March 28, 2017
Flowers on Westminster Bridge, placed there in the wake of last week’s terror attack in which an assailant, named as 52-year-old Khalid Masood, killed three people and injured at least 50 as he drove a vehicle at high speed across the bridge along a pedestrian walkway. Crashing outside the Houses of Parliament he then stabbed to death PC Keith Palmer before he was shot dead by another officer. Addressing a vigil in Trafalgar Square in the aftermath of the attack, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the city “will never be cowed” by terrorism. “Those evil and twisted individuals who try to destroy our shared way of life will never succeed and we condemn them,” he said. PICTURE: David Holt/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
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/.
October 21, 2015
This month marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and to mark the occasion, we’re looking at 10 of London’s “battlefields” (well, maybe not officially recognised battlefield sites but 10 places where fighting took place – or, as in this instance, legend says took place – at various times throughout London’s history).
First up it’s to King’s Cross, once said to have been site of a village known as ‘Battle Bridge’, so named because, according to tradition, it here in about 60AD that the rebellious hoards of Queen Boudicca (also known as Boadicea or Boudica) ran into the well-disciplined army of the Roman Governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus.
Paulinus had been campaigning in northern Wales when the Iceni rebellion broke out in East Anglia, apparently sparked by the Romans’ refusal to honour the will of the deceased King Prasutagus. He had left his land to the Emperor Nero and his two daughters but instead, the story goes that the Romans seized the land, flogged his wife Boudicca and raped his two daughters.
Understandably incensed at this treatment, the Iceni and members of other tribes rose in rebellion under Boudicca and laid waste to the Roman city of Camulodunum (what is now Colchester in Essex).
Boudicca then turned toward Roman Londinium, the provincial capital, and while Paulinus beat her there with a small number of troops, he quickly concluded he couldn’t defend it and ordered it evacuated. Boudicca, who is claimed to have fought from a chariot, and her army of tribesman apparently spared no-one when they arrived and burnt it to the ground. They then moved on to attack another Roman city – Verulamium (St Albans).
Paulinus, meanwhile, marshalled his forces – still apparently vastly outnumbered – and chose his battleground carefully. One legend suggests King’s Cross – then site of an ancient bridge across the River Fleet – as the battle’s location (although we should mention there are also numerous other sites which have been suggested as the location for the battle including locations in the Midlands along the Roman road of Watling Street, now the A5).
Where-ever it was, Paulinus had apparently chosen his position so that Boudicca couldn’t bring her greater numbers to bear on his flanks. Her army collapsed and, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, there was a rumour that 80,000 Britons were killed and just 400 Romans in the ensuing battle (although fair to say such numbers may be a stretch!).
The outcome was obviously devastating for Boudicca – there’s various accounts of what happened to her next with one being that she fell during the battle and another that, having survived, she committed suicide by poisoning herself. There is a legend that Boudicca was subsequently buried at a site now covered by platform nine or 10 at King’s Cross railway station. It’s also been suggested she was buried at Parliament Hill.
There’s a statue commemorating Boudicca and her daughters (pictured above) at the western end of Westminster Bridge. Designed by Thomas Thornycroft, it was made in 1850 but not erected on the site until 1902.
Both Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (these days better known as the Houses of Parliament – pictured) pre-date 1215 but unlike today in 1215 the upon which they stood was known as Thorney Island.
Formed by two branches of the Tyburn River as they ran down to the River Thames, Thorney Island (a small, marshy island apparently named for the thorny plants which once grew there) filled the space between them and the Thames (and remained so until the Tyburn’s branches were covered over).
One branch entered the Thames in what is now Whitehall, just to the north of where Westminster Bridge; another apparently to the south of the abbey, along the route of what is now Great College Street. (Yet another branch apparently entered the river near Vauxhall Bridge).
The abbey’s origins go back to Saxon times when what was initially a small church – apparently named after St Peter – was built on the site. By 960AD it had become a Benedictine monastery and, lying west of what was then the Saxon city in Lundenwic, it become known as the “west minster” (St Paul’s, in the city, was known as “east minster”) and a royal church.
The origins of the Palace of Westminster don’t go back quite as far but it was the Dane King Canute, who ruled from 1016 to 1035, who was the first king to build a palace here. It apparently burnt down but was subsequently rebuilt by King Edward the Confessor as part of a grand new palace-abbey complex.
For it was King Edward, of course, who also built the first grand version of Westminster Abbey, a project he started soon after his accession in 1042. It was consecrated in 1065, a year before his death and he was buried there the following year (his bones still lie inside the shrine which was created during the reign of King Henry III when he was undertaking a major rebuild of the minster).
Old Palace Yard dates from Edward’s rebuild – it connected his palace with his new abbey – while New Palace Yard, which lies at the north end of Westminster Hall, was named ‘new’ when it was constructed with the hall by King William II (William Rufus) in the late 11th century.
Westminster gained an important boost in becoming the pre-eminent seat of government in the kingdom when King Henry II established a secondary treasury here (the main treasury had traditionally been in Winchester, the old capital in Saxon times) and established the law courts in Westminster Hall.
King John, meanwhile, followed his father in helping to establish London as the centre of government and moved the Exchequer here. He also followed the tradition, by then well-established, by being crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1199 and it was also in the abbey that he married his second wife, Isabella, daughter of Count of Angouleme, the following year.
Located in one of the most prominent sites in London, Parliament Square is these days perhaps best known as a protest site for those wanting to attract Parliament’s eye. And while, unlike say, Trafalgar Square, many visitors to London may not know its name, its proximity to the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall, Westminster Bridge and Westminster Abbey means it’s rarely off anyone’s tourist agenda.
The history of the square goes back to 1868 when architect Sir Charles Barry (responsible for the design of the Houses of Parliament) designed a square to improve traffic flow in the area (and demolished many buildings – apparently the area was a slum – in the process).
The roads around the square featured London’s first traffic signals (it used semaphore arms rather than lights and was installed at the meeting of Great George and Bridge Streets) and in addition the square was originally the location for the Buxton Memorial Fountain which moved to its present position in Victoria Tower Gardens in 1940 (see our earlier post on the fountain here). In 1950, the entire square was redesigned by architect George Grey Wornum.
The square is home to a plethora of statues including former PMs Sir Winston Churchill, a relatively recent statue of David Lloyd George (pictured), Sir Robert Peel (also the founder of the Metropolitan Police Force – see our earlier post here), Benjamin Disraeli, the Earl of Derby and Lord Palmerston as well as South African PM Jan Christian Smuts and, (if you count the space in front of Middlesex Guildhall), US President Abraham Lincoln (a replica of a statue in Lincoln Park, Chicago) and former Foreign Secretary and PM George Canning. Among the last statues added was a nine foot high bronze figure of Nelson Mandela which was placed in the square in 2007 after an unsuccessful push to have it located in Trafalgar Square.
Among the most high profile of protests to have been held there is that of the late peace campaigner Brian Haw who camped on the square for 10 years until 2010. Among the most recent protests this year has been a colourful demonstration by beekeepers, calling for a ban on pesticides.
For more on London’s statues, see Peter Matthews’ London’s Statues and Monuments.
We’ve already mentioned these two riverside embankments as part of our previous piece on Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s revolutionary sewer system. But so important are they to the shape of central London today – not to mention a great place to take a stroll – that we thought they’re also worth a mention in their own right.
As mentioned, the Victoria and Albert Embankments (the latter is pictured right) – named, of course, for Queen Victoria and her by then late consort, Prince Albert, who had died in 1861 (see our previous post What’s in a name?…Victoria Embankment) – were located on opposite sides of the River Thames and involved reclaiming a considerable amount of the river so new sewers could be laid.
Construction of Victoria Embankment – which was also seen as a way to relieve traffic congestion in the central London area – started in the mid 1860s and was complete by 1870. Running along the north and western banks of the Thames between Westminster and Blackfriars bridges, its creation involved the demolition of many riverside buildings as a new walk and roadway were constructed behind a wall.
Numerous monuments have since been located along this promenade – they include the Battle of Britain Monument, RAF Memorial and the mis-named Cleopatra’s Needle (see our earlier post to find out why) – as well as a number of permanently berthed ships including the HQS Wellington – the base of the Honorable Company of Master Mariners – and the HMS President.
The walkway also features original decorative lamps – interestingly, Victoria Embankment was the first roadway in London to be permanently lit by electric-powered lighting (from 1878).
The parks, collectively known as Victoria Embankment Gardens, contain numerous statues and monuments (including one to Bazalgette himself – it’s located close to the intersection with Northumberland Avenue) as well as a bandstand. They also contain the remains of York Watergate – once fronting on to the river, it shows how much land was reclaimed for the project (you can also visit the riverside entrance to Somerset House to gain a feel for where the river once was – look through the glass floor and you’ll see the old riverbank below).
Albert Embankment, meanwhile, runs between Vauxhall and Westminster Bridges on the eastern side of the river. Constructed around the same time as Victoria Embankment, it was designed to prevent flooding of the low-lying areas of Vauxhall and Kennington and to help in Bazalgette’s sewage system plan (although it apparently doesn’t have the same large sewers as can be found on the other side of the river).
Sadly, the demolition did see the centre of what was once the village of Lambeth removed to make way for the new promenade and roadway. But like Victoria Embankment, Albert Embankment features delightfully decorative lamps along the riverfront promenade and is a great place for a walk in any weather.
October 22, 2012
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.
Now one of the world’s largest long distance running events, the first London Marathon was held on 29th March, 1981, and saw some 6,255 people lead across the finish line by American Dick Beardsley and Norwegian Inge Simonsen, who finished in a dead heat. The first woman to finish was the UK’s Joyce Smith.
The idea of holding such an event in London arose after John Disley and the late Chris Brasher (a former Olympian), both members of Richmond’s Raneleigh Harriers running club, decided to enter the New York Marathon in 1979. Returning to London exhilarated by their experience, they began investigating the possibly of holding such an event here and, meeting with a positive response from authorities, pushed ahead with it.
About 20,000 people applied to enter the first London Marathon but only 7,747 people were accepted to run. The course, which is still roughly the same, starts at various locations in Blackheath and passes through Charlton, Woolwich and Greenwich before crossing the Thames at Tower Bridge, looping around through the East End and Docklands before following the river into Westminster.
While the first race finished at Constitution Hill, between Green Park and Buckingham Palace, the race now finishes in The Mall (although for many years in between it finished on Westminster Bridge).
Such was the success of the first event – which was covered by the BBC – that the following year more than 90,000 people applied to run in the race from all around the world. Slightly more than 18,000 were accepted to run.
At the end of this year’s event – held on 22nd April (a runner from which is pictured) – more than 882,000 people have now completed the race. Now formally known as the Virgin London Marathon, a record high of 37,227 completed the run this year.
This year’s men’s race was won by Kenyan Wilson Kipsang who completed the race in 2:04:44 – the second fastest time over the London course – while the women’s was also won by a Kenyan – Mary Keitany – who, in taking back-to-back titles, completed the course in 2:18:37.
Since its inception, one of the key aspects of the race has been its fund-raising for a variety of charitable causes. Key among these is The London Marathon Charitable Trust which, established at the race’s outset, helps fund community sports facilities and develop recreational projects around the city.
For more on the Virgin London Marathon, see www.virginlondonmarathon.com.
PICTURE: © photocritical/istockphoto.com
December 5, 2011
A somewhat neglected area located in the Borough of Southwark, just south-east of Borough, Elephant and Castle takes its rather odd name from a coaching inn which once stood on the site – the Elephant and Castle.
The area is more correctly known as Newington but the name Elephant and Castle was apparently adopted informally in the mid 18th century as the area rose in prominence thanks in part to the opening of Westminster Bridge.
The inn, which stood on the site of a former playhouse, was apparently rebuilt several times but there is now no sign of it – the current, rather ugly, Elephant and Castle pub which is said to stand a short distance from where the tavern once stood, was built in the 1960s.
The origins of the sign of the Elephant and Castle, meanwhile, apparently comes from the mid-15th century when members of the Cutler’s Company adopted the sign of the elephant as their symbol (perhaps representing the ivory they used in their trade). The Worshipful Company of Cutlers still has an elephant carrying a castle on its back in its coat-of-arms.
The area of Elephant and Castle, meanwhile, was known for its shopping and theatres before it was heavily bombed in the Blitz. It still features a rather grim shopping mall (pictured is the sign of the elephant and castle out front) which was said to have been the first covered shopping mall in Europe when it opened in the mid-1960s – it is apparently due for demolition as part of a larger regeneration project. The area has already seen some major new developments like the the residential tower known as Strata.
Other prominent buildings include the Metropolitan Tabernacle – standing opposite the shopping centre, this was founded by preacher Charles Hadden Spurgeon in the 19th century and rebuilt after World War II (interestingly, the site of the tabernacle is where three men, known as the Southwark Martyrs, were burnt at the stake for heresy in 1557 during a period of religious persecution in the reign of Queen Mary I).
Famous residents have included Charlie Chaplin – who lived in a workhouse in the area as a child – while other notable features include a large stainless box which stands at the centre of the area’s major road intersection, linking what is now New Kent Road and Kennington Park Road (via Newington Butts) with roads leading to Lambeth, Westminster, Waterloo and London Bridges among others (this is actually a memorial to scientist Michael Faraday, who was born in nearby Newington Butts). The area also boasts its own Tube station, Elephant & Castle.