Sunday, 1 April 2012

Salmon in the Thames

Travelling through London to visit my parents in Southend-on-sea, my son Justin and I often used to leave Tower Hill underground station and walk up to the viewing platform from which you can see the Tower of London (and, latterly, the Shard under construction). Built into the pavement is a metal circle on which are represented events from the history of the city; and we were always intrigued by a little detail tucked away between two early nineteenth-century dates:

1813-14 Thames froze over
Last salmon caught
1829 First London Police Force

Since salmon have so spectacularly returned to the Thames in Morris’s utopia, we can assume that he too would be interested in the question of when they disappeared from it. According to S.J. Hobson, Morris ‘told me that his grandfather had caught salmon’ in the Thames at Hammersmith, but can any amount of piscatorial detective work now really hope to establish the exact date of their disappearance?

If we split the two dates, our Tower Hill London history suggests 1821, though I do not know on what authority this is based. But in fact, already in Faulkner’s 1813 History of Fulham the author remarks of salmon that ‘only one was caught last season. They have abandoned the Thames since the opening of the docks’; and the building of gas works on the river banks after the introduction of gas lighting in 1807 was itself seen as having an adverse effect upon salmon stocks. So would it be the case with salmon in the Thames, as with the rural ‘organic community’ for Raymond Williams in his great study The Country and the City, that they are always just gone, that whatever date you come up with for their disappearance can, with enough research, be capped by one a few years earlier?


Tony Pinkney said...

For a related contemporary update, see a new book entitled 'Trout in Dirty Places: 50 Rivers to Flyfish for Trout and Grayling in the UK's Town and City Centres' (2012) by the aptly named Theo Pike.

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