Thursday 9 September 2021

Totally Thames turns 25 with exciting 2021 festival Wednesday 1 st – Thursday 30th September 2021


Totally Thames, the annual festival that celebrates the culture, environment and heritage of the River Thames turns 25 this year with exciting events across London. Marvel at London’s bridges as Leo Villareal’s Illuminated River lights up the Thames every night alongside a mini-festival of events, explore the foreshore with Mudlarking at St Paul’s Cathedral, take a deep dive into the history of dockside communities with The Islanders and see river-themed art from children across the globe come together at the National Maritime Museum in Rivers of the World. The whole 2021 programme will be accessible both in-person and online to ensure that everyone can enjoy the festival. 

Before 1850, Silvertown was a bleak stretch of uninhabited marshland east of the city, with some parts up to 10 feet below sea level; smuggling and illegal prize-fighting was commonplace. The Islanders follows the history of Silvertown and North Woolwich starting at the point when the industrial revolution reached the riverside, followed by the devastation of war in the 1940s, to the blossoming docklands area that is being developed for a new generation. The Islanders will include a photography exhibition held at Thames Barrier Park, as well as walking tours and talks held in North Woolwich and the Royal Docks. Mudlarking is a hugely popular pastime that has revealed many historical gems and unusual finds on the foreshore over the years. This year, Totally Thames takes a closer look at the river shore with a number of fascinating mudlarking events. Mudlarks have been present along the Thames for hundreds of years, and modern day mudlarks continue the tradition. Hands On History present Mudlarking at St Paul’s Cathedral, an exhibition of the fascinating objects collected by mudlarkers over several decades. Portraits of the mudlarks taken by photographer Hannah Smiles will also be displayed. At Woods Quay, participants can join mudlark Nicola White for an immersive talk and a sensory experience of delicious tastes and evocative aromas in A Mudlark’s Feast. White will delve into her own mudlarking collection to display culinary finds while Woods Quay’s head chef will complement these with carefully prepared tastes from the past. Poet Sophie Dumont will examine the riverbank in her Poet as Mudlark online writing workshop, where participants can find moments of surprise in everyday silt, just as mudlarks do. River Thames archaeologist Dr Fiona Hughey will host a range of Archaeological Foreshore Walks, revealing London’s history and secrets at low tide.

Rivers of the World returns to the riverside outside the Tate Modern, with magnificent riverthemed artwork produced by children and young people from around the UK and the world in collaboration with professional artists. Children and young people from six Greenwich secondary schools have partnered with schools in Ghana and professional artists to produce work that responds to their local environment and waterfront, which will be exhibited at the National Maritime Museum.

Leo Villareal’s Illuminated River is now complete, lighting up some of London’s most famous bridges every night from sunset to 2am. In Spring 2021, Lambeth, Westminster, Golden Jubilee, Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges were switched on, joining Millennium, Southwark, Cannon Street and London Bridges, which were illuminated in 2019. To mark the successful completion of this monumental artwork – the world’s longest public art installation, which will last 10 years – Illuminated River is curating a three-day celebration for all from 23rd – 25th September as part of this year’s Totally Thames festival. A specially created programme includes guided tours, talks, sketching workshops and more. On 23rd September, Villareal will reprogramme the artwork in a one-off event, enhancing his algorithmic lighting of the nine bridges of Illuminated River in a special display exclusively for the festival. 

Totally Thames director Adrian Evans comments, In September we open Totally Thames 2021, our 25th festival. “Take me to the river!” was our exhortation in the early Thames Festivals, and over the years we have done just that with a hundred or so artist commissions and millions of audience members. We’ve energised the Thames and its environs with mid-river firework displays, dance and theatre, feasts on bridges, night carnivals, riverside ballrooms, beach parties, river races and regattas, and even a ships’ opera. We’ve explored previously untold Thames tales and celebrated river characters and folklore. We’ve raised awareness of the importance of the river to tens of thousands of young people. For 25 years we’ve been the cultural voice of the river. And we will continue to do so – there’s so much more yet to say and do!

Tonya Nelson, Arts Council Area Director, London, says, Totally Thames is a wonderful opportunity for audiences of all ages to explore one of England’s most iconic rivers. As usual the programme offers online and in person events to inspire, educate and entertain, as they celebrate their 25th year with a wonderful mix of spectacle, history and community. Alistair Gale, Director of Corporate Affairs at the Port of London Authority says, This year’s Totally Thames festival is the perfect opportunity to celebrate the river, which has been such a source of strength and comfort to so many during lockdown. We hope the festival will introduce many more people to all that the river has to offer. The full Totally Thames 2021 programme of over 80 exciting cultural events can be seen at