Thames Blog 51: The River Thames Using Exactly the Right Words

Falling Down the Thames Blog 51, 04th March 2015

The River Thames Using Exactly the Right Words

When I was a student in junior high school, our Language Arts teacher asked us to contemplate the nature of poetry. What is a poem? After struggling for the better part of an hour, which may have been the point of the exercise, the class came up with something along the lines of: “A poem is a composition intended to convey emotions and ideas using exactly the right words in exactly the right order.”

Even at the time this definition seemed to me to put an awful lots of pressure on poets. After all, one word out of place and what you had composed wouldn’t be a poem. It also seemed to be a bit unfair to writers using other styles, implying that they were satisfied with wrong words, or words in the wrong sequence.

Many have chosen to encapsulate their emotions and ideas about the River Thames in the form of poems. Among them were the novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) who as a prelude to his work The River’s Tale wrote :


Twenty bridges from Tower to Kew -

(Twenty bridges or twenty-two),

Wanted to know what the River knew,

For they were young and the Thames was old,

And this is the tale that River told:


That is all very well and good, but by my count Krista and I will be paddling under twenty-five bridges from Tower Bridge to Kew Bridge.

Poet Laureate William Wordsworth (1770-1850) composed Lines Written Near Richmond, upon the Thames, at Evening, in which he was moved to ask of the river:


Glide gently, thus forever glide,

O Thames! that other bards may see,

As lovely visions by thy side

As now, fair river! come to me.


Prothalamion, also known as Sweet Thames Run Softly, by Tudor poet Edmund Spencer (1552-1599) starts off nicely:


Calme was the day, and through the trembling ayre

Sweete-breathing Zephyres did softly play

A gentle spirit, that lightly did delay

Hot Titan’s beames, which did glyster fayre;


But then it gets a bit weird:


There, in a meadow, by the river’s side,

A flock of nymphs I chanced to espy,

All lovely daughters of the flood nearby,

With goodly greenish locks, all loose untied.


If Krista and I espy green-haired nymphs as we pass down the Thames, it may be time to stop paddling. Not all poems about the River Thames are cozy. Alfred Noyes (1889-1958), a professor of literature at Princeton University, felt the need to compose On the Embankment, in which he said:


Within, it was colour and laughter, warmth and wine,

Without, it was darkness, hunger, bitter cold,

Where those white globes on the wet Embankment shine,

Greasing the Thames with gold…

A woman, a woman whose lips had once been kissed,

(It was Christmas Eve, and the bells began their chime!)

She sank to a seat like a crouching bundle of mist,

Exhaled from the river-slime.


Yikes! And if I understand Noyes’ following stanzas, the woman goes on to steal the clothes off a corpse.

It seems that James Kenneth Stephen (1859-1892) was feeling a bit proprietorial about when he wrote Steam-Launches on the Thames in 1891. Paddling – yes. Powered watercraft – no:


Shall we, to whom the stream by rights belongs,

Who travel silent, save, perchance, for songs;

Whose track’s a ripple – leaves the Thames a lake,

Nor frights the swan – scarce makes the rushes shake…

The rush, the roar, the stench, the smoke, the steam,

The nightmare striking through our heavenly dream,

The scream as shrill and hateful to the ear

As when a peacock vents his rage and fear.


My next blog will begin with a poem which speaks to the ever-changing nature of the River Thames.

- Glen

Photo credits: Rudyard Kipling –; sea nymph’s pond –


Thames Blog 50: Then and Now

Falling Down the Thames Blog 50, 25th February 2015

Then and Now

Krista and I are not the first persons to be enchanted by the River Thames, and we will certainly not be the last. Amoung those who have been particularly engaged by the Thames was Reginald Robert Bolland. Bolland began working for the Thames Conservancy in 1932, and in the following decades accumulated a large collection of what the author described as “Thamesiana.” This included books, photographic prints and paintings.

In 1974, Bolland published a book entitled Victorians on the Thames. It is a treatment of the late Victorian era, essentially 1880 to 1900, “a period during which Londoners discovered the upper Thames.” Given that Krista and I will soon be discovering all segments of the River Thames for ourselves, Bolland’s book seemed to beckon.

Among the treasures in Bolland’s book are myriad photographic images, sketches and paintings of the great river from the last years of the 19th century. Four photographs particularly caught my attention. They are sufficiently detailed that it should be possible to identify the exact spot from which the photographs were taken. And that is what I intend to do. For each of the following images, I will attempt to take a photograph in the same place in April of this year. I will then post those new images, along with the ones below, on this website as a basis of a then-and-now comparison. Stay tuned…

On Wednesday 22 April, just our second day of paddling, Krista and I will paddle under Radcot Bridge, where Oliver Cromwell is thought to engaged in a battle in 1645.

Radcot Bridge

Radcot Bridge

On Sunday 26 April, we will end our day’s paddle at Boulters Lock. On the hill behind the lock is the site of the first baptism by Saint Birinus, the first Bishop of Dorchester. Krista and I expect the lock to be slightly less crowded than on the day this photograph was taken.

Boulters Lock

Boulters Lock

We will paddle through Bell Weir Lock on Monday 27 April. This structure was named after its first keeper, Charles Bell. The scene is likely to appear a bit different for Krista and I, as the lock has been enlarged since this photograph was taken around 1900.

Bell Weir Lock

Bell Weir Lock

The second last lock on the non-tidal portion of the River Thames is Molesey Lock; we will paddle through it on Tuesday 28 April. Built in 1815, it was rebuilt in 1905, about five years after this image was captured.

Mosley Lock

Mosley Lock

- Glen

Photo credits: Victorians on the Thames, by Reginald Robert Bolland

Thames Blog 49: The Thames Barrier in 2015

Falling Down the Thames Blog 49, 18th February 2015

The Thames Barrier in 2015

In last week’s blog, I briefly described the Thames Barrier, a project designed to help protect the city of London from flooding. That engineering marvel has now been in operation for a third of a century. What actually is it? How is it doing? Is the great city of London still at risk from the River Thames? Let me fill you in…

The Thames Barrier

I am not an engineer, but I know a good piece of kit when I see it. The Thames Barrier is it. Construction began in 1974, and was completed eight year later. The barrier spans the Thames near Woolwich where the river is a little over 500 metres wide. The barrier involves a system of ten steel, semi-circular gates which can be rotated into place when deemed necessary. Each gates weights 3,300 tonnes, which was, by strange coincidence, the weight of blueberries exported from Peru in 2014. When the barrier is put into operation, 125 square kilometres of London is protected against flooding. This is an area two-and-a-half the size of Bermuda. I gather that the eastern boroughs of London are not protected by the barrier. Perhaps no one special lives in east London.

When a combination of data indicate a possible flood threat, the first step is to halt traffic up and down the river. The gates are raised until the threat has passed, and then normal circumstances are restored.

A variety of circumstances can cause a flood threat. First, a particularly high tide can combine with the wrong sort of storm to drive seawater up the Thames Estuary. Then it is time to raise the barrier. Alternatively a very high tide could meet a particularly large volume of water coming downstream. The trick then is to close the barrier at low tide in anticipation of problems, creating a void to be filled by river water, which can be released later on the falling tide.

Thames Barrier Google Earth wreforum org

The barrier is put into operation at least once a month for testing and routine maintenance. When the barrier was first created, it was expected to be needed to prevent flooding two or three times each year. It was used once each in 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1988, and called upon not at all in 1984, 1986 or 1989. Since then the barrier has been required more and more frequently. The Environment Agency closed the barrier nineteen times in 2003, and an astonishing forty-eight times in 2014. The River Thames acted rather badly in 2014.

The Thames Barrier

And what about the future? According to the best guesses of experts, the Thames Barrier should protect London from flooding until the year 2070. After that…? We have fifty-five years to come up with a new crop of creative engineers to deal with the additional issue of rising sea levels.

Krista and I are scheduled to paddle through the Thames Barrier on the morning of Friday 1 May. Keep us in your thoughts.

- Glen

Photo credits: The Thames Barrier –; satellite view – Google Earth, posted in; ship passing through the Thames Barrier –

Thames Blog 48: Keeping London’s Feet Dry

Falling Down the Thames Blog 48, 11th February 2015

Keeping London’s Feet Dry

You never know quite what you might find while strolling among the shelves of a university library. I recently found a 1984 book entitled The Thames Barrier. It was written by Stuart Gilbert and Ray Horner. The book contains a wealth of information about the River Thames along which Krista and I will soon be paddling.

The Thames Barrier by Gilbert and Horner

In last week’s blog, I explained how vulnerable London is to flooding as the result of several co-conspiring factors. The book in hand went further, describing how humans had altered the landscape over a period of several centuries resulting in London becoming increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic flooding. The creation of docklands where previously there had been marshes, channelization of the River Thames within river walls, and even the construction of the original London Bridge causing changes in the deposition of silt had all put London at risk. At a conference in 1971 authorities concluded that, relative to the land, sea levels around London were rising at a rate of 30 centimetres per century. This wasn’t good.

www demotix com

There are records of horrific flooding of the River Thames devastating London as far back as 1099, with further reports from 1236, 1242, 1663, 1791, 1834, 1852… well, you get the idea. A surge tide in 1953 caused water to breach flood defences along England’s east coast, flooding 160,000 acres of farmland and 200 miles of rail lines, damaging 24,000 homes, killing 11,000 cattle and 9,000 sheep, and drowning 300 people. A combination of factors meant that London itself was largely spared in 1953, but the portion of the city that would be affected by a really big flood was home to more than a million people living in 350,000 residences. Something had to be done.

For London the best solution was considered to be a barrier across the River Thames. However, as described by Gilbert and Horner: “an immense structure would have to be built on entirely new principles without the help of previous smaller examples.” The barrier would have to be engaged when the risk of flood was deemed high, but disengaged at other times to allow the continued movement of ships.

In next week’s blog I will describe the Thames Barrier, and what role in plays in the ongoing safety of Londoners.

www theguardian com Henley on Thames flooding

In the meantime, I would like to share a funny side of Gilbert and Horner’s book. After 182 pages of explanatory graphs and text, the volume ends with thirty-one pages of glossy advertisements for companies that were, in some way, associated with construction of the Thames Barrier. These include Davy McKee Ltd which designed and supplied operating machinery, Sunderland Forge Limited which provided concrete formwork securing systems, Benford Limited which provided 214,000 cubic metres of concrete, Reinforcement Steel Services which supplied reinforced steel, and Alexandra Towing which towed things around. I searched online, and found that at least 80% of the firms with advertisements in the book are still in business. I will find this a bit comforting as Krista and I paddle our kayak through the Thames Barrier.

Benford The Thames Barrier Gilbert and Horner p190

- Glen

Photo credits: The Thames Barrier by Gilbert and Horner –; Mallard ducks taking advantage of a flooded yard with a trampoline –; Flooded park in Henley-on-Thames –; Trust Benford – The Thames Barrier by Gilbert and Horner

Thames Post 47: Splash!

Falling Down the Thames Blog 47, 04th February 2015


My mind finds funny ways to entertain itself. Of late, I have been trying to think of great cities that are situated on neither a river nor a sea. It hasn’t been easy. The Canadian city of Regina in Saskatchewan is on a creek, but not a river… I’ve been to Bozeman, Montana, and I didn’t see a river…

There is a really good reason for the union of cities and major bodies of water, of course. Rivers and seas are opportunities for transportation and recreation, for the dumping of waste, and the extraction of water for all sorts of purposes.

www gbposters com

London, a great city, is not only situated on a great river, the Thames, but it has all sorts of smaller rivers running through it. I described some of these “lost” rivers in an earlier blog. But is London in the very best location relative to water? Possibly not.

New Scientist is a weekly magazine dedicated to keeping readers up to date on the latest and greatest findings in the fields of Astronomy, Physics, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry and Engineering. I have been reading the magazine for thirty-five years, and feel that my grasp of fundamental scientific and engineering principles is all the better for it. Of late, contributors to New Scientist have been engaged in a dialogue about the relationship between Britain and the surrounding sea, and the mounting threat that the sea poses to the city of London in particular.

Human-created global climate change is threatening costal lands, including London, in two ways. First, as the water locked up in retreating glaciers is released to the sea, the surface of the ocean rises. Not a lot, but enough to make a difference. Also, because warmer water occupies a great volume than cooler water, “global warming” is causing the sea to rise even more.


That isn’t the end of it for poor old London. In millennia past, when thick glaciers sat over vast parts of northern North America, Europe and Asia, the weight of the ice pushed the land downward. With the retreat of those glaciers at the end of each ice age, the land sprung back up in a process known as isostatic rebound. This rebound isn’t just a thing of the past, but continues slowly to this day. As a result, Scotland is gradually getting higher. In a teeter-totter kind of effect, the south of England is gradually getting lower.

But there is more. Geologically speaking, the Thames Valley is a syncline, a downward-folding bit of landscape that, in the very long term, will continue to get lower and lower. Further, until recently groundwater was drawn from the earth below London to provide for the needs of the great metropolis, which has caused the land to sink further. And if that weren’t bad enough, a quick look at a map of England will show that the North Sea forms a sort of funnel, with London at the pointy end. Storms tend to push vast volumes of water up the Thames Estuary.

www thamesestuary com

New Scientist reader Hillary Shaw summarized the situation this way: “All this adds up to one inescapable fact: the lower Thames was not a good place to site a major capital city.”

In a later blog, I will describe one of the mechanisms by which London tries to defend itself against the sea. It is a mechanism through which Krista and I will  paddle in a couple of months from now.

- Glen

Photo credits:  London on the River Thames –; Post-glacial rebound in British Isles –; map of London and the Thames estuary -; London bridge suffering a virtual storm surge –

www floodlondon com

Thames Blog 46: Kaboom!

Falling Down the Thames Blog 46, 28th January 2015


Richard Montgomery was born on 2 December 1738 in County Dublin, Ireland. He died on 31 December 1775. Montgomery perished on the field of battle while serving in the American War of Independence at the rank of Major General. When it comes to the upcoming paddling adventure of Krista and me, none of this has anything to do with the River Thames. Except…

On June 15 of 1943 the Liberty class ship SS Richard Montgomery was launched from the St. Johns River Shipbuilding Company in Jacksonville, Florida. One year two months and five days later it lay, wrecked, on a sandbank in the Thames Estuary. On Sunday May 3, Krista and I are going to paddle straight past the remains of the Richard Montgomery as part of our adventure called Falling Down the Thames.

www ssrichardmontgomery com

When she left port in the United States, the Montgomery was loaded with about 6,000 tonnes of munitions which were to be used in the WWII Battle of Normandy. She was anchored in the estuary awaiting the formation of a convey to sail to France. Regrettably her anchor dragged across the estuary’s bottom, and she ran aground on a sandbank.

Within days, efforts began to offload the ship’s deadly cargo, but her hull soon cracked and the cargo holds flooded. Recovery efforts were abandoned a month later with about one-quarter of her cargo of bombs still onboard. The Montgomery then broke in half. There she sits today, seventy-one years later, less than three kilometres from the coastal community of Sheerness, with her masts still visible above the water at all tides.

forums airshow co uk SS Richard Montgomery

In 2013 Peter Sherlock posted a report about the wreck of the Montgomery for BBC News. It seems that the airports in and around London are stretched to capacity, and a new giant airport is badly needed to serve the region. With four runways, a gigantic new airport might handle 150 millions passengers each year. By comparison, Heathrow currently deals with just 60 million.

Where might such a super-airport be located? Some have suggested that it be a floating airport, situated on the Thames Estuary. Others feel that a more traditional airport on land adjacent to the estuary would be most suitable. In either case, the Montgomery poses a big problem. Sherlock wrote: “Who would risk building the world’s largest airport near a ticking time-bomb under the waves?”

With or without an airport, the upper decks of the Montgomery might corrode to the point where they dumped bombs on others on lower decks, causing a catastrophic explosion. The waterway is a busy one, and a ship off course might run into the Montgomery. The bombs that remain on board the Montgomery could serve as a target for terrorists. Experts disagree on whether to attempt to offload the munitions, encase the ship in sand, or just leave things as they are.

www panoramio com SS Richard Montgomery

Not that Krista and I will be able to paddle right up to the Montgomery. We will need to ensure that we do not get within 500 metres of the wreck. An exclusion zone around the vessel is monitored continuously, and Krista and I would risk prosecution if we violated the exclusion order. As much as I like the idea of pinning a peace flag to one of Montgomery’s masts, I am not willing to go to jail for it.

- Glen

Photo credits: SS Richard Montgomery leaving New York –; wrecked ship –; warning! –

Thames Blog 45: Treasures Beneath the Waves

Falling Down the Thames Blog 45, 21st January 2015

Treasures Beneath the Waves

I have been told by archaeologists that springs and wells have long held the fascination of humans. In a mystical sort of way, this makes some kind of sense; water is supposed to fall from the sky, and not boil up from the earth. Excavations at springs and wells often reveal large quantities of artifacts that appear to have been deliberately tossed into the water as votive offerings – items given by worshipers to fulfill a vow or to make a wish. In this era we might toss a coin into a well or fountain before making a wish.

Krista and I will begin our paddling adventure in April at the site generally regarded at the head of the River Thames. The site is in a dry field near the village of Kemble. Winter rains sometimes make waters rise up from a spring in this field, but when we begin our journey we will have a considerable hike to find the first stretch of water in which we can float our canoe. All of this leave me wondering what artifacts we might find if we used a metal detector at the spring, or if we started rooting around with a shovel and trowel. Roman coins? Saxon swords? Norman jewelry?


My imagination doesn’t end there. What treasures might be revealed if we were able to drain the non-tidal portion of the River Thames, even for an hour, while teams of archaeologists scoured the river bottom? Over the past two millennia of occupation, people must have dropped and thrown an endless array of precious items into the great waterway.

As the River Thames runs through London, this sort of investigation is sometimes possible. Where the river is tidal, the tug of the moon and the sun mean that the surface of the river is higher at some times of the day than at others. When the sun and moon are in alignment, high and low tides are particularly pronounced. In other words, there are times when evidence of London’s history is revealed to anyone willing to tromp out into the mudflats at low tide.

One woman has taken advantage of this opportunity to collected fragments of clay tobacco pipes, discarded in the River Thames centuries ago. After so long a residence in the mud of the Thames, many of these clay fragments have become smoothed and have taken up a beautiful stain. She turns these artifacts, some dating to the 16th century, into bracelets, earrings, necklaces, cufflinks and key chains, which are sold online.


Artifacts along our paddling route don’t have to be as tiny as the stem of a clay pipe, or as old as the Roman occupation of Britannia. On Sunday 3 May Krista and I will paddle past a really, really big object projecting up from the surface of the Thames. I will describe that history and current significance of that artifact in next week’s blog.

- Glen

Photo credits: Roman coin cache –; clay pipe earrings by Amelia Parker –

Thames Blog 44: Fishing the Thames

Falling Down the Thames Blog 44, 14th January 2015

Fishing the Thames

There were times when segments of the River Thames were horribly polluted. In the past the river was seen more as a convenient sewer than an important part of English heritage. Luckily saner heads have prevailed, and the great river once again serves as an opportunity for contemplation and recreation.

Amoung those who utilize the Thames for outdoor pursuits are anglers. Those working the waters near Oxford might choose to be members of the Littlemore Angling Society, while the South Cerney Angling Club might appeal to fishing enthusiasts around Lechlade. The Old Windsor Angling Club has members in, not surprisingly, Old Windsor. Membership in the Thames Anglers’ Conservancy is free to anyone seeking to protect the River Thames against threat.

www riverta org

Angler can join the Thames River Anglers Association for just twenty-five dollars a year, and help to protect and enhance habitats in and around London. Twenty-five dollars? That doesn’t sound right. I think this group is concerned with the Thames River near London in Canada, and not the River Thames near London in England.

The Thames Anglers’ Conservancy maintains a list of the biggest fish taken by rod and reel on the flowing waters of the Thames. I understand this to mean the non-tidal part of the river. While anglers are a notorious group of fibbers, let’s assume that the following records are close to the truth.

In 2005, Guy Robb captured an 18 pound 2 ounce barbel, a type of catfish particularly popular with anglers. Jamie Drylie was able to surpass Robb in 2010 when landed a 64 pound catfish of a different sort. Duncan Green added to the list of records with a 40 pound 5 ounce common carp in 2011. Not satisfied with just one record, Green also caught an 8 pound 11 ounce tench in 2013. In 2008, Brett Ridley captured a Wels catfish that was so large, he couldn’t properly measure it, but estimated its mass at between 60 and 65 pounds. In parts of Europe, this type of fish can grow to 300 pounds and nine feet in length, so let’s hope that Ridley was practising catch-and-release.

Catfish i1 ytimg com

At the other end of the scale, the largest ruffe ever pulled out of the River Thames was a 6 ounce tiddler by Paul Sullivan in 2011. I would probably keep that sort of news to myself.

Most records are comparatively recent, and that probably says something good about attempts to restore the water quality of the River Thames, but some of the records are a bit older. In 1964, R. Page captured a 1 pound 3 ounce dace, and David Booth secured his place in the record book with a 3 pound 5 ounce roach in 1927.


In April and May, Krista and I will be paddling England’s greatest river in an adventure called Falling Down the Thames. Fish along our route needn’t worry about our passage. We are both vegetarians.

- Glen

Photo credits: Thames Anglers’ Conservancy –; catfish –; dace -

Thames Blog 43: Lighthouse Spotting

Falling Down the Thames Blog 43, 07th January 2015

Lighthouse Spotting

Lighthouses fascinate me. They always have. Perhaps it is because they signify safety and from that all things good. But there is also something about their appearance, solitary and noble, confident yet reassuring. They are buildings like none other. To me they signify adventure, and in its lifespan each must have many stories to tell.

As Glen and I paddle down the Thames, we will be passing sixteen lighthouses between the City of London and our final destination of Richborough in Kent. It appears that many active lighthouses in Britain are owned and operated by The Crown (Trinity House), while others are operated by the local port authority.

Here is a summary, in chronological order, of what we can expect to view:

Trinity House Lightship 93 (1939-2002) Royal Victoria Dock, London. Inactive. 134 ft tall red steel tower, which is currently owned by a photographer and is used as a studio. In 2014, it was relocated from Blackwall to its current site.

Trinity House Lightship 93                      (photo by Phillip Perry)

Trinity House Lightship 93 (photo by Phillip Perry)

Trinity Lightship 95 (1939-2004) Trinity Buoy Wharf, London. Inactive. 134ft tall red steel tower. Currently privately owned and used as a music studio.

Blackwall (1863-1988) Trinity Wharf, Blackwall. Inactive. Brown hexagonal brick tower with black lantern. Was used for training by Trinity House Lighthouse Depot. Owned by Trinity Buoy Wharf.

Crayford Ness (1981- ) South bank of Thames, east of Erith. Active. 62ft tall square metal skeletal tower.

Northfleet Upper (1972- ) Active. White, red or green light. Red lantern on roof of building. Operated by Port of London Authority.

Northfleet Lower (1883- ) South bank of Thames at India Armes Wharf, Northfleet. Active. Red or white light. 53 ft tall red circular metal skeletal tower. Oldest lighthouse on the River Thames. Operated by Port of London Authority.

Gravesend Tower Pier (1830s? – ) Gravesend Town Pier, Gravesend. Active. 23 ft tall white post on square base.

Gravesend Royal Tower Pier and Lighthouse

Gravesend Royal Tower Pier and Lighthouse

Gravesend Royal Terrace Pier (? – ) Royal Pier Road, Gravesend. Active. Red light. Brown tower and white lantern on roof of building.

Shornemead (1913-2004) Denton Pier, Gravesend. Inactive. 36 ft tall hexagonal skeletal tower.

Shornemead 2 (2004- ) Offshore near south bank of estuary, Gravesend Reach. Active. White, red or green light. 49 ft tall red-with-white-band cylindrical tower. Operated by Port of London Authority.

Isle of Grain (? – ) Eastern end of Isle of Grain. Active. White, red or green light. 66 ft tall red triangular skeletal tower on wooden room. Leading lighthouse for ships entering River Medway.

Herne Bay (? – ) Offshore, Herne Bay. Active. White light. 49 ft tall octagonal lantern on octagonal building.

St Mary’s of Reculver (12th century) Near the beach, Reculver. Inactive. Day beacons on twin church towers.

Margate Pier (1954- ) Breakwater Pier, Margate. Active. Red light. 66 ft tall octagonal stone tower.

North Foreland (1691- ) NE corner of Kent. Active. White light. 85 ft tall white octagonal stone tower. Indicated start of Thames Estuary and Port of London. Operated by Trinity House.

North Foreland lighthouse

North Foreland lighthouse

Ramsgate West Pier (1842- ) Ramsgate Pier, Ramsgate. Active. 36 ft tall cylindrical granite tower with red lantern. Operated by Port of Ramsgate.

- Krista

Photo credits: Trinity House Lightship 93 photo by Phillip Perry –; Gravesend Pier lighthouse –; North Foreland lighthouse –

Thames Blog 42: All Alone on the Thames

Falling Down the Thames Blog 42, 31st December 2014

All Alone on the Thames

In 2012, the riverside community of Staines changed its name to Staines-upon-Thames. It seems that the community had been unflatteringly lampooned by a comedian rapper, and it wanted to improve its image. Krista and I will paddle past Staines on Monday 27 April, and I am sure that we will find it to be a delightful place full of wholesome, enthusiastic people.

Curiously, in the Wikipedia entry for Staines, the first listed “Notable Resident” is All Alone, a pigeon.

All Alone

All Alone

The National Pigeon Service was established in 1938. During WWII, more than 200,000 young pigeons were donated to the service. These were used by the Royal Air Force and the Army Intelligence Services. By the end of the war, more than 16,000 pigeons had been parachuted onto the continent, used to return critical information to the UK when other means were unavailable or inappropriate.

One of these was All Alone, whose service number was NURP.39.SDS.39. In 1943, this bird was parachuted into Vienne France, along with a British agent. The agent collected information vital to the war effort, and sent it back to England with All Alone. The pigeon made the trip of 645 kilometres in just 24 hours. In 1946 she was decorated with the Dickin Medal which recognizes acts of animal bravery or exceptional devotion to duty.

The Dickin Medal was instituted in 1943. The medal has been awarded 66 times, some recently, but most for action during WWII. Most of the recipients have been pigeons, with a few horses and dogs, and one cat. One-fifth of all Dickin Medal recipients (twelve) are buried at the Ilford Animal Cemetery in Ilford, London. All Alone does not appear to be among them.

Dickin Medal for Gallantry

Dickin Medal for Gallantry

All Alone’s owner was Jas Wilfred Paulger, who owned the Blue Anchor pub in Staines. I have found some details about Paulger online, but have not been able to verify any of them yet. I gather that Paulger lived from 1880-1946. He may have acquired the Blue Anchor in 1937. The Blue Anchor was situated at 13-15 High Street, Staines. The pub existed before 1700, but ceased operations in 2006, when it was converted to a restaurant. The building is just 100 metres from the River Thames.

Online sources suggest that the Paulger family lived in England, perhaps near Manchester, before moving to New Zealand.  I suspect that Jas Paulger either remained behind in England, or (far more likely, given the dates), moved back to England at some point. When he died, just after the end of WWII, he was a publican and pigeon-fancier. If this is all correct, then I strongly suspect that Paulger would have had one or more pigeon coops on the roof of the Blue Anchor.

That is not the only connection between beer, birds and Staines. The Wheatsheaf and Pigeon is the most celebrated pub in Staines, having won an award as Best Thames Local pub in 2012. It is about 260 metres from the River Thames. Reference to a pigeon may be a coincidence, but that seems statistically unlikely to me. I can imagine the pub being renamed when All Alone received her medal.

Wheatsheaf and Pigeon Staines www riverthames co uk

As part of our River Thames adventure, Krista and I are looking further into this story. We are, for instance, trying to determine whether the Wheatsheaf and Pigeon is named, in part, after All Alone. We would like to know the location of the remains of All Alone. It seems unlikely that her body would have been tossed out, considering her fame. She may have been stuffed. If so, she might be at the Blue Anchor, the Wheatsheaf and Pigeon, or at a war museum. Perhaps evidence of a pigeon coop remains on the roof of the Blue Anchor building.

Let’s see what we can find.

- Glen

Photo credits: All Alone –; Becket medal –; Wheatsheaf and Pigeon, Staines –