For the final in our series of modern icons of London, we’re looking at the tallest in London (and, at the time it was completed, the tallest in Europe) – the Shard.
Based in London Bridge, the 310 metre high skyscraper, was constructed between 2009 and mid-2012, and inaugurated by Qatar’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabor Al Thani, and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, in July, 2012 – an event marked by a light and laser show (late that year, Prince Andrew abseiled down the building in a fund-raising effort for charity).
The observation deck of the building – originally known as London Bridge Tower and often referred to as The Shard of Glass – was opened to the public on 1st February, 2013, in an event overseen by the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
Architect Renzo Piano’s lofty design for the building – first sketched out on the back of a napkin in a Berlin restaurant back in 2000 – was inspired by the London church spires and ship masts as seen in the work of 18th century Venetian painter Canaletto, to appear as a “spire-like sculpture emerging from the River Thames”.
It features eight sloping glass walls – the shards – with gaps or “fractures” between them to provide natural ventilation and a tapered structure to give the impression of lightness and transparency as it disappears into the clouds.
As well as office space, the building’s 72 habitable floors features shops, restaurants and bars, as well as a hotel – the Shangri-La, and apartments. News organisation Al Jazeera is also based in the building.
Located on floors 68, 69 and 72, the visitor attraction, The View from The Shard, offers panoramic views of up to 40 miles from an indoor viewing platform and the open air Skydeck (as well as the view, there are also virtual reality experiences available on the Skydeck for an additional cost).
The Shard – which attracted a million visitors in its first year alone – remained the tallest building in Europe until November, 2012, when it was surpassed by Moscow’s Mercury City Tower (it is still the tallest building in the European Union).
We’ll be kicking off a new special Wednesday series after Easter.
WHERE: The View from the Shard, Joiner Street (nearest Tube station is London Bridge); WHEN: Times vary, so check the website for details; COST: Pre-purchased timed and dated tickets range from £22.95 for adults/£16.95 for children aged four to 15 (check website for further details); WEBSITE: www.theviewfromtheshard.com.
The first building in London to exceed the height of St Paul’s Cathedral, the 118 metre (387 foot) high Millbank Tower opened in 1963.
Said to have been inspired by the works of Modernist German-American architect Mies van der , the 32 storey building, located on the river just south of Westminster, was designed by Ronald Ward and Partners.
It was originally built as the headquarters of the engineering firm, the Vickers Group (hence its original moniker of Vickers Tower) and the Legal and General Assurance Society.
The glass walled building, which features a 31 storey tower atop a two storey podium, only held the title of London’s tallest building briefly – in 1965 it was overtaken by the Post Office Tower.
Now Grade II-listed, it was famously the headquarters of the Labour Party between the mid-Nineties and early Noughties – it was from here that it ran its 1997 general election campaign which saw the election of Tony Blair to the office of Prime Minister.
The Conservative Party has also been a tenant (although in this case of the complex to which the building is attached) as has the United Nations and numerous government agencies. The bulding has also appeared in episodes of Dr Who.
The building was recently the subject of an application for it to be redeveloped into a hotel and luxury apartments.
Near London Bridge, looking over the Thames at The Shard. PICTURE: JJ Jordan/Unsplash
• The 161st Boat Race is on this weekend and will once more see Oxford and Cambridge rowing crews battling it out in their annual contest on the Thames. The day’s schedule of festivities kicks off at noon at Bishop’s Park near the race’s starting point just west of Putney Bridge and at Furnivall Gardens near Hammersmith Bridge but the main highlights don’t take place until late in the afternoon – the Newton Women’s Boat Race at 4.50pm and the main event, the BNY Mellon Boat Race, at 5.50pm. The race runs along the Thames from Putney Bridge through to Chiswick Bridge with plenty of vantage points along the way. The tally currently sits at 78 to Oxford and 81 to Cambridge. For more information, including where to watch, head to http://theboatraces.org/.
• Prospective “Designs of the Year” are on display at the Design Museum in Shad Thames ahead of the announcement of awards in May and June. With the awards – handed out in six categories – now in their eighth year, the 76 designs on display include Google’s self-driving car, the Frank Gehry-designed Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris and Asif Kahn’s experimental architectural installation Megafaces which debuted at the Sochi Olympics as well as Norwegian banknotes, a billboard that cleans pollutants from the air and a book printed without ink. Runs until 23rd August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.designmuseum.org/exhibitions/designs-of-the-year-2015.
• On Now: Heckling Hitler: World War II in Cartoon and Comic Art. Showing at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury, this exhibition explores how World War II unfolded through the eyes of British cartoonists. It features more than 120 original drawings and printed ephemera and while the focus is largely on those contained newspapers and magazines, the exhibition does include some sample materials from books, aerial leaflets, artwork from The Dandy and The Beano, postcards and overseas propaganda publications as well as some unpublished cartoons drawn in prisoner-of-war camps and by civilians at home (the latter on scrap paper from the Ministry of Food), and even a rare pin cushion featuring Hitler and Mussolini. Among the artists whose works are featured are ‘Fougasse’ (creator of Ministry of Information posters reminding the public that ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’), William Heath Robinson and Joe Lee. The exhibition runs until 12th July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org/exhibitions/current-exhibitions/heckling-hitler.
• On Now: Homes of the Homeless: Seeking Shelter in Victorian London. This exhibition at the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch explores the places inhabited by London’s poor during the 19th and 20th centuries and brings them to life through paintings, photographs and objects as well as the retelling of personal stories and reports. Starting in the 1840s, the exhibition charts the problems faced by London’s poor and examines the dirty and cramped conditions of lodging houses, workhouses and refuges where they took shelter along with, for those even less fortunate, the streets where they slept rough before moving on to some of the housing solutions designed specifically to help the poor. Runs until 12th July. Admission charge applies. Running alongside the exhibition is a free display, Home and Hope – a collaborative exhibition with the New Horizon Youth Centre which explores the experience of young homeless people in London today. For more, see www.geffrye-museum.org.uk/whatson/exhibitions-and-displays/homes-of-the-homeless/.
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Having previously looked at the Norman fortification (razed by King John in 1213 – see our earlier post here), this time we’re taking a look at the later (medieval) fortification known as Baynard’s Castle.
In the 1300s, a mansion was constructed about 100 metres east of where the castle had originally stood on a riverfront site which had been reclaimed from the Thames. This was apparently destroyed by fire before being rebuilt in the 1420s and it became the seat of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses. King Edward IV was proclaimed king here in 1461 and King Richard III was offered the crown here in 1483 (a moment famously captured by William Shakespeare).
King Henry VII transformed the fortified mansion into a royal palace at the start of the 16th century – adding a series of towers – and his son, King Henry VIII, gave it to the ill-fated Catherine of Aragon when they married. The Queen subsequently took up residence (Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves also resided here when queen – the latter was the last member of the royal family to use it as a permanent home).
After King Henry VIII’s death, the palace passed into the hands of the Earl of Pembroke (brother-in-law of Queen Catherine Parr, Henry’s surviving Queen) who substantially extended it, adding ranges around a second courtyard. In 1553, both Lady Jane Grey and Queen Mary I were proclaimed queen here. Queen Elizabeth I was another royal visitor to the palace, entertained with a fireworks display when she did.
It was left untouched during the Civil War (the Pembrokes were Parliamentarians) but following the Restoration, it was occupied by the Royalist Earl of Shrewsbury (among his visitors was King Charles II). It wasn’t to be for long however – the palace was largely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, although remnants of the building, including one or two of the towers, continued to be used for various purposes until the site was finally cleared in the 1800s to make way for warehouses.
The site in Queen Victoria Street in Blackfriars (the area is named for the monastery built on the site of the Norman castle) is now occupied by the Brutalist building named Baynard House. The castle is also commemorated in Castle Baynard Street and Castle Baynard Ward.
It was discovered in archaeological excavations in the 197os that the castle’s waterfront wall had been built on top of the Roman riverside city wall.
PICTURE: © Copyright Andrew Abbott
Located on the South Bank of the Thames opposite Whitehall is the former vast headquarters of the London County Council and later, the Greater London Council. The Grade II* listed building, first opened in 1922, these days houses everything from the London Sea Life Aquarium, the London Dungeon and the visitor centre for the London Eye as well as hotels, restaurants and even flats.
• The August Bank Holiday is upon us which means it’s carnival time! The Notting Hill Carnival kicks off this Sunday with an extravaganza of costumes, dancing, music and food. The carnival’s origins go back to the late Fifties and early Sixties (the exact date is somewhat controversial!) when it started as a way of Afro-Caribbean communities celebrating their cultures and traditions, drawing on the tradition of carnivals in the Caribbean. The carnival is now Europe’s largest street festival and this year’s parade signifies the start of a three year celebration in the lead-up to the Golden Jubilee year of 2016. The carnival kicks off at 9am on Sunday – children’s day – and the same time on Monday – adult’s day – and organisers say the procession should be completed by 7pm. For more, see www.thelondonnottinghillcarnival.com. PICTURE: Wayne G Callender/Notting Hill Carnival.
• A pop-up display of some of St Paul’s Cathedral’s treasures will appear today and tomorrow (Thursday, 21st August, and Friday 22nd August) in the cathedral’s crypt. Put together by Museum Studies students from Leicester University, the display will feature items relating to a royal event from each of the first three centuries of Wren’s church. They include images and objects from the Thanksgiving Service for the recovery of King George III in 1789 as well as items from Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. The display will be shown from 1pm to 2pm each day – entry is free via the cathedral’s north west crypt door. Meanwhile, the cathedral is offering a private, behind the scenes evening photography tour of the building for the winner of a photography competition looking for “the most surprising image” of the cathedral. The winner – and five friends – will also be treated to a meal at the Grange Hotel’s Benihama restaurant. The Surprise St Paul’s competition runs until 26th September and entrants just need to tweet or post their images to the church’s Twitter or Facebook pages with the hashtag #SurpriseStPauls. For more, see www.stpauls.co.uk.
• The National Gallery has made free wi-fi available throughout the building. The Trafalgar Square-based gallery says it’s now also welcoming visitor photography and is encouraging visitors to check in on Facebook and comment on Twitter using the hashtag #MyNGPainting. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
• Fancy yourself a detective? The Museum of London and the BFI are asking for the public’s help in tracking down a copy of the first ever feature film starring the fictional character Sherlock Holmes. A Study in Scarlet was released 100 years ago this autumn and was directed by George Pearson with then unknown James Bragington playing the part of Holmes. An adaption of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story of the same name, it is based around Brigham Young’s trek across America with his Mormon followers and sees Holmes solve a series of murders. The film was made at Worton Hall studios and on location in Cheddar Gorge and Southport Sands in 1914. The organisations are seeking the film in the lead-up to the Museum of London’s landmark exhibition on Holmes which opens in October. If you do happen to find the film, you can write to Sherlockholmes@bfi.org.uk or make contact via social media using the hashtag #FindSherlock.
• A public ballot has opened for tickets to attend the art installation Fire Garden by renowned French troupe Carabosse at Battersea Power Station this September. The event – which will be held on the nights of Friday 5th and Saturday 6th September – is one of the highlights of Totally Thames, a month-long celebration of London’s great river, and is presented as a tribute to the power station before it’s closed to the public for redevelopment. A free event, it’s expected to be so popular that organisers are holding a ballot for tickets. The ballot closes midday on 27th August. To enter via the Totally Thames website, head here.
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The Thames-side property known as the Steelyard – the phrase comes from the Dutch-German word Stahlhof and relates either to a steel beam used for weighing goods or a courtyard where the goods were sold – was the main trading base of the Hanseatic League in London from the 13th century onward.
Located near where Walbrook flows out of the Thames on the north bank (the site is now at least partly covered by Cannon Street Station), the walled compound – which at some point housed as many as 400 people – was in some senses a mini city within a city complete with a hall, warehouses, a weighing house and counting houses as well as residences and a chapel.
While the community – which represented an alliance of towns and cities in northern Europe – was mentioned as far back as the late 1200s, it wasn’t until 1303 that King Edward I formerly confirmed the tax and customs concessions of the merchants (at some point, in return for privileges they were given, the group was charged with keeping up the maintenance of Bishopsgate).
The power of the trading post had grown substantially by the 15th century and the concessions the group had been granted meant there was inevitably considerable friction with English merchants. There was also some official friction and one example of it was when the Steelyard was closed temporarily in the 15th century when the Hanse cities were at war with England.
In 1598 Queen Elizabeth I took away the Steelyard’s trading privileges (after which the compound was apparently looted). It was subsequently allowed to reopen by King James I but never regained the prominence it had previously had.
Much of the compound was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but nonetheless, the Steelyard was rebuilt and continued to provide links between German cities and the English until the mid 1800s when the land was sold off and, in 1866, Cannon Street Station built on the site.
A couple of surviving objects from the Steelyard include a series of at least eight portraits of Hanse merchants painted by Hans Holbein the Younger and a stone model of the Hanseatic Arms which were placed over the gate into the compound can be seen at the Museum of London.
Mention William Shakespeare and London in the same breath and everyone immediately thinks of one building – the reconstructed Globe on Bankside. So we thought that to kick off our new series – being run in honour of the 450th anniversary of the playwright’s birth – we’d take a look at history of the iconic structure.
The original Globe Theatre, located a few hundred metres to the south, opened in 1599 as a home for the actors’ company known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later renamed the King’s Men on the accession of King James I in 1603), of which Shakespeare was a member. Founded by James Burbage, this merry band was originally was housed at London’s first purpose-built playhouse Shoreditch before lease disputes led them to establish a new theatre in Southwark, close to the then existing theatre, The Rose.
Up and running by 1599 (Shakespeare was among four actors who bought a share in the property to help fund the new building which used timbers from the former Shoreditch theatre), the new theatre was used for 14 years until, during a performance of Henry VIII in 1613, wadding from a stage cannon ignited and the theatre burned to the ground. Rebuilt with a tiled roof, it remained the home of the company until it was closed down by the Puritan government in 1642 and demolished two years later.
You can see the original site of The Globe just in nearby Park Street. The shape of the structure is marked by a dark line embedded in the pavement (pictured).
The reconstructed building which stands proudly by the water today was the vision of the late American actor, director and producer, Sam Wanamaker. He founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust which, with the on-site assistance of Queen Elizabeth II, opened the theatre at its current site in 1997 (sadly, Wanamaker had died three-and-a-half-years previously).
The building’s design was drawn from sifting through what little historical evidence could be found including the findings of an archaeological dig at the original site, descriptions contained in Shakespeare’s plays (including the line from Henry V – “Or may we cram within this wooden ‘O’), and printed panoramas from the time, although it should be noted that much – particularly the design of the stage – is speculative.
Meanwhile the techniques used in the construction of the theatre were the subject of years of research and were in accord with those of the early 17th century and included using oak laths and staves to support lime plaster and then covering the walls in white lime wash while the roof was made of water reed thatch.
One of the best ways to see the theatre and make the most of the atmosphere is to see a play from a standing position in the pit!
WHERE: Globe Theatre Exhibition & Tour, Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk (nearest Tube stations are Southwark and London Bridge); WHEN: Exhibition is open 9am to 5.30pm daily – tours run at various times, see website for details; COST: Exhibition and tour cost is £13.50 adults/£12 seniors/£11 students/£8 children (5-15 with children under five free)/£36 family of four; WEBSITE: www.shakespearesglobe.com.
Crowds lined the banks of The Thames last weekend as Her Majesty’s Watermen rowed from Hampton Court Palace to the Tower of London in the annual “Tudor Pull”. The palace-to-palace rowing event on Sunday kicked off around 10am with a ceremony at Hampton Court during which the ‘Stela’ – an ancient piece of medieval water pipe made from a hollowed-out tree trunk which symbolises the power of The Thames – is passed to the watermen who then took it up river to the Tower in the royal barge Gloriana. The barge, which was accompanied by a fleet of other traditional rowing craft, stopped at several locations along the journey, before it arrived at the Tower in Sunday afternoon where the ‘Stela’ was presented to the Governor. The event is also said to commemorate the sinking in 1256 of Queen Eleanor’s royal barge under old London Bridge. For more on the Historic Royal Palaces in London, head to www.hrp.org.uk.
PICTURE: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces.
Our new special series will kick off next week!
• It’s a rare chance to walk the historic Thames Tunnel between Wapping and Rotherhithe – the first tunnel ever dug under a navigable waterway. Transport for London and London Overground are offering the chance to purchase tickets to walk the tunnel – built by Marc Brunel, it’s now used by the London Overground – over the May Bank Holiday weekend on 24th to 26th May. Tickets, which cost £18 plus booking fee, go on sale today at 10am via the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden and are strictly limited (with no on the day admissions allowed). Proceeds from the day will go to the Railway Children’s Charity and the Brunel Museum. Also, worth noting is that the London Transport Museum is offering tours of its depot this Friday and Saturday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.
• The paper cut-outs of Henri Matisse are the focus of a landmark exhibition which opened at Tate Modern last week. Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs features about 130 works created between 1937 and 1954 with many seen together for the first time. Highlights include maquettes featured in the 1947 book Jazz, The Snail and its sister work Memory of Oceania (both 1953) and the largest number of the Blue Nudes ever shown together. The display takes an in-depth look at the methods and materials Matisse used in the production of the cut-outs. Runs until 7th September (and keep an eye out for the accompanying film, Matisse: Live in cinemas). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Henri Matisse, Icarus 1946, Maquette for plate VIII of the illustrated book Jazz 1947, Digital image: © Centre Pompidou, MNAM–CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Claude Planchet, Artwork: © Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2014.
• On Now: Spitting Image. This exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury centres on the partnership of three dimensional artists Peter Fluck and Roger Law and their key role in the creation of what became known as Spitting Image. It features caricature drawings and photographs created for magazines in the 1970s and 1980s of the likes of Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Kate Moss, Saddam Hussein, Billy Connolly, Rupert Murdoch, Jo Brand and John Paul II as well as members of the Royal Family and politicians including Margaret Thatcher. Also present are some of the puppets used in the TV show which ran for 18 series between 1984 and 1996 – these include those of Thatcher, The Queen, Princess Diana and Mr Spock. Runs until 8th June (with selected late opening nights). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.
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The photographer, TC Nepomuceno, says “I took this photo…when I was cycling by the riverside from Fulham to Kingston upon Thames. Was amazing to spot so terrific bridge! Kingston upon Thames (is) really worth a visit!”
Arguably the greatest architect of Regency London, John Nash’s imprint can still be seen in numerous sites around the city, from the master-planning of Regent’s Park and Regent Street to the beautiful buildings of All Soul’s Church in Langham Place and Marble Arch on the edge of Hyde Park.
Born the son of a Welsh millwright in Lambeth, London, on 18th January, 1752, Nash – who went on to work in a range of different architectural styles – trained as a draughtsman under the tutelage of architect Sir Robert Taylor and in 1777 established his own business as a builder and surveyor.
But he certainly didn’t meet with immediate success and, following failure as a building speculator (he built properties in Bloomsbury Square and Great Russell Street but failed to make enough money from the venture – there’s a blue plaque on one of the houses, which he lived in, at 66 Great Russell Street), was declared bankrupt in 1783.
Meanwhile, his personal life was also in turmoil during these years – in 1775 he had married, Jane Kerr, the daughter of a Surrey surgeon, but separated from her in the early 1780s after various troubles including her eventually apparently having a child with a Welshman named Charles Charles, who is said to have died in prison after he was jailed for adultery.
Brought down by his misfortune, in the mid 1780s Nash moved to Carmarthen in Wales where he had family. Taking up work here, by the late 1780s he was designing prisons – the first was at Carmarthen – and worked on a number of other prominent buildings including St David’s Cathedral and various country houses.
Rising to prominence in Carmarthen society, by 1797, however, Nash was again working in London, initially in partnership with the renowned landscape architect Humphrey Repton with whom he had formed a business relationship some years earlier (although the partnership had soured over finances by 1800).
He built a substantial home at 29 Dover Street in Mayfair and in 1798, his first wife presumably dead, he married his second wife, Mary Anne Bradley, and soon started work on building a Gothic-inspired residence for them, known as East Cowes Castle, on the Isle of Wight. It was completed in 1802 but enlarged some years later.
Nash designed numerous country properties in the early 19th century, inspired by everything from castles to Italianate architecture, both in England and Ireland and soon came to the attention of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV (there was a rumour his wife was one of the prince’s discarded mistresses).
In 1806 he was officially made Deputy Surveyor General in the Office of Woods and Forests – the office which managed the Crown estate, and from 1815 on, he largely worked for the prince alone. Among the major London commissions from his royal patron were the design of Regent Street (he and his wife moved into number 14 in 1823) and the development of Regent’s Park on land formerly known as Marylebone Park and surrounding housing estates (for more on The Regent’s Park, see our earlier entry here). He also redeveloped St James’s Park.
In 1815, he was commissioned to develop the Prince Regent’s Marine Pavilion in Brighton and by 1822 had transformed the building into the spectacular Royal Pavilion which can be visited there today.
Nash was also involved in the development of The Regent’s Canal – which linked the Grand Union Canal in London’s west to the River Thames in London’s east and was completed in 1820 – and built many of the grand villas which still line it (for more on Regent’s Canal, see our earlier entry here).
Becoming an official architect to the Office of Works in 1813 (an appointment which only ended in 1832, three years before his death), Nash went on to design churches – including All Soul’s in Langham Place (he’s depicted above in a bust at the church) – as well as West End theatres including the Haymarket Theatre and the Royal Opera House (which burnt down in 1867) as well as the adjacent Royal Opera Arcade and residences including Carlton House Terrace and Clarence House (for more on this, see our earlier entry here).
Other major commissions included the redevelopment of Buckingham Palace (parts of the current building are his work but the main facade isn’t – for more on the palace history, see our earlier entry here) and the Royal Mews, and the creation of Marble Arch, originally envisaged as the main gateway to the palace (see our earlier entry here). Nash also designed a conservatory for Kew Gardens.
Nash’s close relationship with the Prince Regent (who become King George IV on 29th January, 1820), meant that when the king died in 1830, he found himself on the outer (and his reputation took many years to recover thanks to his association with the unpopular king). With no knighthood forthcoming for his efforts (unlike many of his contemporaries) and the chance of further work unlikely (his work on Buckingham Palace had been left unfinished due to concerns over rising costs), Nash retired to his house on the Isle of Wight.
He died there on 13th May, 1835, and was buried in the churchyard at St James’s Church in East Cowes. He was survived by his wife who, having settled his debts, retired to Hampstead.
For an in-depth study of Nash, try Geoffrey Tyack’s book, John Nash: Architect of the Picturesque.
Says the photographer, Ben Bibriesca: “Instead of spending another lazy weekend in, my flatmate and I decided to plan a trip to the Tate Modern. Unfortunately due to the snow, all our friends dropped out. We decided to still go but spent more time outdoors taking photos in the snow then at the actual museum. This shot was taken right before we crossed the bridge to get to our destination. I just loved the way everything was snow covered and white.” For more of Ben’s work, see www.flickr.com/photos/benbibriesca/.
Taken an interesting photograph of somewhere in London? We’re always looking for interesting images of the city so if you’ve got one you reckon captures a snippet of life in London, please contact us at email@example.com or via Flickr at www.flickr.com/groups/exploringlondon/.
As London undergoes the big chill with much of the rest of the country, we thought we’d take a quick look at the frost fairs which were once held on top of the frozen River Thames.
While records reveal the Thames froze over as far back as the city’s Roman era, the first recorded ‘frost fair’ dates from the mid-16th century (Queen Elizabeth I is said to have attended one in 1564) while the last was held in 1814.
While the lower temperatures played a role in allowing the ice to get thick enough to hold frost fairs on top (the period between the 14th and 19th centuries is known as the ‘Little Ice Age’ in northern Europe), so too did the fact that the Thames was broader and shallower than it is now, not to mention the narrow arches of Old London Bridge (it was demolished in 1831 – for more on this, see our earlier entry) which slowed the waters of the Thames.
The fairs were set up in a range of locations along the river. Descriptions of them talk of a range of activities being carried out on the river’s frozen surface – yes, the use of sleds and skates but also things like bear-baiting, coach, horse racing, dancing and puppet plays as well as the setting up of booths or stalls from which traders sold food, souvenirs, and, importantly, drink.
One of the longest of the fairs – recorded by diarist John Evelyn – was held over the winter of 1683-84 and located between Temple and Southwark. It featured streets of stalls with different traders grouped in different areas. King Charles II himself was a visitor.
During the last and biggest frost fair, held on the river near Blackfriars Bridge, a street known as ‘City Road’ ran down the middle of the Thames and donkeys gave people rides.
There is a frieze depicting a ‘frost fair’ underneath the southern end of Southwark Bridge.
PICTURE: Detail of an image of the Frost Fair of 1684 with London Bridge in the background. Source: Wikipedia.
Built in the 16th century for King Henry VIII, Bridewell Palace only had a short-lived life as a royal residence before it was handed over to the City of London and used as a poorhouse and prison.
Located on the western bank of the Fleet River (the site is now occupied by Unilever House and remembered in the place names of Bridewell Place and Bridewell Court), the palace – named for a holy well located nearby which was dedicated to St Bride (St Brigid) – was built on the direction of the king’s key advisor Cardinal Thomas Wolsey between 1510-15 on land which had previously been the site of St Bride’s Inn.
In 1515 Cardinal Wolsey gave it to King Henry VIII after taking up residence at Hampton Court and York Place – Henry was looking for a royal residence in London after the Palace of Westminister was largely destroyed in a fire in 1512. Work continued on the palace until its completion in 1523.
The palace, the site of which is now marked with a plaque on the approach to Blackfriars Bridge, consisted of two courtyards surrounded by brick buildings with the three storey royal lodgings (separate quarters for the king and queen) located around the inner courtyard and entered by a grand staircase from the outer courtyard. It also featured a watergate was located on the Thames and, interestingly, Bridewell was the first royal palace not to have its own great hall.
Among historic events hosted here was the visit of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1522 (the emperor did not stay here but his entourage did). In 1528 meetings of the papal delegation took place at Blackfriars (located next door and joined by a specially built gallery) to discuss the king’s divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon – it’s here that the Queen made her most famous speech declaring her fidelity to the king – and for its duration the king and queen lodged at Bridewell. It’s also said that it was at Bridewell Palace that artist Hans Holbein the Younger painted his famous work – The Ambassadors (see our earlier post on this here).
Following Cardinal Wolsey’s fall from favor in 1529, King Henry VIII no longer used the property (he took over the Palace of Whitehall, then known as York Place, as his main residence in 1530 – for more on this see our earlier post here). It was leased for much of the following decade to the French ambassador in London before, following petitioning for a new hospital for the poor from Nicholas Ridley, the Bishop of London, King Edward VI gave it to the City of London in 1553. They took over fully in 1556 and converted the palace into a prison, hospital and workrooms (we’ll deal in detail with the prison in an upcoming post).
Perhaps not so much a sign as a pub name, the strangely monikered Doggett’s Coat and Badge in South Bank is named after a rowing race – said to be the oldest continuous sporting event in the country – in which apprentice waterman traditionally competed for a prize consisting of waterman’s coat and badge and named after Irish-born actor and theatre manager, Thomas Doggett.
The race – which is held in July and runs over a course of four miles and seven furlongs from London Bridge to Chelsea (the starting and finishing points were originally both marked by pubs called The Swan) – was first held in 1715 when it was first organised by Doggett who financed it up until his death in 1721 after which he left instructions in its will for it to be carried on by The Fishmongers’ Company (which it still is today).
While there’s a nice story that Doggett, who managed the Drury Lane Theatre and later the Haymarket Theatre and carving out a name for himself as a ‘wit’, started the race as thanks to Thames watermen for rescuing him when he fell off a watercraft while crossing the Thames, Doggett – a committed Whig – actually started the race to commemorate the ascension of King George I – the first ruler of the House of Hanover – on 1st August, 1714, following the death of Queen Anne.
This year’s race winner was Merlin Dwan (London Rowing Club) who beat four others to finish in 24 minutes, 28 seconds.
The pub, one of the Nicholson franchise, is located in a multiple storey modern building complex and sits along the course of the race in South Bank. It features a range of bars including Thomas Doggett’s Bar and the Riverside Bar as well as a dining room and other function rooms.
For more on the pub, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/doggettscoatandbadgesouthbanklondon/. For more on the race (which we’ll be mentioning, along with more on Thomas Doggett, in more detail in upcoming posts), see www.DoggettsRace.org.uk.
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.