Caught by the River

The Tidal Thames: From Teddington Lock to the Sea

4th February 2016

We’re pleased to be able to share the details of a new London Sound Survey project which focuses on the River Thames.

introductionlarge Words and pictures: Ian Rawes

The Tidal Thames is an ongoing series about a subject which has been thoroughly documented and rhapsodised in pretty much every medium except that of field recordings. They’re an important part of this project.

The tides’ regularity might create a sense of timelessness, but the Thames never stops changing. Rising sea levels made it independent from a great pan-European river system which was once centred on the Rhine. A unique habitat existed thousands of years ago along the estuary’s shores when silent forests of yew trees grew in the peaty soil. Nowhere like that now exists on Earth. Even in the lifetimes of older Londoners the river has changed from an industrial and mercantile highway to become the focus of property development and leisure.

London’s principal axis runs with the river and the prevailing winds from west to east. It points westwards towards the English heartlands, in the imagination a limpid green dreamland of old money, straw hats, swans floating about, Arcadian landscapes and students falling around in punts. To the east it flows into the outside world past a new city with new people which is gradually being assembled throughout the Docklands and beyond.

Many of us, I’d guess, don’t simply like the Thames but have an unspoken need for it. This is what draws us to flood walls, towpaths and bridge parapets and, once there, we stare at the water, the wash of boats, moored lighters, docks, piers: the entire rough-looking old world of river life.

Among the field recordings are some interviews with people who have a strong interest in some aspect of the Thames. Partly this is because making field recordings and not interviewing people began to feel strange, almost anti-social. It was like spending years researching and building a film set in which no actors would ever appear.

The other reason is that people whose lives are involved with the Thames will have some good stories to tell about it. I’m very keen to do more interviews. For example: do you live on a houseboat or an eyot? Do you pilot a boat along the Thames for work or pleasure? Do you paddle a canoe, go sculling, or are you mad enough to swim in it? Do you study the river’s wildlife or archaeology? If you’ve got a story or two or you’d like to tell me about what you do, then I’d love to hear from you. The email address to contact is:

The first ten parts of the project are online now. See them here.

Ian will be joining us at our next event: The Caught by the River Social Club at London’s Bush Hall on Sunday 28 Feb. More info here. Tickets here.