The story of houseboat living is largely unknown and one with no written account. Based on photography, archive research and oral history interviews Life Afloat draws together the past and the present – for the first time ever the public will have access to a hundred years of this untold history.

Just over 15,000 people live afloat in the UK today, with over 1,000 people living in floating residences on the tidal Thames. The first of these mooring communities dates back to 1930s, with numbers increasingly on the rise since the 1980s. However for many, life afloat lacks security and is a very fragile existence. 

Life Afloat delves into the stories of Thames residents and uncovers how tidal life for these communities has changed throughout the decades. Famous river dwellers have included actor Imogen Stubbs, who likens living on a boat to ‘living in a whale or a womb’, compared to artist Denis Postle’s comparison ‘like living inside a cello or a double bass’. Denis remarks that ‘the overarching thing about living here is realising that this is a wilderness.’ River resident Valerie Coltman reflects that ‘people thought of us as water gypsies’, and Diana Everett asserts ‘I’m in the middle of a huge city and yet it feels as though I’ve got all the space in the world.’

Go through the porthole with the Life Afloat documentary 

 

An exhibition and series of free walks ran at Watermans, Brentford throughout September featuring photography by Katherine Fawssett and film by digital:works as part of Totally Thames 2016. The project was been made possible thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and parts of the exhibition will become part of the Geffrye Museum’s Documenting Homes archive. ​
 

Read the chapters online below

1. Introduction

2. Bermondsey and Wapping

3. Nine Elms

4. Chelsea

5. Battersea

6. Wandsworth

7. Chiswick

8. Hammersmith

9. Brentford

10. Isleworth

11. Richmond