Here is my list of 10 things that I personally feel make the River Thames so unique and are instantly recognisable:
1. It’s full of rich history
2. The Dock System / Dockers
Although sadly most of the dock system has since closed commercially , some still remain in use such as Tilbury , West India Dock , KGV and St Katherines. South Dock/Greenland and Gallions are now mainly used for houseboats. It is important to preserve these remaining docks and see them used more often and not to be developed on or filled in. The dock worker or docker played a key role in unloading and discharging ships cargo.
3. Wharves & Warehouses
Although quite a few of these characteristic old warehouses and wharves have been demolished over the years, many are now preserved and listed , some are kept original complete with cranes and some have been converted to luxury apartments
4. Shipbuilding & Drydocking Industry
A huge number of ships, barges, tugs, passenger boats and just about anything else were built on the Thames , sadly all of these great ship and barge builders have long since gone like so much else on the river. A few drydocks and slipways remain today which carry out yearly painting and repairs to vessels. A fine number of passenger boats have been built on the Thames, most recogniseable and famous are the tunnel boats built by Salters at Oxford and many of which still operate today well over 100 years old!
5. The Thames Lighter
The traditional Thames lighter was the lifeline for cargo on the river , built in the thousands , some even built and shipped abroad because they were so well designed , only a handful now remain in regular use. The lighter was originally driven under oars by a lighterman, but in later years were towed behind a tug. There were so many of these lighters that in some stretches of river, you could almost walk from one side of the river to the other on the barge roads. The PLA (among others) still use a number of lighters for marine services such as driftwood collection and mooring barges. A number of Thames lighters can also be found converted into houseboats.
The tradional Thames Barge Driving Trust race smaller lighters each years at the annual Thames Barge Driving Races – http://www.thamesbargedriving.co.uk/index.html
6. The Thames Lighterage & Dock tug (tosher)
The Thames tug has evolved over the years, from side wheel wheel paddlers , to coal and oil fired steam tugs to the more modern diesel engine. The ‘traditonal’ Thames tug has always kept its sleek lines as the above photos show , many of these were built on the locally by such names as Pollock & Sons at Faversham. Although not all the Thames tugs were newly built on the Thames or locally, some were built in holland and elsewhere, some even second hand and refitted for use on the Thames. Perhaps one of my personal favourite styles of Thames tug is the smaller ‘dock’ or ‘tosher’ tug. These tugs were mainly built and used for the dock system and creeks but also saw service on the river too, and although many have sadly been lost, some fine examples still survive today , these include Charlight (working) , Varlet (preserved) , Express (working) , Olympian (working) , Vassal (preserved) and Haulier (working).
Sadly the tradional Thames single screw lighterage tug seems to be slowly replaced by more modern ‘out of the box no character’ dutch built tugs, most likely because they still provide the power needed to tow craft but are more economical, easier to work ,twin screw and no doubt meet modern (and sometimes considered over the top) health and safety rules and regulations. However said , it is VERY important to preserve the few great examples of Thames tug that we have left today , and perhaps one of the best examples of of a company using these vessels on a daily basis for lighterage work are GPS Marine who have a fleet which include GPS Cervia (ex Recruit) , GPS Anglia (ex Friston Down) and GPS Vincia (ex Mersina) , all of which are kept to a very high standard and well looked after.
7. The Thames Sailing Barge
The Thames sailing barge was commonly used in the 19th century and was ideal for the River Thames because of its flat bottom and could carry a wide range of cargos including bricks, hay, rubbish, sand, coal and many more. Many Thames sailing barges were wooden built, however a smaller number were later built from steel. They were usually spritsail rigged on two masts. Most had a topsail above the huge mainsail and a large foresail. A barge with no topsail- or top mast sailing stumpy-rigged – enabled the barge to pass under London’s bridges.
A number of Thames Sailing barges took part in saving troops from the beaches of Dunkirk. A large number of Thames Sailing barges still remain today and have been preserved to a stunning standard and are often used for private charters and sailing trips. There are also a number of yearly barge matches where sailing barges take part in a race against each other in a show of skill.
The Thames has a wide range of bridges that cross the river , all of which are of a different design and unique , but none more so and none more famous than the iconic Tower Bridge
9. Watermen & Lightermen
Prior to the introduction of the boatmasters licence you had to be a waterman and lighterman to work afloat on the River Thames (unless in another role of course) and this involved becoming apprenticed by a family member (many people came from large river families and everybody knew each other or a member of that family) or somebody who was already a waterman or lighterman, you would be ‘bound(apprenticed)’ at Watermens Hall. The apprenticeship ranges between 7 and 5 years and at the end of your apprenticeship you again return to watermens hall to be examined on your local river knowledge by a panal of freeman and if you pass your exam , you would become a Freeman of the River Thames and in turn essentially become a captain , the minimum age being 21.
The Act of 1514 passed by Parliament regulated the fares charged on the Thames. However the Watermen who carried passengers continued to act independently and an Act of 1555 appointed Rulers of all Watermen and Wherrymen working between Gravesend and Windsor, thus the Company was born. The Act of 1555 also introduced apprenticeships for a term of one year for all boys wishing to learn the watermen’s trade and this was extended to seven years by a further Act in 1603. The Lightermen joined the Company in 1700.
Watermen and Lightermen – Watermen carry passengers whilst Lightermen carry goods and cargo.
10. The Doggetts Coat & Badge Race
Doggett’s Coat and Badge is the prize and name for the oldest rowing race in the world. Up to six apprentice watermen of the River Thames in England compete for this prestigious honour, which has been held every year since 1715. The 4 miles 5 furlongs (7,400 m) race is held on the Thames between London Bridge and Cadogan Pier, Chelsea, passing under a total of eleven bridges en route. Originally, it was raced every 1 August against the outgoing (falling or ebb) tide, in the boats used by watermen to ferry passengers across the Thames. Today it is raced at a date and time in late July that coincides with the incoming (rising or flood) tide, in contemporary single sculling boats.
The winner’s prize is a traditional watermen’s red coat with a silver badge added, displaying the horse of the House of Hanover and the word “Liberty”, in honour of the accession of George I to the throne
The ALPHA was built in Paris in 1982 as the REGINE for Bateaux Parisien for use on the Seine – 1 of 3 sister vessels – all of which operated on the Thames as Hydrospace Alpha,Beta & Gamma, the Beta returned to Paris in 2002 and was replaced by Hydrospace Delta
Passengers: 363 incl 4 crew (later changed to 300)
Speed: 10 Knots
Engine: 2x Volvo Penta Turbo Diesel
Reengined 2002 – 2 x Volvo TMD 103A
Rebuilt in 2016 from deck level – Cummins engines
Year Built: 1982
Bateaux Parisien (1982-1994) as Regine
Catamaran Cruisers (1994-2007) as Hydrospace Alpha
City Cruises (2008) renamed City Alpha
Rebuilt at Denton (2016)
In 1993 the vessel was brought over from Paris to London as part of a £2million investment in the fleet at Catamaran Cruisers,alterations were made including removing the glass enclosed stern and creating an open back deck area among other more mior changes. The vessel was renamed and launched under the new name HYDROSPACE ALPHA.
The vessel boasted features including a sliding glass roof which gave passengers 360 degree views of London (and a sun tan in the summer) , the boat being popular with passengers and crews alike for being able to carry an audience of up to 363 passengers which a member of the crew would give a guided tour to between Westminster to Greenwich. The video below shows a typical guide onboard the vessel.
The vessel continued to operate with Catamaran Cruisers until the company ceased trading in September 2007. Between this time other alterations were made to the vessel which included adding a ladder on the foredeck which allowed easier access to the glass roof for cleaning duties , in 2002 the vessel was re-engined with 2 x Volvo Penta 103A and in 2007 the spotlights along the side decks of both the Alpha & Gamma were removed mainly due to the fact that many were broken and no longer worked.
In early 2008 City Cruises bought the Hydrospace Alpha , Gamma & Delta from Catamaran Cruisers. The Hydrospace Alpha entered service in Feb 2008 however still in Catamaran Cruisers blue and yellow livery with just a city cruises sticker on the windows to show the new owner
By May 2008 the Alpha had returned from drydock in a new smart red, white and blue waterline livery for City Cruises (pictured below)
In 2010 the vessels forward mounted liferafts were removed and additional orange carley floats mounted either side of the wheelhouse, the glass panals either side of the wheelhouse were removed to allow for this
In 2012 the vessel took part in the Queens Diamond Jubilee Pageant
In 2013 after an incident in which the vessel hit a large swell causing the forward windows to break, the vessel had its forward windows removed and the lower section replaced with steel and a smaller glass area above (pictured below) – the City Gamma also had the same modification made at a later date
In November 2015 the City Alpha was slipped at Denton and cut down to deck level to begin its rebuild , the propeller shafts and engines were also removed
Pictured below on May 6th 2016 during rebuild at Denton
On 26th July 2016 the City Alpha was relaunched after her rebuild, on the 27th July 2016 she underwent engine trials and is due to have a stability test in the KG Dock later this week before entering service
Further photos of the interior and the vessel in service will appear in the next update….
The two vessels arrived at Tilbury last month and as of yet moved from the berth inside the dock. FELIX and CHRISTIAN built in 2009 in Germany have an 18.50m Length, 6.20m beam and 1.80m draft powered by 2 Volvo Penta D16-600 diesels 1200bhp with a bollard pull of 15T.
The vessels are owned by BMB Joint Venture which consists of BAM Nuttall, Morgan Sindall and Balfour Beatty and a main contractor for the “Thames Tideway Tunnel” and are due to be operated by Livetts
Photos below show the vessels registered in London in Holland on April 17th and another photo showing one of the vessels with its wheelhouse raised
photos by Freijsen
S.Walsh have recently purchased the vessel JOYCE ex Eerland 3 for pushing the new 1100T hoppers to Battersea Power Station/Chambers Wharf
The vessel was built in 1972 as Neptune 8 and renamed Eeland 3 in 1986 for Smit in Rotterdam. She has 2 x Mitsubishi engines rated at 986bhp
The vessel is due to be brought over from Holland tomorrow riding piggyback ontop of two new pontoons towed by MTS Vigilant and will arrive at Tilbury on Friday 27th May
The PB Alligator & PB Sabina finally emerged from West India Dock today. The owners of the two have been a little bit of a mystery, however today may have shed some light on who the new owners could well be.
The two vessels departed West India Dock and were seen taking bunkers alongside GPS Battler at Vic Deep before departing for the River Medway. Although unconfirmed, the crew onboard the two tugs were GPS Marine and heading for the Medway would make the new owners being GPS Marine quite likely. Although as said above, this has not yet been confirmed.
Either way, its always nice to see new vessels arrive and enter service on the River Thames and no doubt both boats will look much smarter after refit
At 0645am this morning HMS President left her Blackfriars mooring where she has been moored since 1922 under tow by GPS Anglia, GPS Iberia and GPS India. The vessel had to vacate its mooring due to the Thames Tideway Tunnel project and is due to be towed to Chatham until a new mooring can be found.