Sweet Thames, Flow Softly

The River Thames starts in the Cotswolds, at Thames Head near Kemble in Gloucestershire, It seeps out of the earth near our new holiday home and thrillingly a small tributary of it flows past Rainshore. The green plastic boundary is a temporary newt fence to protect them during the building work.

Cotswolds house, R Thames
RIver Thames tributary, from the window of Rainshore

From here the river flows eastward to its mouth near Southend in Essex, defining London as it goes. So many of London’s important places are on the river – seven Royal palaces from Windsor to the Tower of London are on the Thames which was England’s most important transport link since prehistoric times. In fact although we think of London owing its importance to the City of London and its financial centre, it is the Thames which makes our city both famous and wealthy. During the middle ages barges brought everything the city needed from wool, wood and food, and river boats ferried people up and down its length. During the 1700s the boats took imported goods like silk, sugar, tea and spices (from the Caribbean) into London.As the main transport route the River was more congested than our modern roads with ships backed up along the banks, waiting to unload timber, iron ore or consumer goods for days on end. In my day job we are regenerating some of these important dockside locations – at Surrey Docks (Canada Water) and at the Royal Docks (Gallions Reach).

It is 215 miles long, and one of Britain’s longest rivers. I am so excited about having a little bit of the Thames outside our door, and one day (it’s on the bucket list) I would like to walk the Thames path.

In the meantime if you travel on London Underground you sometimes see poems, in the place of advertisements, some of them distinctly local. Like this one.

Poems on the Underground

The RIver is such an important part of our history and life in the capital that, like Ewan MacColl, you cannot help be inspired by it. So I was interested to visit a recent exhibition at Morley College (where I am studying pattern cutting) of artwork, textiles and printing – all inspired by our RIver Thames. If you are near Lambeth North do pop in to the gallery – there is often an interesting show of student work. I was particularly drawn to these textile pieces using iron (some found in the river) and indigo, incorporating patchwork and shibori techniques.

The screen printing impressed me – it always does, especially The Height of Ambition – an amazing super-sized wall hanging protesting in a beautiful way about the high rise buildings going up now, on the edge of the River. As someone involved in property development it certainly gave me pause for thought. The slogans are from the advertising material of the top-end developers who sell large quantities of these apartments overseas, while many in London struggle to find affordable housing.

Screen printing at Morley
Height of Ambition

I also really like the screen printed map of the Thames and the surrounding area.


9 Responses

  1. Rosemary

    That looks a great exhibit and I have a great rusty axe head, in case I get the urge to create my own fabric design. I have a couple of friends who have used rust in their projects. As a child I lived on the banks of the Fraser River, It is 854 miles long and surprisingly green near the source rather than muddy brown.

  2. Kim Hood

    I loved the newt fence too.
    Next time I’m in London I will check out what’s available to see at Morley as I should have more time available on this visit.

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