23 April 2024

Top Myths About the River Thames

Steeped in history and legend, the famous waters of London are a place of magic and myth, urban legends and monsters. There have been many stories about the notorious Thames River, each captivating our imagination for different reasons. Here, we explore some of the tall tales and mysterious myths surrounding the UK’s most famous waterway. 

1. Site of Sacrifice 

Many people believe that London Bridge, which crosses the Thames, was a site of sacrifice. This belief is reportedly supported by the presence of a Bronze Age burial site, as well as several graveyards, nearby. There’s a macabre theory that the children’s song London Bridge is Falling Down is based on the idea that the bridge would collapse unless a human sacrifice was buried within its foundations. However, no evidence of remains has been found. 

2. Sewer Pigs 

During the 19th century, an urban legend arose suggesting that a colony of pigs lived in the sewers beneath the Thames. They’re said to have got in from the fields of Hampstead and fed off the city’s waste.  It’s thought now that the story, published in Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, was the result of some sewer workers taking advantage of Mayhew’s naivety to spin him a fantastical yarn. 

3. Thames Monster

From giant sea serpents several miles long in length to watery monsters, the murky waters of the Thames are believed to host some of the most formidable denizens of the deep. Book a Terrible Thames Tour for yourself and see what you can uncover. 

4. River Gods and Goddesses

The River Thames has many gods and goddesses associated with it. From Celtic gods Lud and Belinus to the mother goddess Isis linked to rivers, nature, fertility and motherhood, this body of water has long been a spiritual place. 

The origins of Old Father Thames, another river deity, are unknown, but he is said to be similar to Achelous, the Greek god of the river, symbolising renewal. There are a few statues of him around Somerset House, Ham House and Hammersmith Town Hall, and riverside inhabitants have been paying him their dues for centuries. Many a mudlark has uncovered votive offerings from the strandline. 

5. St Frideswide 

The Thames has many associations with saints. One is St Frideswide, an Anglo-Saxon princess who dedicated her life to God and became a nun. Despite this, her hand was frequently sought in marriage, and she fled up the Thames to avoid a persistent suitor. She is also said to have prayed for a well to avoid having to fetch water from the Thames directly, a request which God granted. 

6. The Ghost of Captain Kidd

It’s believed one of history’s most famous executed pirates, William Kidd, still haunts the lanes alongside the Thames. When he was hanged at a scaffold next to the river, the rope broke, plunging him into the thick mud. He was dragged out and hanged again. After three tides had risen and fallen, his body was gibbeted over the river at Tyburn point as a warning to other pirates. 

If you’re keen to learn more about the history and mythology of London’s great river, book a Terrible Thames River Tour today with KX Tickets.