All text copyright Stephen Coates 2006 - 2015


Early on Saturday morning there was a dead body lying spread-eagled face down in the shallows at low tide by Lambeth Bridge.  A suicide or an accident? A drunk perhaps who became lost and got stuck in the mud? Or a victim of foul play?There has been nothing in the news so probably not the last at least.  An hour or so later the body was gone - in all likelihood taken to the Wapping River Police Station and then on to the mortuary at Poplar.  But then to where?
In the old days it would have been landed at the stone stairs you can still see under Tower Bridge where it meets the north bank.  This place was formerly known rather un-subtly as 'Dead Man's Hole"

The corpse was just another of the fifty or so who are found in the Thames each year.  Until fairly recently the number was double that  - mobile phones have meant that more people, whether jumpers or tumblers, are rescued.  Of course in past centuries, the Thames was virtually a liquid cemetery - an unholy Ganges.  Bodies were indiscriminately dumped there - the murdered, those who could not afford a funeral, unwanted children and many more suicides.

It has always also been the site of strange and unexplained murders.  In 1982 the Italian Roberto Calvi known as 'God's banker' was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge  and in 2001 the headless torso of a child 'Adam' was found  near Tower Bridge.  Investigations revealed it to probably have been a victim in a South african voodoo ceremony.

Rivers and bridges have always been symbols of our journey to the afterlife. Glen and I made this little piece a few years back about the river as final voyage.

I suppose we will never know much about the dead person lost and found last Friday night Saturday morning.

Will they be missed?  I hope so - this is for whoever it was and for all the dead the river has taken.  



spillyjane said...

That piece of yours and Glen's is so achingly beautiful that I cry whenever I hear it. I hope that this recently departed soul has found some semblance of peace.

I remember, years ago, taking one of those tiresome bus tours of Niagara Falls (which is not too far from here.) I had expected it to be the same tired facts about people going over the Falls in barrels, etc...but instead our guide took the time out the curve of the gorge where, after the long Canadian Winter, all the corpses eventually wash up in the Spring. Not as pleasant a harbinger as robins turning up or tulips sprouting, but a poignant one, nonetheless. Half the bus was horrified.

As for the removal of the corpse, I'm not surprised that it happened as quickly as it did. My brother -- who is now an undertaker and a funeral director -- got his start in the field as a member of the body pick-up-and-delivery service (30 minutes or it's free!) He was on call 24 hours a day and had to be prepared to walk into anything, really. Oh, the stories I've heard...some of them are truly enlightening and others...well. That's what I get for being curious.

Anonymous said...

I live by the Mississippi River, and you hear about bodies being found in the river at least twice a year (In our neck of the woods, I'm sure there are more elsewhere). It's always the first place they look when someone goes missing from the college campus nearby.

I was talking about it with a friend, once. We decided that the water is like absolution. A murderer would see his problem washed away, a jumper would be cradled by the current in a final act of comfort. People see some kind of finality in water, even though it's one of the most changeable things in the world. It's interesting to think about.

clerkenwell kid said...

Yes it's really interesting this connection between death and water - and I totally get the idea of river as absolution.

It's quite difficult to stand by a river or the sea;s edge and not become reflective right?

In this case, it may have been misadventure rather than suicide. The Thames, or Father Thames as it was known in its London reaches, has been everything from a sacred route to a sewer so why not a transitory grave?

spillyjane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
spillyjane said...

I spied Father Thames and his drippy beard peering out from more than a few keystones when I was in London. There's a similar personification of the Don River on the keystone of the Old Don Jail in Toronto, complete with wavy, water beard. It was built in 1862, so that checks out.

Sadly, I don't recall my river being personified on any of our buildings here. This area grew up just a little bit later (1910s and 1920s) so Arts & Crafts and Art Deco buidlings are much more in evidence.

clerkenwell kid said...

Yes I love the way they are personified - but its funny - in its upper reaches the Thames is the know as the Isis - a female form. I have also heard it referred to as "Mother Thames' - gender issues abound here..

spillyjane said...

The Isis, really? Like the Egyptian deity? Very odd.

I wonder which gender-association predates which -- or did they occur in different areas independent of/unknown to each other?

clerkenwell kid said...

Isis came first I think - the Romans called the river Tamesis - which evolved into Thames