Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Fording the Thames

Yesterday I posted about how the Thames is in places only a few metres deep at low water, which raises the question, could it be forded in the past?

The river has changed dramatically over the centuries, with marshy land and soft natural banks replaced by hard embankments built ever outwards, pinching and narrowing the Thames. While today there's a strong current with tidal range of 6m in previous years it was a broad meandering river with a tidal range of just 3m.

I could have a look at what Peter Ackroyd would say about it in his book Thames, Sacred River, but no doubt rather than giving a direct, straight forward answer he would be diverted into talking about spiritual character of fords contrasting with the secular nature of bridges blah blah blah, and anyhow a friend has borrowed it.

But along with Google I've a copy of Crossing the River by Brian Cookson, which starts the story of the bridges with how the Thames was without them.

An authority no less than Caesar reports that in 55 BC the Thames was fordable around where London would become at just a single point. Alas historians referenced by Cookson are unsure exactly where though Bentford and Westminster are candidates.

This site gives a wider range of candidates, including:

...established Iron Age ford such as at Brentford, Fulham, Battersea or Westminster where concentrations of antiquities in the river bed show that fords probably existed. An absence of prehistoric finds in the river around London Bridge, however, suggests that there was no ford there.

However the Romans were to build their capital at London, and a bridge, the first of many London Bridges.

The Romans in Fulham angle is echoed in the sword above which was found in the river and now can be found in the British Museum.

So maybe when dangling upside down in a kayak, in the river near the banks of Fulham, I might have been within feet of Roman artefacts, and could have reached out to grab swords and stirrups from the army that marched with Caesar himself.

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