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River Thames
London Thames Sunset panorama - Feb 2008.jpg
Thames map.png
Map of the Thames within southern England
Country England
Counties Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, London, Kent, Essex
Towns/cities Cricklade, Lechlade, Oxford, Abingdon, Wallingford, Reading, Henley-on-Thames, Marlow, Maidenhead, Windsor, Staines-upon-Thames, Walton-on-Thames, Kingston upon Thames, Teddington, Westminster, London
Physical characteristics
Main source Thames Head, Gloucestershire, UK
110 m (360 ft)
River mouth Thames Estuary, North Sea
Southend-on-Sea, Essex, UK
0 m (0 ft)
Length 346 km (215 mi)
  • Average rate:
    65.8 m3/s (2,320 cu ft/s)
  • Maximum rate:
    370 m3/s (13,000 cu ft/s)
(location 2)
  • Average rate:
    17.6 m3/s (620 cu ft/s)
(location 3)
  • Average rate:
    24.8 m3/s (880 cu ft/s)
(location 4)
  • Average rate:
    39.7 m3/s (1,400 cu ft/s)
(location 5)
  • Average rate:
    59.3 m3/s (2,090 cu ft/s)
Basin features
Basin size 12,935 km2 (4,994 sq mi)

The River Thames is a large river in England. It goes through London the capital city of the United Kingdom.

The Thames is 346 kilometres (215 statute miles) long. Its source is near the village of Kemble in the Cotswolds; it flows through Oxford (where it is called "Isis", a shortening of its Latin name), Reading, Maidenhead, Eton and then Windsor.

From the outskirts of Greater London, it passes Syon House, Hampton Court Palace, Richmond (with the famous view of the Thames from Richmond Hill), and Kew. Then it passes through London, then Greenwich and Dartford before it enters the sea in an estuary, The Nore. Part of the area west of London is sometimes called the Thames Valley. The area east of Tower Bridge is called Thames Gateway by development agencies and officials.

About 90 kilometres from the sea, above London, the river begins to show the tide caused by the North Sea. It is said that London was made capital of Roman Britain at the spot where the tides reached in 43 AD, but different things have pushed this spot farther up the river in the over 2000 years since then. At London, the water is slightly salty with sea salt.


Like the Celts who lived in the area, the Romans called the river Thamesis. The Thames was an important way to go between London and Westminster in the 16th and 17th centuries. The guild of watermen took Londoners back and forth by ferry. One of them, John Taylor, the Water Poet (1580—1653), described the river in a poem.

In the 17th and 18th century, at a time some call the "Little Ice Age", the Thames often froze over in the winter. This led to the first "Frost Fair" in 1607, with a tent city set up on the river with lots of odd amusements, like ice bowling. The last time the river froze over was in 1814. The building of a new London Bridge in 1825 may have helped stop it from freezing: the new bridge had fewer pillars than the old, allowing the river to flow more easily, and stopping it from flowing slowly enough to freeze in cold winters.

By the 18th century, the Thames was one of the world's busiest waterways, as London became the centre of the very big British Empire. During this time one of the worst river disasters in England took place on 3 September 1878 on the Thames, when the crowded pleasure boat Princess Alice crashed into the Bywell Castle killing over 640 people.

In the 'Great Stink' of 1858, pollution in the river became so bad that the House of Commons at Westminster had to quit sitting. There was then a big attempt to hold the city's sewage by building huge sewers on the north and south river banks, led by engineer Joseph Bazalgette.

The coming of rail transport and road transport, and the decline of the Empire in the years following 1914, have made the river less important than it was. London itself is no longer used much as a port, and the "Port of London" has moved down the river to Tilbury. The Thames has been greatly cleaned up, and life has returned to its dead waters.

In the early 1980s, the Thames Barrier was opened to control flooding. It is used many times a year to stop water damage to London's low lying areas up the river.

There are many bridges and tunnels crossing the Thames, including Tower Bridge, London Bridge, Lambeth Bridge, and the Dartford Crossing.

In September 2011 a British comedian, David Walliams, swam the entire 140 mile length of the river raising over £1million for a charity called Sport Relief. On Red Nose Day, people swim the Thames for charity.

Physical and natural aspects

The marker stone at the official source of the River Thames named Thames Head near Kemble
Seven Sources emerge point
The Seven Springs source
Thames Barrier London
The Thames Barrier provides protection against floods
Thames Panorama, London - June 2009
The Thames passes by some of the sights of London, including the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye
Cmglee London Richmond aerial
The Thames passing through the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames

The usually quoted source of the Thames is at Thames Head (at ). This is about 34 mile (1.2 km) north of Kemble parish church in southern Gloucestershire, near the town of Cirencester, in the Cotswolds.

However, Seven Springs near Cheltenham, where the Churn (which feeds into the Thames near Cricklade) rises, is also sometimes quoted as the Thames' source, as this location is furthest from the mouth, and adds some 14 miles (23 km) to the river's length. At Seven Springs above the source is a stone with the Latin hexameter inscription "Hic tuus o Tamesine pater septemgeminus fons", which means "Here, O Father Thames, [is] your sevenfold source".

The springs at Seven Springs flow throughout the year, while those at Thames Head are only seasonal (a winterbourne). The Thames is the longest river entirely in England. (The longest river in the United Kingdom, the Severn, flows partly in Wales). However, as the River Churn, sourced at Seven Springs, is 14 miles (23 km) longer than the section of the Thames from its traditional source at Thames Head to the confluence, the overall length of the Thames measured from Seven Springs, at 229 miles (369 km), is greater than the Severn's length of 220 miles (350 km). Thus, the "Churn/Thames" river may be regarded as the longest natural river in the United Kingdom.

The stream from Seven Springs is joined at Coberley by a longer tributary which could further increase the length of the Thames, with its source in the grounds of the National Star College at Ullenwood.

The Thames flows through or alongside Ashton Keynes, Cricklade, Lechlade, Oxford, Abingdon-on-Thames, Wallingford, Goring-on-Thames and Streatley, Pangbourne and Whitchurch-on-Thames, Reading, Wargrave, Henley-on-Thames, Marlow, Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton, Staines-upon-Thames and Egham, Chertsey, Shepperton, Weybridge, Sunbury-on-Thames, Walton-on-Thames, Molesey and Thames Ditton. The river was subject to minor redefining and widening of the main channel around Oxford, Abingdon and Marlow before 1850, since when further cuts to ease navigation have reduced distances further.

Molesey faces Hampton, and in Greater London the Thames passes Hampton Court Palace, Surbiton, Kingston upon Thames, Teddington, Twickenham, Richmond (with a famous view of the Thames from Richmond Hill), Syon House, Kew, Brentford, Chiswick, Barnes, Hammersmith, Fulham, Putney, Wandsworth, Battersea and Chelsea. In central London, the river passes Pimlico and Vauxhall, and then forms one of the principal axes of the city, from the Palace of Westminster to the Tower of London. At this point, it historically formed the southern boundary of the medieval city, with Southwark, on the opposite bank, then being part of Surrey.

Beyond central London, the river passes Bermondsey, Wapping, Shadwell, Limehouse, Rotherhithe, Millwall, Deptford, Greenwich, Cubitt Town, Blackwall, New Charlton and Silvertown, before flowing through the Thames Barrier, which protects central London from flooding by storm surges. Below the barrier, the river passes Woolwich, Thamesmead, Dagenham, Erith, Purfleet, Dartford, West Thurrock, Northfleet, Tilbury and Gravesend before entering the Thames Estuary near Southend-on-Sea.

The Thames in literature

Many books have been written about the Thames. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome describes a boat trip up the Thames. Somewhere near Oxford is where the Liddells were rowing in the poem at the start of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Somewhere near here was where Alice fell asleep in the book. The river is named in both The Wind in the Willows and the play Toad of Toad Hall. Heart of Darkness' Marlow tells his tale while waiting for the tide near the mouth of the Thames.

In books set in London you will find Sherlock Holmes looking for a boat in A Study in Scarlet. Bill Sykes kills Nancy just near the river, in Charles Dickens's classic novel Oliver Twist.

Crossings of the Thames

See Crossings of the River Thames for a full article. Famous crossings include

Islands in the Thames

Listed in upstream order.

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