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   Inside Out Extra: Wednesday February 18, 2004


The Tower Beach
LIFE'S A BEACH | A revival of the Thames foreshores is at hand

Do you have your summer holiday booked yet? No?

Take a closer look, with Inside Out, at the Thames foreshore - it may just be the answer.

Sun, sea, beaches and... the Thames - was that the Thames?

Yes, the city's own river with it's own foreshore (that poses as a beach) sun (we hope) and of course sea, well, salt water at least.

With summer but a handful of months away, Londoners may well have their holidays all wrapped up.

But for many in London in the 1930s, "summer holidays at the beach" were a mere 10 minute walk away.

Long hazy days of summer

The early days of Tower Beach
Oh for the days when summer 'never ended'

On July 23, 1934 Tower Foreshore, by Tower Bridge, was officially opened to the public.

King George V decreed that it was to be used by the children of London, promising "free access for ever".

It was such a roaring success that between 1934 and 1939 over 500,000 people dipped their toes in the water on London's very own seaside.

Children built sandcastles and swam in the "sea", there were even rowing boats for hire. They were allowed to go under Tower Bridge, and back again, for the cost of 3d (about 2.5p).

Toffee apple sellers, entertainers and deck-chair men were among the characters that would be found on Brighton or Southend beaches - but they were also here.

Beach-life revival

Pippa Gueterbock
Pippa sees new life on the Thames sands

And today, if the campaign group "Reclaim the Beach" has anything to do with it, beach-life will be a prominent part of summer life for the city again.

The group regularly host public parties at the Festival Pier - complete with specially imported sand as the original sand has all but disappeared.

"I think the novelty of it is something that people enjoy," explains Pippa Gueterbock, a member of Reclaim the Beach.

"At night time, it captures everyone's imagination as it is so beautiful - you've got all of London laid out.

"Also there's the surprise factor - you can bring down a bucket and spade and build a sandcastle!"

Martha Snooks, who remembers many a Thames dip, would love to see the "beaches" revitalised.

She would love to see changes, "Have all these beaches cleaned up and have sand put on them, have these walls decorated with pictures for the children."

Martha Snooks
Martha has great affection for the Thames dipping days

In Martha's day, the foreshores were so popular that on one bank holiday, it was estimated that as many as 50,000 people enjoyed the delights of what was dubbed London's "Riviera".

"It was mainly working class people, dockers' children," she explained, "It's like a social gathering... but people are not mixing and meeting any more - whether it would ever come back, I don't know, but it would be one of my dreams come true."

However, Martha may well be able to relive those halcyon days before long.

Vive la différence

If you find it hard to read the words Thames and beaches in the same sentence and think it would just be gales on the riverbank, take a look at the Parisiene experience.

On the Right Bank of the River Seine, they have done something similar.

The banks of the River Seine - Paris
La plage avec une petite différence

At the cost of £1m, a three kilometre bank of the Seine became a new part of their own Riviera life. It came complete with fake grass and palm trees.

So, it may just all hinge on today's young party lovers taking the lead.

As Pippa points out, "It's (Festival Hall beach) one of the few sandy beaches in London, and it's perfect for this, it couldn't be better... you've got this massive great view and it's bang in the middle of London."

Roll up, roll up - get it on a stick... vanilla, choc ...!

Beach (foreshore) guide:

The beach (foreshore) is in front of the Royal Festival Hall Access by stairs either side of the Festival Pier. ...and yes, there is sand along with the pebbles.

Foreshore location map
and closer still...
Foreshore location map
Dotted lines represent pedestrian routes

Other streches of foreshore, that masquerade as beaches, can be found on the banks by the Oxo Tower, down river from the Tower of London, at Hammersmith and Greenwich.
But with some locations not having secure access, and the power of the tidal Thames, please follow common sense advice and stay safe

Reclaim the Beach advice:

  • Use common sense and remember to check where points of access are so that when the tide comes in you're not stuck
  • The Thames is a fast flowing river so just be aware of tides (see below) and the currents
  • You don't need a licence to use the foreshore or the Thames for boats
  • Find out when other low tides are and go to the Port of London Authority website (see below)
  • Respect the River- always take whatever you bring away with you
  • The Thames is one of the cleanest metropolitan rivers in Europe, but just like any outdoor playground, you'd wash your hands before putting you fingers in your mouth, just like you mum says...
  • Enjoy it! its yours to enjoy.
See also ...

On the rest of the web
Reclaim the Beach
Tower Beach
City of London Archaeological Society
The Environment Agency
The Port of London Authority
The River Thames Guide
Visit the Thames
The Thames Explorer Trust

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

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Ashe Hurst
Thames 21 are doing a great job of cleaning up the Thames foreshore. I often walk the foreshore at low tide, theres so much potential for regenerating the Beach Environment. Londoners and tourists are missing out on this peacful area. Its a complete change from the rushing around you get in London.

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