Father Thames

So here then at St John's Lock is the very shrine of Old Father Thames himself where he reclines in glory.  His effigy was designed by Rafaelle Monti, and was originally commissioned in 1854 for the Crystal Palace as part of the "Rivers and Oceans" series which was displayed on the Italian Terrace; unusually for its time, it was made of Portland cement. It was rescued from the fire at Crystal Palace in 1936 and bought by the Thames Conservancy, who eventually installed it at Thames Head in 1958. Following vandalism the statue was moved to St John's Lock from Thames Head in 1974.

Plaque near statue

1994: Mollie Harris in 'The Stripling Thames' writes -

One man ... Eynsham born and bred is Ron May, who worked on the Thames for thirty-two years. His father and his grandfather before him, too, worked almost all their lives on the river. His father, for some reason, was known as Soldier May and Ron always as Young Soldier.
At one time Ron was dredger-master and drove a hundred ton steam dredger, which had to be towed up and down the river by a great tug. ...
It was Ron's gang who brought the huge figure of Old Father Thames from the source at Trewsbury Mead to its present home at Lechlade. One of their lorries had previously collected it from the Crystal Palace Exhibition and had taken it to Trewsbury Mead years before.

So he was installed here at St John's Lock where the lock keeper can keep an eye on the old boy.  (He does look as if he has, in the past, got up to quite a lot, and might just do so again, don't you think?)
I used to think his figure looked something less than svelte - however, as I have got older, it now seems quite reasonable!

Old father Thames

Alexander Pope, celebrated the Peace brought about in 1713, and proclaims a new time of prosperity for the river -

In that blest moment, from his oozy bed
Old Father Thames advanced his reverend head;
His tresses dropped with dews, and o'er the stream
His shining horns diffused a golden gleam:

Graved on his urn appeared the moon, that guides
His swelling waters, and alternate tides;
The figured streams in waves of silver rolled,
And on their banks Augusta rose in gold.

Around his throne the sea-born brothers stood,
Who swell with tributary urns his flood;
First the famed authors of his ancient name,
The winding Isis and the fruitful Thame:

The Kennet swift, for silver eels renowned;
The Loddon slow, with verdant alders crowned;
Cole, whose dark streams his flowery islands lave;
And chalky Wey, that rolls a milky wave;

The blue, transparent Vandalis appears;
The gulfy Lee his sedgy tresses rears;
And sullen Mole, that hides his diving flood;
And silent Darent, stained with Danish blood.

High in the midst, upon his urn reclined,
(His sea-green mantle waving with the wind)
The god appeared: he turned his azure eyes
Where Windsor-domes and pompous turrets rise;

Then bowed and spoke; the winds forget to roar,
And the hushed waves glide softly to the shore.
"Hail, sacred Peace! hail, long-expected days,
That Thames's glory to the stars shall raise! ..."

1780: Bacon sculpted this statue of Father Thames below the statue of George III. at Somerset Place. I'm sorry to say that Samuel Ireland was quite rude about it in 1799.

Father Thames scupture by Bacon at Somerset Place 1780
Father Thames at Somerset Place.

1799: Samuel Ireland in Picturesque Views on the River Thames -

Entering the quadrangle, an excellent statue of Father Thames, modelled by Bacon, will, from its superior merit, claim the world's attention;
but we are sorry to add, that it is a general remark that this river God is totally misplaced, and so far removed from his proper element, as to induce us to believe that from indignation and disgust, he will not, under these circumstances, be prevailed upon to dispense the blessings of his urn.

I think old Father Thames really ought to find his home on Temple Island in the Henley reach where he could supervise events more suited to his lascivious appearance.  What am I talking about?  Well look at a typical day for him -

Old father Thames print 1
Old father Thames.

There is another version of this print -

Old father Thames print 2
The Thames or the Triumph of navigation 1792, James Barry.

A typical scene at St John's Lock -
The print goes with two couplets from the poem 'Cooper's Hill' by Sir John Denham (1615-1669) -

Nor are his blessings to his banks confin'd,
But free and common as the sea or wind;
So that to us no thing, no place is strange,
While his fair bosom is the world's exchange.

I think what this is on about is the free market which the Thames facilitated with its easy (well easier) means of commercial transport.
That the statue was made with the same message is indicated by the parcelled up goods beside him
After Alexander Pope's celebration of the Great Peace under Queen Anne this is just a little of a come down!

W Clark Russell -

Father Thames, once a god, might more fitly be termed a goddess, under the title of Commerce; for this assuredly is the presiding spirit.
It quickens with life the smallest and craziest structures by the water-side; the very ebb and flow of the noble stream seem obedient to its laws, and its shadow is in the air and upon the face of the waters.

Old Father Thames with one of his granddaughters

John Eade, with apologies to Lewis Carroll
Listen to 'You are old, father Thames'

"You are old, father Thames", the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly lounge on a bed -
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth", father Thames replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But, being cement, I'm sure I have none,
So, I do it come sunshine or rain."

"You are old", said the youth, "as is natural of course,
But you've grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet were moved on for vandalism up at the source -
Pray what is the reason for that?"

"In my youth", said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
"I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this paddle - and the throwing of rocks -
Allow me to shie you a couple?"

"You are old", said the youth, "and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak -
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth", said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued our name with wife Isis;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw,
Has brought me through many a crisis."

"You are old", said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your fame was as widespread as ever;
Yet you sit there in state and look down your nose -
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough",
Father Thames says. "Impertinent boaters!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or they'll think you're all loafers!"