From parties on the ice when the Thames froze over, to swan censuses and polar bear paddles, may we invite you to dive into a list of fun facts that you might not know about London’s beloved river.
1. Two-thirds of London’s drinking water comes from the Thames.
2. The source of the river is located in a meadow in Gloucestershire.
3. There are 45 locks along the river.
Bonus fact: every year the World Poohsticks Championship is held at Sandford Lock, near Oxford.
4. There are over 200 bridges crossing the river.
5. The longest bridge to cross the Thames is the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at 812 metres.
6. In 2006, a Northern Bottlenose Whale swam up the Thames and briefly captured the city’s imagination.
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’ve travelled inland in search of food.
9. Every summer, a species of critically endangered European eels migrate up the Thames.
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.
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.
15. 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. This event is now called the Great Stink.
16. The Thames used to freeze over frequently.
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.
Fans of the French impressionist can actually catch a glimpse of the artist’s work in a whole new, digital light at Claude Monet: The Immersive Experience, which is currently in London.
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.
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 along the Thames.
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 or illness, before being released. These days, King Charles owns all the swans on the River Thames, but previously this event’s sole purpose was so that two livery companies could competitively mark the swan’s beaks to show ownership.