The River Thames here makes its most northerly excursion within Greater London, so Thamesmead is on the same latitude as Westminster. Its name was the winning entry in a newspaper competition, although it has been suggested that the planners always had that name in mind – and they simply waited for a competition entrant to come up with it too.
After the land was vacated by the military, the Greater London Council developed Thamesmead in fits and starts from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. The area was divided into sectors, of which Thamesmead South was the main housing zone, while Thamesmead East was initially designated for industry and commerce. Thamesmead Central offers the majority of the town’s retail facilities – but these are woefully inadequate for a settlement of such proportions. Thamesmead North was the last of the municipally built zones, while Thamesmead West later saw private development on a major scale. The first buildings used pre-cast concrete but this was subsequently abandoned in favour of more humane materials.
As the map below shows, the topography is dominated by a series of lakes and canals that serve to drain surface water – as well as providing good fishing and relieving the starkness of the built environment.
After the abolition of the GLC, the estate’s ownership transferred to a trust company and the founders’ wishful vision of a futuristic community has largely been abandoned in favour of traditional British suburban housebuilding. Forecasts of Thamesmead’s final population have halved from the original target of 100,000.
Because of its remoteness – and perhaps also its bleak ambience – Thamesmead has not proved a popular place in which to live. This has led to a spiral of decline and part of the district is now perceived as a ‘sink estate’. In an effort to address Thamesmead’s problems, the Peabody housing association agreed in May 2013 to work with local authorities and other funders on a 10-year, £200 million regeneration project that will include the construction of 700 new homes and associated community facilities.
Living at Thamesmead, A TARA film, with Julie Dawn Cole as Sally Glock and Spencer Banks as Tom Aidie. Supported by the Aidie Family and the Glock Family, as themselves and the residents and children of Thamesmead. Photographed by Ron Bicker and Ken Higgins, assisted by Toni Breeze. Sound by Bob Allen, assisted by Steve Morris and Toni Carlotta. Music by Peter Hutchings, played by Steven Hall. Produced and Directed by Charmian & Jack Saward.