Thames Estuary

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Tanker on the ThamesEstuary
The Thames Estuary

The Thames Estuary or Thames Mouth is the estuary into which the River Thames opens out and becomes part of the North Sea.

Where river becomes estuary and estuary becomes open sea are undefinable estuary; the head of Sea Reach, near Canvey Island on the Essex shore is taken as the western boundary, above which is the river. The seaward bounds of the estuary is within the North Sea; the Hydrological Survey of 1882-9 suggetsed a line drawn from North Foreland in Kent across the Kentish Knock lighthouse to Harwich in Essex. It is to here that the typical estuarine sandbanks extend.

The estuary has a tidal movement of 13 feet, moving at a speed of 8 knots.

The estuary is a major shipping route, seeing thousands of movements each year including large oil tankers, container ships, bulk carriers and roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) ferries entering the estuary for the Port of London and the Medway Ports of Sheerness, Chatham and Thamesport.

The estuary was the first home of the famous Thames sailing barge, the distinctive boat of these waters and the Essex coast. It was designed to be suitable for the shallow waters in the smaller ports.

New and proposed development

One of the largest wind farms in Britain has been developed in the estuary, 5 miles north of Herne Bay. The farm contains 30 wind turbines generating a total of 82.4 MW of electricity. The much larger London Array of up to 1 GW capacity is also planned.

This area has had several proposed sites for the building of a new airport to supplement, or even to replace Heathrow. In the 1960s Maplin Sands was a contender; in 2002 it was to be at Cliffe-at-Hoo in Kent. The new airport would be built on a man-made island in the estuary north of Minster-in-Sheppey [1] There is also some discussion about the need for a Lower Thames Crossing in order to alleviate traffic congestion at Dartford.

The Thames Estuary is part of Thames Gateway, designated as one of the principal development areas in southern Britain.

View of the the upper Thames estuary from Tilbury to Mucking Creek

The Thames mouth in culture and literature

Thames barge

Joseph Conrad lived in Stanford le Hope, close to the Essex marshes. His The Mirror of the Sea (1906) contains a memorable description of the area as seen from the Thames. It is also described in the first pages of Conrad's Heart of Darkness; seen both as the launching place of great ships of exploration and colonization and, in ancient times, the conduit of Roman conquest.

“And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark places of the earth.”.[2]

The form of speech of many of the people of the area, principally the accents of those from Kent and Essex, is often known as "Estuary English". The term is a euphemism for a milder variety of the "London Accent". The spread of the London Accent extends many hundreds of miles outside London and all of the neighbouring home counties around London have residents who moved from London and brought their London Accent with them. The London Accent or its londonised variants called "Estuary English" can be heard in all of the New Towns, all of the coastal resorts and in the larger regional cities in the southern half of England.


  1. "The Thames Estuary Airport Ltd". Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  2. Conrad, Joseph: Heart of Darkness, Chap 1