Images by Thomas R Way
We are living through a time of anxiety and trouble the like of which our country hasn’t seen since the Second World War. And as has happened to many of you, my plans have been disrupted and proposed interviews shelved so I would like to take you back to 1907 when artist Thomas R Way produced a beautiful book on the Thames in collaboration with Walter Bell, who wrote the accompanying text. Both loved the river and knew it well, and though the century since the publication of their book The Thames: From Chelsea to the Nore has seen spectacular changes in architecture, industry and employment along the river there is much that is still recognisable today.
In his preface, Thomas Way describes noticing a poster on a steamboat pier in the summer of 1900 “announcing a fête at Rosherville Gardens”, Gravesend, once famous but somewhat neglected as an attraction since the Great Exhibition in South Kensington in 1851, and due to be sold as land for building. Happy to take a last chance to visit the gardens, which he regretted not having visited in the past, he decided “to make a day of it and to start with the MERMAID from Charing Cross pier”. It was this trip that inspired him “to go on with a scheme started some years before when making a series of Thames lithographs in connection with the artist C E Holloway,” who had died in 1897.
Known for his previous work on historic buildings, his approach here was to “deal with the modern aspect of the Thames, which is picturesque enough to be quite interesting without any antiquarian flavour.” So he reflected life as he saw it.
I hope that you will all stay well and enjoy a time-travel voyage of discovery in the coming weeks to escape in this and my future excerpts from The Thames: From Chelsea to the Nore.