Death and Destruction on the Thames in London by Anthony Galvin

Published by Sapere Books


The history of the Thames in London is full of death and destruction, not just of people but the buildings along its banks and the bridges that span its murky depths which hide drownings, suicide and murder – including with a poisoned umbrella. This fascinating book tells the story of those who sailed to their doom, whether on infamous shipwrecks such as the Princess Alice or after travelling through Traitors’ Gate to their execution like Anne Boleyn. It records the destruction of buildings through fires, bombs or collapse and also reveals the changes to the Thames’ banks which saw an end to Frost Fairs and elephants walking across its thick ice…

As well as the notable and bizarre deaths, the murders and executions, the book explores the positive life-saving methods in place, including the Thames Barrier.

This book was arguably more of a broad history of London rather than specifically the Thames, which was what I was expecting from the title, but as the book was pretty damn interesting I won’t quibble!

It was a fascinating collection of historical information about London from the past 2000 years, split up into chapters that included the history of fires in London (you know there’s been a lot when one called ‘the great fire’ is outclassed by a later fire that takes the titles), attempts to bridge and tunnel the Thames (possibly my favourite chapter) and a fascinating section about the executions that took place in the city over the years.

That author adds their own take on things, which makes it more entertaining than a non-fiction book might otherwise be which is why I managed to finish this book in one go. It takes a broad view on the history of London rather than an in depth one so I would highly recommend it to readers looking for a crash course in history.

There are a few repetitions of information between chapters that I picked up on, but not so many that it feels like the same book twice… especially since the repetitions tended to be of my favourite bits of information. For instance, Queen Boudica set fire to the Roman settlement of Londinium back in around 60AD and now archaeologists can use the layer of ash to date their digs.

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