What is the River Thames?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2019
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The River Thames is a major river which flows through the Thames Valley of Southern England. While this river pales in comparison with epic rivers like the Yangtze, the Nile, and the Mississippi, the River Thames has a very long and illustrious history, and it continues to play a critical role in modern Britain. Many visitors to England end up seeing the Thames, not least because it flows through the City of London, making it hard to miss when one flies into one of London's airports.

This river originates at the Thames Head, located near Kemble Village in Gloucestershire. It meanders for 215 miles (346 kilometers) through Southern England before it finally empties into the North Sea near London. Through the City of London to Teddington Lock, the Thames is tidal, rising and falling with the tides. Teddington Lock controls the tidal flow of the river, making it safer and more reliable for navigation.

Archaeological evidence suggests that human residents of Britain have been using the River Thames for transportation, food, and recreation for centuries. The modern name of the river is derived from its Celtic name, Tamesas, although the spelling and pronunciation of the river's name were not consistent until the 1700s. Although it may look like the river should be pronounced “tames,” it's actually “tehms.”


England's agriculture and shipping both rely on the River Thames, and the river continues to be very popular for recreation, with people sculling, punting, and engaging in other boating activities on the Thames. Several tour companies offer guided trips up the River Thames, allowing people to visit a number of sites of cultural and historic interest along the way and illustrating the river's rich history in English society.

At numerous points along its length, the River Thames can be crossed on bridges large and small. In London, the Tower Bridge and London Bridge are particularly famous, although a number of other bridges transit the Thames in London as well. Numerous sites in London also border on the Thames, such as the Tower of London, reflecting the fact that people used the river as a major mode of transit for much of Britain's history, and many people who live directly on the Thames still maintain boats for the purpose of navigation up and down the river.

Environmental conditions on the River Thames have varied considerably over the course of this river's long history. At one time, the Thames was used as a dumping ground for industrial and household waste, as happened with many other rivers around the world, and the Thames was also a breeding ground for disease. When London became more heavily populated, people began to recognize that the River Thames required better stewardship, and today the Thames is closely managed and cared for.


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Post 3

People have always settled near rivers, for obvious reasons. Many cities in Europe have a river running through the middle: Paris, Prague and Budapest come to mind.

The River Thames has formed London's personality and has influenced England's history. It's truly a historic river and I'm glad the British people are serious about taking good care of it.

Post 2

Another one of those things on my bucket list: to see the River Thames. I'd love to take a dinner cruise on the river.

The Thames is so steeped in English history. Because it is tidal, those traversing it had to consider those tides when they intended to leave, and this included all the royalty who sailed it. Even they could not command the Thames.

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