Above: A sunset seen from London Bridge on a long summer evening.
“Reminiscing the Past”
Every year for 25 years I used to charter a river boat and take about 150 people down-river to the Thames Barrier (and back again!) while I gave the commentary. The last trip was in 2002. The river trip was well-supported by regulars who came every year, for which I was very grateful. To fill a boat with so many people year after year is quite an undertaking. The trip worked at several levels – firstly, I like to think it was an informative commentary for those interested in the history of the Thames; secondly, for others it was a good trip where you could buy a beer and watch the buildings on the river bank pass by; and thirdly, with good weather it was just a good day out on the river. In addition to my own trips I was also contracted by the Museum of London to provide a similar service for them – sometimes once and sometimes twice each year. Every now and then I received a request to provide a commentary on some other river boat hosting a special outing. Over those 25 years I probably completed about 50-60 river-trip commentaries.
It was some time around 1988 when I received a telephone call from the Museum of London who said they had been asked if the museum staff could provide a commentary for a group who had already chartered a boat. Since the museum did not wish to provide that service they asked if I would be happy to step in. When I contacted the group it turned out that they were organising a social event for anaesthetists and their friends or partners from Papworth Hospital and other hospitals nearby.
The boat they had chosen was a large one – seating about 200 people for an evening meal and also providing plenty of space to enjoy the rest of the evening while I provided the commentary. The Skipper was very relaxed and invited me up to the wheel-house where I could use the PA system to deliver the commentary. While there I could talk to him to ask him to go at a speed that matched what I had to say about the buildings on the river banks. As the sun sank slowly in the west, during a fine sunset we travelled from near London Bridge down to Greenwich and beyond before returning to our starting point late into the night.
We all had a grand evening and, as it was drawing to a close, one of the organisers was kind enough to compliment me on the commentary adding that it had given the audience a history of London extending over the last 2,000 years but also provided information about the modern developments with an explanation of some of the sites that were under construction as well as talking about future plans. Many lecturers who are able to talk about Medieval London do not always know much about modern London or about future developments. It has always seemed a shame to be so engrossed in the past that you have no idea of what is happening at the present day. It was gratifying to be recognised in that way.
During that evening I had been selling my little book about the history of the Thames. While chatting to the Skipper he said that he had looked at the book and was very interested in it. While I had been with him I had noticed that he was dressed smartly and wore an interesting tie with a logo of Tower Bridge on it. He said there would be no problem finding a tie for me and I, of course, reciprocated by handing him some books for himself and the crew.