We’re starting a new Wednesday series but before we do, here’s a recap…

10 islands in the Thames – 1. Chiswick Eyot…

10 islands in the Thames – 2. Oliver’s Ait…

10 islands in the Thames – 3. Brentford Ait…

10 islands in the Thames – 4. Isleworth Ait...

10 islands in the Thames – 5. Corporation Island (and the Flowerpots)…

10 islands in the Thames – 6. Glover’s Island…

10 islands in the Thames – 7. Eel Pie Island…

10 islands in the Thames – 8. Thames Ditton Island…

10 islands in the Thames – 9. Taggs Island…

10 islands in the Thames – 10. Garrick’s Ait…

We launch our next new series next Wednesday…

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And so we come to the final entry in our Wednesday special series on River Thames islands. 

Garrick’s Ait, which was previously known as Shank’s Eyot, lies only a few hundred metres upstream from Taggs Island and is said to be the only island in Britain named after an actor – in this case, 18th century star David Garrick.

Similarly to other Thames islands, it was traditionally used to grow and harvest willow osiers but was later popular for picnics and camping. There were apparently no permanent buildings until the 1920s and 1930s when wooden cabins begin to appear on the island and it’s now home to about 20 houses (three were reportedly destroyed in a 2003 fire).

The island took on the name of Garrick’s Ait (ait, like eyot, we recall, being a name for a river island) after the actor bought a property on the Hampton bank in 1754 which he named Garrick’s Villa. In its grounds he famously built a garden folly known as the Temple to Shakespeare.

The ait, which can only be accessed by boat and which sits closer to the Molesey bank than the Hampton bank, was apparently one of three Thames islands that Garrick bought in the area (along with several properties).

PICTURE: © David Kemp (licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0)

 


Formerly known as Walnut Tree Island (among other names), this Thames River island, which lies just upstream of Hampton Court Place, was once a playground for the wealthy and is now home to about 100 residents living in houseboats.

The island was once part of the manor of Hampton Court and by the mid-19th century was home to a number of squatter families who made a living by harvesting osiers (willow rods) used in basket weaving.

In 1850, it was purchased by a property speculator and lawyer Francis Kent (another name for the island was Kent’s Ait) who evicted the squatters and rented part of the island to Joseph Harvey, who established a pub called The Angler’s Retreat there. Another part he leased to a local boatbuilder and waterman named Thomas George Tagg who set up a boat rental and boat-building business there.

In the 1870s, Tagg – whose name became that of the island’s – took over the licence of the pub and built a larger, more imposing hotel in its place, transforming the backwater establishment into a high society favourite. Among its patrons were none other than Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and the actress Sarah Bernhardt.

The island also become a mooring site for luxurious houseboats and by the 1880s, the island was ringed with the craft – among those who rented one was none other than JM Barrie, later the author of Peter Pan.

In 1911, Tagg’s original lease of the island ran out and it was subsequently taken by Fred Karno (formerly known as Fred Westcott), a theatre impresario who is credited with having ‘discovered’ Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel and who had stayed in houseboats on the island.

He subsequently built a luxurious hotel there, The Karsino, which he sold in 1926, but which went on to change hands several time over the ensuring years (and names – it became known variously as the Thames Riviera and the Casino Hotel).

Eventually, in a badly dilapidated state, the hotel once known as The Karsino was demolished in 1971 (but not before putting in an appearance in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange).

Karno also owned a luxurious houseboat, the Astoria, which was once moored on the island but which is now owned by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour (who adapted it into a rather stylish recording studio in the Eighties – A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell were apparently both recorded here) and moored upstream on the northern bank of the Thames.

A road bridge was built to connect the island to the mainland in the 1940s – when the island was being used to produce munitions – but this collapsed in the 1960s.

A new bridge was built to the island in the 1980s and a small lagoon carved out of the centre to increase the number of mooring sites for houseboats.

No homes are these days permitted to be constructed on the island but it’s still a mooring place for houseboats, some 62, in fact. These days the island owned by an association of the houseboat owners who each have their own garden on the island.

In the centre of the island is a rather unique sundial (see below). And just to the south-east of Taggs Island lies the much smaller Ash Island; the stretch of water separating the two was apparently once known as Hog’s Hole.

PICTURES: Top – Houseboats on Taggs Island ( Motmit at en.wikipedia/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0) ; Right – The Karsino in 1924 (Adam37/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0); Below – The sundial (stevekeiretsu/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

We’re skipping upstream, past a few islands this week, to take a look at Thames Ditton Island which lies in Kingston Reach, above Teddington Lock. The island is the largest of a group of three which also includes Swan Island (the smallest) and Boyle Farm Island.

Located opposite the grounds of Hampton Court Palace (built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the early 16th century and then, following his fall from grace, claimed by King Henry VIII in 1525), the 320 metre long Thames Ditton Island owes its existence to King Henry who had the river widened and straightened here so that he could use the river for an uninterrupted journey up the river from Westminster to Hampton Court. In doing so, the island was created.

Used as pasture land for the local manor (and known apparently at one point as Colly’s Ait, ait being a word for a river island, before being renamed Thames Ditton after the village on the west bank) for several centuries, the island became a popular recreation spot for the wealthy interested in water sports during the Edwardian era, thanks to the arrival of the railway in the area in the late 19th century.

The island is these days connected to the Thames Ditton bank by a 1930s suspension bridge which ends near the 13th century Ye Olde Swan pub. It is now home to more than 45 rather exclusive riverside properties (almost all are in stilts to help ward off the danger of flooding, a phenomenon with which long-term residents in the area are familiar).

Swan Island, while lies just to the south of Thames Ditton Island, is tiny and the location of the home of the ferryman, who up until 1911, would take people across the river to Hampton Court.

Further to the south likes Boyle Farm Island which also has a single house open it. It stands opposite the mainland property formerly known as Boyle Farm but now a nursing home known as the Home of Compassion.

Interestingly, while Thames Ditton Island is part of Greater London, Boyle Farm Island is part of Surrey (along with Thames Ditton village).

PICTURE: Andrew Lewin (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

And so we come to one of the most curiously named, yet perhaps most famous, of all the Thames islands in London.

First, to the name. The almost nine acre island, which was previously divided into two and perhaps even three, was previously known by other names including Twickenham Ait and Parish Ait. A place of recreation since perhaps as early as the start of the 17th century – there’s an early reference to a bowling alley being located there, since at least the mid-18th century it was also home to an inn, known variously as The Ship and The White Cross.

During the 19th century, the island became a popular destination for steamer excursions and the inn was rebuilt on a grander scale in about 1830. It became famous for the eel pies that could be bought there – so popular were they that the island’s name was apparently changed in tribute (although there’s a very dubious story that it was King Henry VIII who first made the island’s eel pies famous by stopping to sample one from a stall there – that, however, seems unlikely).

Second, to the fame. Now known as the Eel Pie Hotel, in the first half of the 20th century the inn began an association with music which would see it one day make an important contribution to the development of British pop music.

Dances were held there in the 1920s and 30s and in the mid-1950s, jazz sessions were held there. By the Sixties, the venue – under the stewardship of Arthur Chisnall – had started to attract R&B bands and among those who played here in the following years were everyone from Eric Clapton (as part of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers) and The Rolling Stones to The Who, The Moody Blues, David Bowie and Rod Stewart. In 1967, the venue was forced to close due to the cost of repairs but reopened briefly in 1969 as ‘Colonel Barefoot’s Rock Garden’, attracting bands including Black Sabbath, Hawkwind and the Edgar Broughton Band.

The new venture didn’t last. Squatters moved in and in 1971, the hotel burned down in a “mysterious” fire while it was being demolished.

The island, the centre of which was again damaged by fire in 1996, now hosts about 50 homes and a few boatyards as well as other businesses and artist’s studios. It’s also home to the Twickenham Rowing Club, which was first established in 1860 and moved to the island in 1880.

While for many years it could only be accessed by ferry, the island can these days be accessed via a footbridge (the first bridge was installed in 1957 and replaced in 1998).

Notable residents on the island have included William Hartnell, the original Dr Who, and inventor Trevor Baylis (best known for the wind-up radio). The island has appeared in several books and TV shows including the 2005 series How To Start Your Own Country in which TV personality Danny Wallace attempted to “invade” the island. He was unsuccessful.

PICTURES: Above – Eel Pie Island from Twickenham. Below – A signboard tribute to the island’s musical heritage. (David Adams).

Originally known as Petersham Ait, this small island located in a stretch of river known as Horses Reach between Petersham and Twickenham was renamed Glover’s Island after it was bought by a Richmond-based waterman, Joseph Glover, in 1872. 

Having originally paid the sum of £70 for it, in 1895 Glover advertised it for sale for the rather higher sum of £5,000. The Richmond Corporation was approached but declined to pay such a high sum and so a couple of years later Glover, apparently in a move designed to put pressure on the municipal authorities, put the island up for auction with the suggestion it could be sold to Pear’s Soap Company and a massive advertising billboard erected on it.

Amid concerns over the need to preserve the view from Richmond Hill from such an atrocity, efforts were made to raise public funds to purchase the island at auction but when the auction came around – in September, 1898 – only £50 had been raised.

It didn’t matter – the highest bid at the auction only reached £200, however, so Glover didn’t sell, nor did he accommodate a local resident who apparently subsequently offered £1,000 for the island (with the intention of passing it on to the Richmond Corporation). Instead, Glover withdrew it from sale.

Temporarily, it seems. Because in 1900, Richmond Hill resident – as well as businessman, art collector and philanthropist – Max Waechter, later Sir Max, bought the island for an undisclosed price and gave it to council with the condition that it never be developed.

It remains so to this day – the uninhabited, heavily wooded half acre island, which was raised to its present height using rubble excavated from London Tube tunnels in the 19th century, still provides a pleasant feature in the landscape for those looking out from Richmond Hill and, with the view now protected by an Act of Parliament, that’s not likely to change.

PICTURE: View from Richmond Hill of the Thames and Glover’s Island (David Adams)

Located between Richmond Bridge and Richmond Rail Bridge (and part of the much taken-in view from the Richmond waterfront), this is another uninhabited Thames island which is frequented by herons.

Heavily wooded, tree species include various willows and black poplars. In the 1960s, the council approved the cutting down of plane trees on the island – the willows were planted subsequently.

The name presumably comes from the Richmond Corporation – that is the Municipal Borough of Richmond – which owned the island.

Downstream of Corporation Island – also known as Richmond Ait –  lay two small islands called the Flowerpots.

PICTURE: David Kemp (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Another unpopulated ait (another word for river island), this nine acre isle is located in a stretch of the Thames with old Isleworth on one bank and the Kew towpath on the other.

The tidal island, which regularly floods, was once, like other arts in the Thames, used for the production of osiers, a type of willow used to make baskets to carry produce from Middlesex to London. There were once said to be five neighbouring islands, all of which have now disappeared.

Once the property of the Duke of Northumberland (it formed part Syon Park estate, his London property, which is located nearby), the island was purchased by the Metropolitan Water Board and is now owned by Thames Water.

Covered in trees, the ait provides a sanctuary for birds – including everything from kingfishers to swifts and herons – and rare snails like the two-lipped door snail. Officially declared a Local Nature Reserve, it has been under the management of the London Wildlife Trust since 1995.

The ait cannot be accessed without permission from the trust.

PICTURE: John McLinden (image cropped; licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Located just upstream (and around the bend) from Oliver’s Island, this 4.5 acre island (ait being a word for a river island) has also been known by numerous other names including Makenshaw and Twigg Ait.

It was (in)famously home to a pub known as The Three Swans – there’s still a series of steps on the Brentford bank which lead down to the river where people crossed it to the pub.

The pub ceased trade around the turn of the 18th century and the island is now uninhabited.

In 1920s, this long ait was planted with trees to screen the local gasworks from those looking across the river from Kew Gardens.

The island, which features willows and alders and is reportedly home to a “significant heronry” as well as other birdlife, has a gap in the middle known as Hog Hole which can apparently be seen at high tide when it effectively creates two islands.

At the western end of Brentford Ait can be found the smaller Lot’s Ait (also known previously as Barbel Island, apparently after the Barbel fish found in the river there).

This island was previously used for growing osiers used for basket-making as well as grass for cattle fodder. It has appeared on the screen including in Humphrey Bogart’s 1951 film, The African Queen.

It’s now privately owned and currently home to a boat-builders. It’s been linked to the riverbank by a footbridge since 2012.

PICTURE: Brentford Ait (Jim Linwood licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Formerly known as Strand Ait (or Ayt), this small island’s name was changed after the English Civil War, inspired by a story that Oliver Cromwell himself had taken refuge here during the war.

There’s apparently no truth to that story (or at least no evidence has been found) or to the legend that there was a secret tunnel which ran under the river from the mid-stream island to the nearby Bull’s Head pub on Strand-on-the-Green in Chiswick where Cromwell was said to have had established a headquarters (the tunnel was apparently so he could escape if the Cavaliers got too close).

The island, which stands in a stretch of the river between Kew and Chiswick (just upstream from Kew Railway Bridge and downstream from Kew Bridge) in London’s west, is not quite an acre in size (and, like Chiswick Ait, it’s roughly ship-shaped) but has served various purposes over the years.

In 1777, the City of London’s navigation committee built a wooden, castle-shaped tollbooth on the island with a barge moored alongside to catch passing river trade and so fund improvements to the navigability of the river. One story says it’s that barge that apparently lent its name to the delightful nearby pub, The City Barge, but others say the pub is named after the Lord Mayor of London’s State Barge which had winter moorings nearby for a time.

In 1865 a smithy was built on the island which was used in the building and repair of barges. It was later, after the Port of London Authority took over ownership in 1909, used as a storage facility and wharves for derelict vessels. The building survived until the 1990s but is now gone – along with any other signs of civilisation.

The island, which now has a dense canopy largely made up of sycamore trees, is these days inhabited by birds – those spotted there have included mallards, cormorants, Black-headed gulls, Canada geese, Egyptian geese, mute swans, magpies and robins – as well as  a range of other life – a 2014 survey found 11 species of mollusc and 35 species of vegetation and the island has also been cited as a habitat for bats and Thames door snails.

 


We kick of a new series this week looking at islands in the River Thames in Greater London and start with the uninhabited Chiswick Eyot or Ait (a word for a river island).

Located just off Chiswick Mall in London’s west, this 3.2 acre tidal island (one of 42 unbridged tidal islands in England) is the lowest in The Thames (and hence gets submerged at high tide – the island appears in the picture above at low tide).

Historically, the island – which is shaped like the plan of a ship sitting parallel to the Mall – was used as a location for the growing of osiers (basket willows) which were used to make baskets.

Formerly owned by the church, in 1934 ownership passed to the local council, now the London Borough of Hounslow. It declared the island a local nature reserve in 1993. Conservation days are regularly held on the island by river conservation group Thames21 (but otherwise people are requested to stay off the island).

The island is a key point on The Championship Course during the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge from Putney to Mortlake.

PICTURE: henry… (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

We’ve finished our series on modern icons (we’ll be looking at some more in another special series). But before we move on to our next series, here’s a quick recap. Which one is your favourite?

10 of London’s modern icons…1. Lloyd’s of London building

10 of London’s modern icons…2. 30 St Mary Axe (aka ‘The Gherkin’)

10 of London’s modern icons…3. The BT Tower…

10 of London’s modern icons…4. One Canada Tower…

10 of London’s modern icons…5. The London Eye…

10 of London’s modern icons…6. Millbank Tower…

10 of London’s modern icons…7. The O2…

10 of London’s modern icons…8. Tower 42…

10 of London’s modern icons…9. 20 Fenchurch Street (The Walkie Talkie)…

10 of London’s modern icons…10. The Shard…


For the final in our series of modern icons of London, we’re looking at the tallest in London (and, at the time it was completed, the tallest in Europe) – the Shard.

Based in London Bridge, the 310 metre high skyscraper, was constructed between 2009 and mid-2012, and inaugurated by Qatar’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabor Al Thani, and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, in July, 2012 – an event marked by a light and laser show (late that year, Prince Andrew abseiled down the building in a fund-raising effort for charity).

The observation deck of the building – originally known as London Bridge Tower and often referred to as The Shard of Glass – was opened to the public on 1st February, 2013, in an event overseen by the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Architect Renzo Piano’s lofty design for the building – first sketched out on the back of a napkin in a Berlin restaurant back in 2000 – was inspired by the London church spires and ship masts as seen in the work of 18th century Venetian painter Canaletto, to appear as a “spire-like sculpture emerging from the River Thames”.

It features eight sloping glass walls – the shards – with gaps or “fractures” between them to provide natural ventilation and a tapered structure to give the impression of lightness and transparency as it disappears into the clouds.

As well as office space, the building’s 72 habitable floors features shops, restaurants and bars, as well as a hotel – the Shangri-La, and apartments. News organisation Al Jazeera is also based in the building.

Located on floors 68, 69 and 72, the visitor attraction, The View from The Shard, offers panoramic views of up to 40 miles from an indoor viewing platform and the open air Skydeck (as well as the view, there are also virtual reality experiences available on the Skydeck for an additional cost).

The Shard – which attracted a million visitors in its first year alone – remained the tallest building in Europe until November, 2012, when it was surpassed by Moscow’s Mercury City Tower (it is still the tallest building in the European Union).

We’ll be kicking off a new special Wednesday series after Easter.

WHERE: The View from the Shard, Joiner Street (nearest Tube station is London Bridge); WHEN: Times vary, so check the website for details; COST: Pre-purchased timed and dated tickets range from £22.95 for adults/£16.95 for children aged four to 15 (check website for further details); WEBSITE: www.theviewfromtheshard.com.

PICTURES: Top: The Shard (Fred Mouniguet/Unsplash); Below – The Shard from the Thames (Matt Holland/Unsplash).

 


Nick-named the ‘Walkie Talkie’ due to its distinctive, top-heavy, bulbous shape, 20 Fenchurch Street is a 38 storey building in the City of London.

Completed in early 2014 after a five year build with the public access areas opening the following year, the building contains 690,000 square feet of office space with the top three floors – reached by an express lift – housing a “sky garden” – described as the city’s “highest public garden” – with specially planted terraces as well as bars, restaurants and a public viewing deck.

Designed by New York City-based Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly, the 160 metre high building was controversial from the get-go, both for its impact on the skyline and surrounding streetscapes but also for the way its exterior cladding acted as a concave mirror and focused intense light on streets which lay to the south.

The heat was so intense that it damaged parked cars, leading some wags to dub it the ‘Walkie-Scorchie’ or ‘Fryscraper’, while a newspaper reporter famously fried an egg on the pavement below to demonstrate just how hot it was getting down there. Permanent sun shading was subsequently installed on the tower to deal with the issue.

The building was awarded the dreaded Carbuncle Cup in 2015, an annual award given to the ugliest building of the year, with one of the judges describing it as a “Bond villain tower” and another as a “gratuitous glass gargoyle”.

The building, which continues to draw strong opinions, was reportedly sold last year for a record £1.3 billion.

WHERE: 20 Fenchurch Street (nearest Tube station is Monument); WHEN: Visiting hours for the Sky Garden are 10am to 6pm weekdays and 11am to 9pm weekends (only a limited number of tickets available each day); COST: Free; WEBSITE: https://skygarden.london

PICTURES: Nigel Tadyanehondo/Unsplash

Formerly known as the National Westminster Tower (NatWest Tower for short), Tower 42 – sometimes referred to as London’s first “genuine” skyscraper – was once the tallest building in the London (but now comes in at number eight).

Designed by Richard Seifert & Partners (who had proposed a couple of different options), the 47 storey building at 25 Old Broad Street was built between 1971 and 1980 as the headquarters of the National Westminster Bank.

The length of the build – which ended up costing £72 million – was due to the fact that it was paused in the mid-1970s to allow for a redesign of the ground area after the City of London Club was heritage listed (and thus its planned demolition couldn’t proceed).

Some 42 of its stories are cantilevered off a concrete core which contains elevators and service rooms. It has been repeatedly said the building was designed so that in plan view it resembles the NatWest logo – three interlocking chevrons – but Seifert apparently said this was just a coincidence.

It was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 11th June, 1981, and, at 183 metres tall, was not only the tallest in London but in the entire UK until it was surpassed by One Canada Square in the Docklands in 1990. It remained the tallest building in the City of London until 2009 when Heron Tower took over that title.

Among its innovations were use of sky lobbies – located on levels 23 and 24, they are accessible by express elevators from the ground floor, and an automated external window washing system. Problematically, however, its interior layout proved somewhat inflexible which meant some of the bank’s operations remained outside of the building. Thanks to a need for large trading floors after deregulation in 1986, NatWest subsequently relocated its headquarters.

After the building was badly damaged by an IRA bomb in 1993, the entire tower, under the supervision of GMW Architects, was reclad and the interior refurbished. It was subsequently renamed the International Finance Centre and again renamed in 1998, this time as Tower 42 (a reference to the 42 cantilevered floors).

In 2011, it was purchased by South African businessman Nathan Kirsh for a reported £282.5 million. These days it contains office space, several restaurants, health clubs and other services as well as and a champagne bar with panoramic views, Vertigo 42.

An LED light display was installed in 2012 in time to display the Olympic rings for that year’s Games.

The building was refused listed status in 2014 owing to its now greatly altered nature.

Interestingly, part of the site was once occupied by Crosby Hall, built in 1466 for City alderman Sir John Crosby and one time residence of King Richard III. The hall was relocated to Chelsea in 1910.

PICTURE: © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0


Another project to celebrate the new Millennium, the O2 – originally known as the Millennium Dome – is the largest domed structure in the world.

Occupying a prominent site at the northern tip of the Greenwich Peninsula (on the south bank of the River Thames), the building is 365 metres in diameter, 50 metres high at its highest point and features 12 100 metre high masts which hold up the Teflon-coated glass fibre dome using some 45 miles of steel cable.

It was designed by Sir Richard Rogers and his firm with construction commencing in 1997 after the project, conceived by the Conservative Government, was endorsed (and expanded) by the new Blair Labour Government.

The Dome was officially opened on 31st December, 1999, at a ‘New Millennium Spectacular’ attended by, among others, members of the Royal Family and government.

Throughout the following year the venue hosted what was known as the ‘Millennium Experience’, a celebration of the beginning of the new millennium which attracted more than six million visitors (a big figure but apparently only half of what was projected initially).

A controversial project since its very inception due to its cost and speculation about its use after the year 2000, the facility was largely devoid of life for several years after the year 2000 (apart from a few major events) but the site, which was eventually sold to consortium Meridian Delta Ltd which turned to then consortium member the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to oversee the transformation of the facility into a sports and entertainment complex.

The building, rebranded O2 following a deal with the telco company of the same name, reopened in 2007 (the first band to play there in a public show was Bon Jovi and more than 600 bands had played there as of last year) and has since been used for a range of events including music concerts and sports, the latter including some of the indoor sports played at the 2012 Olympic Games including gymnastics and basketball.

As well as a more than 20,000 seat sports arena, the O2 now features music venues, a cinema, bars, restaurants and shops as well as an exhibition space. There’s also a 90 minute climb over the top of the Dome for the adventurous.

More than 60 million people visited the O2 since it opened in 2007.

WHERE: O2, Greenwich Peninsula (nearest Tube station is North Greenwich); WHEN: 9am to 1am daily; COST: Various; WEBSITE: www.theo2.co.uk

The first building in London to exceed the height of St Paul’s Cathedral, the 118 metre (387 foot) high Millbank Tower opened in 1963.

Said to have been inspired by the works of Modernist German-American architect Mies van der , the 32 storey building, located on the river just south of Westminster, was designed by Ronald Ward and Partners.

It was originally built as the headquarters of the engineering firm, the Vickers Group (hence its original moniker of Vickers Tower) and the Legal and General Assurance Society.

The glass walled building, which features a 31 storey tower atop a two storey podium, only held the title of London’s tallest building briefly – in 1965 it was overtaken by the Post Office Tower.

Now Grade II-listed, it was famously the headquarters of the Labour Party between the mid-Nineties and early Noughties – it was from here that it ran its 1997 general election campaign which saw the election of Tony Blair to the office of Prime Minister.

The Conservative Party has also been a tenant (although in this case of the complex to which the building is attached) as has the United Nations and numerous government agencies. The bulding has also appeared in episodes of Dr Who.

The building was recently the subject of an application for it to be redeveloped into a hotel and luxury apartments.

PICTURES: Top – David Curran (licensed under CC BY 2.0); Right – Łukasz Czyżykowski (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Currently known as the Coca-Cola London Eye (it’s had several name and sponsorship changes over its life), this unmissable structure started operations in the year 2000.

Designed by Marks Barfield Architects and located at the south-western corner of Jubilee Gardens on South Bank, it stands 135 metres tall and, with a diameter of 120 metres, is the world’s biggest cantilevered observation wheel. It was also the tallest observation deck in London but lost that title to The Shard.

It features 32 sealed, ovoid-shaped capsules for passengers, each of which can hold up to 25 people, and rotates at the rate of about 0.6 mph, meaning a rotation takes around half an hour (a rate which allows most people to get on or off without stopping the wheel).

The Eye, which offers a birds-eye view of surrounding areas including the Houses of Parliament, was formally opened by then PM Tony Blair on 31st December, 1999, but didn’t open to the public until the following March (thanks to a clutch problem on one of the capsules).

It originally intended as a temporary structure built to mark the new millennium (after which it would be dismantled an moved to another location) but its popularity (and the resolution of a dispute over its lease in the mid-Noughties) has seen become a permanent fixture.

The capsules – there’s apparently no number 13 – were upgraded in 2009 and in 2013, one of them was named the Coronation Capsule in honour of the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Eye has been lit up on numerous occasions to mark special events – among them Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in 2011.

WHERE: Coca Cola London Eye, Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road (nearest Tube stations are Waterloo, Embankment and Westminster); WHEN: 11am to 6pm daily (till 29th March); COST: See website for details; WEBSITE: www.londoneye.com.

 

The second tallest building in the UK (and once, very briefly, the tallest building in Europe), Canary Wharf’s One Canada Tower is a symbol of London’s revamped Docklands.

The 50 storey skyscraper  (there’s also three underground) was designed by Cesar Pelli and constructed between 1988 and 1991. Containing some 1.2 million square feet of office space making it the largest office building in the UK, it was officially opened on 26th August of the latter year by Prince Philip.

Often called the Canary Wharf tower, One Canada Tower was apparently the first skyscraper to be clad in stainless steel and was designed to reflect the sky. There’s an aircraft warning light on top which flashes some 57,600 times a day.

An office building with no public observation deck, current tenants include a range of financial institutions as well as other companies such as the Trinity Mirror Group, owner of several UK newspapers.

As with other newer skyscrapers in London, One Canada Tower has been seen in its share of movies including in 28 Weeks Later and  Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

Loved and loathed by Londoners over the years since its construction in the mid-Sixties, the column-like BT Tower, despite growing competition, remains a dominant feature of the city’s skyline.

The tallest building in Britain at the time of its official opening in 1965, the 189 metre tall structure (including a 12 metre tall mast) was commissioned by the General Post Office to support microwave aerials which carried communications from London to the rest of the UK.

Designed by a team led by architect GR Yeats under the direction of Eric Bedford, chief architect of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, its narrow, tubular shape was engineering to reduce wind resistance and ensure stability.

Construction of the tower started in June, 1961, and some 13,000 tonnes of steel and 4,600 square metres of specially treated glass were used in building the £2.5 million tower.

Along with the aerials capable of handling up to 150,000 simultaneous telephone calls and 40 TV channels, the tower also housed 16 floors of technical and power equipment, as well as other floors with offices and even a revolving restaurant on the 34th floor (it made one revolution every 22 minutes).

PM Harold Wilson did the honours of officially declaring the tower open on 8th October, 1965. Queen Elizabeth II’s first visit would come on 17th May, 1966, just two days before then Postmaster General Tony Benn opened the tower’s public areas – an observation gallery and a 34th floor cocktail bar and restaurant, called Top of the Tower, which was managed by Butlins. More than 50,000 visited the observation gallery in the first three weeks after its opening.

A bomb exploded in the men’s toilets on the 31st floor – the location of the viewing gallery – in October, 1971, and took two years to repair. Despite this – no-one has apparently ever claimed responsibility for the bombing, public areas continued to remain open until the restaurant closed in 1980 and access to the observation gallery ceased in 1981 (although the restaurant is still used for corporate and charity events).

Originally known as the Post Office Tower, the tower has had many other official names since it was built including the Museum Tower, the London Telecom Tower and the BT Tower while staff suggestions at the time it was being constructed included the Pointer, Spindle, Liaiser and Telebeacon. Interestingly, the tower was apparently designated an official secret when built and didn’t appear on Ordnance Survey maps until after MP Kate Hoey, following on from other members who had “given examples of seemingly trivial information that remains officially secret”, told Parliament of its address – 60 Cleveland Street – in February, 1993.

The now Grade II-listed tower, which is located just off Tottenham Court Road in Fitzrovia, remained the tallest building in London until it was overtaken by the NatWest Tower in 1980. The last of its famous satellite dishes were removed in 2011.

Its wrap-around LED light display, officially called the Information Band, went live in 2009. It has since carried special messages on occasions like Remembrance Day and Valentine’s Day as well as an Olympic countdown and even the first ever tweet sent by the Queen (a message to mark the opening of the BT-sponsored ‘Information Age’ communications gallery at the Science Museum in 2014).

The tower has featured numerous times in literature and film, the latter including Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

PICTURES: Top – BT Tower with Wembley in the background (Robert Speirs, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – View of BT Tower from The Monument (Dun.can, licensed under CC BY 2.0)