Thames Town

Visitors from Bristol (UK) might be somewhat surprised to stumble across a familiar looking church in the far southern reaches of Shanghai, but not half as surprised as Gail Caddy when she spotted her Lyme Regis pub on the front page of the UK broadsheet The Telegraph, heralding the arrival of this rather bizarre theme town in 2006.
A slice of little Britain, Thames Town (Tàiwùshì Xiǎo Zhèn, 泰晤士小镇) is located in Songjiang District (Sōngjiāng Qū, 松江区), 30 km (18.6 mi) outside of Shanghai. It is part of a larger project called Songjiang New City, an effort conceived in 2001 to draw people away from the increasingly densely populated center of Shanghai.
The satellite town-building initiative also included a Spanish Town, an Italian Town, a German Town and a Dutch Town among others. Thames Town comes complete with red telephone boxes, cobbled streets, Georgian townhouses, Victorian terraces and the aforementioned church (an exact copy of Christ Church in Clifton, Bristol). Architects were dispatched to the UK to find inspiration to create Shanghai’s very own English market town and in true Shanzhai fashion, the result is made up of clones of what they found there. Gail Caddy’s Rock Point Inn and the neighboring Cobb Gate Fish Bar being a prime example. Sadly, the exterior is where the similarity ends and anyone hoping for a decent pint and a bag of cod and chips will be disappointed as both are simply facades to empty buildings.
This lack of substance may be one of the reasons why the town has never really fulfilled its raison d’être—to become a residential hub for the adjacent Songjiang University—and remains little more than a surreal ghost town populated by a handful of tourists and an army of wedding photographers; the unusual scenery has made it a hit with local couples for their pre-nuptial photo shoots and they can be seen in an array of costumes parading all over town.
It’s a pleasant place to while away a surreal, sunny afternoon and snap some pics of Little Bo Peep-style brides posing along the canal. There are a handful of coffee shops, bars, convenience stores and restaurants (there’s a Costa Coffee in the main square and a German pub selling sausage and mash and decent beer), but choice is limited and packing a picnic is probably the way to go.


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