The Thames in winter

Snowy images from 2009 to wish you the best for 2021

Taken taken on February 2, 2009 these pictures are a reminder that until quite recently we used to have colder winters in London. Not as cold as the famous Frost Fairs in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the river was frozen over for several weeks at a time but definitely colder than most of the past few years.

Looking along the embankment past Lambeth Palace towards the London Eye

With colours standing out against the snow on the Lambeth side of the river, walkers enjoy the transformation of familiar steps, walls, lamps, benches, and pavements into new softened versions. Blemishes hidden.

From Lambeth Bridge, you can see Thames Cruises’ M.V. THAMES PRINCESS moored at Lambeth Pier

These pictures are also a reminder of how much London’s skyline has crowded in upon us during the last eleven years.

Lambeth Bridge fringed with snow as a small boat is about to pass underneath
Victoria Tower Gardens, a precious central London riverside park

As many of you know, this view of the Palace of Westminster, a UNESCO world heritage site, seen across Victoria Tower Gardens, is under threat. We have been grateful for this little park during the Covid crisis as these carefully nurtured gardens have been a refuge for many living and working in the area. A place to breathe, an escape by the river from the ravages of the pandemic.

The Victoria Tower at the Palace of Westminster watching over the Gardens

Will such snowy London pictures be a thing of the past, I wonder ? Snow, being rare in London now, always used to excite a feeling of delight before pristine white, snow-packed roadways turned into greasy, gravelly, salt-speckled, grey slush and new, untrodden snow in the parks became tracked with a tumult of footprints. The delight was obvious in January 2013 when I saw, young and not so young people, scooping snowballs from the roofs and bonnets of cars to hurl at their friends; keen photographers slip-sliding on icy roads and snow-packed pavements, to capture London in her winter guise; and children and the young at heart, making snowmen in the Royal Parks.

Yet for those working regularly on the river, snow and bitterly cold winds were rather less appealing. Waterman and Lighterman, Eric Carpenter, recalls a trip that was particularly tough: “My most vivid memory of winter on the Thames is the journey from Egypt Buoy at Egypt Bay, situated in the estuary on the Kent coast, across the tidewater to Old Haven Creek on the Essex coast. I experienced it in a force 5 gale, driving rain, and a snow storm. The tug would be “beam on” pitching and rolling, ropes, eight inches in circumference snapping like twigs. It was a journey that could be undertaken at any hour night or day”. The winter of 1963 must have been specially gruelling for everyone and Eric describes how that year “was very hard work, as the snow had to be cleared from the decks and hatches constantly. I remember using a crow bar to prise the mooring ropes apart. The river Lea was specially hard going; I remember breaking the ice to allow the lock gates to open fully.”

As I looked again at those wintery photographs from eleven years ago, when I was safely wrapped in a warm coat, scarf, and gloves, it was a timely reminder that for some, life on the river in the cold was not so comfortable. But then Thames Watermen and Lightermen are a tough breed…

End note
Thank you for reading my words. Thank you also to those who have helped me with information and images for my articles. May I wish you all a happier year in 2021, and to everyone who works on, or around the Thames, especially, a return to normal life as soon as possible.