February 21, 2017
Looking from across the River Thames. PICTURE: Samuel Zeller/Unsplash
January 10, 2017
No sign of Tube turmoil as we look south across the River Thames to The Shard and Southwark. The 95 storey high building is the tallest in London (and the fourth tallest in Europe). PICTURE: Fred Mouniguet/Unsplash
This Week in London – London and the slave trade; a rare VC; and, Sir Elton John’s photo collection…
November 24, 2016
• London’s role in the slave trade during the 17th and 18th centuries is the subject of a new display opening at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Called The Royal African, it tells the story of the Royal African Company, founded as a joint venture between the Duke of York (the future King James II) and leading London merchants in 1672 (the coat-of-arms of which is pictured), through looking in-depth at the life of William Sessarakoo. An African prince, Sessarakoo grew up in a Royal African Company fort at Annamaboe in modern Ghana but when his father sent him to London to be educated, he was tricked and instead sold into slavery in Barbados. He spent four years as a slave until he was freed by members of the Royal African Company who wanted to retain good relations with his father and subsequently brought him to London. The display is being housed in the museum’s London, Sugar & Slavery Gallery and can be seen until 4th June next year. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands. PICTURE: © Museum of London.
• A rare Victoria Cross found on the foreshore of the River Thames has gone on show at the Museum of London in the City. Mystery surrounds the medal which was given for actions at the Battle of Inkerman during the Crimean War. While a number of medals were awarded for actions in the battle, only two have a location recorded as unknown. The first is that awarded to Scottish Private John McDermond from the 47th (the Lancashire) Regiment for saving the life of Lt Col O’Grady Hall who had been injured and surrounded by the enemy which leading a charge against a Russian column while the second is that awarded to Irish Private John Byrne of the 68th (Durham) Light Infantry who rescued a wounded comrade under fire. On show alongside the medal is a record book which details the engraving on each VC issued between 18554 and 1927, the original medal design from the jewellers Hancocks and a modern copy of a VC. The medal, which was found and then reported by Tobias Neto, is on show until 15th December. For more, see http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london.
• Sir Elton John’s collection of modernist photography is the subject of an exhibition which opened at the Tate Modern in South Bank earlier this month. The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection features more than 150 works from more than 60 artists including Man Ray, André Kertész, Berenice Abbot, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen. Among the subjects show in the images are Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau. The exhibition runs until 7th May. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern.
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November 1, 2016
The HMS Belfast has marked 45 years since it sailed up the River Thames to its current mooring site off The Queen’s Walk, just to the west of Tower Bridge. The ship, which is Europe’s only surviving World War II cruiser and which, as well as taking part in that conflict, also saw action in the Korean War, opened to the public in 1971. More than nine million people have since visited the ship which features nine decks, all of which are open to sightseers. For more on the ship, see www.iwm.org.uk/visits/hms-belfast.
October 17, 2016
Of course, the Great Fire of London in 1666 is only one of numerous fires which have occurred in London (although it was no doubt the greatest in terms of destruction). But among others was a fire in 1212 which has been described as London’s worst in terms of the death toll which some have put as high as 3,000 (although it’s generally believed it’s unlikely to have been that high).
The fire, which only came some 77 years after another great conflagration destroyed a stretch of the city reaching from Westminster to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1135, began in Southwark on 10th July (hence it’s also known as the Great Fire of Southwark). Crossing London Bridge, it went on to destroy a large part of the City itself.
As well as destroying buildings on London Bridge including houses and the chapel (the structure itself, having recently been rebuilt in stone, survived somewhat intact although it only remained in partial use for some time afterward), also destroyed the Southwark church known as St Mary Overie (precursor to today’s Southwark Cathedral) as well as many buildings around Borough High Street.
There were apparently numerous deaths – the story goes that many of them occurred when a mass of people poured onto London Bridge from the City as they attempted to cross to Southwark to help put out the fire (or perhaps just gawk at it).
They were trapped in the middle of the bridge when, with the south end was already ablaze, the north end caught fire from sparks. As well as suffering fatally from the effects of flames and smoke, people were apparently crushed in panic and others were pushed off the bridge to drown in the River Thames (along with some of the boat crews who tried to rescue them).
And, just as the Great Fire of 1666, the fire of 1212 did result in some building reforms including the placement of a ban on the use of thatch for rooves.
September 20, 2016
Part of the Totally Thames festival, South Korean artist Ik-Joong Kang’s eye-catching installation, Floating Dreams, acts a memorial to the millions of people who were displaced and divided during the Korean War (1950-53) as well as symbolising the hopes that North and South Korea will once again be unified. The three-storey high installation, which sits on the river alongside Millennium Bridge, is constructed from 500 drawings created by the generation, now aged in their 80s and 90s, who had fled North Korea for South Korea during the war. Their images have been transferred on pieces of a traditional Korean rice paper known as Hanji and then compiled into the cube. The illuminated installation can be seen throughout the festival which runs until 30th September. For more on what’s happening throughout Totally Thames, see http://totallythames.org.
September 12, 2016
The race, which had started in China, was part of a tradition for ships carrying cargoes of tea from the east to engage in a race to be the first to dock in London – and quite a lucrative one, for it was common for the first ship to arrive to receive a premium of at least 10 per cent (although 1866 was apparently the last time this was offered).
At least 57 ships apparently sailed in the 1866-67 ‘tea season’, departing for Britain from a range of ports including Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong. But it was the fastest which gathered the most attention – these chosen clippers set sail for Britain from the Min River, downriver from Foochow (now Fuzhou), in late May, 1866.
As well as the Taeping, launched in 1863 and captained by Donald MacKinnon, and the Ariel, launched only the previous year and captained by John Keay, other favourites in the 1866 race included Fiery Cross, Serica and Taitsing.
The race was followed breathlessly in the London press although details were limited – largely due to the time it took for the news to reach London – as the ships set a course which took them through Indonesia via the Sunda Strait and around the southern tip of Africa and up via the Atlantic to the UK.
The Taeping, the race winner, reached London Docks at 9.47pm on 6th September while Ariel arrived at the East India Dock at 10.15pm. The Serica, meanwhile, reached West India Docks at 11.30pm. (It wasn’t to be too unfortunate for the runner-up – Captains McKinnon and Keay had apparently agreed to split the premium of 10 shillings a ton).
Amazingly, this means the three ships – which had all left China on the same tide – had sailed more than 14,000 miles in a race of 99 days yet had managed to dock with just two hours between them.
September 10, 2016
September is the month of ‘Totally Thames’, London’s celebration of its mighty river, so we thought it only fitting that we look at one of the city’s riverside treasures.
Located to the east of the City at Trinity Buoy Wharf on the north bank of the Thames can be found London’s only lighthouse (pictured left). No longer operational, it was built between 1864-66 for what became known as the Corporation of Trinity House, an association of shipmen and mariners.
Granted its charter by King Henry VIII in 1514, in 1573 it was given the authority to erect and maintain beacons, mark and signs to help sea navigation. It’s since been the provider of buoys, lighthouses and lightships and, while headquartered at Trinity House in the City of London, established Trinity Bouy Wharf, located at the confluence of the Bow and Thames Rivers, as its Thames-side workshop in 1803.
The wharf was originally used to make and store wooden buoys and sea marks and as a mooring site for the Trinity House yacht which laid and collected buoys.
The lighthouse is the second on the site – the first was built in 1854 by the then chief engineer of Trinity House James Walker. The second, existing, lighthouse was built James Douglass – Walker’s successor – and as an “experimental lighthouse” was used for testing equipment and training lighthouse keepers.
The wharf, meanwhile, continued to be used until 1988 when it was purchased by the London Docklands Development Corporation and the site is now leased to Urban Space Management who have developed it as a centre for art and cultural activities. The area around the wharf also now features two prototype “cities” made out of shipping containers.
September 8, 2016
• It’s September and that means Totally Thames, an annual month of events celebrating London’s great watery artery. Highlights among this year’s 150 events include this Saturday’s Great River Race in which more than 300 boats from across the UK and around the world compete on a course running from Millwall Slipway to Ham House in Richmond, Life Afloat, an exhibition looking at the evolution of the houseboat living on the Thames across the last 100 years, and the 8th annual Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks this weekend as well as walks, talks, performances, art installations and boat trips including a tour of Brunel’s London. Runs until the end of the month. For more information and the full programme of events, see www.totallythames.org. PICTURE: Totally Thames/Barry Lewis.
• The changes that swept across society in the late 1960s are the subject of a new exhibition which opens at the V&A this weekend. You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-70 is divided into six distinct sections, and starts with a recreation of Carnaby Street as it was before moving on to subjects like clubs and counterculture, revolution on the street, revolution in consumerism, festivals and alternative communities. Among the objects on display are costumes designed for Mick Jagger, a Cecil Beaton portrait of Twiggy, Roger Corman’s 1967 film about LSD, The Trip, a wall of protest posters, film, sound and still footage from the 1967 Montreal and 1970 Osaka World Expos, a kaftan worn by Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane at Woodstock, and a rare Apple 1 computer. Runs from 10th September to 26th February at the South Kensington institution. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/revolution.
• A new exhibition showcasing the British Museum’s holdings of French portrait drawings opens at the Bloomsbury establishment today. French portrait drawings from Clouet to Courbet offers the chance to see some well-known French portrait drawings alongside others that have never been exhibited before. Pictures on show include Francois Clouet’s portrait of Catherine de’Medici, Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune’s chalk drawing of his infant daughter, and a ‘playful’ portrait of artist Artemisia Gentileschi by Pierre Dumonstier. The free display can be seen in Room 90 until 29th January.
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September 6, 2016
London blazed again on Sunday night when a 120 metre long wooden replica of the city as it was in Restoration times was set alight to mark 350th years since the Great Fire of London. London 1666 was designed by US “burn artist” David Best for London’s Burning – a festival of events in the City of London produced by Artichoke to mark the anniversary. It had been placed on a barge moored in the River Thames before it was lit up to ensure that the fire didn’t spread anywhere it wasn’t wanted. The actual Great Fire of London broke out in a bakery on Pudding Lane shortly after midnight on 2nd September, 1666, and blazed across the city for four days, destroying more than three quarters of the old City of London as it render tens of thousands of Londoners homeless and devastated iconic structures like Old St Paul’s Cathedral. You can see a video of the burn here. PICTURES: © Matthew Andrews.
July 25, 2016
Recorded in the Domesday Book as Putelei and known in the Middle Ages as Puttenhuthe, it apparently goes back to a Saxon named Puttan who lived in the area and the Old English word ‘hyp’, which means ‘landing place’. Hence, “Puttan’s landing place” (or Puttan’s wharf).
Putney has something of a storied history – it was the birthplace of Tudor heavyweight Thomas Cromwell, Georgian-era author Edward Gibbon and it was here, in the still-standing parish church of St Mary the Virgin (pictured), that the Putney Debates were held in 1647 among members of the New Model Army.
The first bridge was apparently built here in the first half of the 18th century and the present stone bridge in the 1880s.
Today a sought-after riverside residential district, Putney boasts a sizeable high street, great riverside pubs and eateries and is particularly popular every April when The Boat Race is held between Oxford and Cambridge universities thanks to the starting point being just upstream of Putney Bridge.
The area also is home to the 400 acre Putney Heath (which adjoins Wimbledon Common), a popular site for duels in the 18th century, and also home to a stone and brick obelisk, erected in 1770 to mark the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London (more on that in an upcoming post).
As mentioned last week, there are a number of official English Heritage blue plaques in London which commemorate events rather than people.
Alongside the blue plaque commemorating the first V1 flying bomb to hit London (the subject of last week’s entry) is a blue plaque commemorating the site where one of world’s most famous ships – the SS Great Eastern – was built.
The plaque is located at Burrells Wharf, 262 Westferry Road, on the Isle of Dogs in the Docklands, and it was there that the design of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who had previously designed the SS Great Western and the SS Great Britain, was realised under the direction of naval architect and ship builder John Scott Russell, of J Scott Russell & Co.
The ship, which had a double hull and immense paddle wheels, took some five years to build at a site in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs (if you’re interested in the etymology of the latter, see our earlier post here).
It was supposed to be launched before a crowd of thousands on 3rd November, 1857, (the Great Eastern Ship Company had sold tickets). But the launch was unsuccessful as the equipment supposed to haul the ship to the water failed (and it was during this unsuccessful attempt that the ship was apparently initially christened SS Leviathan; her name was changed to the SS Great Eastern soon after).
A couple of further unsuccessful attempts were made before, on 31st January, 1858, the 211 metre long ship – aided by an unusually high tide – was finally sent into the Thames (unusually, it was launched sideways).
The outfitting of the ship, which started in January, 1859, took six months and on 6th September, the ship made its maiden voyage from London to Weymouth, a voyage which was marred by the tragic death of a number of stokers in a boiler explosion. Sadly, Brunel himself died soon after the maiden voyage, not in the sort of triumphant circumstances he might have hoped for.
While it was originally designed to sail to India and the Far East, it was in the Atlantic where the ship took up the passenger trade. Her first voyage to North America took place in June the following year and the SS Great Eastern continued to cross the Atlantic over the next few years (including during the American Civil War when she took British troops to Canada) but, blighted by back luck (including, in 1862, running into an uncharted rock in New York harbour) and facing the competition of faster, smaller ships, she was never really a commercial success.
Sold off, the SS Great Eastern was reinvented in the mid 1860s as a cable-laying ship and did so in various parts of the world until, after being laid-up in 1874, sailing to Liverpool where she became something of a tourist attraction and a floating billboard before eventually being scrapped in 1889.
There was legend that two skeletons were found between the two hulls when the ship was broken up – that of a riveter and his ‘bash boy’ (a young lad charged with heating and putting the rivets in the hole) – and it was believed by some that it was their deaths which had brought the ship such bad luck.
The plaque was erected in 1992.
PICTURE: Spudgun67/CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikipedia
June 20, 2016
Now the name of a dock on Bankside (pictured below), St Mary Overie (also spelt as Overy) also forms part of the formal name of Southwark Cathedral, more properly known as The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie.
The simple version of the name’s origins is that it simply means St Mary “over the river” (that is, St Mary on the south side of the Thames) which was used in relation to a priory founded there in the Norman era by two knights (it’s to this foundation that what is now Southwark Cathedral owes its origins, something we’ll take a more detailed look at the nunnery in an upcoming Lost London post).
But there’s also another, more romantic version, of the name’s origins. That story, as it’s told on a plaque located at the dock (pictured above), goes back to before the Norman founding of priory, back to the days when, before the building of London Bridge, a ferry ran between the two banks of the River Thames.
The man responsible for the ferry was John Overs, a “notorious miser”, who decided to save money by feigning his death and thus plunging his household into mourning, saving that day’s provisions. As one may imagine, however, Overs was not a popular man and his servants, instead of fasting in their mourning, held a feast in celebration of his death.
In rage, the old master leapt out of his bed and a servant, terrified and imaging some sort of demonic manifestation, struck him fatally with an oar on the head.
Overs’ daughter, Mary, sent for her lover so that he may come and together with her claim her father’s inheritance but such was his haste, he fell from his horse and broke his neck. So overcome was Mary by her misfortunes that she founded a convent into which she subsequently retired (this was subsequently ‘refounded’ by the two Norman knights).
The dock, meanwhile, is today the berthing place of the Golden Hinde II, a sea-worthy replica of the flagship in which Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe (for more on the ship, see our earlier post here).
June 6, 2016
OK, so it doesn’t look like the most historic of pubs but the Bricklayer’s Arms in Putney does boast an interesting history (as well as a much accoladed menu ales).
Then named the Waterman’s Arms, thanks no doubt to its Thames proximity and the fact that, as a result, most of the clientele were freeman and lightermen working on the river, it changed its name to the Bricklayer’s Arms around the turn of the 20th century when, thanks to the extension of the District line railway, there was a sizeable amount of construction going on in the area.
It was briefly known as the Putney Brick before the current owners – actress Becky Newman and her husband John – took over the pub just over 10 years ago, during which time it has won a swag of awards including being named one of the top 10 English pubs by National Geographic and winning the CAMRA National Pub of the Year Award in 2007 and 2009.
For more on the pub (and the plans to extend it), check out www.bricklayers-arms.co.uk.
May 24, 2016
Crossing the River Thames just downstream of Richmond and Twickenham Bridge, the Richmond weir and lock complex (actually it’s a half-lock and it also incorporates a footbridge) was built in the early 1890s to maintain a navigable depth of water upstream from Richmond. The Grade II*-listed structure, which is maintained by the Port of London Authority, was formally opened by the Duke of York (later King George V) on 19th May, 1894.
May 13, 2016
Launched in 1973, this full-sized, working replica of the galleon sailed by Elizabethan seafarer and courtier Sir Francis Drake on his circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580 is moored at St Mary Overie Dock in Bankside.
The ship was made at the behest of two American businessmen, Albert Elledge and Art Blum, who wished to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Sir Francis Drake’s landing on the west coast of North America in 1579.
The ship was designed by Loring Christian Norgaard, a Californian naval architect, who spent three years researching it, drawing on original journals of the crew members and other manuscripts.
The two year job of building the vessel was given to J Hinks & Son who did so in Appledore, North Devon, using traditional methods and tools (with a few modern concessions).
The ship was officially launched from the Hinks shipyard by the Countess of Devon on 5th April, 1973. She sailed out of Plymouth on her maiden voyage in late 1974 and arrived in San Francisco the following May to commemorate Sir Francis’ proclamation of New Albion at a site believed to have been in northern California in 1579.
Since then, the ship has sailed more than 140,000 miles around the world – like its forebear, it has circumnavigated the world – and been feared in various films including Shogun (1979), Drake’s Venture (1980) and St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold (2009).
It has been moored in Southwark since 1996 – it did leave briefly for a visit to Southampton in 2003 – and as well as hosting school visits, is also open for tours and can be booked for private functions.
WHERE: Golden Hinde II, Bankside (nearest Tube station is London Bridge); WHEN: Self-guided tours 10am to 5.30pm daily (check website for other tour times and dates); COST: Various (depending on tour); WEBSITE: www.goldenhinde.com.
It was 75 years ago this year – on the night of 10th/11th May, 1941 – that the German Luftwaffe launched an unprecedented attacked on London, an event that has since become known as the ‘Longest Night’ (it’s also been referred to as ‘The Hardest Night’).
Air raid sirens echoed across the city as the first bombs fells at about 11pm and by the following morning, some 1,436 Londoners had been killed and more than that number injured while more than 11,000 houses had been destroyed along and landmark buildings including the Palace of Westminster (the Commons Chamber was entirely destroyed and the roof of Westminster Hall was set alight), Waterloo Station, the British Museum and the Old Bailey were, in some cases substantially, damaged.
The Royal Air Force Museum records that some 571 sorties were flown by German air crews over the course of the night and morning, dropping 711 tons of high explosive bombs and more than 86,000 incendiaries. The planes were helped in their mission – ordered in retaliation for RAF bombings of German cities – by the full moon reflecting off the river below.
The London Fire Brigade recorded more than 2,100 fires in the city and together these caused more than 700 acres of the urban environment, more than double that of the Great Fire of London in 1666 (the costs of the destruction were also estimated at more than double that of the Great Fire – some £20 million).
Fighter Command sent some 326 aircraft into the fight that night, not all of them over London, and, according to the RAF Museum, the Luftwaffe officially lost 12 aircraft (although others put the figure at more than 30).
By the time the all-clear siren sounded just before 6am on 11th May, it was clear the raid – which turned out to be the last major raid of The Blitz – had been the most damaging ever undertaken upon the city.
Along with the landmarks mentioned above, other prominent buildings which suffered in the attack include Westminster Abbey, St Clement Danes (the official chapel of the Royal Air Force, it was rebuilt but still bears the scars of the attack), and the Queen’s Hall.
Pictured above is a statue of firefighters in action in London during the Blitz, taken from the National Firefighters Memorial near St Paul’s Cathedral – for more on that, see our earlier post here.
For more on The Longest Night, see Gavin Mortimer’s The Longest Night: Voices from the London Blitz: The Worst Night of the London Blitz.
May 3, 2016
Taken by Murray, this picture captures some of the city’s iconic attractions as it looks across the River Thames to Elizabeth Tower (formerly known as the Clock Tower) at the northern end of the Houses of Parliament just as the sun is setting. Westminster Bridge can be seen to the right while pictured in the foreground, in the middle of a garden located at St Thomas’ Hospital, is the Grade II*-listed sculpture/fountain, Revolving Torsion, which is the work of Russian-born artist Naum Gabo and has been on long-term loan to the hospital since the mid-1970s. Says the photographer: “Funnily enough, I shot this picture handheld and spontaneously as I though I might miss the shot. I then tried to take better ones with a tripod etc – but I think this was my best effort. Spontaneous pictures are always the best…I used to work in St Thomas’ which is behind me in the picture and looked out at this view constantly during the daytime.” PICTURE: Murray/www.flickr.com/photos/muffyc30/.