PortCities London

Lifesaving on the Thames

The Thames: test tank and 'shop window'

Favourite venue for testing

'John and William Mudie' river trials.
View full size image'John and William Mudie' river trials. © NMM
From the mid-19th century onwards, the Thames became a popular venue for testing and launching your lifesaving equipment to the world. Some of the more notable designs included an inflatable cloth for two paddlers by Captain Peter Alexander Halkett.

Captain Wignhart and his life preserving raft.
View full size imageCaptain Wignhart and his life preserving raft. © NMM

The initial trial took place from his home in Kew to Westminster Bridge where 'Old Father Thames seemed to have taken him under his special protection, wafting him over his waves like a duck'.

 Another example was a sailing liferaft by Captain Wignhart, which he tested on the river at Westminster in 1858. Other inventions have included floating mattresses, lifebuoys, folding dinghies and cork life jackets.

Exhibition centre

Life Saving Apparatus.
View full size imageLifesaving Apparatus. © NMM
By the beginning of the 20th century, builders such as Thornycroft and Thames Ironworks conducted sailing and righting trials on the river or alongside quays.

Because London had become a centre for world commerce, International Exhibitions have been held here from the 1850s onwards. These have provided an ideal opportunity to promote new lifesaving inventions.

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