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Swimming the Thames: Then & Now

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Find out how the Victorians swam the great River and learn about exciting plans to reintroduce swimming in the tidal Thames.

The River Thames has been a favourite bathing spot for centuries, but it was the Victorian era that saw the birth of organised river racing. The long distance amateur championships attracted competitors from all over the world, while thousands gathered on wharves and barges to watch teenage champions like Agnes Beckwith. Channel hero Captain Webb used the Thames as his training ground, floating baths, pontoons and pools were created for bathers, exhibitionists Marie Finney and Jules Gautier daringly dived from London bridges. Caitlin Davies talks about how the Victorians swam the Thames.

Back in the present day, London architects Studio Octopi have been developing a series of design proposals for re-introducing swimming in the tidal section of the River Thames. Chris Romer-Lee will set out evidence that the loss of public space along the foreshore and the increase in commercial river traffic is robbing Londoners of access to the river. Inspired by the Thames’ rich history of swimming, the designs look to reclaim the historic lifeblood of the city for Londoners. Join Studio Octopi on a journey that considers the options for swimming in the Thames today and in the future.

Londoner Caitlin Davies is a writer, teacher, journalist, and general fair-weather swimmer. She is the author of five novels and five non-fiction books, including the forthcoming Downstream: a social history of swimming the River Thames (Aurum, 2015). In 2013 she was selected as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow in London.

Chris Romer-Lee is co-founder of the Thames Baths Project and architects Studio Octopi. The practice is now one of the UK’s leading emerging practices working in the arts, commercial and residential sectors. 80% of the practice’s work is in London, the majority involving work on the reuse of existing structures. Chris is a born and bred Londoner. The Thames has been a major part of his 42 years in London.