River Thames

River Thames
London Thames Sunset panorama - Feb 2008.jpg
Thames map.png
Map of the Thames within southern England
Location
CountryEngland
CountiesGloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, London, Kent, Essex
Towns/citiesCricklade, Lechlade, Oxford, Abingdon, Wallingford, Reading, Henley-on-Thames, Marlow, Maidenhead, Windsor, Staines-upon-Thames, Walton-on-Thames, Kingston upon Thames, Teddington, Westminster, London
Physical characteristics
Source 
 ⁃ locationThames Head, Gloucestershire, UK
 ⁃ coordinates51°41′39″N 2°01′47″W / 51°41′39″N 2°01′47″W / 51.69426; -2.02972
 ⁃ elevation110 m (360 ft)
MouthThames Estuary, North Sea
 ⁃ location
Southend-on-Sea, Essex, UK
 ⁃ coordinates
51°29′56″N 0°36′31″E / 51°29′56″N 0°36′31″E / 51.4989; 0.6087370 m3/s (13,000 cu ft/s)
Discharge 
 ⁃ locationentering Oxford
 ⁃ average17.6 m3/s (620 cu ft/s)
Discharge 
 ⁃ locationleaving Oxford
 ⁃ average24.8 m3/s (880 cu ft/s)
Discharge 
 ⁃ locationReading
 ⁃ average39.7 m3/s (1,400 cu ft/s)
Discharge 
 ⁃ locationWindsor
 ⁃ average59.3 m3/s (2,090 cu ft/s)

The River Thames (z/ (About this soundlisten) TEMZ), known alternatively in parts as the Isis, is a river that flows through southern England including London. At 215 miles (346 km), it is the longest river entirely in England and the second-longest in the United Kingdom, after the River Severn.

It flows through Oxford (where it is called the Isis), Reading, Henley-on-Thames and Windsor. The lower reaches of the river are called the Tideway, derived from its long tidal reach up to Teddington Lock. It rises at Thames Head in Gloucestershire, and flows into the North Sea via the Thames Estuary. The Thames drains the whole of Greater London.[1]

Its tidal section, reaching up to Teddington Lock, includes most of its London stretch and has a rise and fall of 23 feet (7 m). Running through some of the driest parts of mainland Britain and heavily abstracted for drinking water, the Thames' discharge is low considering its length and breadth: the Severn has a discharge almost twice as large on average despite having a smaller drainage basin. In Scotland, the Tay achieves more than double the Thames' average discharge from a drainage basin that is 60% smaller.

Along its course are 45 navigation locks with accompanying weirs. Its catchment area covers a large part of south-eastern and a small part of western England; the river is fed by at least 50 named tributaries. The river contains over 80 islands. With its waters varying from freshwater to almost seawater, the Thames supports a variety of wildlife and has a number of adjoining Sites of Special Scientific Interest, with the largest being in the remaining parts of the North Kent Marshes and covering 5,449 hectares (13,460 acres).[2]

Etymology

A statue of Old Father Thames by Raffaelle Monti at St John's Lock, Lechlade

The Thames, from Middle English Temese, is derived from the Brittonic Celtic name for the river, Tamesas (from *tamēssa),[3] recorded in Latin as Tamesis and yielding modern Welsh Tafwys "Thames". The name may have meant "dark" and can be compared to other cognates such as Russian темно (Proto-Slavic *tĭmĭnŭ), Lithuanian tamsi "dark", Latvian tumsa "darkness", Sanskrit tamas and Welsh tywyll "darkness" (Proto-Celtic *temeslos) and Middle Irish teimen "dark grey".[3] The same origin is shared by countless other river names, spread across Britain, such as the River Tamar at the border of Devon and Cornwall, several rivers named Tame in the Midlands and North Yorkshire, the Tavy on Dartmoor, the Team of the North East, the Teifi and Teme of Wales, the Teviot in the Scottish Borders, as well as one of the Thames' tributaries called the Thame.

Kenneth H. Jackson has proposed that the name of the Thames is not Indo-European (and of unknown meaning),[4] while Peter Kitson suggested that it is Indo-European but originated before the Celts and has a name indicating "muddiness" from a root *tā-, 'melt'.[5]

Indirect evidence for the antiquity of the name 'Thames' is provided by a Roman potsherd found at Oxford, bearing the inscription Tamesubugus fecit (Tamesubugus made [this]). It is believed that Tamesubugus' name was derived from that of the river.[6] Tamese was referred to as a place, not a river in the Ravenna Cosmography (c. AD 700).

The river's name has always been pronounced with a simple t /t/; the Middle English spelling was typically Temese and the Brittonic form Tamesis. A similar spelling from 1210, "Tamisiam", is found in the Magna Carta.[7]

Sculpture of Tamesis. Downstream keystone of the central arch of Henley Bridge

The Thames through Oxford is sometimes called the Isis. Historically, and especially in Victorian times, gazetteers and cartographers insisted that the entire river was correctly named the Isis from its source down to Dorchester on Thames and that only from this point, where the river meets the Thame and becomes the "Thame-isis" (supposedly subsequently abbreviated to Thames) should it be so called. Ordnance Survey maps still label the Thames as "River Thames or Isis" down to Dorchester. However, since the early 20th century this distinction has been lost in common usage outside of Oxford, and some historians suggest the name Isis is nothing more than a truncation of Tamesis, the Latin name for the Thames. Sculptures titled Tamesis and Isis by Anne Seymour Damer can be found on the bridge at Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire (the original terracotta and plaster models were exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, in 1785. They are now on show at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley).[8]

Richard Coates suggests that while the river was as a whole called the Thames, part of it, where it was too wide to ford, was called *(p)lowonida. This gave the name to a settlement on its banks, which became known as Londinium, from the Indo-European roots *pleu- "flow" and *-nedi "river" meaning something like the flowing river or the wide flowing unfordable river.[9]

For merchant seamen, the Thames has long been just the "London River". Londoners often refer to it simply as "the river" in expressions such as "south of the river".[10]

The river gives its name to three informal areas: the Thames Valley, a region of England around the river between Oxford and West London; the Thames Gateway; and the greatly overlapping Thames Estuary around the tidal Thames to the east of London and including the waterway itself. Thames Valley Police is a formal body that takes its name from the river, covering three counties. In non-administrative use, the river's name is used in those of Thames Valley University, Thames Water, Thames Television, publishing company Thames & Hudson, Thameslink (north-south railways passing through central London) and South Thames College. An example of its use in the names of historic entities is the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company.