living on the Greenwich Peninsula. She enjoys taking pictures of London life and has a special interest in Japan and Japanese culture. You can visit her website to see her gallery here. and you can follow her on Twitter @emilyjanelovell
Ian Tokelove “enjoys exploring the UK’s wild spaces, rivers & seas, especially in & around London”, sharing his experiences through writing and photography. You can follow him on Twitter @iantokelove You can also follow explore his site Canoe London for information on canoeing, kayaking and stand up paddleboarding across our city. His companion website Remote London, will complete the picture, taking readers to places on the river and around London that many would otherwise never know. His article “Fulham to Westminster, – kayaking London with the Thames tides” takes you through a stretch of the river, familiar to many from the river banks, and gives it a new perspective.
Many thanks to all who have joined in this springtime hommage to the river that we all share.
The tidal Thames: an ever-ebbing or flooding and fast-flowing ‘liquid highway’ threading a path through our history and the dance of the seasons…
Thames Clippers is now in partnership with Uber. After an agreement finalised in August 2020, the new name of London’s river bus service is Uber Boat by Thames Clippers. The names of the twenty vessels in the fleet have remained the same and, as you may know, are weather or space themed. Each clipper has its own distinctive flash of colour painted on the bow. When the service first started under Sean Collins and Alan Woods in May 1999, it began with three Hydrocats, SKY, STAR and STORM; which were later joined by River Runner and Hunt Class vessels, together with three other specially tasked boats. Here I have photographed and recorded all the clippers, save two, in their new livery, adding a few details, which can be further explored on Uber Boat by Thames Clippers. Hydrocats At the time of writing STAR and STORM Clippers are in dry dock so that SKY Clipper is the only one that I’ve seen and been able to photograph recently.
SKY, STORM and STAR were “originally built by FBM Marine, on the Isle of Wight, in 1992 for a high-speed passenger ferry service to aid the redevelopment of London’s docklands.” They joined Thames Clippers when the company was set up in 1999.
River Runners The majority of the fleet is made up of nine River Runners: AURORA, CYCLONE, HURRICANE, METEOR, MONSOON, MOON, SUN, TORNADO and TYPHOON.
AURORA Clipper was built in Australia by Brisbane Ship Construction, as were: CYCLONE, METEOR, MONSOON, TORNADO and TYPHOON, and she joined the fleet in 2008. She is a ‘Typhoon class’ vessel and the colour on her bow is light blue.
CYCLONE Clipper joined the fleet in 2007. She is a ‘Typhoon class’ vessel and her individual colour stripe on her bow is orange.
Specially built for Thames Clippers by NQEA, Engineers and Shipbuilders in Cairns, Australia, HURRICANE Clipper joined the fleet in 2001 and was for a time their flagship. You might have seen her in another guise when she spent some time covered in Damien Hurst spots as she ran the Tate to Tate service from Tate Britain to Tate Modern, bringing both art galleries to public attention. Her bow stripe is a cheerful lime green.
Built by Brisbane Ship Construction in Australia, METEOR Clipper joined the fleet in 2008. She is a ‘Typhoon class’ vessel and her individual bow colour is bright red.
MONSOON Clipper, also built by Brisbane Ship Construction, joined the fleet in 2007. She is a ‘Typhoon class’ vessel and her individual stripe of bow colour is dark pink.
Together with her sister SUN Clipper, MOON Clipper was built by NQEA, Australia in 2001 and first operated in Belfast where MOON was known as ‘Down Runner’. She joined Thames Clippers in 2005. “Her wheel box was lowered in 2012 so that she could navigate the low-lying bridges to the west of their route more easily.” The coloured stripe on her bow is violet.
Built by NQEA, Australia in 2001, and also first serving in Belfast, SUN was known as ‘Antrim Runner’. She joined the Clipper fleet in 2005. The wheelhouses of both MOON and SUN are in the bow of each vessel. Her individual bow stripe is yellow.
TORNADO Clipper was built by Brisbane Ship Construction in Australia and joined the fleet in 2007. Her bow stripe is a minty green.
TYPHOON Clipper, also built by Brisbane Ship Construction was the first ‘River Runner’ to join the fleet in 2007. And “as a result, our six River Runner 200 Mk IIB vessels are often referred to as ‘Typhoon Class’.” Her bow stripe is purple.
Hunt Clippers Are named after “long serving engineer Clive Hunt, who worked on many builds including both GALAXY and NEPTUNE Clippers, before losing his battle with cancer. ‘Hunt Class’ clippers have been specially designed to navigate the shallower waters and low-lying bridges to the west of their route along the river, which ends at Putney Pier. Built by Incat, Australia, renowned for the construction of high speed, lightweight catamarans, GALAXY and NEPTUNE were the first ‘Hunt Class’ vessels of the fleet.
“GALAXY Clipper and her sister NEPTUNE Clipper […] were loaded onto a cargo ship for the 10,000 mile journey to the UK. When they arrived in 2015, Tower Bridge was raised so that they could be welcomed onto the Thames in central London.” See here the excellent film on their departure from Incat. GALAXY’s Bow has a yellow stripe and NEPTUNE’s has a purple stripe.
JUPITER Clipper, and her sister MERCURY were built by Wight Shipyard on the Isle of Wight and sailed from there to London, a distance of about 200 nautical miles. Jennifer Edwards wrote in 2017 how “travelling along the English coast, the boats would sail past landmarks including Spinnaker Tower at Gunwharf Quays, Brighton Pier and the White Cliffs of Dover to their home at Trinity Buoy Wharf in East London.” She explains how “Six members of crew – with over 80 years of combined experience between them” would undertake the 12 hour journey, at an average speed of 20 knots. JUPITER’s emblematic bow colour is gold and MERCURY’s is silver.
VENUS Clipper is the flagship of the Uber Boat by Thames Clippers fleet. She was built by Wight Shipyard in the Isle of Wight and joined the fleet in 2019 in time for the company’s 20th anniversary. Her chosen colour is emerald green to reflect her ‘green’ credentials, being the fleet’s most ecologically advanced vessel to date.
Launched in September 2020, COMET Clipper is part of an integrated system for “small scale freight transport.” Ian Wilson, Chief Executive of DHL Express UK & I, says: “This new and unique service, combining electric vehicles, riverboat and last-mile bikes creates fast and efficient access across the capital.” This is yet another measure reducing the volume of traffic and pollution in central London.
ORION Clipper is a fast, smart, private, executive launch that can be chartered for special occasions or luxury transfers. Ben @liquid_highway1 tells me that “She was originally called H2O&M, renamed OGILVY & MATHER, and changed again to OGILVY by 2005.” An impressive speedboat, she could reach Canary Wharf from the Embankment in fifteen minutes. Ben adds, “Thames Clippers bought her about 3 years ago, overhauled her and renamed her ORION Clipper.”
In service as a ferry for over forty years TWINSTAR Clipper began by carrying staff between the Ford Dagenham factory and Belvedere. She now carries hotel guests, visitors and commuters between Canary Wharf and Rotherhithe.
The clippers are very active over their stretch of the Thames, so if you’re walking along the banks of the river in central London, you are bound to see at least one, if not more. And better still, as life is getting back to normal, treat yourself to a trip on the river. You’ll see the centre of London from a totally different perspective.
Liquid Highway is the leading resource for the latest news on the River Thames. You can see their extensive photo gallery here. ——————————————— If you would like to experience a journey from a few years back, see ‘Inside Thames Clippers’. Sean Collins interviewed by Alastair Greener in 2013.
…from my photo archives of Thames Clipper pictures taken before the pandemic. As you’ll see, they are all marked with the MBNA bank company logo, which had a sponsorship deal with Thames Clippers that lasted until June 2020. Their new partnership is with Uber and the vessels are now known as “Uber Boat by Thames Clippers”. Though they have been repainted with the Uber logo, their names have remained the same. The picture above is of AURORA Clipper, who joined the fleet in 2008 and the following images, are in alphabetical order with the date they joined the fleet. Apart from COMET, only transporting packages, and ORION only available for private hire, all clippers are part of the public Thames river bus passenger service. Many of you will have boarded a clipper for a sightseeing trip, or regularly to your workplace. Some of you will have served as crew, some worked as guides talking about the famous London landmarks on the route, and some will have skippered these vessels along this tricky central London section of the Thames with its many bridges, fast-flowing tides and particular currents, all of which need to be thoroughly learnt.
In the next article I will post pictures of the clippers in their new livery and list the fleet by category, giving more detail about individual craft.
Further etchings from London’s Bridges by J. H. Herring, 1884 with recent photographs and a few random notes…
The bridge above, a toll bridge, was opened by Queen Victoria in 1858 and named after her. However, Zoe Craig writes that “its name was soon changed to Chelsea Bridge” suggesting that as it was “narrow and structurally unsound it might have been renamed to avoid any associations with the Queen should it collapse.”
As you may have noticed, not all London’s present Thames bridges are included in this collection as a number of them had not yet been built at the time Herring made his sketches. Tower Bridge, not opened until ten years later on June 30th, 1894 is the most famous of the *missing* bridges.
The start of the Oxford v. Cambridge Boat Race has traditionally been just upstream from Putney Bridge and ends just before Chiswick Bridge. However, the 2020 race was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic and this year took place on a rather less navigationally challenging course along the river Ouse in Cambridgeshire. The race has always drawn big crowds and normally takes place each year around Easter time. On one memorable occasion reported in The Times, at the end of March 1912, “Both boats sank owing to the roughness of the water, Cambridge early in the race, off Harrod’s Wharf, while Oxford struggled as far as Chiswick Eyot”, where they emptied their boat and completed the course. However, much of Oxford’s annoyance, the umpire would not allow the result to stand and the race was rowed again two days later. The Oxford crew won by six lengths.
Waterman and Lighterman Eric Carpenter, who helped me with an earlier article on Herring’s drawings, remarks that “Hammersmith Bridge is quite low, and was a problem for tugs taking barges up to Brentford Dock, if they were late up on a spring tide”. He remembers when commercial traffic still travelled up that way “Many tugs on the Brentford run had open wheelhouses, or wheelhouses that could be dismantled” so were able to cope with the height limitations.
And now there’s a more serious problem at Hammersmith Bridge. At the time of writing all passages under the bridge have been cancelled apart from pre-arranged transits on Sundays, and even these are liable to cancellation should any of the movement alarms be sounding. According to Dorenda and Gordon of Hotel Boat Kailani, this has now been changed so that “boats are able to pass under the bridge on any day, giving at least 72 hours notice”. There are difficulties too for road traffic. Much to the irritation and inconvenience of local residents, and others usually crossing the Thames there, the bridge has been closed to traffic for two years. A group called HammersmithBridgeSOS is campaigning “for the urgent reinstatement of the crossing”.
Sources and further information Zoe Craig: article in The Londonist on Chelsea Bridge. J. H. Herring: London’s Bridges from London to Hampton Court; London, 1884 Hotel Boat Kailani Port of London Authority: Thames Bridges
With thanks to the following for their help and for lending their photographs: Benmeg for the Richmond Railway Bridge photo, 2015. Waterman and Lighterman Eric Carpenter Wal Daly-Smith, Director of Thames Ranger Marine Service. See his Views From the River Artist, photographer and BBC Weather Watcher Ruth Wadey