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)

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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)

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)


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)

 




An institution linking the Isle of Dogs to Greenwich underneath the Thames for more than a century, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel was built to provide an alternative to a sometimes unreliable ferry service – thanks to weather – and was principally aimed at workers making their way from their homes in London’s south to docks and shipyards.

It was one of two tunnel crossings – the other being at Woolwich – which were lobbied for by Will Crooks, chair of the LCC’s bridges committee and later MP for Woolwich.

Designed by engineer Sir Alexander Binnie for the London County Council, the project – which reportedly cost some £127,000 – commenced in June, 1899, with the tunnel completed and opened, with very little fanfare (there was apparently no opening ceremony) on 4th August, 1902.

The design features a glass-topped dome at either end with steps spiralling downward (reported as 87 steps to the north and 100 to the south). Lifts were installed in 1904 and then upgraded in the 1990s and more recently in 2012. The tunnel itself. which is positioned at a depth of about 50 feet, is made of cast-iron and lined with 200,000 glazed white tiles. It measures 1,215 feet long with an internal diameter of nine feet.

The northern end of the tunnel was damaged by bombs during World War II and repairs include  a thick steel and concrete lining that substantially reduce the interior size of the tunnel for a short distance.

The tunnel, which has its own friends group, is classed as a public highway and so as a matter of law is kept open 24 hours a day. Its depth means it remains a cool place even on a hot day.

WHERE: Greenwich Foot Tunnel (nearest DLR (northern end) is Island Gardens and (southern end) is Cutty Sark; WHEN: Always; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/info/200102/walking/693/foot_tunnels.

PICTURES: Top – James Stringer under licence CC BY-NC 2.0; and below – Neil Turner under licence CC BY-SA 2.0

The name of this City of London street – which leads from Upper Thames Street to the intersection of Queen Victoria and Cannon Streets – speaks to the City’s past when it originated at the now-lost dock or jetty known as Garlickhithe. 

Garlickhithe was, not surprisingly, where garlic was landed and sold in a tradition dating back to at least the 13th century. It’s one of numerous thoroughfares in the City named for what was traded there.

The name is also remembered in the church which still stands at the bottom of the hill, St James, Garlickhythe, and which once stood right on the back of the Thames. The church was founded in the 12th century, rebuilt several times – the last time after the Great Fire of London under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren.

 

Across-the-Thames

Near London Bridge, looking over the Thames at The Shard. PICTURE: JJ Jordan/Unsplash

Totally Thames, the annual month long celebration of London’s river, is once again in swing with a host of events to join in on. The packed programme includes walks and talks such as Friday’s walk exploring the maritime heritage of Deptford, visual arts installations including Maria Arceo’s Future Dust (pictured), and on-river events such as this weekend’s Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Docks and the marathon Great River Race involving traditional boats as well as a host of musical performances, film screenings, exhibitions and pop-up festivals. Events run over September. For more information on the programme, visit totallythames.org. PICTURE: Courtesy of Thames Festival Trust. © Hydar Dewachi.

The role RAF Kenley Airfield played in the Battle of Britain will be highlighted in a “Sky Heroes” event at the site this Sunday. RAF Kenley Airfield, which is where Winston Churchill learned to fly, is the most intact fighter airfield from World War II and played a unique role in defending Britain from the German Luftwaffe. Celebrating its centenary, it was one of three main fighter stations, along with Croydon and Biggin Hill, charged with the air defence of London. The day, which is free to attend, will feature guided tours, museum and archaeology stands and replica Spitfire and Hurricane planes in which visitors can sit and have their photos taken. A free shuttle bus service will be operating from nearby stations. The day is being held under the auspices of the Heritage Lottery funded Kenley Revival Project, a partnership between the City of London Corporation, Kenley Airfield Friends Group and Historic England. For more, see www.kenleyrevival.org.

Win one of 20 London is Open for Summer posters signed by the artist Quentin Blake. The limited edition posters went on sale this week for £10 with all proceeds going to the Red Cross UK Solidarity Fund and to mark that event, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched a social media competition, giving away 20 of them. For details of how to take part, head to www.london.gov.uk/londonisopen. The winners will be announced next week. To purchase one of the posters, head to www.ltmuseumshop.co.uk/new-in.

The 16th tradition of still life meets modern art at the Guildhall Art Gallery’s latest exhibition, Nature Morte. Featuring 100 words of art covering themes ranging from flora and fauna to domestic objects and food, the display features works by major international contemporary artists like Michael Craig-Martin and Gabriel Orozco as well as works by London-based artists and from the City of London’s own historic collection. The exhibition, which is being put on by MOCA London in partnership with the gallery, runs until 2nd April. Admission charge applies and there’s a series of talks to accompany the display. For more, follow this link.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

This month marks 300 years since composer George Frideric Handel premiered his composition (and one of the most famous pieces of classical music in the world) Water Music – and it was in a rather fitting setting.

The first performance of the composition – which was deliberately created for
playing outdoors (and carrying across water) – took place at about 8pm on 17th July, 1717, aboard a City of London barge in the River Thames.

Some 50 musicians played the piece – using everything from flutes and recorders to trumpets, horns, violins and basses – with Handel himself fulfilling the role of conductor.

The barge was part of a rather grand flotilla which made its way up the river from the Palace of Whitehall to Chelsea, at the centre of which was a royal barge upon which King George I and members of the nobility, including various duchesses, rode.

Numerous other Londoners also turned out to hear the performance aboard all manner of watercraft and the king was apparently so impressed with what he heard that he requested several encores both on the trip to Chelsea and on the return journey.

The story goes that the somewhat unpopular king had apparently requested the concert on the river to upstage his son, the Prince of Wales (and future King George II), who was stealing the limelight by throwing lavish parties (the king and his son were famously at odds and it was therefore no shock when the prince didn’t attend the performance).

There’s another story, meanwhile, that suggested Handel composed the piece to regain the favour of the King which he had apparently lost when, seeking to capitalise on his growing fame, he left his employment as conductor at the court of the then Elector of Hanover (a position George held before he was king) and moved from Germany to London during the reign of Queen Anne (although some claim the future king knew he would one day follow Handel to London and actually approved of his decision to move there).

Water Music, meanwhile, has since become part of popular culture – it’s generally said that most people will recognise at least one part of it – but interestingly, no-one is said to be exactly sure how the music, which is generally broken into three separate suites, should be performed, given that the original score has been lost.

PICTURE: Edouard Hamman’s painting showing Handel (on the left) with King George I aboard a barge on 17th July, 1717. Via Wikipedia

 

For the final in our series of memorable (and historic) views of London, we’re returning to Greenwich, except this time we’re looking across the River Thames from the southern end of the Isle of Dogs at some of the historic buildings of maritime Greenwich.

The splendid view from Island Gardens on the north bank of the Thames today reveals Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College, the Queen’s House and beyond that the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. But it wasn’t always so.

Prior to its demolition by King Charles II in 1660, this was the site of a royal palace known Greenwich Palace or the Palace of Placentia which had occupied the site since the mid-15th century (and was rebuilt by King Henry VII in the late 15th/early 16th centuries).

Charles decided to demolish it to build a new palace on the site but only a section of it was ever completed and it was never used as a royal palace. In the late 17th century, Greenwich Hospital – incorporating what was built of Charles’ palace – was constructed on the site as a home for retired sailors from the Royal Navy. From 1869, it was used as the Royal Naval College and now houses a range of organisations (see our previous post here for more).

The Queen’s House, which lies at the centre of the view, was designed by Inigo Jones and started on the orders of Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I. But it remained unfinished when Queen Anne died in 1614 and it was Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, who completed it. The house these days serves as a gallery (for more, see our earlier post here).

Behind the Queen’s House can be seen the Royal Observatory, home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian (see our previous post here) – as well as, of course, the (previously aforementioned) statue of General Wolfe. Also in the modern view from Island Gardens is the Cutty Sark and the National Maritime Museum.

It’s believed that the view from where Island Gardens now stands is that replicated in Canaletto’s painting, Greenwich Hospital from the North Bank of the Thames (although, oddly, whether Canaletto ever actually visited the site is apparently a matter of some dispute).

Greenwich Park and the buildings on the other side of the river can be accessed from the park Island Gardens by the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

WHERE: Island Gardens on the north bank of the River Thames (nearest DLR is Island Gardens); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: (For Greenwich Park across the river – www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx).

PICTURE:Top –  Paul Hudson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0; Below – David Adams

PICTURE: designerpoint/Pixabay


Another view which owes its existence to the Victorians is that from the walkways adjoining the twin towers of the iconic Tower Bridge.

Built between 1886 and 1894, the bridge, the most sophisticated bascule bridge then in existence, was designed with two open-to-the-elements high level walkways, located 42 metres above the Thames, which enabled pedestrians to cross the bridge even when it was raised.

But the walkways didn’t prove popular – people apparently preferred to wait until the bridge was lowered rather than climb the 200 or so steps up and then down to use the walkways. The absence of people meant the walkways became the haunt of some ‘disreputable’ people – prostitutes and pickpockets are the most commonly cited. In 1910, they were closed.

It wasn’t until 1982 that the walkways were opened up once again, allowing visitors to enjoy a view that had been barred to the public for some 72 years.

As well as providing panoramic views to the east and west down the River Thames, the walkways these days contain an exhibition on ‘Great Bridges of the World’ as well as, since 2014, the chance to walk on the 11 metre long glass floor (and, if it’s not doing so in real life, see the bridge raised below via the augmented reality ‘Raise the Bridge’ app).

And don’t worry, the steps have been joined by elevators for those who can’t make the stair climb.

WHERE: Tower Bridge (nearest Tube station is Tower Hill and London Bridge); WHEN: 10am to 5.30pm (until September); COST: £9.80 an adult/£3.90 child (aged five to 15)/£6.80 adult concession (family tickets also available as well as joint tickets to the Monument); WEBSITE: www.towerbridge.org.uk/walkways.

PICTURES: Top – Tower Bridge with its two high level walkways (David Adams); Below – View of the glass floor in the walkways (Matt Brown/Flickr/CC BY 2.0/cropped image)

Located on the north bank of the River Thames at Chelsea, these 19th century pleasure gardens were only open for about 40 years.

The origins of the gardens go back to the 1830s when a mansion and surrounding estate – previously owned by Thomas Dawson, Viscount Cremorne (hence the name) – was sold to one Charles Random who went by the name of Baron de Berenger or Baron de Beaufain, a convicted stockmarket fraudster. Random established a sports facility called the Cremorne Stadium on the site where people could indulge in swimming, rowing, fencing, boxing and shooting (the ‘baron’ himself was apparently a crack shot).

The venture was not an immediate success however and so management began to diversify and provide other entertainments more synonymous with pleasure gardens including mock tournaments and pony races as well as dances and, of course, balloon ascents. Nonetheless, the venture failed and was sold off to a City coffee house owner of the name of Thomas Bartlett Simpson.

He sublet the 12 acre site to James Ellis who reopened the house and grounds as a pleasure gardens in 1845.  Ellis, however, went bankrupt within just a few years – an interesting side note is that he then went to Melbourne in the Colony of Victoria (part of what is now Australia) where he established another Cremorne Gardens beside the city’s Yarra River  – although like his London venture that, too, didn’t have a long life.

Back in London, Simpson then took over management of the gardens himself and  within just a few years the gardens had become popular among the fashionable.

The gardens featured a dazzling array of facilities including a banqueting hall, theatre, and American-style bowling saloon and provided all manner of entertainments such as balloon ascents, firework displays, dancing, and performances. The site could be entered from the grand entrance on King’s Road or at the Cremorne Pier on the river.

Alongside its regular entertainments, the gardens also hosted numerous spectacular events including, in 1861, being the site from where Madame Genevieve Young, the ‘Female Blondin’, crossed the Thames on a tightrope and where, in 1864, Mr Godard ascended in his Montgolfier Balloon. Other acts – such as a 1855 renactment of the storming of a fort at Sebastapol during which a stage collapsed, and another in which a balloon drifted onto the spire of a nearby church – were less successful.

The garden passed through the hands of several other managers over the ensuing years and but by the 1870s has acquired something of a bad reputation. While while then-manager John Baum, who had invested considerable sums in upgrading the gardens’ facilities, won a libel case against a local minister who had published a pamphlet condemning the gardens (in principle at least – he was apparently only awarded a farthing in damages), in 1877 he decided not to reapply for his licence and closed the gardens.

During its final years of operations, the gardens were captured on canvas by artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who was a resident in nearby Cheyne Walk.

The modern Cremorne Gardens – located by the Thames near the Lots Road power station – were opened in 1982. Iron gates from the original gardens (pictured), which had been taken to a brewery, were restored and installed in the new gardens.

PICTURE: Above – The Dancing Platform at Cremorne Gardens by Phoebus Levin, 1864. Via Wikimedia Commons; Right – The Cremorne Gardens gates, Tarquin Binary/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5

A smaller scale albeit spectacular view – in this one, the focus is on a particular building – but among the most splendid views of London is that of the Houses of Parliament (aka The Palace of Westminster) from across the Thames.

Featured in various ways in numerous films and TV shows (1980s sitcoms Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister among them) as well on bottles of HP Sauce, the iconic view from the east bank of the Thames, taking the facade of the building with the bookends of Victoria and Elizabeth Towers, has only been around its current form following the completion of  Sir Charles Barry’s gothic masterpiece in 1870 (although the Palace of Westminster and adjacent buildings have occupied the site for far longer).

The site, along with the neighbouring Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church, is protected as part of the UNESCO World Heritage List, the official listing of which notes that the “iconic silhouette of the ensemble is an intrinsic part of its identity, which is recognised internationally with the sound of ‘Big Ben’ being broadcast regularly around the world”.

PICTURE: Cody Thompson/Unsplash

Looking over the River Thames from the Tate Modern at the dome of St Paul’s. PICTURE: Christian Battaglia/Unsplash

Another of London’s protected views is that from the Grade II-listed statue of General Wolfe in Greenwich Park.

The panoramic scene takes in much of the park itself as well as The Queen’s House and the Old Royal Naval College and across the River Thames to London’s Docklands and around to St Paul’s Cathedral (the key point in London when it comes to protected views).

The bronze statue, which stands on a terrace just outside The Royal Observatory (home of Greenwich Mean Time) atop a stone plinth, was created in 1930 and commemorates General James Wolfe (1727-1759), whose victory in the Battle of Quebec (also known as the Battle of the Plains of Abraham) with the French secured Canada for the British.

Wolfe has local links – he and his father apparently lived in a house on the edge of the park and he is buried in St Alfege’s Church. The statue, unveiled by the Marquis de Montcalm, a descendant of the commander-in-chief of French forces who also died at the Battle of Quebec, was a gift from the Canadians and was designed by Dr Tait Mackenzie.

The statue’s plinth incidentally is pitted with bomb fragments from a bomb which exploded at the Royal Observatory during World War II.

WHERE: Greenwich Park (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark – other nearby stations include Greenwich, Maze Hill and Blackheath); WHEN: 6am to at least 6pm (closing times vary depending on the month); COST: Free entry; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Greenwich-Park.aspx

PICTURES: Views from the statue of General Wolfe via Flickr (top – Roman Hobler/CC BY 2.0/image cropped; bottom – Garry Knight/CC BY 2.0)