Seven-Dials---bigStanding at the junction of seven streets in London’s West End is a pillar topped with six – that’s right, six – sundials, giving the intersection and the surrounding area its name.

The layout of the area was originally designed by Thomas Neale, an MP and entrepreneur, in the early 1690s – it was part of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666 – and initially had the pillar standing at the centre of six streets before it was later increased to seven. The streets which radiate out from the hub include Earlham, Mercer and Monmouth Streets and Shorts Gardens.

Seven-dialsWhile Neale, who designed the street layout to maximise street frontages and thus his return, had hoped the area would attract the well-to-do, it was not be and by the 19th century the area had become one of the cities most notorious slums, considered part of the infamous rookery of St Giles.

That has since changed and today the area is at the heart of a bustling commercial district, the streets which run off it housing stylish shops and offices.

The pillar itself apparently never had seven faces – there is the suggestion that the column itself was the seventh – and while the original column was removed in 1773, apparently by city authorities keen to rid the area of undesirables, it was replaced with a replica column in the late 1980s and unveiled by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands to commemorate the tercentenary of the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II in June, 1989.

The original column, meanwhile, was apparently first acquired by an architect, James Paine, who kept it at his house in Surrey, before, in 1820, being taken to Weybridge where, in 1820, the column was re-erected as a memorial to Princess Frederica, Duchess of York (who had lived there). The dial-stone, meanwhile, was used as a mounting block before eventually being placed outside the Weybridge Library.

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While there’s been a bridge over the River Thames near where London Bridge now stands since Roman times, the bridge which is currently there was built in the early 1970s. To find Greater London’s oldest surviving bridge across the Thames we have to head to Richmond in the city’s west.

The 300 foot long stone arch bridge, made from Portland stone, was built between 1774-77 and replaced a ferry crossing between Richmond to the east and East Twickenham to the west (this had apparently been in operation since shortly after the Norman Conquest and at the time it was discontinued consisted of two vessels – a passenger craft and a ‘horse boat’).

Designed by James Paine and Kenton Couse and built by Thomas Kerr, the bridge features five arches including a 60 foot wide central span which was big enough for larger watercraft and gave the bridge its rather humpbacked appearance. Its construction was privately funded with the £26,000 required to build the bridge partly raised via tontine schemes under which subscribers paid an agreed sum into a fund after which they each receive an annuity, the value of which increases as members of the fund die off.

Initially a toll bridge (the tolls – which were 1/2d for passengers and up to 2s 6d for coaches drawn by six horses – were ended in 1859 when the last tontine shareholder died), the bridge was widened in the late 1930s but – now a Grade I listed structure – remains essentially true to its original design.

It was the eighth bridge to be built across the the Thames in Greater London but is now the oldest still standing (among those which predated it but have been demolished are London Bridge, Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge) and has been featured in paintings by the likes of  Thomas Rowlandson, John Constable and JMW Turner.