A collection of old films about the River Thames has been released from the BFI National Archive showing the Thames at trade, at war and at peace.

The selection, London’s Bridges on Film represents over a century of life on the Thames, with the earliest film in the collection, Blackfriars Bridge from 1896.

The tidal ebb and flow of the river and its bridges has been a draw for filmmakers since the earliest years of the moving image, when Victorian pioneer RW Paul set up his camera on Blackfriars Bridge to record the movement of passers-by.

Following the river’s progress downstream, this themed collection looks at the history of London through the prism of the Thames, from its days as a port and workplace to the leisure today.

The whole collection is here, and can be watched for free on the BFI Player.

Highlights from the London’s Bridges on Film collection

Blackfriars Bridge (1896)

The earliest film in the collection, RW Paul is interested in the novelty of movement, watching passers-by as they cross the bridge.

Tower Bridge Boats on The Thames (1905)

A snapshot of Edwardian London, showing London Bridge busy with horse-drawn traffic, looking to Cannon Street Station and Fishmongers’ Hall beyond.

Central London Street Scenes (1923)

These atmospheric fog-bound scenes were originally shot for Maurice Elvey’s Sherlock Holmes feature The Sign of Four, including a climactic speedboat chase down the Thames.

The Open Road (1926, released 2006)

Ground breaking cross-country travelogue by colour cinematography pioneer Glaude Friese-Greene, documenting life on the road from Land’s End to John O’ Groats includes a spellbinding view of London Bridge

Arctic London (1929)

During an unusually harsh winter, a frozen trawler the ‘Warter Priory’ arrives on the river Thames from the North Sea.

Opening of the New Lambeth Bridge (1932)

Seen from street level outside Lambeth Palace King George V crosses the newly opened bridge in his carriage followed by a parade of troops and patriotic crowds.

Drills at Southwark and New HQ (1936)

Shot from the river on Albert Embankment between Vauxhall and Lambeth Bridge, the film shows construction on the London Fire Brigade’s new HQ flanked by two striking ‘lost’ buildings, the art deco WH Smiths building and Royal Doulton pottery works.

Colour on the Thames (1935)

Aa portrait of a bygone age this strikingly peaceful and undemanding journey down the Thames provides a rare glimpse of 1930s London in colour.

Father Thames (1935)

Delightful poetic travelogue tracing the river from its humble origins through the heart of the “grime of London”, from Hampton Court in the west to Greenwich Palace in the East.

River Thames Yesterday (1939)

Shot by legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff, this Technicolor travelogue takes a gentle journey down the Thames, on the eve of the outbreak of war.

Thames Division (1955)

Engaging documentary on the working life of the Thames river police, the first policing body ever formed as well as the river’s murky past.

Ten Bridges (1957)

Cockney buskers Wynn and Bill set the mood in this evocative 1950s journey along the Thames taking in life on the river from sunrise to sunset

We are the Lambeth Boys (1959)

Karel Reisz’s classic Free Cinema portrait of South London teenagers features ‘the boys’ crossing Westminster Bridge, and the banter with passers-by.

Canoe (1961)

Evocative, colourful amateur film following a canoe trip down the Thames following the canoeists downstream from Surrey to Greenwich, alongside working boats on the river.

Rebuilding of London Bridge (1967)

Construction work on the new bridge takes place alongside the old bridge being dismantled, before it was famously sold and reconstructed in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

Railway Bridge Across the Thames (1968)

A technical triumph, this Informative documentary details the impressive engineering feat taken to construct the new Grosvenor Bridge between Battersea and Pimlico whilst continuing train services into and out of Victoria.

South Bank (1973)

A report for ‘This week in Britain’ on the redevelopment of the Southbank showing construction of the National Theatre and the NFT, Hayward Gallery and Queen Elizabeth Hall in the shadow of Waterloo Bridge. Made by the COI (Central Office of Information), the programme was aimed at promoting British culture, science and industry to international audiences showcasing the capital’s iconic landmarks.

Sidewalk Surfing (1978)

A magazine item looking at the explosion of skateboarding culture in the capital and the opening of Skate City at Tower Bridge. This redubbed report for This Week in Britain features some cool moves from a skater, deftly weaving his way across London Bridge.

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2 comments on “See vintage films about the River Thames from the BFI archive
  1. Annabel says:

    “We are the Lambeth boys” is a fascinating documentary about working-class youth in South London in the 1950s. Well worth watching if you’re interested in that period.

  2. Nicolas Maennling says:

    Vintage films about the river Thames…”The whole collection is here…”
    ONLY if you are in the UK. They are not available outside the UK. This is a great pity.

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