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
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 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).
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 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/.
November 20, 2015
A week ago tonight the world was left reeling in the wake of the devastating series of coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, France, which have left 132 people dead and hundreds more wounded. In the wake of the attacks, national landmarks across the world were lit up in the colours of the French flag, among them, the London Eye, overlooking the River Thames. PICTURE: Martin Sylvester/Digital Concepts.
October 28, 2015
We’ve touched on this story before but it’s worth a revisit as part of this series. London changed hands several times during the later half of the first millennium as the Anglo-Saxons fought Vikings for control of the city, meaning the city was the site of several battles during the period.
One of the most memorable (or so legend has it, there are some archaeologists who believe the incident never took place) was the battle in 1014 in which London Bridge – then a timber structure (today’s concrete bridge is pictured above) – was pulled down. A story attributed to the Viking skald or poet Ottarr the Black but not found in Anglo-Saxon sources, the event, if it did take place, did so against the backdrop of an ongoing conflict between the Danes and Anglo-Saxons.
Anglo-Saxon London had resisted several attempts at being taken by the Vikings – a fire was recorded in the city in 982, possibly caused by a Viking attack – and in 994, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports that a fleet of 94 Danish and Norwegian ships were repelled with prejudice. Further attacks was driven back in 1009 and it wasn’t until 1013 that the city finally submitted to Danish rule after Sweyn Forkbeard had already claimed Oxford and Winchester.
But Sweyn, the father of the famous King Canute (Cnut), didn’t hold it long – he died on 3rd February the following year.
The deposed Anglo-Saxon King Æthelred II (also spent Ethelred, he was known as ‘the Unready’) – who had been forced to flee from London, which he used as his capital, to what is now Normandy thanks to Sweyn’s depredations – is said to have seized his chance and along with the forces of his ally, the Norwegian King Olaf II, he sailed up the Thames to London in a large flotilla.
The Danish had taken the city, occupying both the city proper and Southwark, and were determined to resist. According to the Viking account, they lined the timber bridge crossing the river and rained spears down on the would-be invaders. (The bridge, incidentally, had apparently been built following the attack in 993, ostensibly to block the river and prevent further incursions further upstream – there is certainly archaeological evidence that a bridge existed in about the year 1000).
Not to be beaten, Æthelred’s forces, using thatching stripped from the rooves of nearby houses to shield themselves, managed to get close enough to attach some cables to the bridge’s piers, pulling the bridge down and winning the battle, retaking the city.
There’s much speculation that the song London Bridge is Falling Down was inspired by the incident but it, like much of this story itself, remains just that – conjecture (although Ottarr’s skald does sound rather familiar).
The bridge was subsequently rebuilt and King Æthelred died only two years later, on 23rd April, 2016. The crown subsequently passed to his son Edmund Ironside but he too died after ruling for less than a year leaving Viking Canute to be crowned king.
September 21, 2015
It’s the riverside location which gives the area its name – Kew is apparently a corrupted form of Cayho, a word first recorded in the early 14th century which is itself made of two words referring to a landing place (the ‘Cay’ part) and a spur of land (the ‘ho’ part). The latter may refer in this case to the large “spur” of land upon which Kew is located, created by a dramatic bend in the Thames. The former may refer to a ford which crossed the river here (explaining the name of Brentford on the other side).
While the area had long been the home of a small hamlet for the local farming and fishing community, more substantial houses began to be developed in Kew in the late 15th and early 16th centuries thanks to the demand for homes for courtiers attending the King Henry VII and his successors at nearby Richmond Palace (the royal connections of the area in fact go back much further to the early Middle Ages).
But it was during the Georgian era, when the Royal Botanic Gardens were founded and Kew Palace, formerly known as the Dutch House, became a royal residence (it is pictured above), that Kew really kicked off (and by the way, Kew Palace is not the only surviving 17th century building in the area – West Hall, once home of painter William Harriot, is also still here).
While King George II and his wife Queen Caroline used Richmond Lodge, now demolished but then located at the south end of what is now the gardens, as their summer residence, they thought Kew Palace would make a good home for their three daughters (their heir, Frederick, Prince of Wales, lived opposite his sisters at the now long-gone White House). Kew Palace, meanwhile, would later be a residence of other members of the Royal Family as well, including King George III during his bouts of madness.
Other buildings of note from the Georgian era in Kew include Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, a thatched property built between 1754 and 1771 and granted to Queen Charlotte by her husband, King George III (like the palace, it now lies within the grounds of Kew Gardens). St Anne’s Church, located on Kew Green, dates from 1714 and hosts the tombs of artists Johann Zoffany and Thomas Gainsborough.
In 1840, the gardens which surrounded the palace were opened to the public as a national botanic garden and the area further developed with the opening of the railway station in 1869, transforming what was formerly a small village into the leafy largely residential suburb which we find there today (although you can still find the village at its heart).
As well as Kew Gardens (and Kew Palace), Kew is today also the home of the National Archives, featuring government records dating back as far as 1086.
September 9, 2015
We interrupt our regular programming this week to mark the day in which Queen Elizabeth II becomes the UK’s longest reigning monarch, passing the record reign of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.
The milestone of 63 years, seven months and two days (the length of Queen Victoria’s reign) will reportedly be passed at about 5.30pm today (the exact time is unknown as the Queen’s father, King George VI, passed away in his sleep).
While the Queen, now 89 (pictured here in 2010), will pass the day in Scotland attending official duties, in London Prime Minister David Cameron will lead tributes in the House of Commons.
As we go to press a flotilla of vessels – including Havengore and Gloriana – will process along the River Thames between Tower Bridge, open as a sign of respect, and the Houses of Parliament. As they passed HMS Belfast, the ship will fire a four gun salute.
Today is the 23,226th day of the Queen’s reign during which she has met numerous major historical figures – from Charles de Gaulle to Nelson Mandela – and seen 12 British Prime Ministers come and go.
This Week in London – Tall ships at Greenwich; immersive art at Tate Britain; and, ‘Nature’s Bounty’ at Kew…
August 27, 2015
• It’s all about big masted ships at Greenwich this Bank Holiday weekend as up to 15 ships drop anchor at the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival. Two tall ships, the Dar Mlodziezy and Santa Maria Manuela, will be moored on Tall Ships Island in the river at Maritime Greenwich (accessed via MBNA Thames Clippers) while an additional 13 ships will be taking people on cruises from their base at Royal Arsenal Woolwich (tickets can be booked via Sail Royal Greenwich). On Saturday, a free family festival will be held in Woolwich Town Centre and at Royal Arsenal Riverside with music, roving entertainers, food and other activities including a fireworks display on the river at 10pm (fireworks can also be seen on Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights on the river at Maritime Greenwich at around 9.15pm). For more information – including how and where to book tickets, see www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/tallships2015.
• An immersive art project allowing visitors to engage with paintings in a multi sensory experience opened at Tate Britain on Milbank yesterday. Tate Sensorium has won this year’s annual IK Prize, presented by the Tate and supported by the Porter Foundation, awarded for a project which uses innovative technology to enable the public to explore the gallery’s collection in new ways. The display features four works by celebrated figures in 20th century painting: Francis Bacon’s Figure in a Landscape (1945), David Bomberg’s In the Hold (c 1913-1914), Richard Hamilton’s Interior II (1964) and John Latham’s Full Stop (1961). As part of the experience, which has been produced by creative studio Flying Object in conjunction with a cross-disciplinary team, visitors are offered the chance to wear biometric measurement wristbands to record the emotional impact of the experience. Admission to exhibition in gallery 34 is free but tickets are limited. Runs until 20th September. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/sensorium.
• A series of detailed paintings of fruit, vegetables and edible plants from all over the world goes on show at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at Kew Gardens on Saturday. Nature’s Bounty features works from the Shirley Sherwood and Kew collections including works from the 19th century text, Fleurs, Fruits et Feuillages Chosis de la Flore et de la Pomona de L’ile de Java drawn by botanical artist Berthe Hoola Van Nooten as well as works from the Shirley Sherwood and Kew collections. The exhibition runs until 31st January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.
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