25 Neat Facts We Bet You Didn’t Know About The Thames

Lily Frohlich Lily Frohlich


The distinctive curves of the River Thames are a London landmark – you only have to watch the Eastenders intro to find that out – so it’s no wonder we’re drawn in by their depths.

Dive into a list of fun facts that you might not know about our beloved river…

1. Two-thirds of London’s drinking water comes from the Thames. Delicious.
[Richard Pope]
2. The source of the river is located in a meadow in Gloucestershire.
3. There are 45 locks along the river.

Every year the World Poohsticks Championship is held at Day’s Lock, near Oxford – this year it’s on May 28th if you fancy your chances.

4. There are over 200 bridges crossing the river.
[Roberto Trombetta]
5. The longest bridge to cross the Thames is the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at 812 metres.

A post shared by Uncle Chris ? (@rockizm) on

6. During the summer of 1858 Parliament had to be suspended, because the smell of the sewage in the river was so terrible.

But the foul stench finally nauseated the political classes into approving the construction of London’s sewer system.

7. Approximately 125 species of fish live in the tidal Thames alone, including the mighty pike.
8. Dolphins and porpoises have been sighted in central London, when they travel inland in search of food.
[Raphaël Chekroun]
9. Every summer, a species of critically endangered European eels migrate up the Thames.
Baby glass European eels.
[Uwe Kils]
10. Westminster Bridge is painted green to mimic the colour of the benches in the House of Commons.
11. The boat chase scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed at Tilbury Docks in Essex, despite it being set in Venice.
12. In 1252 King Henry III was given a polar bear as a gift from Norway.

Polar bear swimming in water
[Stik Nygaard]
Henry kept the bear primarily in the Tower of London, and often let it swim in the Thames to catch fish and stretch its legs. Doesn’t bear thinking about.

13. In the summer of 1977, The Sex Pistols performed at a concert on the Queen Elizabeth Riverboat while sailing down the Thames.

14. In 1736 a young Benjamin Franklin came to stay in London, and he spent time teaching two friends to swim in the Thames.

He enjoyed getting into the river in Chelsea and swimming three-and-a-half miles to Blackfriars. Somehow he survived, although later in life he did try to abolish the letter C, so perhaps he didn’t emerge entirely unscathed.

Albert Bridge, London, Thames
[Mike Rolls]
15. In 2006, a Northern Bottlenose Whale swam up the Thames and briefly captured the city’s imagination. (Sadly, the whale did not have the stamina of Benjamin Franklin.)
16. The Thames used to freeze over frequently.

[Thames Leisure]
In 1607 London held its first ‘Frost Fair’ that featured food stalls, sideshows, and games such as ice bowling – so basically the original Winter Wonderland.

17. During ‘The Great Frost’ of 1683-84 the river remained frozen for a whopping two months, and the ice grew to 11 inches thick.
18. The last ever frost fair was held in the winter of 1814, lasting only four days.

During this time an elephant was (for some unknown reason) led across the river below Blackfriars Bridge.

19. French Impressionist Claude Monet painted The River Thames three times.
20. A rare breed of seahorse has been found living in the Thames, giving hope that a secret colony may be living somewhere near Greenwich.
21. The author of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ is said to have drawn inspiration from the river when writing the children’s literary classic.
22. During the Blitz, Luftwaffe bombers used the shape of the river to find their targets.
[Nico Trinkhaus – London Eye – The View – CC-BY-NC]
23. Although nobody knows for certain, it’s thought that the name Thames comes from the Celtic name Tamesas, meaning ‘dark’.
24. The stretch of the river that runs through Oxford is known as the River Isis.
25. Every year a ‘Swan Upping’ ceremony takes place.

This is the annual census of the river’s swan population that involves swans being rounded up, counted, weighed, measured and checked for signs of injury, before being released. It may also be a release for local men just just looking for an excuse to just randomly wrestle some wildlife.


Have a wander down to the river with 25 great things to do by the River Thames – or see how the Thames glowed in the dark in 2015.

Things To Do