The Thames: Sights You’ve Probably Not Noticed and Facts You May Not Know

By Sponsor Last edited 30 months ago
The Thames: Sights You’ve Probably Not Noticed and Facts You May Not Know

This is a sponsored article on behalf of MBNA Thames Clippers

On a boat trip on the Thames you’ll see a lot of “picture postcard” London. There are marvellous views of The London Eye, Parliament, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate Modern, St Paul’s, Tower Bridge, Cutty Sark , The O2 and a lot of others. Most Londoners will have seen these places hundreds of times but we believe the Thames can always surprise and delight, from the wide-eyed first time visitor to even the most jaded and knowledgeable local.

Click through the gallery to take our pictorial tour of some of the lesser known sights, secrets and oddities that you can see from the comfort of an MBNA Thames Clippers catamaran. We start from Embankment Pier and finish in North Greenwich.

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The Coade Stone Lion. This magnificent beast first adorned a Thames side brewery in 1837. He has been standing proudly at the southern end of Westminster Bridge since 1966. Coade Stone was an artificial ceramic produced to a “secret formula”. The Lion’s plinth has a bit part in the Bond film, Die Another Day, as a secret entrance to a tube station.
The Coade Stone Lion. This magnificent beast first adorned a Thames side brewery in 1837. He has been standing proudly at the southern end of Westminster Bridge since 1966. Coade Stone was an artificial ceramic produced to a “secret formula”. The Lion’s plinth has a bit part in the Bond film, Die Another Day, as a secret entrance to a tube station.
South Bank today is one of London’s cultural and entertainment hubs, home to the National Theatre, Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and a host of tourist attractions. One hundred years ago it was very different. This 1906 picture shows old Waterloo Bridge and a very industrial landscape. The tall tower to the right was a “shot tower” used to make lead shot for shotguns.
South Bank today is one of London’s cultural and entertainment hubs, home to the National Theatre, Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and a host of tourist attractions. One hundred years ago it was very different. This 1906 picture shows old Waterloo Bridge and a very industrial landscape. The tall tower to the right was a “shot tower” used to make lead shot for shotguns.
What lies beneath Cleopatra’s Needle? This chunk of Ancient Egypt was erected on the banks of the Thames in 1878. In the pedestal an eccentric time capsule was entombed. Its contents include a baby’s bottle, a penny razor, newspapers, bibles, coins, toys and a box of cigars.
What lies beneath Cleopatra’s Needle? This chunk of Ancient Egypt was erected on the banks of the Thames in 1878. In the pedestal an eccentric time capsule was entombed. Its contents include a baby’s bottle, a penny razor, newspapers, bibles, coins, toys and a box of cigars.
On both sides of the Embankment you’ll see these Victorian lions holding mooring rings in their mouths.  An unknown Londoner, concerned about the risk of flooding in the capital wrote this supposedly prophetic ditty: “When the Lions drink, London will sink”.
On both sides of the Embankment you’ll see these Victorian lions holding mooring rings in their mouths. An unknown Londoner, concerned about the risk of flooding in the capital wrote this supposedly prophetic ditty: “When the Lions drink, London will sink”.
This Art Deco office block was built for the oil company Shell-Mex in 1931. Its clock face is the largest in London and so earned the nickname “Big Benzene”.
This Art Deco office block was built for the oil company Shell-Mex in 1931. Its clock face is the largest in London and so earned the nickname “Big Benzene”.
This RNLI Lifeboat Station, close to Somerset House, is Britain’s busiest and the first Station built to exclusively serve a river. It is crewed by 45 volunteers and 11 permanent staff.
This RNLI Lifeboat Station, close to Somerset House, is Britain’s busiest and the first Station built to exclusively serve a river. It is crewed by 45 volunteers and 11 permanent staff.
Between Blackfriars Road and Rail Bridges stand these seemingly pointless pedestals. They are the remains of the original Blackfriars Rail Bridge of 1864, demolished 1985.
Between Blackfriars Road and Rail Bridges stand these seemingly pointless pedestals. They are the remains of the original Blackfriars Rail Bridge of 1864, demolished 1985.
This unassuming inlet is Queenhithe Dock. Protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, it is the last remaining inlet in the City of London. First recorded as a dock in 899 its origins may go way back to the Romans.
This unassuming inlet is Queenhithe Dock. Protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, it is the last remaining inlet in the City of London. First recorded as a dock in 899 its origins may go way back to the Romans.
Adelaide House, at the north east end of London Bridge was the first office block in Britain to have central ventilation and electrical and phone connections on every floor. It also had a miniature golf course on the roof for employees! In this 1925 shot, taken shortly after it was opened, you can see a couple of gents enjoying putting action.
Adelaide House, at the north east end of London Bridge was the first office block in Britain to have central ventilation and electrical and phone connections on every floor. It also had a miniature golf course on the roof for employees! In this 1925 shot, taken shortly after it was opened, you can see a couple of gents enjoying putting action.
Tower Bridge is undoubtedly one of London’s best-loved landmarks. When it opened in 1894 not everyone was so sure. One reviewer in the 1920s even said "A more absurd structure than the Tower Bridge was never thrown across a strategic river". We say bah!
Tower Bridge is undoubtedly one of London’s best-loved landmarks. When it opened in 1894 not everyone was so sure. One reviewer in the 1920s even said "A more absurd structure than the Tower Bridge was never thrown across a strategic river". We say bah!
The Thames River Police (or Marine Police Force) has a good claim to be England’s oldest Police Force. Established in 1798 it only merged with the Met in 1839. This working police station in Wapping has a museum that you can visit by appointment.
The Thames River Police (or Marine Police Force) has a good claim to be England’s oldest Police Force. Established in 1798 it only merged with the Met in 1839. This working police station in Wapping has a museum that you can visit by appointment.
We never fail to get pleasantly disoriented when going round the Isle of Dogs. All those river bends throw up improbable views. If an 18th century architect, Willey Reveley, had had his way the Thames would have its confusing kinks and curves straightened out for good. This was his plan; we are so glad it never got off the drawing board.
We never fail to get pleasantly disoriented when going round the Isle of Dogs. All those river bends throw up improbable views. If an 18th century architect, Willey Reveley, had had his way the Thames would have its confusing kinks and curves straightened out for good. This was his plan; we are so glad it never got off the drawing board.
This big red ball was installed on the roof of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in 1833. It is a time ball: each day it rises to the top of its pole and at precisely 1pm the ball drops. This was originally a signal for nearby ships to set their clocks precisely to Greenwich Meantime, still the world’s standard.
This big red ball was installed on the roof of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in 1833. It is a time ball: each day it rises to the top of its pole and at precisely 1pm the ball drops. This was originally a signal for nearby ships to set their clocks precisely to Greenwich Meantime, still the world’s standard.
Approaching North Greenwich Pier by The 02 watch out for this maritime artwork. This sliver of a ship is “A Slice of Reality” by Richard Wilson. Commissioned as part of the millennium celebrations, it is a cross-section of a former dredger the Arco Trent.
Approaching North Greenwich Pier by The 02 watch out for this maritime artwork. This sliver of a ship is “A Slice of Reality” by Richard Wilson. Commissioned as part of the millennium celebrations, it is a cross-section of a former dredger the Arco Trent.
For well over a century Londoners have enjoyed a pleasure trip on the Thames. This picture shows a boat trip in 1924. Today we think Thames Clippers offer a far more convenient, comfortable and interesting way to spend a day.
For well over a century Londoners have enjoyed a pleasure trip on the Thames. This picture shows a boat trip in 1924. Today we think Thames Clippers offer a far more convenient, comfortable and interesting way to spend a day.

Find out more about the fastest and most frequent fleet on the river at thamesclippers.com and follow them on Twitter @ThamesClippers.

All images copyright Peter Berthoud.

Last Updated 16 February 2015

BJD

I always think the Lion, as it stares at South London, looks somewhat terrified!