Islands represent freedom, independence and creativity. They appear and disappear over time, according to weather events, water flow and intervention by people. Islands have an enduring and often romantic appeal. Being closer to nature, at the mercy of the elements and somewhere as distinctive as an island makes us feel alive.
Often associated with seas and oceans, fewer people realise there are islands on rivers too. When we discovered there are up to 200 islands on the River Thames – the iconic river that runs through the centre of London and beyond – we had to find out more.
A surprising number of the islands on the River Thames are inhabited. Often home to creative communities and those who enjoy living unconventional lifestyles, London’s islanders are intrepid and spirited, with remarkable vision. They’ve set up home and live full, inspiring and original lives in the middle of the river. While some can drive or walk to their homes via bridges, others row in boats, reaching the mainland under their own steam.
Home to musicians, artists, entrepreneurs, film industry experts, sports stars and business people – not to mention plenty of normal families – the communities on London’s islands share something greater than their professions. They have an affinity with the water and seek a feeling of space from the rest of the world. They’re ‘yes’ people who don’t worry about convention.
Each and every River Thames island has a story to tell. Music is a recurrent theme on the islands – a place where creativity can reign supreme away from the restrictions of the mainland. Legends ranging from David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, to Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, have all hung out on London’s islands. Charlie Chaplin was first discovered on a grand houseboat moored to a River Thames island. There are stories about royals and politicians hiding out on the islands, and one such island supposedly had a tunnel for a well-known public figure to reach the local pub from his island hideout! London’s islands have also been the locations of events that have forever changed the course of history, as unparalleled locations where delicate matters can be discussed without fear of intrusion.
This is a book of lives lived in the extraordinary setting of the River Thames islands. They may not have palm trees or white sandy beaches, but each one of London’s islands has an idyllic appeal in its own way. We follow the river from Canvey Island in Essex to Monkey Island in Berkshire, uncovering incredible stories of extraordinary events from centuries past, and hearing from the people who live on the islands today.
We want you to feel inspired by those who actively choose the unexpected. Whether you find a city island to live on like our friends in this book, or take some of their spirit away with you, choosing a different way of living can be positively liberating. Island dreams are possible – even in the city.
224 pgs, 24 × 17 cm, softcover, 2020, 9789492181053