In little corners of the old city you can still find places like this; a curl of the Thames filled with miscreant life. On the left is an Aitch – an Old English term deriving from ait, ygett, eyt, meaning small river islet. Once, I am reliably told it was home to a riverworker tavern, which you had to row to get a drink. Now though, it’s home to another sort of vagrant life – mornings are raucous with the cries of viridian-green parakeets spilling over from nearby Kew.
Surprisingly, this knot of river is also home to black-winged cormorants and herons despite being a stones’ throw from bustling cityways. Because this section of Thames is still tidal (you can see the early morning low tide pictured above); the angel of my better brain even reported a seal despite the fact that it’s some 30-40 miles from the delta mouth! [ed. although, there’s also tales that on certain crisp mornings or moonlit nights, you can still see the shades of those past on the river too…]
This wilding corner of the river is full of things that shouldn’t be here. The houseboats that you can see have all been earmarked for gentrification by the city’s River Authority, including forced-sale measures to remove the more ‘unsightly’ tugs and barges and antiques that are fostered here, and in their eventual vacancies to built more elaborate moorings, promenades, and high-end ‘river accommodation’ for property developers.
But this little gnarl is still holding out. The river it belongs to has a rich history – both of changing names and of deep, pervading currents that never seem to go away. Before it was Old Father Thames, the Victorian Antiquarians thought of it as a woman; the Thames-Isis – perhaps partly due to its tradition as one of the main nursemaids of empire in the world, similar to the Nile, the Danube and so on… But even before that, the Thames-Isis was known by the Britons and proto-Britons as the Tamessa, Tamesis, or Tames – meaning ‘dark/heavy’ river. Votive offerings of carved statuettes and heads can still be found deep in the silt, as I like to think that generations of people have tried to live out their wilding, threshold lives out here, asking for a little grace.