Book review: London’s Waterways

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Thames barge, River Thames, London

London’s Waterways is an attractive and account in photos and captions of the capital’s rivers and canals by waterways cameraman and writer Derek Pratt, and published by Adlard Coles. You can pre-order a copy from Amazon as the book isn’t out until 1 March 2010: London’s Waterways.

I’ve lived in and around London for much of my life, and either cycled or walked along most of the canals, but I confess I hadn’t heard of the Rivers Crane and Brent, and the Wandle was only known to me as the name of a line of buses. More, I’ve always connected the name Tyburn with public executions and barely noticed that it could be the name of a river.

So, although Pratt has done a good job of many the great set-piece River Thames photos – pleasure boats, the busy London Pool and so on – as well as the canals, there are quite a few surprises here.

For example the little River Tyburn feeds the lake in Regent’s Park, and runs through Grays Mews Antiques Market, where it provides a home for a colony of goldfish.

The prosaically named New River runs for an astonishing 38 miles and was laboriously built in 1603 to carry fresh water from Hertfordshire into London. It’s still in use.

The River Neckinger, which meets the Thames near London Bridge, is said to have got its name from a spot where pirates used to be hanged using a rope called a neckinger or Devil’s neckcloth; in the 19th century it was a seriously unpleasant place that it also went by the marvellous name of The Venice of Drains.

My only complaint is that although he’s a boating writer, Pratt hasn’t devoted much of this book to boats, or, more particularly the traditional boats of London’s rivers. Perhaps these are yet to come in a future volume; it would be nice to think so.

What we have here is a coffee-table book full of nice big photos, including many set-piece scenes – Pratt seems to be particularly good at catching brightly sunlit bridges with moody backgrounds of black cloud – but it’s also more informative than many similar books, and would make a great birthday or Christmas present for anyone who has a soft spot either for London’s history or for old waterways water, or both.

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