The romantic, fascinating, gypsy-afloat-life story of houseboat living is largely unknown and one with no detailed 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 more than 1,000 people living in floating residences on the tidal Thames. The first of these mooring communities dates back to the 1930s, with numbers increasingly on the rise since the 1980s hike in house prices made a river life a viable alternative.
However for many, life afloat lacks security and is a very fragile existence.
Famous river dwellers include actor Imogen Stubbs (above), who likens living on a boat to ‘living in a whale or a womb’ and growing up in a Huckleberry Finn life. She and her brother were brought up aboard the retired 100ft Dutch sailing barge Cetus at Chiswick. Her description of a floating home life compares to artist Denis Postle’s comparison of it being ‘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.’
The project has 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. The film is dedicated to the late Jo Cox MP (Right) who was murdered in June 2016; Jo Cox was a resident of the Hermitage Moorings in Wapping where she lived on a barge with her husband and two children.