By Community Correspondent Joel Nulsen

The Thames (Celtic Thamesa: ‘The dark one’) is a surprising resource. It has provided fishing, game, literary inspiration and, on one occasion, the means to evacuate more than 300,000 troops from France. Many of us enjoy the river as scenery or for leisure, but what can it really be used for?

The Thames reflected the changes Britain went through in the industrial revolution, as it was used less for business, and more for leisure. Before the industrial revolution, barges towed by men or horses were common. The towpaths that they required actually became something of an issue in the Richmond area, where the towpath changed sides to the Surrey bank. The seemingly pointless changeover was the subject of a sizeable dispute between Richmond and Twickenham residents in the latter part of the 19th century (in those days, towpaths were far from quaint).

In the 20th century, ferrymen and barges became rare sights along the riverbanks, and the river became what it is today. However, this move towards a more appreciative rather than abusive attitude regarding the Thames was certainly not a bad thing. Kenneth Grahame was inspired by the natural beauty around the riverbanks in Berkshire and London to write the now classic children’s book The Wind in the Willows, and many rowing and canoe clubs were set up in the late 19th century. Along with leisure, there has been an increasing tendency towards the conservation of the Thames. While the situation is still not perfect (in 2004, 12 million cubic metres of raw sewage were discharged into the river in five months), we have come a long way from the squalor of the 18th century and the ‘Great Stench’.

With the drastic changes that have already come about, one must wonder: How will the Thames continue to change? No doubt the conservation efforts will continue, of which the development of Twickenham Riverside is a part. There may be a move back towards industrial usage, or events may take an entirely new turn, and we will see clean tidal energy from the Thames being used to power our homes.

However, I think we can be sure that the Thames will always remain a central part of life in London, as it has for over 2000 years.