Calling all Thames swimmers!

By jen kavanagh, senior curator of contemporary history on 5 May 2015

Swimwear from 1963

When you cross a bridge over the magnificent Thames, or hop on a boat and sail past London’s Docks, has it ever crossed your mind that the city’s famous river would make a nice spot for a swim? It certainly hadn’t mine, until I met Caitlin Davies earlier this year and learned all about the amazing history of wild swimming in the River Thames. For centuries the river has been a place for bathing, and in recent years has become a hot spot for outdoor swimming once again.

Later this year, to coincide with September’s Totally Thames festival, the museum will be displaying a few of our swimming related objects in our new Show Space at the Museum of London. To sit alongside some of our historic swimming collection, we’d also like to display film and photography which captures the experience of those of you who enjoy a dip in our river.

So are you a Thames swimmer? If so, we’d like to invite you to submit a short video clip (up to one minute) or a photograph or two of your adventures in the Thames. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy – your mobile phone camera will do the trick – but we’d love to get a snapshot of what wild swimming in London means to you. A selection of the submissions will feature in our small display in the autumn for our visitors to admire.

Londoners enjoying sunshine and low tide at the Tower beach. This had opened two years previously with sand imported by lighters. Some Thames watermen with their skiffs have attracted keen interest on the water's edge.

Londoners enjoying sunshine and low tide at the Tower beach. Photograph by Henry Turner, 1935-36.

To submit an entry, email your name and a little bit of information about your Thames swimming experience to me at [email protected]. Photographs can be emailed over, but please send your film content via a file sharing site such as wetransfer.com.

Please remember that there are rules about swimming in the Thames, so we don’t encourage you to plunge in without knowing where swimming is permitted and putting your personal safety first. Swimming in central London is banned, so read up on which parts of the Thames are safe before you don your Speedos.

The deadline for submissions is Friday 14th August 2015. We look forward to hearing your tales!

8 thoughts on “Calling all Thames swimmers!

  1. John Blake says:

    During the 1950s my parents often took me to Tower Beach from our prefab home in Dagenham especially on a Sunday when it was free to visit the Tower of London itself. My parents had a very modest income so the beach was the nearest we got to the seaside! We would take a few sandwiches and stay as long as the tide permitted.
    I do remember going for the occasional paddle, but never swam in the murky water.

    1. jen kavanagh, senior curator of contemporary history says:

      Thank you for sharing your memories John! I don’t suppose you have any family photographs of your picnics on the banks of the Thames you’d like to share with us?

  2. S.A.Wood says:

    This is family history, oral tradition so probably totally untrustworthy!
    One of my uncles said his father, E.M.Johnson, swam in the river at Duke’s Shore as a boy.
    My mother said he swam in the canal at Limehouse near his home, the public house in
    Three Colt Street. The dates would be around 1884 in my estimation.

    1. jen kavanagh, senior curator of contemporary history says:

      Thank you for sharing your family’s story – and if any more information surfaces then do keep us updated!

  3. We were amazed to see a large group of people in kayaks just opposite Big Ben in 2014.
    I have a photo which I will forward to you as many of my friends were amazed at the sight….it’s not swimming, but I think it is unusual.

    1. jen kavanagh, senior curator of contemporary history says:

      Thank you for sharing, and please do send the picture! And if you ever capture any swimmers too, let us know!

  4. Mrs M Willmington says:

    My grandfather, when a young man, was a member of the Surrey Commercial Docks Swimming Club. This would have been approx. 1900-1910. Bermondsey was a tough place in those days, and occasionally on a Friday or Saturday night there would be a knock on the door from a member of the local police station. In those times policeman always went out in pairs because if a young policeman was silly enough to go out on his own he was likely to get thrown into the river. My grandfather and other members of the club would go and search for them. “Sometimes” he said, “we’d find them but not always”

    1. jen kavanagh, senior curator of contemporary history says:

      Thank you for sharing such a fascinating story. What a horrible job it must have been to have to search the river at night.

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