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Fantasies in granite: the Thames Embankments as a boundary to the river

Stuart Oliver

The Thames and its boundaries

London has had a long and complex relationship with its river and by the middle of the nineteenth century the Thames had come to be seen as an “annoyance”, a provocation to the city. Understanding the nature of that provocation requires us to examine the city’s boundaries with the Thames and the ways that they marked and policed the limits of the river’s place in London. In order to do that, this essay explores the embankments built by the Metropolitan Board of Works between 1864 and 1874 — how they were imagined, how they were designed, and how they were made — in the context of a time in which it was becoming increasingly important for the dividing line between city and river to be fixed unambiguously. It shows how, through the building of the embankments, the nineteenth-century Thames was recreated as a liquid thing safely enclosed by solid boundaries that made the river both a part of London but also separated from it.

It must first be acknowledged that any contemporary discussion of the function of the nineteenth-century embankments will be problematic given our twenty-first-century anxieties over boundaries. Over recent years geographers have moved to think of places as contingently interconnected localities rather than as bounded locations with fixed identities [1]. Yet contemporary ideas about boundaries are out of sympathy with those of the nineteenth century which had its own, different, anxieties over fixity. In a period in which all that was solid about the old was melting into air there was a compensating search for new certainties to provide what Zygmunt Bauman has called “a solidity which one could trust and rely upon and which would make the world predictable and therefore manageable” [2].

The nineteenth-century desire for manageable certainties had profound implications for the treatment of the natural world as represented by rivers. The onset of the era of modernity meant that rivers came to be made part of a regulated landscape of water, controlled and channelled into the ordered form of what Rodney Giblett has characterised as a “dead-straight line” under a regime of “discipline and drain” [3]. The Thames was no exception to this trend: its cultural representation came to be a site of struggle over the existence of the natural world and over its meaning, lived out in the building of the embankments.

The reconstitution of the Thames came at a time when the fixed boundary and its dependabilities were of considerable practical and cultural significance. As dividing lines, the embankments provided a firm division between the culture represented by the city and the nature of the river — firm physical boundaries that imposed a socially created order on the nature represented by the river and made of it a thing both tamed and isolated from the city. Playing on a cultural predisposition to represent culture as fixed order and nature as fluid disorder the embankments gave nature its “own”, bounded place within London in which the wildness of the Thames was made safe. The embanked river, subject to engineered controls, was made a secure site for an othered nature running in its place, firmly exiled beyond defendable boundaries, firmly exiled from the city as what Mary Douglas has called “matter out of place” [4].

The Thames in the nineteenth century

The condition of the Thames before its nineteenth-century embanking has been extensively documented and discussed [5]. At the beginning of the century the river was still relatively little changed from its premodern condition but, with the growth of London, the city came to have an increasing influence over it. The Thames changed, becoming increasingly unruly in the opportunities it provided for navigation and in the quality of its water.

To observers of the time the most noticeable geographical characteristic of the Thames was its irregular form. When surveyed by Rennie and Milne the variations in the river’s width were demonstrated as considerable [6]. The “irregularities” that Rennie and Milne found associated with these variations were, because of their impact on the velocity of the river, felt to be particularly inimical to efficient navigation. At the same time the longitudinal profile of the Thames was also known to be changing rapidly because the removal of old London Bridge in 1832 caused a significant regrading of the river, the cause of yet further difficulties for navigation [7]. The consequence of these changes was a river that was becoming increasingly unsuited to the demands placed on it [8].

But the change in the quality of the Thames’ water gave an even more pressing cause for concern in the first half of the nineteenth century [9]. To the pressure on the river from a rapid growth of the city’s population was added the effects of replacement of cesspits by waterclosets and a considerable increase in the amount of industrial waste. Cholera killed 7,000 people in London in 1831 and 1832, 14,000 in 1848 and 1849, and a further 11,000 in 1854: the fear of it returning worsened during the crisis of the “Great Stink” of 1858 [10] and led to unprecedented political action over sanitary conditions in the city. Most significantly for the city’s subsequent relationship with the river, that action encouraged plans to build sewers to intercept the city’s waste before it flowed into the Thames. The practicalities of building those intercepting sewers in turn encouraged the revival of earlier ideas of embanking the Thames because embankments along the river could be adapted to include the new sewers.

The three embankments built by the Metropolitan Board of Works were by no means unprecedented, as Dale Porter demonstrated [11]. There is clear evidence for very early embankment works in the London area, probably dating to Roman occupation, and from the medieval era local initiatives were undertaken to embank the riverside marshes. This tradition of piecemeal embankment continued into early modernity, increasingly supplemented by a number of larger projects requiring parliamentary approval.

The first major scheme to embank the Thames in London came as part of the reconstruction after the 1666 fire but, if ever begun, it disappeared under property encroachments. In the eighteenth century speculative projects by John Gwynn and John Lacy involved embankments for the river and in the 1820s John Nash advocated an embankment on the north bank of the Thames. Perhaps inspired by Nash, Frederick Trench produced a plan for an embankment from Hungerford to Blackfriars in 1824, and in 1834 John Martin proposed to build a sewer running in an embankment along the Thames. From the 1840s administrative changes combined with an alteration in attitudes to the river to make large-scale embanking of the Thames feasible for the first time. In 1843 the Corporation of London attempted to embank both shores of the river between London Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, but the project failed because of the Crown’s legal objections. In 1858 the Office of Works managed to build the Grosvenor Embankment downstream of Chelsea, but only after financial constraints and management difficulties had caused years of insecurity and delay.

With hindsight it can be seen that a co-ordinated programme of embanking the Thames only became feasible with the reorganization of local government in London in the years 1848 to 1856. From 1848 drainage and sewerage was organized across all of London (excepting the City) by the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers. But the Commission, too, was hampered by inadequate finances. Although Joseph Bazalgette produced a comprehensive sewer plan for it in 1852, the Commission was unable to raise the necessary funds. Effective financing for such an expensive scheme only became possible after the Commission had been replaced by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1856, and Parliament had sanctioned the Board to draw loans on the security of future revenues.

With its finances secured, the Board of Works began a series of embankments built between 1864 and 1874 [12]. The first of the three, the Victoria Embankment, was built on the north bank of the river between Westminster and Blackfriars between 1864 and 1870; it had a net cost of £1,156,981, was 2.0 kilometres long, and enclosed 15.1 hectares of reclaimed land. The Victoria Embankment was followed by the Albert Embankment, running 1.3 kilometres along the south bank of the Thames from Vauxhall to Westminster Bridge, built between 1866 and 1869 for £1,104,525 and reclaiming a net 2.1 hectares of land. The third of the Board of Works’ embankments, Chelsea Embankment, ran 1.3 kilometres along the north bank of the Thames from Chelsea Hospital to Battersea Bridge and was built between 1871 and 1874 for £298,950; it contained 3.8 hectares of reclaimed land.

Imagining the Thames embanked

Building the Thames embankments required the sort of significant technological and organizational co-ordination set out by Porter [13]. This co-ordination represented in part an engagement with contemporary technology but as the failure to build the 1666 embankment plan suggests that the role of technological development in these changes was more than an enabling one. More important as a cause of their building was the creation of a cultural momentum in favour of embanking. Once the embankments could be felt culturally desirable, and desired as culturally attainable, they could at last be built — but constructing this momentum proved a slow process of political agitation and cultural and personal change.

The culture of embanking

Although nineteenth-century London gloried in its imperial splendour, as Felix Driver and David Gilbert have shown this glorification was undercut by profound insecurities [14]. These insecurities were particularly pertinent with reference to the Thames: passing beneath the windows of Parliament as it did, the river came to exhibit increasing signs of being inconveniently disobedient matter out of place, what The Builder described as an “enormous feculent flood” [15], representing an unacceptable provocation to splendour. This fear came to crisis levels in the “Great Stink” of the summer of 1858 when, according to Luckin,

It was … widely acknowledged to be a national — and an imperial — humiliation that the very heart of the capital should be so vilely polluted, with the most ancient of parliaments subjected to environmental desecration …. The Empire without: decay and rottenness within — these were the meanings and ideological rhetorics which were generated and deployed in the interest of social stability. [16.]

These insecurities were resolved through the construction of a consensus in favour of reordering the river by embanking it. As the Royal Commission on the discharge of sewerage into the Thames in 1860 stated, there was a general belief that “it would be desirable to carry out plans which had been proposed at an early period for the embankment of the Thames” [17]. Embanking came to be represented as the means to resolve the problems presented by a disordered river and a disordered city. As Edwards put it in his official history of street improvements in London, embanking was perceived as needed in order to replace “the offensive mud-banks and the mean and unsightly buildings which disfigured the shores of the river” [18]. When Bazalgette reported to the newly-constituted Board of Works in 1856 on building an interception sewerage system, it was to claim that it could provide for the “purification” of the Thames [19]. The Board of Works agreed with its chief engineer’s opinion but was also quick to claim other benefits for the associated embanking as a contribution to a civilized London. In its Annual Report of 1859 it said (surprisingly to those who have read the arguments in its minutes) that since its formation it had always recognized “the paramount importance of the Thames Embankment, whether viewed as a measure for the improvement and purification of the river, or as a means of relief to the crowded thoroughfares of the Metropolis” [20]. As concerns over sanitation eased, ideas about civic improvement became more important. When the 1862 Commission for Embankment of the Surrey Bank recommended the Albert Embankment it did so principally as an act of city improvement [21]; by 1871 such was the acceptance of the benefits claimed for embanking that the Chelsea Embankment could be recommended on the basis of the bland promise that it “would improve and embellish that part of the metropolis” [22].

Ranged against the arguments in favour of embanking were more conservative voices urging the protection of the existing state of the river and the privileges of its users. The poor and dispossessed users of the river were marginal within these arguments [23], but an effective opposition was made by wharfholders and affluent riverside residents [24]. While for the wharfholders, embanking allegedly risked “annihilating the whole trade” on the Thames [25] the leaseholders’ representative, Daniel Norton, explained to a parliamentary committee that the harm done to his aristocratic clients’ mansions would be an affront to “a gentlemen’s own taste” [26]. Yet, while these traditional users valued the Thames for a combination of aesthetic and pragmatic reasons, they proved unable to defeat the coalition pressing for embanking they were unable to present remedies for the changes that had come to affect the river in the nineteenth century.

The personal and the embankment

The issue of a “gentleman’s own taste” is an important one because it points to the way by which personal meanings came to be acted out in the public culture of embanking. The embankments made solid in the landscape the cultural and personal anxieties that arose as a result of the river being perceived as matter out of place in the city. That perception was guided by public culture but informed by very private feelings. The mixture of private and public meanings that the notion of taste represents was particularly evident in the priorities of the two principal original designers of embanking, Frederick Trench and John Martin.

Frederick Trench was a soldier, politician, and courtier [27]. His early life experiences seem to have provided source material for his later relationship with the Thames. His father, Michael, was regarded a man of “the most experienced and judicious taste” [28] and a great “improver” of his estate. With this background Trench developed an intense commitment to urban improvement, and the associated project of embanking, which led to him being described as a “great amateur in architecture and fine arts” by his one-time collaborator John Rennie [29]. But, perhaps even more important in forming his later attitudes to the river was his involvement in the British army’s failed Walcheren expedition of 1809 [30].

On Walcheran, Trench experienced at first hand the dangers of the marshland and himself fell victim to, but recovered from, the “miasmatic fever” that killed four thousand on the expedition. When first on the island Trench wrote in his diary with enthusiasm that “every Field is surrounded by Dykes & Every good Dyke is a Road” [31]; he was optimistic about the possibility of British troops crossing the Oosterschelde mudflats to besiege Bergen, noting encouragingly that “at low Water it is an Hard Land” (p. 75). But his later visit to the Westerschelde estuary showed him wetlands of greater unpredictability that threatened to suck in the traveller: “The drownd Land is on the Surface generally Sand in the Higher Parts firm & hard; in the other & near the Shore, wet & more loose …. The muddy Ground … is in several Places intersected with muddy Channels so as to be difficult for Infantry and impracticable for Cavalry” (p. 79). Abandoned Dutch gunboats, he observed, were left stranded by the unpredictable tides on mudbanks, burnt out by their retreating crews.

Back in London in the 1820s, the issue of the transgressive nature of wetlands was taken up by Trench in his campaigns at Westminster. There, through his society contacts, Trench promoted schemes for improving the city and embanking the Thames that came to encapsulate lessons he had learnt at Ballinakill and on Walcheren.

Trench’s first plan for embanking the Thames was based on the belief that the unembanked river hindered navigation, was unfit as an object of contemplation, and left the streets congested. Like a “good Dyke” on Walcheren, Trench’s proposed embankment would be a quay fit for the king. Having met George IV at Newmarket in 1825, for example, Trench excitedly reported to his father: “I Hoped & said I Had Trouble & difficulties but His approbation only [illegible] me & that I Hoped within a Year of the Introduction of our Bill — He should gallop from one end to the other of our Quay — and so he shook Hands & Parted.” [32] In his proposal for the embankment it would, he subsequently claimed, “improve the navigation of the River … relieve the Strand from some portion of that crowd which renders that important thoroughfare dangerous, and … afford amusement and recreation to all classes of the community; while its beauty and magnificence will eminently contribute to the embellishment of the Metropolis” [33]. Despite Trench’s aggressively optimistic lobbying the project failed to proceed in parliament.

Trench’s next attempt to promote embanking, in 1841, was informed very differently — by pessimism over the perceived threat from the Thames [34]. His prospectus for the project stressed the “Evils” done by the intervening years to the river, notably the downcutting of the river and the new threat of cholera. In doing so, and apparently without awareness, Trench depicted the Thames of 1841 as a degraded version of the Westerschelde of 1809, reworking the iconography of his Walcheren diary into his new account of the Thames as a threatening wetland. In the Thames “where we used to have Five Feet Water … it is now all filled up with Mud” (p. 4) (just like the mudflats of the Westerschelde) which acted to “impede navigation” and where (just like the image of the Dutch gunboats) “the Backs of Barges are frequently broken” (p. 4). Linked to these threats from a dangerously unpredictable river, the Thames had also become the source of an unnatural and insurgent liveliness (just like his own body in its miasmatic fever) so that “the Banks are covered with Vegetation, which, being manured by the sluggish Filth from the Sewers, present the strange spectacle of a rich green Crop”. The threat was from a river out of control, but “These Evils will all be remedied by the proposed Embankment” he soothed (p. 4).

The painter John Martin was born in 1789 in Hexham and died in 1854 at Douglas, Isle of Man. His mother Isabella Ridley was descended from the martyr of the same name and, according to his biographer Balston, “a strong Protestant tradition survived in the family” [35]. Martin’s career is well documented: his first pictures were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1812 and after his 1821 painting “Belshazzar’s Feast” his fame as an artist “rose to extravagant heights” [36]. Martin was also involved in engineering projects and according to his son Leopold’s estimates spent two-thirds of his time on such work — including the embanking of the Thames, which he called his “grand plan” [37].

Martin’s Dictionary of National Biography entry refers to a “touch of insanity in the family” [38] and the evidence certainly implies he was deeply unhappy and particularly lonely. As a child he would wander alone in the local countryside upon which, according to Balston, he subsequently modelled so much of the psychic terrain of his artistic works [39]. “These rambles were solitary” recalled his son Leopold “for he found no sympathetic companion.” [40.] Gloom and a fascination with death are evident in Martin’s art [41] and in the pamphlet he wrote in 1821 to describe “Belshazzar’s Feast” it was the “horror and distress” of the corrupt courtiers at the awesome nature of divine retribution that he documented in gloating detail [42].

Martin’s character was of profound importance to his relationship with the natural world in that it was linked to his perception of nature as the repository of an unsullied divinity: “with him” reported Leopold “no sermon could be more elevating than those to be found in the open fields” [43]. Martin’s concern to prevent the contamination of nature was linked to the moral and religious precepts of purity which, predating his childhood rambles, must have come from very early in his life. Such was the influence of these precepts that he was, literally, attracted to what he called the “annoyance” of decay. With what to a twenty-first-century audience is a transparent candour he told a House of Commons committee how, “while walking in the country a short time since with my sons, we perceived a very disagreeable smell, but could not discover from what it proceeded; we continued our walk for about a mile further in the same direction, when we reached a small field on which [human] manure had been spread about a day or two before, and at once found that the annoyance had arisen from it.” [44.]

Martin’s ruminations on engineering were the result of the importance he attached to preventing odours from sewage, and the sewage itself, from escaping their ordered place. So repetitive was his insistence on this importance that his otherwise-supportive friend John Sargent confessed to his diary as to having been “bored to a dead headache” by Martin’s “old story of Patent Rope Cable, Stink keys and Sewers, etc” [45]. Consequently in his appearance before the Parliamentary Select Committee on Sewers, Martin presented the allied aims of the embankment plan as being “first, to materially improve the drainage of the Metropolis, secondly, to prevent the sewerage being thrown into the river, and to preserve in its pure state the water which the inhabitants are necessitated to use; thirdly, to prevent the pollution of the atmosphere by the exhalations from the river and the open mouths of the drains; and fourthly, to save and apply to a useful purpose the valuable manure which is at present wasted by being conveyed into the river” [46]. Excrement was only acceptable to Martin when its corruption was strictly kept in its place by Stink keys and Sewers.

The Embankments as a boundary

The building of the embankments along the line of the ideas originally proposed by Trench and Martin enabled a reworking of the landscape and the cultural meaning of the Thames. This reworking depended on the embankments forming a secure boundary between the river and the city. The embankments were pivotal in ensuring that the qualities represented by the river were kept in their place and in guaranteeing the integrity of that assurance through the tropes of solidity and order.

Solidity was paramount in the construction and representation of the embankments. They were above all designed to be solid, the “firm embankments” originally envisaged by The Times [47]. In terms of their design, great effort was made to ensure solidity as Owen explained:

The river wall was to be remarkably sound in its construction. Built within iron caissons or cofferdams, its foundation were to be carried down at least twenty feet below Ordnance Datum — lower if the engineer thought necessary. At the base would be twelve and a half feet of concrete, surmounted by about eight feet of brick wall. Subway, sewer, and river wall were to be tied in to one another at intervals of six feet by means of cross walls eighteen inches thick. On Bazalgette’s recommendation, the river wall was to be faced in granite down to generally eight feet below datum. [48]

Concern over the issue of solidity had been expressed with reference to the quality of the material that provided the supporting fill behind the embankment, and this concern was such that The Builder noted that “very questionable materials” were in use as spoil, and sarcastically referred to the reclaimed land as “terra firma (?)” [49]. However, the dominant representation of the embankments discounted this anxiety. The Board of Works emphasized the scale and strength of the Victoria Embankment’s stressed their reassuring massiveness and components which, with grandiosity it reported, included 500,000 cubic metres of granite, 60,000 cubic metres of brickwork, 110,000 cubic metres of concrete, 14,000 cubic metres of timber, 2,500 tonnes of caissons, 750,000 cubic metres of earth filling, 132,000 metres of excavation, 40,000 metres of york paving, and 45,000 metres of broken granite [50].

The granite facings of the embankments were particularly important in this representation of solidity, granite having general associations of permanence within Victorian thought [51] and being reckoned a particularly important stone for engineers because of its extreme toughness [52]. Although costing more than equivalent facings, it was on the basis of greater resilience that Bazalgette recommended granite’s use over cast iron [53]. Considerable effort was taken over the integrity of its sourcing [54], most was Dalbeattie granite from Kirkubrightshire [55] where it was associated with the grandeur of mountainous landscapes and mountainous forces; there, in seas “white with foam”, according to Geikie’s influential contemporary account, one could view “headland after headland” of granite “standing out into the breakers” [56]. Particular care was taken where novel technology was employed in the building of the embankments in order to reassure any anxieties over solidity. The experimental use of concrete in the Albert Embankment is instructive in this respect because even though a small section was made of concrete (this experiment was repeated in the Chelsea Embankment) the concrete was provided, all the same, with a reassuring granite facing [57].

The solidity of the granite was an antithetical counterpoint to the liquidity of the river’s faecal mud which represented a particular threat, being in the repulsively ambiguous condition of neither liquid nor solid. The shifting chaos of the muddy landscape of shoals and irregularities acted as a reminder of the hazards of navigation as much as of pollution and disease. It is therefore no surprise that when the embankments were originally proposed by Trench, Palmerston had proclaimed that he hoped it might be said of him “that he found the banks of the Thames covered with mud, and left them protected and embellished with granite” [58] and The Times subsequently looked forward to seeing “thirty-four acres of slime” reclaimed by a “wall of solid masonry, with ‘a handsome parapet and bold granite mouldings’” [59]. These concerns were addressed by Bazalgette, who had been particularly exercised by the seeping, ambiguous nature of the river mud and described the “evils” that resulted from the river’s “partial” channel. It was because of these threats that he designed the Victoria Embankment to ensure the Thames’ “scouring power” be increased and its “mud-banks removed” [60]. The threat from the mud is indicated by the way that, during construction, its potential to contaminate the workers by touch was taken (and reported) so very seriously. The Builder, for example, noted that during the building of the Victoria Embankment, at the mouth of what was probably the Savoy Street Sewer, “the offensive matter lies smelling terribly till high water disperses some of it [….] It is here that mud boots are required and provided for.” [61] Through the dependability of protective clothing as much as through the solidity of granite, the threatening contamination of the river’s slimy mud was put in place beyond impermeable boundaries.


The preoccupation of contemporary intellectuals with fluid boundaries should not lead us to underestimate the importance of fixed boundaries to an earlier age and earlier people. The Thames, with all the uncontrolled irregularities of the premodern river jarring against the requirements of a city undergoing the revolution of modernity, should not be underestimated as a source of provoking the “annoyance” of ambiguity to nineteenth-century London. The embankments were so important precisely because they represented a fixed and designedly firm boundary protecting the city and regulating the river.

Embanking was only possible once it had captured the political imagination as a project that could make a massive granite boundary to exile disorder from the city. Embanking proved almost too difficult to manage until the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1856, but while there were conservative opinions opposed to changing the river and the opportunities it provided, it was the fantasy of a regulated river that eventually triumphed. The significance of the mixture of public and private desires in the origin of the embankments are shown in the evidence of the life and work of Trench and Martin. As their lives demonstrate, the construction of the fantasies underlying a gentleman’s own taste was a complex mix of rational calculation and personal feelings. The personal desires of Trench and Martin were so effective in infiltrating and interweaving with public explanations of embanking because they accorded with widely felt desires. The wetlands for Trench were, in his journals, the antithesis of Ballinakill’s elegant improvements and the re-emergence of the horrors of Walcheren: neither firm nor soft, neither land nor water, preventing access by horse or boat, sucking in his labour on reconnaissance just as they might suck in a traveller. Martin’s compulsion to repeat acts of cleansing in his work surfaced in the punishment of the spiritual corruption of sin and the physical corruption of pollution was equally personal: segregating good from evil, pure from polluted his embankment was designed to rid him of the annoyance of out-of-place corruption.

The stinking Thames produced a metaphorical and literal soiling of London. The significance of the embankments was in the confidence they gave to the exiling of nature from the city. Pollution was countered by the erection of firm boundaries, the confining of the river to a reserve, securely in its place — and this was done with a dependability anchored in Dalbeattie granite. The embankments were fantasies in granite that arose to assuage fears and change the city. Their construction acted to define the Thames and make solid the anxieties of the age that produced them, its culture firmly segregated from a nature made “predictable and therefore manageable”.


[1] Noel Castree, “Place: connections and boundaries in an interdependent world”, in Key Concepts in Geography, edited by Sarah L. Holloway, Stephen P. Rice, and Gill Valentine (London, 2003), 165-86

[2] Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge, 2000), p. 3.

[3] Rodney James Giblett, Postmodern Wetlands: Culture, History, Ecology (Edinburgh, 1996) p. 21, p. 3.

[4] Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London, 1966), p. 36.

[5] Key contemporary reports were: “Report of Sir John Rennie and W. C. Mylne, Esq. Relative to Embanking the river”, in Report to the Court of Common Council from the Committee for Improving the Navigation of the River Thames (London, 1832), 5-9; and “Report to First Commissioner of Works by Commander Burstall on State of River from Putney to Rotherhithe”, Parliamentary Papers (1857), XIII (17), 149, p. 3. More recent scholarship has helped place the changes in their environmental and cultural context, most notably: Bill Luckin, Pollution and Control: A Social History of the Thames in the Nineteenth Century (Bristol, 1986); and Dale H. Porter, The Thames Embankment: Environment, Technology, and Society in Victorian London (Akron, 1998).

[6] According to “Report of Sir John Rennie and W. C. Mylne, Esq.” the width of the river, in metres, was as follows:

Millbank Penitentiary — 180
Millbank — 320
Hungerford footbridge — 450
Southwark Bridge — 220
London Bridge — 210

[7] The average deepening of the Thames, in metres, was found to be as follows:

Westminster and Hungerford Bridges — 1.52
Hungerford and Waterloo Bridges — 2.90
Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges — 1.52
Blackfriars and Southwark Bridges — 2.13
Southwark and London Bridges — 1.22

“Report to First Commissioner of Works by Commander Burstall”, p. 3.

[8] “Report of the Select Committee on the Embankment of Thames”, Parliamentary Papers (1840) XII, 554, q. 174.

[9] Luckin, p. 15.

[10] Stephen Halliday, The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis (Stroud, 1999).

[11] Porter, The Thames Embankment.

[12] Stuart Oliver, “Chains on the River”: The Thames Embankments and the Construction of Nature (Historical Geography Research Group, 2002).

[13] Porter, The Thames Embankment.

[14] Felix Driver and David Gilbert, “Heart of Empire? Landscape, Space and Performance in Imperial London”, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 16 (1998), 11-28.

[15] “The ‘Cloaca Maxima’ of the ‘Metropolis Magna’”, Builder, 4 December 1875 and 25 December 1875, 1073-6 and 1140-2, p. 1076.

[16] Luckin, pp. 17-20.

[17] “First Report of the Royal Commission on the Effects of Discharge into Thames”, Parliamentary Papers (1884) XII, 1, p. xxx.

[18] Percy J. Edwards, History of London Street Improvements, 1855-1897 (London, 1898), p. 125.

[19] London Metropolitan Archives, MBW I/018, no pagination.

[20] LMA, SC/PPS/120/37, n. 40, p. 6, footnote.

[21] “Report on Plans for Embanking Surrey Side of Thames within Metropolis”, Parliamentary Papers (1862) XXVIII, 61.

[22] “Report from the Select Committee … on the Supply of Pure Water to the Metropolis”, Parliamentary Papers (1834) XV, 571, 1, q. 2340.

[23] Luckin, Pollution and Control.

To Cite This Article:

Stuart Oliver, ‘Fantasies in granite: the Thames Embankments as a boundary to the river’. Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, Volume 5 Number 1 (March 2007). Online at Accessed on [date of access].