…and hopefully again soon, the sightseeing and party boats will take to the river once more.
Having been restricted to our local area for walks at the beginning of lockdown, a visit to Victoria Tower Gardens for my husband and me naturally became part of the daily routine. And the stretch of river between Westminster and Lambeth Bridges became our horizon. While the key services of the Cory waste removal tugs, the Port of London Authority and Police vessels carried on as usual, joined later by tugs and other boats involved with building works upstream, the party and sightseeing boats in this section were tied up, out of action. Immobile. And we got to know them. They are so much a part of normal life on the river that I’ve gone back in time, through pictures taken last year, to give a glimpse of how things were for some of the boats in this small group before Covid, and to show how I hope life will return for them as soon as possible.
The CONNAUGHT and the QUEEN ELIZABETH, in the picture above, moored on the east bank of the Thames, close to Westminster Bridge are both owned by Colliers Launches in Twickenham, who also own the PRINCESS FREDA, now back at work on hourly round trips from Richmond to Teddington Lock.
Just upstream from the Colliers’ boats, the mooring in front of the old St. Thomas’ Hospital buildings had a number of *visitors* during lockdown including M.V.s MERCURIA, CHAY BLYTH and MERCEDES, who remained there for much of the time. During the month of July there was more movement as party boat and sightseeing companies began to sense and to prepare for, an easing of lockdown. Later visits to this Westminster mooring included M.V.s SARPEDON and SAPELE.
The Thames Marine Services fixed barge in Westminster had a number of *guests* too, among them: M.V.s HOLLYWOOD and THOMAS DOGGETT; both familiar sights on the river carrying their passengers along the Thames to show them famous London landmarks from a different perspective.
The smartly liveried Thames Cruises fleet, based at Lambeth Pier by the bridge, had a few discreet changeovers as time went on but as with the other cruise companies, all commercial activities ceased at the beginning of lockdown.
The last group of boats moored to fixed barges between Westminster and Lambeth Bridges is on the west bank of the river and is made up of M.V. KINGWOOD, neglected, seemingly out of commission, and M.V.s VALULLA, MERCIA and SUERITA.
There has been a noticeable increase in party and sightseeing boat activity in the Westminster to Lambeth Bridge section of the Thames coinciding with our most recent July walks. Of course movements were taking place at other times and we’ve been arriving in Victoria Tower Gardens to find boats moved around, which was not the case at the beginning of lockdown.
City Cruises are crossing the Westminster frontiers more and more, particularly cruising downstream past the sights of London. The Thames Clippers , now in partnership with Uber, have been running a regular commuting and sight-seeing service since the middle of June. And in the last week of July several boats began to reappear including the London Eye Cruise boat ‘Silver Bonito’ and the London Party Boats. All are carefully adapted to be Covid-secure. Tickets have to be booked online but the cruises are not crowded so now would be a good time to pay London and the Thames a visit.
Hopefully with care and clear, unambiguous government advice, life on the river will return to some greater semblance of normality before long. So many livelihoods depend upon it…
‘Operation Dynamo’: a very interesting film by Liquid Highway featuring some of the boats above.
‘Thames Watermen and Ferries’ from The history of the Port of London by Peter Stone, 2017.
As things are still unsettled, information on particular boats and their Covid precautions is best discovered by typing their names into a search engine and following any links.