This Week in London – Month-long Thames celebration kicks off; glass vessels saved after Beirut’s port explosion; and, Chiswick House…in LEGO…

• Totally Thames – London’s month-long celebration of its river – kicks off Friday with a programme featuring more than 100 events across a range of locations. Highlights this year include Reflections, an illuminated flotilla of more than 150 boats that will process down the Thames to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee on 24th September; River of Hope, an installation of 200 silk flags created by young people across the UK and Commonwealth at the National Maritime Museum; and, of course, the Great River Race, London’s great river marathon on 10th September involving some 330 boats and crews from across the world. There’s also talks, walks, exhibitions and art and, of course, the chance to meet some mudlarks. For more, including the full programme of events, see https://thamesfestivaltrust.org.

Roman beaker, 1st century AD, The Archaeological Museum at the 
American University of Beirut, Lebanon

Eight ancient glass vessels, newly conserved after being damaged in the 2020 Beirut port explosion, have gone on show at the British Museum. Painstakingly pieced back together and conserved at the conservation laboratories at the British Museum, the vessels were among 72 from the Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods which were damaged when a case fell over in Beirut’s AUB Museum. Six of the vessels at the British Museum date from the 1st century BC, a period which saw glass production revolutionised in Lebanon, while two others date to the late Byzantine – early Islamic periods, and may have been imported to Lebanon from neighbouring glass manufacturing centres in Syria or Egypt. The vessels can be seen in Room 3 as part of the Asahi Shimbun Display Shattered glass of Beirut until 23rd October before their return to Lebanon in late Autumn. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

• Chiswick House LEGO model. A brick model of Chiswick House is on show at the property in London’s west. The model, which uses 50,000 bricks and took two years to build, illustrates the dramatic architectural changes that Chiswick House has undergone in its 300-year history including the addition of two wings which were demolished in the late 18th century. On show until 31st October. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk/event/chiswick-house-lego-brick-model/.

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London Explained – Mudlarks…

Modern mudlarks at Queenhithe on the River Thames. PICTURE: Geoff Henson (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

Spotted along the Thames foreshore when the tide is low, the term ‘mudlark’ is used to describe someone who scavenges for lost or discarded objects in the mud along the Thames river banks.

In the 18th and 19th century, mudlarks were among London’s poorest who eked out a living by selling items – lumps of coal, pieces of rope, precious metals – found on the river’s banks. They were often the young or the elderly and the working conditions, which included navigating through the raw sewage and other noxious waste which ended up on the foreshore, were horrendous.

Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew, who writes in his seminal and expansive series of reports – London Labour and the London Poor – described how mudlarks were so-named because of their need at times to wade up to their waists in mud to retrieve items.

By the 20th century, the practice appears to have somewhat died out. But in more recent years, the term mudlark has been applied to hobbyists, including those using metal detectors, to search along the Thames foreshore during the hours when the tides allow. Since the mid-1970s, The Society of Thames Mudlarks has provided some organisational structure for those involved but membership in this body is limited.

A permit from the Port of London Authority is required for modern mudlarking. As the authority’s website states: “Anyone searching the tidal Thames foreshore from Teddington to the Thames Barrier – in any way for any reason – must hold a current and relevant foreshore permit from the Port of London Authority. This includes all searching, metal detecting, ‘beachcombing’, scraping and digging”.

Finds of potential archaeological interest must be reported to the Museum of London (and human remains, of course, to police). Mudlarks are also encourage to report finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Mudlark finds. PICTURE: Neil Cummings (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Objects found include everything from clay pipes, bits of pottery, buttons, bones and pins through to more precious items such as coins, rings and even daggers and swords.

Lara Maiklem, author of the 2019 book Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames, is among the most well-known of the modern mudlarks. As detailed in his book, her finds have included everything from a Roman amphora stopper to medieval roof tiles, a bearded man from a late 16th century Bellarmine jug and an 18th century shoe pattern.

Where’s London’s oldest…(still operational) ferry service?

There’s a couple of contenders for this title – the ferry service at Woolwich and that at Hampton.

Ferry services linking the north bank of the Thames at Woolwich North to the south bank at Woolwich have operated on the Thames since at least the 14th century.

The Woolwich Ferry’s northern terminal. PICTURE: Matt Buck (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

While they were previously commercial operations, in 1889 a free passenger and vehicle ferry service started operation. By the early 1960s increasing demand saw the paddle steamers retired and the ferry service upgraded to a roll-on/roll-off model. The Woolwich Ferry service, which has been run by numerous authorities over the past century, is currently run by Transport for London.

Another contender for the title of London’s oldest (still operational) ferry service is the Hampton Ferry, a pedestrian service, which operates on the Thames about a mile west of Hampton Court Bridge between Hampton on the north bank and Hurst Park, Molesey, the south bank.

The Hampton Ferry. PICTURE: diamond geezer (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The ferry service, which was first used by fishermen and agricultural workers, dates back to 1514 and was incorporated by statute, making it one of the oldest British companies. The ferry, which costs £2 for a single crossing, operates seasonally from April to October.

LondonLife – Hammersmith terrace…

PICTURE: Victor Huang/iStockphoto.

A row of terraced houses overlooking the Thames in Hammersmith.

LondonLife – Bridges over the Thames…

PICTURE: Lisa van Vliet/Unsplash

The Hungerford Bridge, flanked by the two Golden Jubilee Bridges, and the north-west bank of the Thames.

LondonLife – Parliamentary silhouette…

Looking across the River Thames alongside Westminster Bridge. PICTURE: Mark Haupt/Unsplash

LondonLife – Award-winning Thames views…

Overall winner – Andy Sillett’s Misty Morning

Andy Sillett’s Misty Morning was the overall winner of this year’s Thames Lens competition. The Thames Festival Trust received more than 350 entries to the competition between July last year and January this year which was held under the theme of ‘Thames Unlocked’. As well as submitting new images, photographers were encouraged to consider past photos for submission given the impact of coronavirus related restrictions. Other notable images, which were selected by representatives of the Thames Festival Trust and Port of London Authority, included Fraser Gray’s LV 21 and Royal Terrace Pier Gravesend (the runner-up – pictured below), and Sarah Gannon’s highly commended image Costa del Rotherhithe (pictured far below). For more, see https://thamesfestivaltrust.org/read-watch-listen/thames-lens-2020/.

Runner-up – Fraser Gray’s Royal Terrace Pier and LV 21 Light Vessel in the early morning fog.
Highly commended – Sarah Gannon’s Costa del Rotherhithe

Where’s London’s oldest…(still-in-use) bridge?

There’s several candidates for the title (and, of course, it depends on what exactly we mean). So here we go… 

First up is the Clattern Bridge, which crosses the River Hogsmill (a small river which runs into the Thames), in Kingston upon Thames in the city’s south-west.

The earliest known reference to this three-arched bridge dates back to 1293 and the medieval name, ‘Clateryngbrugge’, is thought to refer to the sound horses’ hooves made as they clattered across.

While the bridge (pictured above and right), which had replaced an earlier wooden Saxon bridge, was altered in the 18th and 19th centuries, its Historic England Grade I listing notes that it remains a “good example of a medieval multi-span bridge which survives well” and includes some “impressive medieval masonry”.

Second is another Grade I-listed bridge that doesn’t even cross a river but rather a moat at Eltham Palace in the city’s south-east.

The stone north bridge, now the main entrance to the palace, is described by English Heritage as “London’s oldest working bridge” – although it’s not as old as the Clattern Bridge.

It was constructed in 1390 on the orders of King Richard II, replacing an earlier wooden bridge (it was apparently Geoffrey Chaucer – yes, that Geoffrey Chaucer – who supervised the building works as part of his job as Clerk of the Works to Eltham Palace).

The bridge features four arches, pointed cutwaters with chamfered tops on the outside and a red brick parapet on top.

Thirdly, is the Richmond Bridge which, although not in the same (medieval) league as the previous two, is the oldest bridge crossing the Thames.

The now Grade I-listed structure was built between 1774 and 1777 as a replacement for a ferry crossing and while it was slightly altered in 1939-40, it remains substantially original.

PICTURE: Top – Clattern Bridge (Maureen Barlin/licensed under  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Right – Julian Walker (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0); Middle – The bridge at Eltham Palace (John K Thorne/Public domain); Bottom – Richmond Bridge (Marc Barrot/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

LondonLife – ‘Rivers of the World’…

River inspired artwork created by young people from across London, the UK and around the world is one show on South Bank as part of the Totally Thames festival. The art for Rivers of the World was created during the coronavirus lockdown under the guidance of professional artists who provided briefs and films to help the young artists. The outdoor exhibition, on Riverside Walkway near the Tate Modern, is free to visit. For more on Totally Thames, London’s annual month-long celebration of its river, head to https://thamesfestivaltrust.org. PICTURES: Young artists with work created as part of ‘Rivers of the World’ (Courtesy of Totally Thames).

This Week in London – London’s new embankment named; and, ‘Cutty Sark’ reopens…

• London’s first new River Thames embankment in 150 years has been named after Joseph Bazalgette, the Victorian civil engineer who revolutionised London’s sewer system. The ‘Bazalgette Embankment’ is located alongside Victoria Embankment, to the west of Blackfriars Bridge, and includes a new City Walkway as well as open space for recreation and leisure activities. Bazalgette’s sewer design led to cleaner water in the Thames and was also responsible for helping to eliminate cholera outbreaks in the city. The embankment is one of seven new embankments which will be opened as part of the Thames Tideway Tunnel project due for completion in 2024.

• Greenwich landmark, Cutty Sark, reopens to visitors on Monday, 20th July. Other reopened institutions include the Royal Academy of Arts, The Foundling MuseumThe Wallace Collection and Somerset House.

PICTURE: Christine McIntosh (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)

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10 disease-related memorials in London…3. The Lambeth cholera epidemic memorial…

Located at White Hart Dock on Albert Embankment in Lambeth is a plaque with a rather lengthy inscription commemorating residents who died in the cholera epidemic of 1848-49.

More than 1,500 inhabitants of this waterfront district died in the outbreak first reported in September, 1848. The River Thames was believed the cause – with people drinking the river water due to lack of alternatives – and the absence of sanitation in the area and close living conditions were seen as exacerbating factors.

The plaque records that the first victim was recorded as John Murphy, a 22-year-old unemployed labourer who lived at of 26 Lower Fore Street. He fell ill on 30 September, 1848, and died the following morning.

The inscription also states that at least 1,618 Lambeth waterfront residents perished in the outbreak and and were buried in unmarked graves in the burial ground in Lambeth High Street, now the Lambeth Recreation Ground. However, the plaque adds that “it is likely many victims were unrecorded and the death toll was much higher.”

The plaque also features the text of a letter to the editor written concerning the cholera outbreak which had waned by autumn 1849.

The plaque, the text of which was written by Amanda J Thomas – author of two books on the subject of cholera in the Victorian era, was erected on a public artwork commemorating the former White Hart Dock in 2010.

PICTURE: White Hart Dock with the plaque on the right-hand side (via Google Maps).

LondonLife – And so Brexit Day passes…an ending or a new beginning?…

PICTURE: Marcus Lenk/Unsplash

This Week in London – Totally Thames kicks off; ‘The London That Never Was’; and an evolutionary garden at Kew…

London’s annual, month-long celebration of the River Thames, Totally Thames, has kicked off and this year’s program includes everything from concerts in Tower Bridge’s bascule chamber to the largest ever exhibition on mudlarking and a mass boat regatta at the end of the month. The programme includes more than 100 events stretching over 42 miles of the river as it winds through London, covering everything from art installations to heritage-related walks and talks, family-oriented offerings and the chance to get out on the river itself. Other highlights include the Rivers of the World Retrospective art exhibition, a scented heritage exhibition –The Barking Stink, a heritage walk through riverside Rotherhithe, open days at the RNLI Tower Lifeboat Station and this weekend’s Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks. Many events are free. Runs until 30th September For the full programme, head to https://totallythames.org/. PICTURE Courtesy of Totally Thames.

London’s grand building plans that never went ahead are the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Guildhall Art Gallery tomorrow. The London That Never Was imagines a city where the Tower Bridge is clad in glass and where a colossal burial pyramid looms over Primrose Hill. The free exhibition can be seen until 8th December. For more, head here. (To see some of the projects that were never built, see our previous series, 8 structures from the London That Never Was).

A new garden celebrating the evolution of plants has opened at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The Agius Evolution Garden is divided into eight sections to form “garden rooms” with each room containing closely related plants, revealing fascinating stories such as the connection between strawberries and nettles and why the Asteraceae family have “false flowers”. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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LondonLife – ‘Ship of Tolerance’ docks in the Thames…

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s Ship of Tolerance is moored at Royal Docks this month ahead of the annual celebration of London’s river, Totally Thames, in September. The 60 foot long, hand-crafted wooden ship is dedicated to educating and inspiring young people and features sails made by children from 40 London primary schools, Great Ormond Street Hospital and refugee centres in Birmingham, Leeds, Peterborough and Calais. The award-winning ship was first launched in Egypt in 2005 and has since appeared in numerous cities around the world including Venice, Havana, Moscow, New York and Rome. It can be seen at Royal Docks until 31st August and then outside the Tate Modern from 4th September to 6th October. For more on the ship and Totally Thames, see www.totallythames.orgPICTURE: Courtesy of Totally Thames.

LondonLife – Angles on an iconic bridge…

Tower Bridge marked its 125th birthday last weekend so to celebrate, here’s some different angles on London’s most photographed bridge. The Victorian Gothic bascule and suspension bridge, which spans the Thames just to the east of London Bridge (with which it’s not to be confused), took eight years to build and was officially opened on 30th June, 1894, by the then Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra). For more on the celebrations taking place at the bridge over the coming weeks and months, see www.towerbridge.org.uk/125/.

 

LondonLife – River crossing…

Millennium Bridge crossing the Thames between the City of London and South Bank. PICTURE: Toa Heftiba/Unsplash (image cropped).

LondonLife – Ham House gets flowery…

Part of the garden at the historic Thames-side mansion Ham House has been redesigned with the aim of bringing some new life to the manicured lawns. Rosie Fyles, head gardener at the 17th century property in Richmond – now in the care of the National Trust, has overseen the planting of a series of “plats” – each the size of a tennis court – with some 500,000 bulbs and wildflowers to create a “pageant of colour” from early spring and throughout summer. The plats have also been created with wildlife and diversity in mind, using naturalising bulbs to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. Fyles hopes the project will prove inspirational for home gardeners. “You can easily use pots, planters or a small area of border to create a pollinator-friendly bulb display over a few early spring months; in fact you can curate your own sequence of flowering from February to May at least,” she said. “We have used Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’, four types of species tulips (including bright red Tulipa linifolia) and Muscari latifolium to create a bright, deep blue carpet of colour.” For more, head to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden. ALL PICTURES: National Trust/Chris Davies.

10 historic London hotels…2. The Savoy…


The first purpose-built luxury hotel built in Britain (and often referred to as London’s “most famous” hotel), The Savoy opened its doors on 6th August, 1889.

Located on the river side of the Strand on the site of what had been the medieval Savoy Palace (its most famous resident was John of Gaunt), the hotel was built by theatre impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte using profits made from his staging of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, some of which were performed in the neighbouring Savoy Theatre.

The now Grade II-listed building, which apparently had no overall architect in its initial design process, exuded opulence and its interiors included the latest in modern amenities such as electric lighting and lifts, en suite bathrooms in most of the guest rooms and constant cold and hot running water.

César Ritz, who would later rise to fame as the owner of The Ritz Hotel in Paris and then London (see our recent post), was hired as the manager and Auguste Escoffier as the chef. Together they oversaw the introduction of a new, unprecedented level of hotel service which would set the standard for future enterprises. This included keeping a comprehensive index of guest’s tastes and preferences and saw Escoffier revolutionise the restaurant industry in the country with the creation of various “stations” in the kitchen (his pots and pans are apparently still at the hotel).

The hotel was expanded in 1903-04 under the eye of architect Thomas Edward Collcutt (the designer of Wigmore Hall) with new east and west wings and the main entrance was moved from the river side of the building to Savoy Court running off The Strand. The Front Hall is a survivor of this period while the Lancaster Ballroom dates from 1910.

The hotel underwent further remodelling in the 1920s – it was during this period that the famous stainless steel sign over the Savoy Court entrance, designed by art deco architect Howard Robertson (later Sir Howard), was created (Savoy Court incidentally is the only street in the UK where traffic must keep to the right – more on that another time). The sign is topped with a gilt statue of Peter of Savoy, the uncle to King Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence (pictured below). It was Peter who first built the Savoy Palace on the land where the hotel now stands. The sign, meanwhile, was created for the 1904 extension but placed here during the 1920s works.

Further modifications – including the introduction of air conditioning – followed in later decades. The hotel now boasts some 267 rooms and suites (the latter include the Royal Suite which spans the entire riverside of the fifth floor), many of which feature panoramic views of the River Thames.

Famous guests over the years have included royalty such as King Edward VII (when Prince of Wales) as well as more recent royals, French actress Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Sir Henry Irving and Sir Laurence Olivier. It’s also hosted a who’s who of Hollywood – everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland to Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne – and US President Harry S Truman.

Others associated with the hotel include opera singer Dame Nellie Melba – the dessert known as a Peach Melba was created here in her honour, and artist Claude Monet, who painted Waterloo Bridge from a position on one of the balconies.

Among other significant events to take place within its walls was a 1905 “Gondola Party” hosted by American millionaire George A Kessler which saw the central courtyard flooded as part of a recreation of Venice with guests dining on an enormous gondola and entertainment featuring singer Enrico Caruso.

In 1953, to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the hotel hosted a ball attended by 1,400 of the rich and famous with special touches including 16 Yeoman Warders from the Tower of London who lined the entrance staircase.

Films shot here include Kipps (1921), based on a HG Wells novel (Wells was in attendance during the filming), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) and Notting Hill (1999).

The Savoy remained in the Carte family until it was bought by an American private equity house in 1998 and eventually sold, in the mid-2000s, to become part of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts of Canada.

Closed in late 2007 for a complete renovation (the cost of which has been put at £220 million), it reopened in October, 2010. Among restaurants and bars now in the premises are the Thames Foyer restaurant – hosted in a glass atrium, it’s where afternoon tea is taken, the American Bar – described as the oldest cocktail bar in Britain, the Beaufort Bar, and the restaurant Kaspar’s.

The latter is named after the hotel’s oldest “employee” – Kaspar the Cat. Carved in 1927 by Basil Ionides, the cat was created to act as a 14th guest in the private dining rooms when 13 guests were present, a figure which was considered unlucky and which, tradition held, meant the first person to leave the table would one the first to die.

Its origins go back to 1898 when a wealthy South African by the name of Woolf Joel apparently scoffed at the idea of 13 being an unlucky number at the table and volunteered to leave it first. He was shot dead back in South Africa just a few week’s later. In the wake of his death, management at the hotel decreed that any table of 13 would be joined by a staff member.

But this was only a short-term solution – not only there was there the privacy of diners to consider, the fact staff would be a person down when this was required was a problem. So when Ionides redecorated the private dining room ‘Pinafore’ in the 1920s, he created the cat, complete with napkin, to fulfil the role of the 14th diner. And so he has ever since. Kaspar, the subject of a children’s book written by Michael Morpugo in 2008, can these days be found in Kaspar’s or, when not working, in the Front Hall.

For more, see www.thesavoylondon.com

10 most popular (new) posts of 2018…Numbers 10 and 9…

And so we’ve reached the end of another year on Exploring London. As always, we counting down our 10 most popular new posts for the year, starting with numbers nine and 10 (and they both come from the same special Wednesday series on Thames islands)…

9. 10 islands in the Thames – 10. Garrick’s Ait…

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

 

 

LondonLife – River bend…

Looking across the O2 Arena towards the Docklands. PICTURE: Claus Grünstäudl/Unsplash