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Were you there?

It’s a while since I last floated up the Thames but it was good to be back, this time in Battersea Park where I, and about another half-million folk, watched the Jubilee pageant pass by on Sunday afternoon. I very nearly didn’t make it as I struggled with a public transport system that was groaning under the weight of thousands of extra passengers all trying to get to the same place at the same time. I think I did several complete circuits of London Bridge Station while attempting to find a connection with Battersea Park, only to discover a series of broken links and closed stations.

But it was worth it. I could have done no less in support of all those people who put in such a huge effort over the past two years to ready their vessels for the great occasion. From the royal barge, through the totally refurbished RAF air/sea rescue launch, to the musicians playing their hearts out on their cruisers, the pride and the joy was there for all to see. Even with the rain, it was still a magnificent spectacle and reminded me of how rich is the history of the Thames.

Even since Tom Pascoe’s day at the end of the 18th Century, there have been huge changes affecting the 20-odd miles between Chelsea in the West and Woolwich in the East. In his day there were only three bridges across the Thames in London (London, Westminster and Blackfriars). Now there are 30 between Teddington and Dartford. In those days the river reached to the back gardens of the grand houses in the Strand – including Somerset House. In 1800, at low tide, ships sat on the mud and waited for the rising water to float them on their way and the watermen were a powerful political force that had to be reckoned with. It was only in the 19th Century that the embankments were built and the docks were dug to provide a safe and efficient means of loading and unloading the thousands of ships that came every year to London.

Yes, I was glad to be there, to be a part of the history of this country. Of course, I was lucky. I had an awning over my head to keep the rain at bay. But the downpour didn’t seem to get in the way of people enjoying the spectacle – even if they did get a drenching.

Patrick

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