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.

Environment Agency to keep lock-keepers’ houses on the Thames

The Environmental Agency has decided to keep lock keepers’ cottages
along the banks of the Thames. This example is at Sonning

The Environment Agency has decided it now wishes to maintain the chain of resident lock and weir keepers at each of its 45 lock sites along the River Thames.

The organisation changed its mind after staff, MPs, river users and those who live in the flood plain raised objections to earlier proposals to sell off ten of the lock keepers’ cottages.

It still plans to sell some houses, but these will be properties that are not either on or adjacent to locks and weirs.

‘We are confident that this proposal will address the concerns raised previously, while ensuring that we are able to use the assets we no longer need to raise money which we can reinvest in managing the river,’ said EA regional director Howard Davidson.

He added that no lock and weir staff will be made homeless or redundant as a result of any decision on lock houses and that staff in the five off-site houses due to be sold will be moved into houses at or adjacent to a lock in due course.

The EA says that it currently own 57 lock houses, and that of these, 52 are on or adjacent to lock sites.

For more posts relating to the River Thames, click here.

London Whalers are back

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Rowing a Montague whaler on the London River, with a Thames barge in the background

Rowing on the river with the London Whalers. You can join them –
just follow the weblink below

Dick Wynne has written to say that his restored 1934 Montague whaler is being repainted and will be afloat again in two weeks or so.

Regular readers will recognise Dick from the Albert Strange Association – see the Blogroll to the right of this post. This time, he’s recruiting a group of people to her off the ground (so to speak) in London under oar and sail. She’ll be operating evenings and weekends, given enough interest, so if you’re in London and fancy a little old-fashioned rowing – mixed, no doubt, with some old-fashioned socialising – get in touch via the London Whalers website.