Page:TheHistoricThames.djvu/142

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The Thames

of luxury in the Thames Valley has perpetually increased since the decline of its industrial and agricultural importance, and undoubtedly, if it were possible to draw a map indicating the proportion of economic demand throughout the country, the Valley of the Thames would appear, in proportion to its population, by far the most concentrated district in England, although it contains but one very large town, and although it is innocent of any very important modern industry.

It is interesting, in connection with this economic aspect of the Thames Valley, to note that, alone of the great river valleys of Europe, it has no railway system parallel to its banks. There is no series of productive centres which could give rise to such a railway system. The Great Western Railway follows the river now some distance upon one side, now some distance upon the other, as far as Oxford; but it does not depend in any way upon the stream, and where the course of the stream is irregular it goes on its straight course, throwing out branch lines to the smaller towns upon the banks: for the railway depends, so far as this section is concerned, upon the industries of the Midlands and of the west. Were you to cut off the sources of carriage which it draws upon from beyond the Valley of the Thames it could not exist.

The Scheldt, the Rhine, the Rhone, the Garonne, the Seine, the Elbe, are all different in this from the Thames. The economic power of our main river valley is chiefly a spend-