The Foreshore Recording and Observation Group working at Wapping Old Stairs

London's Lost Waterway

Nathalie Cohen
15.10.2014

Step into the Past

With your help, we want to document London’s famous waterway in an age before cars, bridges, buses and over-crowded trains, to rediscover a time when Londoners routinely took to the river to get around their great city.
 

Public transport is a major challenge in any large town, and London has tried many different solutions over its long history. In the late 16th century, some 2,000 river taxis (‘wherries') plied for hire on the Thames: by 1725 that number had increased to 15,000.  In this period it is recorded that there were at least 88 regulated landing places on the river bank in the London area, the equivalent of today’s busy bus stops and tube stations. But what did they look like? Most comprised a river stair or jetty, with a causeway laid out over the foreshore that allowed passengers to board the boats at any state of the tide.

The CrowdFunding Project

Together with our Foreshore Recording and Observation Group, the Thames Discovery Programme is working on a major survey of the historic sites associated with London’s lost waterway, recording whatever still remains of the open foreshore. We will map the known waterway sites, survey the best surviving examples of river stairs and causeways, and prepare illustrated histories of the most important landing places. We also want to fund the set up of an online (crowdsourcing) method on the MicroPasts platform to allow volunteers to transcribe relevant documentary material, and then pay someone part-time to make a final check of the results. Finally, we want to have a public show-and-tell day at the Museum of London and archive our digital datasets so they are permanently and publicly accessible.

To do all of this we have launched a crowdfunding campaign with Micropasts, an AHRC funded collaboration between the Institute of Archaeology at University College of London and the British Museum.  Please check out our campaign page to find out more, and to contribute to the project - thank you!

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