The work of internationally renowned artist Christo, The London Mastaba floats serenely on Hyde Park’s Serpentine, despite the reported ruffled feathers of some swimmers upset over its installation in their pool.

The floating sculpture, which takes up about one per cent of the lake’s surface, is Christo’s first public sculpture created for show in the UK.

Made up of 7,506 multi-coloured and stacked barrels reaching 20 metres high, the sculpture sits on a floating platform of high-density polyethylene cubes which has been anchored into place.

The artwork’s installation coincides with an exhibition of the work of Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s at the nearby Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens.

Christo & Jeanne-Claude: Barrels and The Mastaba 1958-2018 features sculptures, drawings, collages and photographs spanning more than 60 years and, according to Christo will provide “important context” for The London Mastaba.

The exhibition can be seen at the gallery until 9th September. Meanwhile, the sculpture will be floating on the Serpentine, weather permitting, until 23rd September.

And finally, the Serpentine Gallery’s annual temporary pavilion – this year the work of Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, of Taller de Arquitectura – can be seen until 7th October at the Kensington Gardens’ gallery. For more information on all three projects, see www.serpentinegalleries.org.

PICTURES: Top – The London Mastaba (pinn/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND-2.0); Right – Christo, The Mastaba (Project for London, Hyde Park, Serpentine Lake), Collage 2018: 43.1 x 55.9, Pencil, wax crayon, enamel paint, colour photograph by Wolfgang Volz, map, technical data, mylar and tape, Photo: André Grossmann © Christo 2018; Below – Serpentine Pavilion 2018, designed by Frida Escobedo, Serpentine Gallery, London © Frida Escobedo, Taller de Arquitectura, Photography © 2018 Iwan Baan

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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)

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)

There’s no prizes for guessing that this Westminster road, which runs from Greycoat Place to Millbank and Lambeth Bridge, in pre-bridge days led down to a horse ferry across the Thames.

The ferry was, in fact, the only licensed horse ferry along the river and did quite a trade in conveying horses and their riders as well as carriages across the river. Mentions of the ferry date back to medieval times but it’s suggested there may have been a ford here back as far as the Roman era.

The income from the ferry went to the Archbishop of Canterbury (his official London residence lay across the river at Lambeth). So lucrative were the ferry rights that when Westminster Bridge was built in the mid 18th-century, the archbishop was paid £3,000 in compensation.

There are a number of famous figures associated with the ferry – Princess Augusta, later the mother of King George III, reportedly used it on the way to her wedding in 1736, and almost 50 years before that, the ferry pier is said to have been the starting point for King James II’s flight from England in 1689.

There are also a couple of high profile disasters associated with the horse ferry – Archbishop Laud’s belongings apparently sank to the bottom when the ferry overturned in 1633 and  Oliver Cromwell’s coach was apparently lost during a similar incident in 1656 – both events were apparently seen as bad omens (not to mention expensive).

Horseferry Road, meanwhile, is these days home to government buildings including Horseferry House and the City of Westminster Magistrate’s Court, as well as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and, since the mid 1990s, Channel 4’s HQ.

Horseferry Road was also the location of the Australian Imperial Force’s administrative HQ during World War I and it was in this thoroughfare that Phyllis Pearsall was living when she conceived the London A to Z.

PICTURE: Top – Lambeth Bridge, site of the horse ferry which gives Horseferry Road its name/Right – Horseferry Road (Tagishsimon, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

 Located on the west bank of the Thames between Waterloo and Hungerford Bridges are two separate memorials to the dramatist Sir WS Gilbert (1836-1911) and composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) – a partnership better known simply as Gilbert and Sullivan.

The first to be unveiled was a now Grade II-listed bronze bust of Sullivan in 1903. Located at the northern end of Victoria Embankment Gardens, it is the work of Sir William Goscombe John and, along with the bust which sits atop a pedestal, the monument features a scantily clad female muse leaning against the pillar in apparent grief.

Sheet music, a mandolin and a Pan mask all lie in a heap beside her – the discarded props of Sullivan’s profession – and on the side of the plinth are inscribed some lines from his work, The Yeoman of the Guard: “Is life a boon? If so, it must befall that Death, whene’er he call, must call too soon” (the same lines are inscribed on the sheet music).

The bronze memorial plaque to Gilbert, meanwhile, was unveiled in 1915, four years after his death. It’s attached to Charing Cross Pier on the downstream side of Hungerford Bridge and, the work of Sir George Frampton, shows Gilbert in profile relief flanked by figures of Comedy and Tragedy.

Gilbert is accompanied by an inscription which reads: “His foe was folly & his weapon wit”. A shield underneath bears a Latin inscription which translates as “I would rather die than change”.

The location of the memorials is not coincidental – the career of Gilbert and Sullivan was closely associated with the nearby Savoy Theatre, where many of their works were premiered thanks to its owner Richard D’Oyly Carte – he’s also commemorated in a memorial opposite the entrance to the Savoy nearby.

 

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)


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).

 

Famous for its mentions by Charles Dickens, Jacob’s Island – located in Bermondsey – was not actually a true island.

It was a small parcel of land formed into an “island” thanks to its location in a loop of the Neckinger River and, on the south side of the loop, a man-made ditch which was used as a mill run for Bermondsey Abbey.

The “island” – which on a modern map was located just to the south of the street known as Bermondsey Wall West, east of Mill Street, west of George Row and north of Wolseley Street, was home to a notorious slum or “rookery” between the 18th and early 19th centuries,

It was most famously mentioned in Charles Dickens’ book, Oliver Twist and was where the notorious Bill Sikes died in the mud of ‘Folly Ditch’ – a reference to the ditch surrounding the island – as he attempted to elude the authorities.

Dickens describes Jacob’s Island in the book as a place “where the buildings on the banks are dirtiest and the vessels on the river blackest with the dust of colliers and the smoke of close-built low roofed houses, there exists the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London”. In the preface to the 1867 edition of the book, he even wrote of its ongoing existence which was apparently doubted by one City alderman, saying “Jacob’s Island continues to exist (like an ill-bred place as it is) in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, though improved and much changed”.

The slum itself existed until the late-1800s – much of it was razed in a fire of 1861 – in subsequent decades, the ditches surrounding it were filled in and the area redeveloped into warehouses.

The River Neckinger, incidentally, is one of London’s ‘lost rivers’. Its name means ‘devil’s neckerchief’ or ‘devil’s necklace’ – a reference to the hangman’s noose – and it is believed to refer in here to the gibbet from which pirates were hung close to the mouth of where the river entered the Thames at nearby St Saviour’s Dock and where their bodies left to deter others from taking a similar path.

PICTURE: Top – Jacob’s Island and Folly Ditch, an engraving from a book published in 1873 (Internet Archive Book Images/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0); Right – ‘Folly Ditch’, pictured here in about 1840.

 


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)


Two Blackfriars Bridges – a vehicle and pedestrian bridge, and a railway bridge – still span the River Thames from the City of London on the north bank to South Bank. But just beside the railway bridge stand some large red pylons – the remains of the first Blackfriars Railway Bridge. 

This bridge was built in 1864 to accommodate the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) when it was extended north across the river to what was then named St Paul’s Station (at least until 1937 when it became Blackfriars Station).

The ornate bridge was designed by Joseph Cubitt but within 20 years of its being built, the second, still existing, railway bridge was constructed alongside it to provide more space for trains (the original bridge apparently only had four tracks).

The ornately decorated first bridge was supported on three rows of pylons – the third was incorporated into the second bridge (which is why we now only see two rows).

After 1923, when train services began to terminate at Waterloo Station on the south side of the river, the bridge was rarely used but it wasn’t until many years later, in 1985, that it was declared too weak to support the current crop of trains and removed.

As well as the pylons, on the south side of the river can be seen a massive abutment of Portland stone featuring the ornate cast iron insignia of the former LCDR (above right). Grade II-listed, it was restored in about 1990.

PICTURES: Top – The wub/licensed under The wub; Right – SyndVer/licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

PICTURE: Tom Coe/Unsplash

It was 90 years ago this month – 6th and 7th January, 1928 – that the River Thames flooded disastrously in what was the last major flood in central London.

Fourteen people are reported to have died and some 4,000 made homeless when the river burst its banks and spilled over the top of the Thames Embankment. Part of the Chelsea Embankment collapsed.

The flood – which was blamed on a range of factors including a sudden thaw upstream, heavy rain, a tidal surge and the impact of dredging – peaked at about 1.30am on 7th January at a height of 18 foot, three inches (5.56 metres) above ordnance datum.

The city saw extensive flooding on the City of London itself as well as in Southwark and as far upriver as Putney and Hammersmith and downriver in Greenwich and Woolwich as well as beyond.

Most of the deaths occurred when the embankment gave way near Lambeth Bridge and a wall of water swept through the slums on the Westminster side of the bridge with 10 people losing their lives.

Among the buildings flooded were the Tate Gallery at Millbank – where many works including some by JMW Turner were damaged, parts of the Houses of Parliament including Westminster Hall and the House of Commons, numerous Underground stations and Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels. The moat of the Tower of London, dry for 80 years, was filled.

While the flood waters receded by the end of the day, the damage took years to repair with many buildings in Millbank, the worst affected area, demolished. Embankments were raised in the wake of the flooding but it wasn’t until after the North Sea flood of 1953 that authorities took action to build the Thames Barrier (it was eventually completed in 1982).

Above – A marker recording the height of the flood outside Trinity Hospital in Greenwich (the plaque below right records the details).

Built by poet Alexander Pope (and something of an obsession during his later life) is the grotto and tunnel that he had constructed at his property on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham.

Pope came to live in what was then the fashionable retreat of Twickenham in 1719 and employed architect James Gibbs to create a small Palladian style villa there, living in it until his death in 1744. He also obtained a licence to tunnel beneath the road known as Cross Deep and leased about five acres of unenclosed land on the other side which he developed as his garden – a project he lavished great attention upon.

His first grotto was established in the cellars which stood at ground level facing the river and then extended along the tunnel from the rear of the cellars, leading to a misapprehension, promoted by no other than Dr Samuel Johnson, that the grotto lay under the road. Pope, who had apparently been delighted to find a spring in his grotto complex, opened his gardens to the public in 1736.

Inspired by what he found when visiting Hotwell Spa at the base of Avon Gorge in 1739, he decided to redesign the grotto as a museum of mineralogy and mining and while much material – including a stalagmite from Wookey Hole in Somerset and hexagonal basalt joints from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland (the latter a gift, apparently, from Sir Hans Sloane) – was put into the walls, the grotto was never completed.

The grotto and tunnel is now all that remains of the villa Pope built which was demolished in 1808. What survives of it is located within the grounds of Radnor House School.

The grotto is generally open only briefly during the year including during the Twickenham Festival. An effort continues to have the grotto restored and public access increased. For more details on the restoration project and when the grotto can be visited, see www.popesgrotto.org.uk.

PICTURE: verdurin (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)