8 Interesting Facts about the Thames

Thames

One thing we at Central London Apartments take pride in, besides offering the most luxurious serviced apartments in London, is possessing an expert knowledge of our beloved capital. From things you didn’t know about the London Marathon, to obscure facts about Queen Elizabeth II, we have plenty of London nouse to share with our customers. But what about the life source of the city itself? The River Thames comes part and parcel of any iconic London imagery, but just how much do you know about this famous waterway? Join us as we countdown the 8 most interesting facts about the Thames for you to impart to your fellow travellers during your next sightseeing trip around the city.

8. The River of Bridges

Kingston Bridge
The original (wooden) Kingston Bridge was constructed in 1219

Most of us are familiar with the famous bridges of London, but in fact the Thames has over 200 bridges spanning its waters – so great is its length. One of the earliest bridges to cross the Thames was built by the Romans in approximately AD 50. Today, London Bridge (the most recent variant dating to 1973) occupies the spot – showing the tremendous impact the Romans had in shaping the city as we know it today.

Bonus fact – The Victorian incarnation of London Bridge was dismantled and sold to an American buyer; it stands to this day in Lake Havasu City, Arizona!

7. A Novel Inspiration

the books inspired by the thames one of the most interest facts about the thames
Reading a book and enjoying a picnic beside the Thames is about as British as it gets – especially if you care to enjoy one of the many Thames inspired works

Unsurprisingly the Thames features in countless books and films, but there are some written works that have a particularly special connection with the River. One of our most interesting facts about the Thames is that it directly inspired The Wind and the Willows. Author Kenneth Grahame lived in the village of Pangbourne on the river’s banks, and so used the Thames as the backdrop for his charming story. Often considered to be one of the best novels of all time, Three Men in a Boat is another Thames inspired book: this time an account of a two week boating holiday on the river. Filled with quintessential Edwardian humour, this novel is as much an ode to the River Thames as it is Englishness itself.

6. London’s Thirst Quencher

interest facts about the thames water supply
Water from the Thames undergoes a thorough water cleaning cycle before it is supplied to London inhabitants

At an incredible 215 miles long, the Thames almost spans across England. But its source is actually a small village in the Cotswolds named Kemble. Two thirds of London’s drinking water comes directly from the river. In fact, it is thought that a drop of rain falling at the river’s source will be drank eight times before it reaches London! When you read our next fact, you’ll be very glad that the river water is treated very differently to how it was in the past…

5. The Great Stink

The Great Stink
The infamous River Thames stench was much discussed and satirised in nineteenth century London

The Thames has had a chequered past – not always being the thing of beauty we know it as today. One of the less savoury interesting facts about the Thames concerns its rather smelly heritage. For centuries the River Thames was used as an unofficial sewage site – with thousands of residents and businesses pouring their waste into the water on a daily basis. While most grew accustomed to the pungent pong the river was known for, in 1858 an especially odoriferous day saw the river’s stench cause such offence that Parliament was suspended. ‘The Great Stink’, as it was known, led to the creation of a new city sewer system, created by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in 1865 – thankfully banishing the stench forevermore.

Bonus fact – Much of the 1865 sewer system is still functional and in use to this day.

4. The Thames once had its own Polar Bear

Polar bear
King Henry III’s white bear (most likely a polar bear) regularly frequented the River Thames for a swim

The Tower of London has housed countless exotic pets throughout history, with many British monarchs choosing to install their beastly menageries at the castle. In the 1250s the people of London watched in awe as King Henry III sent his latest prize – a ‘pale’ bear from Norway – out with its handler to go fishing and swimming in the Thames, an event that would become a regular occurrence. The bear became a favourite amongst locals, and was only trumped by the arrival of an elephant! To this day, the pale bear of the Thames is remembered as a peculiar piece of British history that is unlikely to be forgotten.

3. Its name remains a mystery

interesting facts about the Thames night river
Despite being so entrenched in British culture, no one knows for certain the origins of the river’s name

The name ‘Thames’ is as iconic as the river itself, but historians remain unclear as to where the name originated. Various interpretations suggest many different world influences, but this is thrown into further turmoil by the fact that throughout history the river appears to have gone by different names. A popular theory is that the name stems from a Sanskrit word, ‘Tamas’, meaning dark. This would certainly fit with the Thames’ dark and silty colouring, particularly in London, and aligns with the idea that the Romans would have brought many worldly influences to the city. Others believe the name comes from a Middle English word, ‘Temese’, which may have a Celtic background. Whatever the true answer, the mystery behind the river’s name remains one of the most curiously interesting facts about the Thames.

2. Swimmers galore

Swimming in Thames
Whether for charity, athletic prowess or amusement, many notable figures have famously swam in the Thames

With miles upon miles of beautiful spots in which to paddle, it’s no wonder that over the years many have swam in the Thames’ (sometimes) warm waters. But you may not know just how many famous figures have taken a dip in London’s mighty river. A young Lord Byron bragged in a letter that he “swam from Lambeth through the 2 Bridges Westminster & Blackfriars”, whereas none other than Benjamin Franklin swam a fair stretch of the river while visiting England in 1726. Celebrities such as David Walliams also swam in the Thames for charity, but only environmental campaigner Lewis Pugh swam its full length in 2006 to draw attention to drought in England (as a result of global warming). The swim took him a whopping 21 days to complete.

1. An oasis for Wildlife

Seahorse interesting facts about the Thames
Seahorses have become increasingly common in the Thames in recent years

Although only 50 years ago the Thames was described as being ‘biologically dead’ due to pollution, today it is one of the cleanest rivers running through a major city in the world! Thanks to dramatic improvements in sewage management and environmental protection (including the work of the River Thames Society), the river now sees hundreds of species of birds and fish flock to its waters. From sea horses to porpoises, seemingly exotic species now make regular appearances in the London waterway. In fact, larger species including bottle-nose whales and even a Beluga whale have been sighted in the Thames, which just goes to show the incredible improvements made to the water quality in recent years.

Bonus fact – Many have claimed to have spotted sea serpents in the Thames, with a recent video in 2016 appearing to add credence to the sightings!

If you are hungry for even more interesting facts about London, read our fascinating facts about Kensington, or discover the must-read facts about London’s department stores. Fuelled up on facts and ready to book a stay? Visit our enquiry page and begin your luxury London adventure today.

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