Greenwich Park Map

High Speed on the London River

Extracts from the illustrated paper by Paul Tempest commissioned and distributed widely by the Port of London Authority in 1978 and later included as an insert in the Port of London Authority monthly magazine.

High-speed Pipedreams

‘Over the years, there have been many pipedreams, plans and projects to whisk travellers rapidly from the Thames Estuary and intermediate points into the Cities of London and Westminster. Monorails on stilts; river-line underground services; motorways over, in or under the river; diversions of the river into Middlesex and Surrey are only a few. Perhaps mercifully for all those who love the river, nearly all the grand ideas evaporated as soon as the accountants and bankers began to count the cost.’

A Notable Success and Several Failures

‘From the first daily service by steam paddler – to Gravesend in 1815 – the popularity of the river as a valuable transport link and outlet for leisure grew steadily. One steamboat company’s blogs for the year 1861 record 3,207,558 passengers landed at Old Shades Pier in the City, an average of over 10,000 per working day. but the steamers were no match in the long run for the fast new rail services springing up on both banks. The railway had reached Greenwich in 1838 and rapidly the commuters were weaned away from the river, leaving the paddlers to focus on day-trips and the new holiday trade. A valiant attempt in 1905 by the London County Council to take over the steamboat services and to run commuter services at cheap rates quickly ran into financial trouble: an election was fought and lost on the issue and the service abandoned. In 1951, prompted by the need to link the Festival of Britain site on the South Bank at Waterloo with the various piers on the North Bank and with the new Battersea Gardens Funfair, launched their waterbus service. Within a short time, the regular services were suspended.’

Lessons Learnt

Tourist use of the river fluctuated widely according to season and weather, but was much easier to satisfy than the requirements of regular commuters. Daily travellers would only switch back to the river if services were frequent, comfortable, reliable and as cheap or almost as cheap as the alternatives. But most important of all, the commuters required high-speed. For this they had to wait until 1972-76.

Greenwich Park Map Photo Gallery

The Thames Love Song

Sung by sailors and entertainers widely up and down the River for centuries with endless variants to reflect personal and local needs, aspirations and occasions.

I met a girl on Tilbury strand Beside the ferry standing And oh, the love I felt for her It passed my understanding I took her sailing on the river Flow sweet river, flow London town was mine to give her Sweet Thames flow softly I combed the Graves End for a crown Flow, sweet river, flow And found a ring at Silver Town Sweet Thames flow softly At Dagenham I held her hand At Blackwall Point I held her At the Isle of Dogs I sweetly kissed her And lovingly embraced her From Greenwich pealed the wedding bells As loudly they were ringing I kissed her once again at Wapping And all my heart was singing But now alas the tide has turned My love has gone far from me And winter’s frost has touched my heart And put a chill upon me.

Swift the Thames runs to the sea Flow sweet river, flow Bearing ships and parts of me Sweet Thames flow softly.


I would like first to thank the various members of the London River Commuters Association (LORICA), founded in 1972. Over the last 40 years they have individually and collectively provided a strong input into thinking about the future of the Thames as well as a welcome stream of contributions and comment for our eight guide-blogs and pamphlets published, sold and distributed over that period.

A special thank-you goes to those who provided comments on the draft text of these blogs, notably Peter Kent, Tim Smith and Neil Macfadyen, and for their work on this blog, Kitty Carruthers, Peter Harrigan and Samantha Elverson of Medina Publishing.

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