A painting of the river god Old Father Thames

A painting of the river god Old Father Thames

My painting of Old Father Thames came about as I travelled on the train from my home near Eynsham to Richmond to visit our daughter. We crossed the river Thames 7 times! In the public gardens opposite her flat is a tatty-looking sculpture of the river god by John Bacon. As I examined it, I wondered what a painting of Old Father Thames might look like, and decided to paint it to find out.

The river Thames flows through every vein of English history

The river has supported human settlement since the Neolithic. Its place in our development, society and culture is impossible to understate. And it supports not just human life – but all kinds of living things. The river, and its tributaries, are as important in the history of England as the Nile is to Egypt.

And yet Old Father Thames is being trashed 

Like so many UK waterways, Old Father Thames is being violated by the disgusting and scandalous dumping of untreated sewage. It’s clear who is responsible. Everyone I know agrees that this needs to change urgently. Water companies should never have been privatised. Politicians! Are you listening? Our rivers, including Old Father Thames, deserve respect and care, not exploitation.

Birds not turds, fish not filth!

My painting considers the many joys that the river should bring us – clean waters, healthy habitats for all the creatures that need it, a place for humans to thrive. But how do you fit a river 215 miles long onto a sheet of A1? Well, I’ve had to squash it up a bit, but the main meanders are shown. I’ve included settlements, tributaries, history, nature, and cultural references.

Settlements

With so many important human settlements along the river, I had to carefully consider which ones to label. I couldn’t possibly name them all! So I start at Lechlade, Gloucestershire, near the source of the river. Old Father Thames then continues through Oxfordshire: Eynsham, Oxford, Abingdon, Wallingford, Goring and Henley. From Reading, Berkshire it loops through Marlow and passes the castle at Windsor and Staines before entering Surrey. Somewhere around Hampton, Kingston, and Richmond, it becomes London, flowing past Battersea, Westminster, Greenwich, Dartford, Tilbury. Then it’s on the Thames Estuary, which is not illustrated.

Worth remembering that this is not a painting about the Thames in London. That would be a different painting, and not one I’m qualified to paint!

Landmarks

As Old Father Thames is so important to our capital city I wanted to include just a few landmarks. I narrowed it down to Big Ben, The Tower, and Tower Bridge as they are so much part of our history and culture. To the south of the river is The Globe theatre (I'm a girl from Stratford-upon-Avon), and the Cutty Sark which stands for the long history of trading on the Thames.

History and culture

That grim rowing boat pictured south of Greenwich is from my favourite Charles Dickens' novel "Our Mutual Friend". It shows Lizzie Hexham rowing out with her father to pull corpses from the water.

At Tilbury there's QE1 giving her "heart and stomach of a king" speech.

At Hampton, there’s Henry VIII at his magnificent palace.

Pictured just east of Westminster is a man mudlarking - looking for anything interesting in the mud of Old Father Thames. I’ve shown some typical finds, which rather neatly encapsulate more than 2,000 years of human settlement here. A button, an old clay pipe, a key, a fragment of broken pottery, a Roman coin.

The much-loved story "The Wind in the Willows" is illustrated just north of Henley. And the Piper at the Gates of Dawn (inspired by Arthur Rackham’s illustration) sits playing his pipes on the far left. You’ll also see Jerome K Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat”. And Kelmscott Manor, home of designer William Morris, which is not far from the source of Old Father Thames.

Fish

  • Brown trout
  • Tench
  • Perch
  • Grayling
  • Barbel
  • Stickleback
  • Mirror carp
  • Bream
  • Pike
  • Eel

Mammals

  • Otter
  • Grey seal
  • Water vole
  • Red deer

Birds

  • Dipper
  • Curlew
  • Mallard
  • Mute swan
  • Redshank
  • Lapwing
  • Kingfisher
  • Heron
  • Cormorant
  • Grey wagtail

Tributaries

Not all tributaries are pictured, but these are some of the main ones I selected:
  • Windrush
  • Evenlode
  • Cherwell
  • Ock
  • Thame
  • Pang
  • Kennet
  • Lodden
  • Wey
  • Mole
  • Lea
  • Roding
  • Darent

I leave you with some lyrics from a song about Old Father Thames, which was a hit in the 1930s:

He never seems to worry
Doesn't care for fortune's fame
He never seems to hurry
But he gets there just the same

Kingdoms my come, kingdoms may go
Whatever the end may be
Old Father Thames keeps rolling along
Down to the mighty sea

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