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Talks & Events

Midsummer Water Day

Celebrate Midsummer Day with this very special afternoon of talks, events, installations, screenings, family workshops and singing, across a range of spaces in King’s College London and Somerset House. Visit the Museum of Water, and then hear from artists and academics whose work relates to water, who can offer an insight into the politics and history of water, and who can get you and your family experimenting, playing and reflecting on water

Family workshops: Science

12.00 – 17.30 – Room 5

Join Mother Nature Science who will show you how to create gooey slime, purify dirty water, build hydraulic toys, explore chromatography and investigate buoyancy. Have fun with hands-on water activities and count down to the launch of the Mother Nature water rocket outside.

Family workshops: Arts and crafts

12.00 – 17.30 – Room 1

Heritage Arts Company will work with children throughout the afternoon to design a water-themed mural. They will also create a living installation in the ‘Roman bath' and the surrounding area, taking inspiration from images of imagined post-Victorian bathers.

Family workshop: Waterworks

12.00 – 15.00 – South Wing

Celebrate our rich riverside history here at Somerset House and write your own stories or poems based on old Father Thames.

Family Water Films

12.00 – 17.30 – Room 7

Grab a beanbag and a bag of popcorn and settle down for a selection of specially chosen family water-themed favourites, including:

Ponyo (2008, U) Hayao Miyazaki’s stunning masterpiece about a goldfish princess who escapes home to become human

Finding Nemo (2003, U) Fabulous animated under-the-sea movie telling the story of a young clownfish and friends

Rango (2011, PG) Adventure tale in which Rango the pet chameleon goes in search of the town’s missing water

The Rain Printer

an installation by Andres Ayerbe & Camille Leproust

12.00 – 18.00 – Room 4

Andres Ayerbe and Camille Leproust share an interest in making and understanding things. They repurpose everyday objects to give them unexpected meaning and look at the coming together of technology and art as a way of addressing issues of human and social value. The Rain Printer (2013) gathers precipitation data from Bogor, Indonesia and Las Vegas, USA and prints the information on receipt paper via cash registers, visualising issues with water around the world and putting in question the commodification of natural resources.

The Big Water Sing

13.00 – 13.45 / 14.30 – 15.15 / 16.00 – 16.45 – Workshops

18.00 – The Big Water Sing performance

Come and learn a gorgeous water-inspired song and perform it in the spectacular Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court at Somerset House. Led by inspirational choir director Ali Orbaum, these singing workshops are open to all and offer the chance to learn a cappella harmonies and take part in a special public performance. The music will be taught by ear so no previous experience or knowledge is required. Just sign up for one of the afternoon workshops below, meet at Somerset House East Wing reception 15 minutes before the workshop start time, and prepare to raise the roof.

Book the 13.00 13.45 workshop

Book the 14.30 15.15 workshop

Book the 16.00 16.45 workshop


Why Do We Swim? The Swimmers’ Manifesto

12.00 – 17.30 – River Terrace

Some of us have a life-long relationship with swimming. This could be a life-changing experience of recovery, a return to fitness, the steady upkeep of a healthy mind and body during the course of busy lives. Perhaps adventure and endurance? Some people swim because they like the atmosphere around pools. Some people swim because they can, some people because they must.

Today, we will build a public manifesto on the River Terrace of Somerset House, where swimming enthusiasts will be invited to share their philosophies about, experiences of and reasons for swimming. Part speakers’ corner, part stream of consciousness, part campaign for greater awareness and better swimming conditions… part attempt to put into words and share the extraordinarily essential and occasionally transcendental feeling of swimming, The Swimmers’ Manifesto will chart the profound experience that swimming can be.

Join us on our soapbox to have your say and help us explore the love of taking the plunge. This event is free to watch and take part in, and open to everyone, but if you would like to speak, please contact as early as possible to book your space.

Excerpts of The Swimmers’ Manifesto will also be published online.

Water sampling sessions (Thames21)

12.00 – 17.30

Thames21 is one of the country’s leading waterway charities, working with communities across Greater London to improve our waterways for people and wildlife. Join the Thames21 team for drop-in activities including water quality testing and a pollution fishing game, and to find out more about their new projects, Fixing Broken Rivers and Thames River Watch.


The King’s Geography Room

A curated series of talks, films and games from the Department of Geography at King’s

12.00 – 17.30 – Room 6

A programme of presentations and films around the politics of water raises critical issues about dams, international river disputes, ways of seeing and representing water, the human right to water, the politics of floods and irrigation and questions of who exactly manages and controls water.

12.00: Unfamiliar London: Water (1973, DVD: London Metropolitan Archives, 25mins)

12.30: Living with floods in Central Thailand: Toward resilient adaptation (Talk by Nuttavikhom Phanthuwongpakdee)

12.45: Karez and traditional irrigation in the Arid Realm (Talk by Dr Daanish Mustafa)

13.00: Damned (2003, DVD: Dr Daanish Mustafa, 50 minutes)

14.15: How do you solve a problem like rivers crossing borders? The Politics of sharing water (Talk by Dr Naho Mirumachi)

14.30: Mekong (DVD: Nathaniel Matthews, 52 minutes)

15.30: Who determines the demand for food and who manages water? (Talk by Professor Tony Allan)

15.45: The Weight of Water (Talk by Professor Frances Cleaver)

16.00: Duminea: A Festival for the Water Spirits (1966, DVD, 20 mins)

16.30: The Right to Water (Talk by Alex Loftus)

16.45: Making Water visible (Talk by Richard Bater)

17.00: London’s Water Supply (1972, DVD: London Metropolitan Archive, 30 mins)

12.00 – 17.30 – Games and Models

Take part in games and simulations which illustrate the interconnectedness of human-water interactions, including:

Dr Mark Mulligan will demonstrate Forest Defenders which educates players about deforestation and its impacts on water and climate by using a deforestation monitoring system to examine rates and patterns of deforestation in the Amazon, Borneo and Congo forests. Groups of up to 30 will be guided at intervals from The Geography Room to the adjacent King's building.

The Basin Challenge is an online game that helps players to understand the complexities of river basin development. The decisions that players must make are based on authentic situations and environmental and social data.

Also on display will be the King's Geography river flow table, ideal to see at first hand the erosion and deposition of rivers, and the evolution of river meanders, deltas and floodplains.


The King’s English Room

A curated series of talks from the Department of English at King’s

12.00 – 17.30 – Archaeology Room

Estuary: Walks on Water/Talks on Water

At the threshold of the sea. Between Essex and Kent. Where most humans live. The Delta Sound. Estuarine life. Oil on water. A midsummer’s afternoon, on the banks of the river, considering ‘downstream’ and its currents of thought, practices and politics. Alan Read, Professor of Theatre, draws from his unreliable memoir of a blank childhood, The White Estuary, exploring the resonance of the Delta Sound in the 1970s when the ‘only way’ was Essex Country, and curates a series of conversations with artists and thinkers who consider ‘downstream’ and its currents of thought, practices and politics.

12.30 – 13.00: Alan Read, Professor of Theatre – opening remarks

13.00 – 13.45: Professor Patrick Wright on the life of the great literary innovator, Uwe Johnson, looking out from his home on Marine Parade in Sheerness, Kent, towards the wreck of the ‘unfathomable ship’, the Richard Montgomery, the estuary’s ‘unexploded bomb’.

14.00 – 14.45: Christopher Heighes of theatre makers Forster & Heighes on the curious history of the Hoverport at Pegwell Bay, where Thanet silt becomes the stage for invasion, exodus and exploration.

15.00 - 16.00: Dr Joshua Davies will trace the cross currents of the natural and cultural histories of Thanet to reveal the site of a now lost early medieval estuary and the legacies of the community who flourished beside it. Joshua will be joined by Clare Lees, Professor of Medieval Literature and  Gillian Overing, Professor of English, Wake Forest University, who will discuss 'Deep Water Tales' reflecting on the earliest English water stories of women, sea-beasts, and shape-shifters inspired by the Museum of Water and by their recent work on Roni Horn’s water projects, particularly Still Water (on the Thames) and The Library of Water, Stykkisholmúr, Iceland.

16.15 – 17.00: Platform, London based art and campaigning collective, long committed to the cause of the Ogoni and the oil-led pollution of the Niger Delta, reflect upon their involvement in that ill at ease estuary and look forward to the return of the ‘living memorial’, Sokari Douglas Camp’s sculpture of the Ken Saro-Wiwa bus, from Tottenham to Ogoniland for the 20th anniversary of his execution in 2015.

Old Water Hoard

The phrase 'word-hoard' refers to the poetic language of the earliest English poets and the Old Water Hoard is a collection and celebration of Old English words, texts and poems about water and weather. The water words have been collected from the international community of medievalists via an existing blog and Twitter account, which runs as the Old English Word of the Day @OEWordhord. Many English words to do with water such as water, rain, shower and weather have their roots in the very earliest forms of the language that dates back to the Anglo-Saxon period (roughly 550-1100). The Old Water Hoard shares this legacy and reflects on the rich histories of water words in English. Come and share your favourite water words and learn how important the weather has always been to the English language, or take a water walk listening to the earliest English poetry about water in its original language. Participants: Fran Allfrey, Fran Brooks, Hana Videen, Carl Kears, James Paz, Vicky Walker and Becky Hardie, with Kath Maude.



Spoken Word Room

12.00 – 17.30 – Room 3

Enjoy a programme of water-themed poetry and performance flowing throughout the afternoon, curated and hosted by live literature producers Penned in the Margins.

  • JR Carpenter explores islands, flying jellyfish and nautical field recordings in a live performance of her underwater digital project Etheric Ocean
  • Faber New Poet Jack Underwood and sound poet Holly Pester collaborate on a one-off durational performance: a poem for two voices about the water we share and the water between us
  • Award-winning writer Ruth Padel reads estuarine poetry from her collections The Mara Crossing, The Soho Leopard and Fusewire
  • Claire Trevien composes poems live in response to the exhibition and reads from her book The Shipwrecked House, inspired by the sea and her Breton maritime heritage
  • Canal Laureate and narrow-boat dweller Jo Bell reads poetry informed by living on water
  • Siddhartha Bose reads poetry inspired by the holy rivers of the Thames and the Ganges
  • Justin Hopper explores sea disasters in the Thames estuary and follows hidden currents of Pittsburgh in his poem-projects Public Record and Fourth River: Ley Line
  • Tom Chivers reads from Flood Drain – his psychogeographical poem about the river Hull – and shares his experiences of leading ‘urban pilgrimages’ along London’s lost rivers.
  • A selection of readings drawn from the Old Water Hoard of Anglo-Saxon poems about water. Read and translated by the community of early medieval scholars and postgraduates at King's and elsewhere.


Midsummer Water Day Talks Programme

12.00 – 18.00 – Room 2

12.00 – 12.45Prof Michael Trapp – ‘Somerset House Fountains Old and New’

The 55 fountain-jets that now play in the courtyard of Somerset House are the modern successors of two much earlier fountains in the old Somerset House, built not for public pleasure but for the private enjoyment of royalty – one for Charles I and Henrietta Maria, and the other for James I's queen, Anne of Denmark. Follow the history and fortunes of these fountains back in time and discover their surviving traces, on the Somerset House site and further afield. Michael Trapp is Professor of Greek Literature & Thought at King’s. Besides his legitimate classical interests, he has an increasingly obsessive interest in the history of the Somerset House and King’s sites before the arrival of the present buildings.

13.00 – 13.45 – Rob Casey, Thames Water – 'From the Romans to the Ring Man: A History of London's Water Supply'

London's water supply has a rich and interesting history that goes back, not just a hundred, but almost 2,000 years to when the Romans originally founded the city. Rob Casey (Thames Water Utilities) talk focusses on key people who have played a part in the providing water to the capital, plus key decisions and innovations where London has led the industry.

14.00 – 14.45 – Caitlin Davies – ‘Why we love and fear the Thames: a history of swimming our river’

The River Thames has been a favourite bathing spot for centuries, but it was the Victorian era that saw the birth of organised river racing. Soon floating baths were built in London; official pools, islands, pontoons and lidos were created all along the river, and by the 1930s Thames beaches had become family seaside resorts. Then in 1957 the river was declared biologically dead and by the 1970s Thames swimming was seen as unusual and dangerous. Today the Thames is the cleanest in living memory and the resurgence in ‘wild swimming’ means we’ve returned to its watery embrace, yet deep-seated fears remain, particularly about pollution. This talk looks at swimmers’ relationships with the Thames, drawing on original research from a new book, Downstream: a history of swimming the Thames, to be published by Aurum in April 2015.

15.00 – 15.45 – Dr Noel Lobley – ‘The Sound and Music in Water’

Rivers, lakes and oceans across the world cry, sing, and roar with music. People have long been listening to, shaping and drumming water to make stunning forms of music and sound. The BaAka people from the rainforests of the Central African Republic playfully coax rhythm and melody from the surface of rivers; Tuvan throat singers in southern Siberia sing alongside the melodies and rhythms of gurgling streams; and water poured on the skin of friction drums in the Ivory Coast produces masked rasping sounds for other worlds. In this illustrated talk ethnomusicologist and sound curator Dr Noel Lobley (Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford) will explore some of the ways that diverse communities communicate the sound and music in water.

16.00 – 16.45 – Prof Michael Trapp – ‘Somerset House Fountains Old and New’

See 12 – 12.45 

17.00 – 17.45 – Alan Lenander, Thames Water – ‘The office under our feet’

Alan (Operations Liaison Specialist, Thames Water) is London’s expert on how waste water is managed under our city. With 8 million people washing, showering and flushing everyday there is lots of work to do to keep things flowing. As a Civil Engineer starting with Thames Water back in 1966, Alan has gained extensive experience looking at operational problems and resolving issues. Alan believes that the biggest challenge of all is ahead of us - Last year, 55 million tonnes of raw sewerage was washed into the tidal Thames. This talk will explain the history of London’s sewerage network, how this came to be and what we are doing about it.


Roman Bath

Opening times for Sat 21 June tbc

(Open daily 6 – 29 June, for tour times click here)

Usually open by special arrangement only, the National Trust’s ‘Roman Bath’, on the King’s College London Strand Campus, will be open to the public every day during the Museum of Water. The Roman Bath, 5 Strand Lane is a spring-fed brick cistern under the back-building of 33 Surrey Street. Reputed since the 1830s to be a Roman relic, it was in fact originally the cistern for an early 17th-century fountain in Somerset House, and was converted for use as a cold bath after 150 years of neglect in the 1770s. Its cold waters killed the MP and sculpture-collector William Weddell in 1792, and refreshed the young David in David Copperfield (1850).

Alice Oswald

Poet Alice Oswald has written a water poem for the occasion. The Poetry Society will give copies to the first 100 people at the Midsummer Water Day who choose to take a 'sip' of water from her Dartmoor pool in the Roman Bath.

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