I'm having trouble finding data on the River Thames, specifically in the greater London, UK area. I am trying to georeference and digitize a map of the 1666 fire of London for my final project in my GIS class. I figured if I found a polygon of the Thames that I could use that as a reference feature for digitizing, but for the life of me I can only find polyline data.

Does anyone have any suggestions of where to look?

  • 2
    If it's open data that you seek then I think the place to ask is the Open Data Stack Exchange.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Dec 9, 2020 at 6:38
  • 2
    As an aside about this, I'd be cautious about using the Thames as a reference - there's been considerable effort to narrow and direct its course since the Great Fire, including large barriers along both the north and south bank - I'd not be surprised if this had altered the size and shape of the river by a decent amount, and I suspect the Thames at the time of the fire was wider than today.
    – lupe
    Commented Dec 9, 2020 at 14:54
  • 2
    You're going to need historical data for this project. Riverbanks do not stay in the same place over the course of hundreds of years.
    – csk
    Commented Dec 9, 2020 at 18:09

4 Answers 4


OpenStreetMap has it as Waterway.

Data Source (shapefile)


Extract and load into a GIS (QGIS used here).


Extract using the attributes flcass='riverbank' or name='River Thames' Then dissolve the polygons into one (if required).

enter image description here


As proposed by @Mapperz, download the data from OpenStreetMap (OSM). You can download just the data you're interested in by using Overpass Turbo - zoom to the area of your interest and insert the tag and value you're interested in - in this case name="River Thames". See first screenshot below and details about how to get the information about the tags/values for your features in this answer.

If working in QGIS, you might directly download the data to the map canvas using QuickOSM Plugin - again zoom to the area of your interest and use QuickOSM with Tag= name and Value= River Thames and select Canvas Extent, see second screenshot and here for details: https://gis.stackexchange.com/a/381347/88814

enter image description here

enter image description here

  • 2
    As mentioned before be very aware, that this is not the course of the river in 1666, historic street and road crossings are a far better way to georeference a 1666 map than using the banks of a meandering river which have been subject to erosion and sedimentation.
    – Hans Erren
    Commented Dec 9, 2020 at 18:26

If you are a UK student you can access historic maps from Edina. They will be OS maps in raster format. Won't take you long to digitise the Thames for just London.


You might need to dissolve your data first, such that all the lines are joined, but it might be easier (and more fun of course) to geoprocess the data from lines to polygons.

Try a Lines to Polygons conversion tool.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.