The River Thames wends for approximately 40 miles through London, touching on 17 boroughs as it does so. Dozens of sculptures dot its banks, and many more lie just a few minutes’ away. To introduce you to just a few of these, we’ve selected one Thames-side work from (almost) every London borough that lies on the river’s banks. We maybe wouldn’t recommend trying to see all 15 sculptures listed here in a single, mammoth trek, but the next time you’re down by the riverside, why not see what the Thames has to offer?
Photo credit: Mike Longhurst / Art UK
Queen Anne (1665–1714)
We start in picturesque Kingston upon Thames, where a very stately Queen Anne (1665–1714) peers benignly over the marketplace. While it’s not quite on the banks, slip down the adjacent Kings Passage and you’ll find the river in all its glory as it begins its journey through London. Queen Anne was recently riotously played in The Favourite by the fabulous Olivia Colman, who can shortly be heard narrating a new film on cat-obsessed artist Louis Wain.
Photo credit: Christina Walker / Art UK
Diane de Gabies (Diane Robing) (1810–1892)
The next borough along is Richmond upon Thames, home to Orleans House Gallery in what remains of Orleans House on the north bank. Just outside the gallery is this elegant sculpture of Diana, goddess of the hunt, in the act of fastening her robe. It is modelled on a statue from the 4th century BC dug up in Italy and subsequently sold to Napoleon – the original is held in the Louvre today.
© the copyright holders. Photo credit: Juliet Ferguson / Art UK
Dukes Meadows Park Pillars
Beyond Richmond, the Thames loops past Kew Gardens and into the borough of Hounslow. Nestled in a curve of the river’s north bank is Chiswick House, a plethora of playing fields for numerous sports and an old groundskeeper’s house for the Dukes Meadows golf course, better known as the Taskmaster House from the TV show of the same name. As well as the golf course, Dukes Meadows is also the name of a nearby park, where ceramic artist Ricky Grimes helped the pupils of Chiswick School create these colourful entrance pillars.
© the artist. Photo credit: Juliet Ferguson / Art UK
Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (1716–1783)
Staying on the north bank, and just around a bend in the river from Chiswick in Hammersmith & Fulham, is a statue of the fabled landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Brown was one of the most influential landscape designers in Britain, developing a simple, natural style of landscaping in contrast to earlier formal gardens. He spent a number of years in Hammersmith and designed some of his best-known landscapes while living there, such as Petworth House, Chatsworth House and Blenheim Palace.
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Jennette Russell / Art UK
Margaret Damer Dawson Memorial Bird Bath
From Hammersmith & Fulham to Kensington & Chelsea, and a rather different sort of memorial sculpture. Rather than the figurative form of Laury Dizengremel’s statue of Capability Brown, the Margaret Damer Dawson Memorial Bird Bath is, well, a bird bath. It was erected in 1933 in honour of Dawson, a prominent anti-vivisectionist and philanthropist who co-founded the first British women's police service.
© Bowness. Photo credit: Vincenzo Albano / Art UK
For the next sculpture in our stroll along the Thames, you’ll have to cross to the south bank. Passing into the borough of Wandsworth, we come to Battersea Park, a pleasant place to wander on a sunny day. At the far side of the park, the other side of the boating lake from the river, is a sculpture by one of Britain’s greatest sculptors, Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975). It’s a typical Hepworth piece, a monolith of stone pierced by a single, perfect hole. A larger version of this piece stands outside the UN headquarters in New York.
© the artist. Photo credit: Lambeth Palace
Cross from Wandsworth into Lambeth and, staying on the south bank, make a short detour into Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Here, you’ll find Mother and Child by Lesley Pover. You may also find some geese. When making the original clay version of the sculpture, Pover found herself remaking the toes every morning, after the geese snacked on them during the night. We hope your toes won’t come under similar threat.
Photo credit: Tracy Jenkins / Art UK
General Gordon (1833–1885)
Back onto the north bank, and the next sculpture on our tour is a bit less innocent than a mother and child. Victoria Embankment in the borough of Westminster is home to a numerous sculptures commemorating various wars and the men or regiments that fought in them. One of these is to Major-General Charles George Gordon, maybe better known as Gordon of Khartoum and a prominent figure in British imperial history.
© the artist. Photo credit: Alfred Yeung / Art UK
Swan Marker and Barge Master
Congratulations on making it all the way to the City of London! There’s not too much room right by the river here for sculptures, so you’re going to have to make a quick trip up from the banks and into the city to find our next piece, 2007’s Swan Marker and Barge Master. Swan markers participate in the 900-year-old annual tradition of swan upping, when representatives of the Vintners’ Livery Company (who commissioned this sculpture), the Dyers’ Livery Company and the Crown catch and ring mute swans along stretches of the Thames. Historically, the practice of catching and marking the swans asserted ownership of the swans by these bodies, but now it is done in order to count them and check their health.
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2021 / www.henry-moore.org. Photo credit: Colleen Rowe Harvey / Art UK
Draped Seated Woman
Our next borough, Tower Hamlets, is home to a piece by another of our most celebrated British sculptors. This time it’s Henry Moore’s graceful looking but cumbersomely named Draped Seated Woman, rather more affectionately known as ‘Old Flo’. Moore apparently drew on his memories of people sheltering from the Blitz as part of his inspiration. She’s a well-travelled piece, having been originally purchased from Moore as a piece of public art for the now demolished Stifford housing estate, Stepney in 1962. In the late 1990s she was moved to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for safekeeping when the estate was demolished, but returned to the East End in 2017.
© the copyright holders. Photo credit: Gary Tyrell / Art UK
OK, so we acknowledge this one is a bit of a stretch, but we wanted to hit as many Thames-side boroughs as possible, so you’ll just have to forgive us. If you stand on the very edge of Southwark, right on (but not over) the border with Lewisham, and peer south, you will spy a globular mass perched on a wooden mooring structure. It represents the globe, with the route of Sir Frances Drake’s circumnavigation of it in 1577–1580 marked in red.
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Gary Tyrell / Art UK
Golden Hind Sculpture
The tight curves of the river around the Isle of Dogs lead us on to our final few boroughs, starting with Lewisham. Deptford in Lewisham was where the Golden Hind – the ship in which Sir Frances Drake sailed around the world and which this sculpture commemorates – was exhibited after Drake’s return. Although described at the time (and often remembered since) as a voyage of discovery, it was essentially conceived as a long-range raiding party targeting Spanish colonies on the western coasts of the Americas. Nonetheless, Drake’s achievement in circumnavigating the globe remains a remarkable one.
© courtesy of the artist and Jay Jopling / White Cube. Photo credit: Andy Smith / Art UK
The borough of Greenwich might be most famous for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian, a line which has been used to demarcate the eastern and western hemispheres of the earth. In 2015, a public sculpture trail (called The Line) opened that roughly follows the path of the Meridian through London’s East End. It includes Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit, Abigail Fallis’ DNA DL90 and this, Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud. It was inspired by the quantum physicist Basil Hiley and, remarkably, is half again as tall as Gormley’s Angel of the North. If you look closely, you can just make out the outline of Gormley’s body (so often a subject of his work) at the centre of the piece.
© the artist. Photo credit: Alan Simpson / Art UK
We realise this isn’t very close to the Thames (a couple of miles away, in fact), but various industrial sites take up a lot of the waterfront of Barking & Dagenham, limiting the opportunity for Thames-side sculptures. And Barking Berg is at least on the banks of a river – the River Roding, a tributary of the Thames – and even has a watery theme. It was designed to reference the maritime heritage of the area and is close to a couple of other sites of interest – the remains of Barking Abbey and the thirteenth-century St Margaret’s Church.
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Andy Smith / Art UK
The Erith Mural
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the final borough on our trail, Bexley, so far east you’re almost in Kent. OK, so this is a mural rather than a sculpture, but it definitely still counts as a piece of outdoor art. Created by the esteemed muralist William Mitchell, it depicts events from the medieval period with some connection to the history of Erith. These include the murder of Thomas Becket (a key protagonist, Richard de Lucy, founded nearby Lesnes Abbey), the Great Harry warship which was fitted out in Erith and the Men of Kent – the rebels led by Wat Tyler. Having made it this far, we reckon you’ve earned yourself a rest – well done!