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River Thames Society

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Our Heritage

Over the past 60 years, the Society has influenced and supported a wide variety of projects:

  • Construction of The Thames Barrier

  • Creation of The Thames Path

  • Removal of sewage from the tidal river

  • Clean-ups of rubbish along the Thames

  • Retention of lock-keepers cottages

  • Recognition and listing of weirs and structures of historical significance

  • Foundation of the River & Rowing and Docklands Museums

  • Educational and conservation activities including at Bondig Bank, our nature reserve.

Here are some highlights:

Thames Tunnel gets the green light!

Environmental charities and amenity groups representing over 5 million people who had been campaigning for a cleaner Thames in London  welcomed the decision of the government to go ahead with the long awaited and much needed Thames Tideway Tunnel.


Peter Finch, RTS Chairman, says “The Tideway Tunnel will see an end to the scandal of untreated sewage pouring into the Thames, removing a health hazard and restoring the river to a state of which we can all be proud.”


The Thames Tunnel Now (TTN) coalition comprising national and local organisations - including RSPB, WWF, London Wildlife Trust, Thames21, Angling Trust, River Thames Society and angling and boating groups - had been calling since 2011 for the construction of a new tunnel under the Thames to stop tens of millions of tonnes of sewage overflowing into London’s river each year through the city’s 36 Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). The result of more than ten years of exhaustive research and development by Thames Water and the Environment Agency, the tunnel proposal has been declared by independent studies as the only viable solution to dealing with "London’s dirty secret whereby as little as 2mm of rain can cause the sewers to overflow directly into the river with devastating effects for fish and other wildlife.

The project is now under construction. You can see more information at:


Thames Navigation

In 2011 the government announced that the navigation responsibilities of the Environment Agency, including the Thames, would be transferred to the Canal & River Trust, which would also take over canals from British Waterways.

The River Thames Society argued that responsibility for navigation on the non-tidal river should remain with the EA and not be transferred into the new waterways charity, as proposed by the government. 


In  2018  our position was endorsed when the EA confirmed that its navigation responsibilities on the Thames and other waterways would not now be transferred to the CRT, although "Ministers wish to keep the option open and return to it when the time is right."


This was welcomed by RTS who hope that resources can now be focussed on maintaining and improving the river.


Lock Keepers' Houses

In 2008 the Environment Agency announced on “economic grounds” that lock-keepers’ houses were to be disposed of, either sold or rented, with current occupants required to move.

RTS opposed this action, in support of the lock-keepers and their families and because of the effects on safety, good river management and relationships with local communities. The campaign attracted a good deal of support from the public, other river-related organizations and MPs from riparian constituencies, which led to the first All-Party Parliamentary Thames Group.

Eventually, EA reduced the number of lock-houses affected but criticism of the policy continued until May 2019 when the EA reported that leases on the remaining rented houses would be terminated with resident lock-keepers restored at Buscot, Goring, Chertsey and Sunbury, as well as Blake’s on the Kennet & Avon at Reading.

Also, after an absence of many years, a resident lock-keeper will be moving into a house at Teddington Lock.


Paddle and Rymer Weirs

A paddle and rymer weir consists of removable upright bars (or rymers) which are slotted into a horizontal base plate fixed to the river bed. These rest against a fixed upper beam which is notched to hold the rymer, in between which are placed removable timber paddles, stacked vertically depending on the depth of water.

All are held in place by simple water flow, but are moved in sequence to control the levels. 

This technology has been used on the river since the 17th Century and in association with other structures, such as flash locks and pound locks, they provided greater control of river flows and so enabled navigation of the upper reaches of the Thames.


Although periodically rebuilt, the structure at Rushey Lock is the oldest surviving paddle and rymer weir in the country. The River Thames Society successfully campaigned for listing of the weirs at Rushey, Goring and Streatley, to  help to ensure that this important part of our river heritage is not lost. 


Examples of paddle & rymer weirs are also in operation at Northmoor, Iffley, Mapledurham Locks, with  examples lock-side at Molesey and in the car-park of the River & Rowing Museum, Henley.

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