The Thames Through Time

Mosaic Films

For over 2,000 years, the Thames has dominated the lives of Londoners. This 6-part series brings the history of the river alive with stories which link the past with the present and shows how the capital’s river has shaped the lives of ordinary working people since Roman times.

Carlton, 2004

Series Producer: Peter Firstbrook
Director: Daniel Waring & Paul Henley


Workhorse of the Estuary
The crew of the Adieu are battling for line honours at this year’s Southend Sailing Barge match. Once thousands of these barges plied the Thames estuary, laden with cargo. Today, only 30 of these elegant sailing crafts survive, mainly as charter boats. As the race unfolds, enthusiasts and retired barge skippers alike tell the remarkable story of how, for more than a hundred years, the Thames sailing barge has kept London supplied with the essentials of life.

Boom and Bust in Docklands
For hundreds of years, London has been one of the busiest harbours in the world. Yet the story of the city’s docklands has been a remarkable tale of boom and bust. As we join one of the last working barges on the river and sail downriver from Battersea, we tell the history of the rise and fall of London’s dockland and discover that the port is as busy today as it has ever been.

Secrets from the Foreshore
For one special weekend in the year, ordinary Londoners are allowed down on the foreshore of the Thames by Tower Bridge. Here, they are encouraged to hunt for archaeological remains which are uncovered with every tide. As experts identify the artefacts found by these amateur sleuths, we tell the remarkable story of how London has changed from Roman times to the present day.

Race of the River Taxis
Every September, crews from all over Britain gather in London for the Great River Race, which commemorates the ancient trade of the Thames Watermen and Lightermen. As we follow over 260 boats downstream from Richmond to Greenwich, we tell the story of London’s Watermen, who have provided a passenger service for Londoners for over one thousand years.

London’s Living River
One disastrous storm in August caused London’s drains to overflow and turned the Thames into an open sewer. Literally overnight, 30 years of improvement in water quality were reversed and the Thames became a stinking channel, reminiscent of London’s cholera-ridden river of the mid-19th century. As scientists struggle to limit the damage, we tell the story of how water quality in the Thames has gone from bad to good to bad again.

For Richer for Poorer
The Romans gorged themselves on the oysters of the Thames estuary. There has been a thriving oyster industry here ever since, even though these shellfish were dismissed as food for the poor in Victorian times. We follow oysters being dredged from the muddy creeks of West Mersea to being served in the opulent dining tables of St. James, and tell the story of how London has been served fresh seafood for centuries.

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