Life Afloat: A History of the Floating Villages on London’s Tidal Thames

Although this documentary is scant on the subject of narrowboats, it’s really a fascinating look into the lifestyle of living on a boat moored on the Thames. Don’t be discouraged by the overly long musical introduction, interviews begin at 2:45. At first I thought the documentary might be a snooze, but some of the stories of the early pioneers in houseboating (from about the 1960s and ’70s) are amazing. The stiff upper lip of the man recounting the death of his child is haunting—thankfully the only heartrending tale, although dead bodies do come up a few times.

Although today looking at the boats of the people interviewed, you might imagine them as wealthy, it’s clear most originally moved onto the water to save money—the same dynamic that make people today decide to live on a narrowboat full time. It should also be remembered that many of those grand boats were bought at bargain prices and are valuable today because of the effort put into restoring them.

The other connection between this documentary and the new trend of narrowboat liveaboards is the complaint that the most recent adoptees of the lifestyle are making it difficult for the first generation of adoptees. Same as it ever was, I guess.

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