Travelling back in time along the Thames

The ‘Panorama of the Thames Project’, led by .Jill Sanders and John Inglis, provides insight into how the Thames and its riverbanks have changed over the last 200 years.

The project was first envisioned in 1999, when the then Mayor of Richmond approached John to ask how the Thames could be captured to show it as a riparian landscape for planning purposes. This led eventually to the bigger project, a panorama of the Thames through London, to create a lasting record of the riverscape. John Inglis embarked on the exercise of photographing the full length of London’s Thames to create a digital panorama, with much of the photography undertaken during 2014. The result is that there is now a permanent, visual record of the Thames which shows its’ riverside architecture in the context of the waterway, and includes integrated data on every building.

However, the project doesn’t end there. An unexpected twist in the proceedings came when Jill and John were working on the Isleworth section of the Thames. Liaising with a retired archivist from Hounslow Council, they were amazed to hear that this was not the first time a visual record of the Thames had been created. A publisher and bookseller at the end of the Georgian era, Samuel Leigh, had in fact undertaken a similar project in 1829, when an un-named artists had captured the river from Richmond to Westminster and produced the drawing as a 60ft hand-water-coloured aquatint etching. Incredibly, a few copies have survived and, using several of them, John digitally recorded and restored the work, which comprised 45 separate pages all joined and folded concertina-fashion into a book. This work took two years and local historians contributed historical detail on many of the buildings and features. And so, the Panorama of the Thames Project took on a time travelling twist, with the result that we are now able to make a direct comparison of the Thames’ river banks of 1829 and 2014, and see the full scale of the social, architectural and industrial changes that have taken place over the last 200 years.

Jill and John took the assembled audience at the Pier House on some direct comparisons, then and now, of our local stretches of the Thames. Some of the changes were quite incredible. Hardly surprising when you remember that Samuel Leigh completed his panorama before the enormous changes the Victorians brought to London, with their engineering innovations of railways and bridges. Corney Reach in 1829 was mostly farm land with a grand house and estates. Some vistas, however, have hardly changed at all. One notable example of this is at Strand on the Green, where, Jill suggested, change and development has been resisted over the years thanks to the efforts of local, impassioned residents who have always loved where they live.

The Leigh Panorama is once again in print following the digital restoration with a modern book, ‘A Riverside View of Georgian London’.

The entire project can be viewed on the special website, www.panoramaofthethames.com.

Upcoming ‘Talks by the Thames’