The most comprehensive topographical survey of the river is not a book but a website. John Eade is a retired vicar who has been a lifelong aficionado of the river, exploring as far upstream in his punt Pax as Cricklade, and downstream to Teddington. The website also covers the tidal Thames, with its fascinating historic bridges and races. Although Eade now lives in Dorset, he still regularly visits the river in the second of the two punts he built himself; in 2015 Pax was even coaxed through the jungle of Oxford backwaters around and under Botley Road as far as The Fishes at North Hinksey. A developing interest is the tides and their graphical online presentation. "Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide" ... is an unrivalled treasure house of facts, literary reference and artworks that is constantly being added to and updated.
"There is one website I navigated a thousand times while writing this book and which was invaluable to me. It takes you on a journey through space and time, along the river.
Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide (Thames.me.uk) was created by John Eade and he maintains it with dedication.
If you can't get to the Thames itself, this website is the next best thing."
John Eade is the rather magnificent curator of the website I consulted most often and most fruitfully when I was writing Once Upon a River. It takes the user on a journey up or downstream, giving all kinds of information, present day and historical, scientific and poetic, visual and in words, all arranged by location. It is an amazing resource for anyone interested in the Thames. Now he has added a section to his information on the Swan Inn devoted to Once Upon a River, in which he gathers together material to help readers visualise and understand that stretch of the Thames. You'll need to scroll down to reach the images and text. Thank you John!
I received a very short (but powerful, I realised later) e-mail from John Eade. He sent some very interesting links to his website Where Thames Smooth Water Glide. Reading here and there, I was extremely impressed with all the information on these sites and the different links that took you further and deeper into a special niche. (The particular pages of interest for 'Hear the Boat Sing' were: Henley Royal Regatta; The Boat Race, and Doggett's Coat and Badge Race) My warmest thanks to John Eade for sending these links and allowing me to post them here.
There are loads of great river Thames resources, but Thames.me.uk is one that contains a lot of historical information. S. Wenham, 'Oxford, the Thames and Leisure: a History of Salter Bros, 1858-2010 (Oxford University DPhil thesis, Michaelmas, 2012) PS Simon's new book is now out: 'Hobbs of Henley: a History'
from The Great Frost of 1683-4
The winter of 1683-4 produced one of the most notable of the Frost Fairs on the River Thames, known as the Blanket Fair. Others have covered that in great detail (e.g. the Thames.me.uk website), ...
A recent and very welcome subscriber to Morris Oxford is John Eade, whose historical cornucopia of a website, Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide, https://thames.me.uk contains no fewer than 84 pages on the rivers of Oxford.
1603: Thames from Stow's Survey
1632: Thames Isis by John Taylor, the Water Poet
1758: A Description of the River Thames by Binnell & Griffiths
1764: Gilpin's Sketches, Windsor to London
1794: Survey of the River Thames by John Rennie
1801: Picturesque Views on the River Thames by Samuel Ireland
1803: Report on the Navigation by William Tatham INCOMPLETE
1811 & 1818:(Thames Views) combined: Cooke & Owen / Cooke PDF
1814: Frostiana Printed on the Ice of the Thames
1817: Sailing directions Norie
1827: Chronicles of London Bridge
1829: Tour on the Banks of the Thames, London to Oxford A & R Walton
1830: Eighty Picturesque Views on the Thames Tombleson & Fearnside
1832: Bridges from 'Public Buildings of London' Britton, Pugin & Leeds
1840: Thames and its Tributaries. [& Frost Fairs] Charles Mackay
1844: Thames Frost & Fair, 1683-4 edited Rimbault
1845: Picturesque Thames John Fisher Murray
1849: Thames: Rambles by Rivers James Thorne
1849: Thames Sights and Songs John Kendrick
1861: River Excerpts from 'Tom Brown at Oxford' Thomas Hughes
1861: Explosion at Erith, 1864 Illus. London News
1863: Thames excerpts from 'Our Old Home' (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
1866: Rowing and Training 'Argonaut' (E.D.Brickwood)
1869: The Phantom of Regatta Island by Charles Dickens
1873: Thames Map, Oxford to London by Henry Taunt
1875: Making Waterloo, Southwark & London Bridges J Rennie. Edited.
1876: The Thames from 'The Tiber & the Thames', publ. Lippincott
1880: Isis & Thamesis Alfred J Church
1881: Our River George Leslie, Artist and punter.
1881: The Thames from Oxford to Richmond Paul Blake (Boys' Own)
1883: The Thames from Oxford to its Source Paul Blake (Boys' Own)
1883-1908:Thames Magic Lantern Slides W.C.Hughes
1885: Rivers of Great Britain, The Thames [The Royal River] various
1885: Dictionary of the Thames Charles Dickens(jun)
1885: Thames Trip (Dickens's Dictionary edited geographically)
1886: Down the Thames, Oxford to Windsor, Julia Isham Taylor
1888: Boating by W.B.Woodgate
1889: "Log" of Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K Jerome no stories - sad!
1890: William Morris's trips on the River, 1880 & 1890
1891: Boating Life on the Upper Thames, Dr F. Campbell Moller
1891: Stream of Pleasure, J & E Pennell
1899: "A Tale of Henley", Victor Whitechurch [a short story ]
1902: "A Naturalist on the Thames", C J Cornish
1904: Great Thames Barrage by Barber
1909: The Stripling Thames Book of the river above Oxford. Thacker
1910: Thames Valley Villages Volumes I & II. Charles Harper
1914: The Thames Highway: Vol I General History Fred Thacker
1920: The Thames Highway: Vol II Locks & Weirs Fred Thacker
1922: Round About the Upper Thames by Alfred Williams (UNFINISHED)
1930: The Thames, Putney - Staines, A survey Adams, Thompson & Fry.
1945: The Thames Conservancy 1945 by Henry Berry
1953: Canal & River excerpts 'Hornblower' C S Forester. (1805)
1953: The Thames Laurie Lee.
Almost every feature of the River has a page to itself (in order from Sea to Source)
Most pages have:
1) A map of the feature
2) Links to various maps
3) Locks and other major features have a summary of the River conditions shown on the Environment Agency site at this moment -
NB river flow is often quoted in terms of "excedance": the percentage of the time annually that this flow is exceeded - so 0% would be the highest flood, and 100% the lowest drought of the year.
4) A link to a Google Streetview if available (which it is for many of the bridges and locks.)
5) Locks etc have River Levels and estimated flows (in cubic meters per second)
6) History, Historic pictures, Poetry and more ...
Quotation attributed to William Shakespeare, but more likely William Sly or Wentworth Smith: 'The Life of the Lord Cromwell' -
The River Thames, that by our door doth pass,
His first beginning is but small and shallow:
Yet keeping on his course, grows to a sea.
Sir Walter Raleigh at the court of Queen Elizabeth I -
There are two things scarce matched in the Universe -
the sun in heaven and the Thames on earth!
On the other hand William, fourth Duke of Queensberry -
What is there to make so much of in the Thames?
I am quite weary of it; there it goes, flow, flow, flow, always the same.
No doubt he was just a cynic - but he does have a point. Because the river is carefully managed by its weirs the level hardly changes in ordinary conditions. The current may vary by up to say 20 times with only an inch or two change in level. Only in flood or drought does the level change significantly. In the last few years the ratio between the highest flow and the lowest is nearly 1:400 !
To email this site use John at the above domain.
The Thames is a secret waterway through the heart of England, accessible only to those with a boat, or willing to hire a boat, or to some extent those willing to walk the Thames paths.
It is very slow, generally understated, a gentle, plain, beauty with few dramatic points. There are no rapids or waterfalls, and the beauty which takes your breath away is generally of trees on the hills at which the river nudges in an undemanding sort of way.
Above Cricklade the Thames flows through flat water meadows from the source at Thames Head, though the Churn is rather more exciting with lovely scenery up to Seven Springs.
From Cricklade to Oxford the countryside is essentially flat and gentle and there are so few people to be seen that any human contact becomes quite welcome.
From there on down the scenery slowly becomes more dramatic reaching its height below the Goring Gap. Other beauties include Hennerton backwater and the Cliveden Reach.
Slipways or other launching sites have been identified enabling the whole navigable river to be used for day trips by trailered or car topped boats.
All but the Lechlade - Cricklade section, the River Cherwell, the Bullstake Stream and Hennerton Backwater, would be suited to small powered boats, but the site was written from a punter's point of view.
1844: The title is quoted from the poem by Joseph Tubbs, on the Poem Tree, Wittenham Clumps.
And yonder there Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide
(In later days appeared monastic pride)
Many of the more significant poems can be heard (if your browser allows it).