From Prehistoric times
The Thames Valley was originally settled by prehistoric people with the earliest occupations discovered so far dating from the New Stone Age, some 6,000 years ago. These are at Runnymede and Staines near the Thames, not far from present day London.
Important trading route
The river has been a very important trading route for hundreds of years and it was only during the latter half of the 20th century that it mostly ceased to carry goods. Nowadays leisure boats rather than barges are the main users of the Thames.
It was in medieval times that the river became increasingly important for trade, especially in those days for carrying wool from the lush Cotswold meadows to London. St Paul's Cathedral is built of Taynton stone quarried in the Cotswolds and carried to London by barges towed by men and horses from Radcot.
The World's busiest port
By the 18th century London was the world's busiest port
By the 18th century London was the world's busiest port and Reading, for example, received 95% of its goods by barge towed along the River Thames. The towpath between Lechlade and Putney, along which much of the Thames Path now travels, was established towards the end of the 18th century by the Thames Commissioners. It was a difficult task since many landowners refused permission for the towing path to enter their land or there were natural obstacles in its way. As a result in many places the towpath switched from one bank of the river to the other and ferries were used to transfer the towing horses across the river.
When the commercial traffic died as a result of competition from the railways so did these navigation ferries. This created a major problem for the setting up of the Thames Path as either bridges had to be built where the old ferries used to operate or alternative routes to the towpath had to be found.