Just posting a rare photo post to the blog following a lovely summer sky in London last night. After spending Saturday outside in the park with friends, we were a bit disappointed by the frequent cloud cover throughout the day. Of course, clouds and sunshine usually means for gorgeous sunsets so we were rewarded later on. Here’s a view from Tower Bridge looking east down the River Thames featuring silhouettes of various London landmarks, such as the BT Tower, St Paul’s Cathedral and Cannon Street station.
I’ve long recommended a boat trip down the River Thames as a ‘must do’ to friends and family visiting London from abroad. It’s a great place to get an overview of the capital and some of its most iconic landmarks. such as the Tower of London, the London Eye and Cleopatra’s Needle. Personally, I’ve been down the river many times over the years on the Thames Clippers, party boats or the tourist cruises. However, the one Thames experience missing from my personal history was a speedboat ride… until now.
I had occasionally seen Thames Rockets on the Thames over the years as a pedestrian on dry land. Finally, last week, I got the chance to experience a trip on a Rocket myself. The company, which launched in 2006, offers six different experiences, ranging from a 15 minute ‘Thames Taster’ to the 80 minute Thames Barrier Explorers Voyage. I was on the Ultimate London Adventure, which aims to provide a “fun-filled adrenaline-fuelled 50 minute” journey. Ahead of my trip, I was intrigued how they would combine a sight-seeing tour and speed.
Arriving 15 minutes before departure, I was greeted by the friendly Thames Rockets team, who fitted my lifejacket at the pier just by the London Eye. Next, we were given a safety briefing before climbing in. The Thames Rockets boats are speedboats with seats for about 12 people, each with a driver and guide abroad during your journey. I managed to get a coveted spot at the front of the boat, which was perfect for me as I was planning to photograph and video a lot of the journey. We were introduced to our driver Doug and our guide Bill and prepared to set off.
The first part of our journey was a musical trip past some of London’s most famous sights, such as Shakespeare’s Globe, Waterloo Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral. We slowed down a bit just before Tower Bridge so we could get some good photos. Soon after we passed under Tower Bridge and passed the River Police Station at Wapping, it was time to crank things up a gear. With this eastern passage of the Thames being wider and less busy than central London, Doug was free to increase the speed. Soon enough, we were holding on tight to the railings as we twisted, turned, and jumped over the waves at speeds of up to 30 knots (35mph). There was plenty of whooping and screaming as the group reacted to the various stunts. Sitting by the port side of the boat, I did get a little wet from the spray, but I was well prepared in a raincoat and it was all part of the fun. As we raced towards Canary Wharf, there were times I couldn’t even see the skyscrapers as the bow rode up in front of us as we leaped over the waves. The side turns were particularly hair-raising and certainly showed our skipper’s impressive skills at the wheel. Read the rest of this entry
If you walk along the Thames Path, or perhaps cross the River Thames via foot or train on the two Blackfriars Bridges, you may have noticed these pieces of unusual river furniture. Running from north to south are pairs of red pillars, which used to support the original railway bridge before it was dismantled in the 1980s. Rather confusingly for Londoners, there were two Blackfriars railway bridges and various name changes between the current Blackfriars station and another station south of the Thames which no longer exists.
The red pillars we see today are what remains of Old Blackfriars Railway Bridge, which was built in 1864 by engineer Joseph Cubitt (1811-1872) for the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LC&DR). The bridge brought trains across the Thames between the original Blackfriars Bridge station (south of the Thames) and Ludgate Hill station (closed in 1929). The original bridge was four tracks wide and supported ornate abutments featuring the LC&DR’s insignia. The original Blackfriars Bridge station was located near the junction of Southwark Street and Blackfriars Road.
It wasn’t long before Old Blackfriars Railway Bridge was joined by its sister bridge, the St Paul’s Railway Bridge, which led into the newer St Paul’s train station on the north bank of the Thames, aka the current Blackfriars station. St Paul’s station and the new bridge opened in 1886, the latter designed by civil engineers Sir John Wolfe Barry (1836-1918) and Henry Marc Brunel (1842-1903). Wolfe Barry was the engineer of Tower Bridge and the son of architect Charles Barry, who famously redesigned the Houses of Parliament. Meanwhile, Brunel was the son of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, famous for the Thames Tunnel and Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, amongst many other landmarks.
When the new St Paul’s station opened, LC&DR decided to close Blackfriars Bridge to passengers, but kept the station open as a goods’ yard. It continued in that guise until 3 February 1964, before it was demolished four years later. The only sign of the station today is the cobbled entrance driveway behind an office block.
Meanwhile, St Paul’s station was thriving and continued to serve trains heading through the City. In 1937, the station was renamed Blackfriars to avoid confusion with the tube station St Paul’s, which had been named Post Office since its opening in 1900 due to its proximity to the HQ of the General Post Office. The same year, Post Office tube station was renamed St Paul’s, as it remains today as a stop on the Central Line.
In 1985, it was decided the old Blackfriars Railway Bridge was too weak to support modern trains and it was dismantled. However, the red pillars and the southern abutment remained in situ. Originally the pillars were in rows of three, but the eastern columns were absorbed into the rebuilding of Blackfriars station on the younger bridge in 2011, so only pairs are visible to the public now. During the works, the LC&DR’s insignia was restored as a lasting reminder of a bridge and train company of yesteryear.
- The original Blackfriars Railway Bridge abutments can be viewed from the Thames Path (south side) and the embankment running alongside Blackfriars Underpass (north side). Nearest station: Blackfriars.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
Hidden in the side of a chain restaurant on Bankside is a tiny part of London’s history. Embedded in the wall of The Real Greek restaurant at Riverside House on Bear Gardens is a slab of flint, called The Ferryman’s Seat. Although it’s long been out of use, it’s a hark back to a time when the River Thames was heaving with boat traffic at the peak of its use.
Prior to the 19th century, there were hardly any bridges in London, with London Bridge being the only permanent river crossing until old Putney Bridge was built in 1729. For hundreds of years, Londoners and visitors made do with just one bridge. It was only in the mid 17th century with the increasing use of horse and carriages that there became growing demand for another bridge. As an alternative to a bridge, ferrymen were used to transport people across the Thames, essentially providing a water taxi service. In the 16th century and early 17th century, Bankside was a thriving entertainment destination with its theatres, bear-baiting pits, inns and brothels, so ferrymen in the area would have been in high demand taking City-dwellers back and forth. The seat is erected on the entrance from the river walk to Bear Gardens – named after the Beargarden which stood in the area during the Elizabethan era, where bear-baiting and other animal ‘sports’ (eg. what today we would consider as animal cruelty) would take place. Within a short distance of the seat were the theatres The Hope (1614-42), The Globe (1599-1642) and The Rose (1587-1606). In 1628, there were a recorded 2,453 watermen working along the Thames. Transporting drunken patrons back to their homes on the north side of the river every night would have been quite a task for the ferrymen so it’s no wonder they would need a rest now and again. This unassuming piece of flint would have provided a small place to perch for these hard-working men as they waited for their fares. Although no one has been able to date this seat, it was previously erected on an older building before being protected and replaced on the modern Riverside House.
- Riverside House, Bear Gardens, Bankside, SE1 9HA. Nearest station: Blackfriars, Cannon Street or London Bridge.
To read about the history of nearby 49 Bankside, an 18th century house, click here.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
It’s not often we see our home city as ‘glamorous’ in comparison to places like St Tropez and Miami Beach. However, when the sun is out… and you’re not stuck in a stuffy office – London is pretty fabulous. This summer, there will be one pop-up with a more chic location than most.
Overlooking the River Thames, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London this summer will be an immersive new drinking and dining experience. The London Riviera is a five-month bespoke pop-up bar which will offer an alfresco venue to kick back and relax on a warm summer evening or weekend. Taking inspiration from Miami and the French Riviera, the venue has been created by Hollywood film designer Sonia Klaus with palm tress, pink flamingos, giant pineapples and comfortable day beds.
For customers feeling peckish, there will be fresh sharing menu from Ceru restaurant. The menu, created by Executive Chef Tom Kime (previously of The River Café, Le Pont de la Tour and Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant), will be ever-changing throughout the summer, inspired by Mediterranean street food. Samples dishes include Pancar (roast beetroot, yoghurt, garlic and pistachio), Fadi (fried baby courgette purée with tahini, roast garlic, yoghurt & lemon) and Spicy Roast Red Pepper dip with chilli, walnuts & pomegranate molasses, all served with freshly baked pita; Crisp apple, pomegranate & mint salad with green chilli, lemon & roasted pine nuts; Salad of baby spinach with labneh, dried cranberries & toasted flat bread with za’atar; Ceru’s signature Slow Roast Lamb Shoulder with Shawarma Spices; and Kebab Karaz Spiced Baked Meatballs with sour cherry and cranberry.
The bar will be serving a range of drinks, including organic coffee, freshly pressed juices, mocktails, craft beers and exotic cocktails for you to sip while lounging and enjoying the views. Every Wednesday, the Cîroc School of Mixology will be giving classes so you can learn to make your own Cîroc vodka cocktails. Other events over the summer include Tom Kime’s Supper Club and weekend ‘Love Brunch’ parties.
I went along to the launch this week and was immediately wowed by the design of the place, bringing a real sense of colour and fun to what is usually grey and metallic surroundings. As a frequent visitor to the South Bank, I’ve long adored the views from this part of the capital so the chance to enjoy them in a venue for eating and drinking is a real plus. I tried some Cîroc pineapple vodka cocktails which were sweet, fruity and delicious. The day beds were particularly comfortable and I could well see myself lounging on one on a hot Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
London Riviera is part of the More London Free Festival, which runs until the end of September. Amongst the highlights of the festival include free film and sport screenings, live music and theatre.
- London Riviera, Queen’s Walk, More London (next to City Hall), SE1 2DB. Nearest station: London Bridge or Tower Hill. Open daily 8am-10pm from now until 31 October 2015. For more information, visit the London Riviera website.
To find out what else is on in London in September, click here.
For more of Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.
Poor London Bridge. It regularly finds its name being misused by tourists thinking it’s actually the grander, more elaborate neighbour downstream Tower Bridge. In fact, when I type ‘London Bridge’ into Google, the Tower Bridge Experience is the first hit so I couldn’t blame London Bridge for feeling somewhat of an inferiority complex. While Tower Bridge is admittedly a lot better looking, it will never have the history and importance to London that the city’s namesake bridge will have.
The current London Bridge has only been crossing the River Thames since the 1970s and is the latest incarnation in a list of bridges which have carried its name. The first river crossing stemmed back to Roman London, with the original being built somewhere in the area of the present site by the invading Roman army of Emperor Claudius (10 BC-13AD) in the 50s AD. The initial bridge was only temporary, with a second permanent one being erected soon after made of wood. The creation of the bridge came as the Roman city of Londinium began to swiftly develop on the site of the current City, with a smaller settlement emerging on the southern end in present day Southwark. When the Romans departed in the 5th century, Londonium was abandoned and the bridge was left to rot. It wasn’t until the 9th century that the Saxons returned to the old Roman City following repeated Viking invasions. The city was ‘refounded’ by Alfred The Great (849-899AD) in 886AD and another river bridge was erected. However, by 1014, the bridge was said to have been destroyed by Olaf II of Norway (995-1030) in a bid to separate the Danish occupants of old London and Southwark. Olaf’s troops were believed to have tied their boats to the bridge supports and rowed away, pulling the bridge down in the process. This leads to one of the theories of the origins of the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge Is Falling Down’, although others have claimed it dates more recently to the 13th century. After William The Conqueror (1028-1087) claimed the English throne in 1066, another bridge was built on the site, but it didn’t last long and was destroyed by the London tornado of 1091. Believed to be a T8 tornado, it claimed two lives and left the church of St Mary-Le-Bow badly damaged. It was then replaced by King William II (1056-1100), with his incarnation of the river crossing eventually being destroyed by fire in 1136.
Finally in the 12th century, London Bridge began to be built of stone – a much more hardy material given the amount of natural disasters, fires and war which had ravaged the previous incarnations. In 1176, under the rule of King Henry II (1133-1189), work began on the foundations of the first stone London Bridge. The project was overseen by Peter, a priest and chaplain of St Mary Colechurch (which no longer exists) with funding raised from taxes on wool. The bridge, which is now referred to in history as the Old Medieval London Bridge, took 33 years to complete. When it opened in 1209, it was 274 metres long, six metres wide and featured 20 Gothic arches. By this point, King Henry II had already died and his heir, King John (1166-1216) ended up leasing plots on the bridge to fill the deficit in a bid to recoup the huge costs of the build. The bridge featured gatehouses at each end and a drawbridge near the Southwark entrance to allow bigger ships to pass through. Owning a business on London Bridge was quite the draw and by 1358 it was seriously overcrowded, with a whopping 138 shops spanning the River, with some buildings as many as seven stories high. The encroaching plots meant the actual road was reduced to just four metres so it was quite a squeeze for carts, horses and livestock. Unsurprisingly, the resulting traffic was so bad, it could take up to an hour to cross the bridge. In addition to congestion, the cramped living and shopping quarters were also a hazard. In 1212, fires broke out at both ends of the bridge, causing an estimated 3,000 deaths. By 1381, there were more fires on the bridge during the Peasants’ Rebellion and further still in 1450 during Jack Cade’s rebellion.
Admittedly I’m a bit late to the party, but for those who love eating or drinking with a view, check out The Garden Gate pop-up restaurant and bar in its last week of opening.
With the summer weather unfortunately cooling down at the moment compared to recent weeks, The Garden Gate is a great place to retreat to for a drink or bite. Located in the Oxo 2 venue on the Southbank, the pop-up offers a casual dining menu at their kitchen and bar with views over the Thames, the City of London skyline and St Paul’s Cathedral.
The venue is full of outdoor paraphernalia – such as AstroTurf and deckchairs – so you can imagine you’re outside, but without the wind from the Thames. Customers who bring a garden gnome will receive a free drink.
On the menu is a host of garden-themed cocktails, such as Orchard Mojito, Flower Show and Cucumber Fresh, with watering cans replacing pitchers for groups to share.
Among the entertainment on offer includes table tennis, Jenga and coits, or the chance to win a free ice cream by hooking a duck from the pond.
- The Garden Gate is open from now until Sunday 24th August 2014. Opening times: Mon – Wed 5pm–11pm, Thur – Sat 12-11.30pm, Sun 12–10.30pm. The bar closes 30 minutes before. Located in the Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, SE1 9PH. Nearest station: Waterloo or Blackfriars. For more information, visit the Oxo2 website.
For a guide to what else is on in London this month, click here.
For a review of the Oxo Tower bar upstairs, click here.
Anyone who has strolled along the Victoria Embankment may have noticed the ornate benches alongside the river. Dotted along the north of the Thames between Battersea and Blackfriars Bridges, the cast iron and wooden benches provide more than just a place to rest your weary bones. Unlike the pedestrian-friendly South Bank, the north bank of the Thames isn’t as pleasurable to walk along due to the busy traffic churning out fumes. As a result, all the benches face the river so you can sit with your back to the traffic and enjoy the view.
The benches are one of the many ornamental details created for the Embankment by English architect George John Vulliamy. As well as the benches, he is also responsible for the sphinxes and pedestal for Cleopatra’s Needle and the ‘dolphin’ lamps on both sides of the river. In the centre of London, the Thames used to be a lot wider until the 19th century, city bosses needed a new sewage system to cope with the rapidly expanding population. Sir Joseph Bazelgette came up with a scheme to reclaim some 22 acres of marshland, creating a new sewage system and a new road, taking the pressure off The Strand. In the typically Victorian way, the new Embankment needed to have suitable ‘street furniture’ to give London – heart of the British Empire – a look of prestige and style.
Hired as the Superintending Architect of the Metropolitan Board of Works, Vulliamy created the ‘Dolphin’ (actually, sturgeon fish!) street lamps along the retaining river wall in 1870. Several years later, he decided to look to Egypt for inspiration when it came to designing the benches, a place he had visited in the early 1840s. Pre-empting the arrival of Cleopatra’s Needle – a gift from Egypt – in 1878, Vulliamy opted for a design which would complement the ancient monument when it eventually arrived. Near the site of the Needle itself, the benches in the City of Westminster feature armrests of Sphinxes, before camel armrests appear in the City of London section of the Victoria Embankment. The benches were made by Z.D. Berry & Son of Regent Street and placed on the Embankment in 1877 – a year before Cleopatra’s Needle was erected. Of course, weather and pollution have damaged the benches over the years, with Westminster and the City of London councils restoring and faithfully reproducing them when needed.
To read about the history of Cleopatra’s Needle, Click here
Or to read about the swan benches on the Albert Embankment, click here.
Or to find out the story behind Vulliamy’s Dolphin lamps, click here
To read Metro Girl’s other blog posts on London history, click here.
London is one of the oldest and most iconic cities in the world. While there are – admittedly very few – pieces of Roman London left, the capital is full of architecture from across the centuries – an amalgamation of old and new. When tourists visit London, they tend to head to the older parts of the city, such as the Tower of London or Buckingham Palace. When it comes to newer additions to the capital, it can take a while for us Londoners to embrace them. Even several decades later, many still hate the Brutalist architecture on the Southbank, while others have slowly grown to love it.
One of London’s newest landmarks is the Millennium Bridge – the steel suspension footbridge spanning the River Thames, linking the Tate Modern to St Paul’s Cathedral. The bridge was one of three structures built in the capital to commemorate the Millennium – along with the London Eye and Millennium Dome (best known now as the O2 Arena). Unfortunately, both the Eye and Bridge fell prey to technical issues and ended up opening later than planned, which I remember was quite embarrassing for us Londoners at the time.
The bridge was the result of a competition in 1996, with Arup, Foster and Partners and Sir Anthony Caro submitting the winning design. Construction on the Millennium Bridge started in late 1998. The bridge is comprised of three sections, 4 metres wide and 325 metre long. The structure includes eight suspension cables tensioned to pull a force of 2,000 tons. The north and south part of the bridges feature slopes, rather than stairs, meaning it is accessible for everyone.
The bridge finally opened on 10 June 2000 – two months later than scheduled and £2.2million over budget, bringing the total cost to £18.2million. However, two days later it was closed after the bridge began to sway while people were crossing it. This instability lead to the public and media dubbing it the ‘wibbly wobbly bridge’ – which has stuck as a nickname for many Londoners. Finally, the bridge was re-opened on 22 February 2002 after a £5million operation to fix the structure in place. Nearly 12 years later, it appears the Millennium Bridge is very much secure and has yet to ‘wibble wobble’ again.
- The Millennium Bridge is accessible from Bankside in front of the Tate Modern or Peter’s Hill. Nearest tube/train: Blackfriars, Mansion House and London Bridge.
For the history of London Bridge, click here.
For a post on another Millennium landmark, read Metro Girl’s Must Do Series – Part 1: London Eye.
For a review of a cruise down the River Thames, read Just cruisin’: Sailing down the Thames.
To read about the history of the so-called ‘Christopher Wren House’ beside the Tate Modern, read Cardinal’s Wharf: A survivor of 18th century Bankside amidst two London landmarks
Cardinal’s Wharf isn’t usually on a tourist’s checklist of things to see in London. However, inevitably a large proportion of visitors will pass by it while on the way to the Globe or Tate Modern and be attracted to the row of 18th century terraced houses juxtaposed by 20th century architecture. Standing out amongst the three buildings is the tallest – No. 49 Bankside – a three-storey cream building with red door. If you get close enough, you’ll find a cream, ceramic plaque linking it to a very important Englishman – Sir Christopher Wren. Renowned as the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and many of the City of London’s churches, Wren is an important name in the history of the capital. The plaque claims: ‘Here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral. Here also, in 1502, Catherine Infanta of Castile and Aragon, afterwards first queen of Henry VIII, took shelter on her first landing in London.’
If you stand with your back to the building, you have a lovely view of St Paul’s over the Thames. It’s easy to imagine Wren retiring with a glass of something to the first floor in the evening after a long day at work and gazing out of the window surveying the progress… however, sadly it’s not quite what happened. Wren was tasked with rebuilding a lot of the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666 and is believed to have based himself at Bankside… but at a building a few doors down from No.49, which has long been demolished.
Writer and historian Gillian Tindall uncovered the truth behind the myth of the building in her 2006 book The House By The Thames: And The People Who Lived There. It turns out No.49 was actually built in 1710 – the same year St Paul’s Cathedral was completed, so that already debunks the theory Wren was based there during the decades it took to build his masterpiece. Tindall believes the plaque stood on the actual house that Wren did live in, but a few houses east – situated where a modern block of flats stands today behind the Founders Arms pub. Her theory suggests Malcolm Munthe, who owned the property in 1945, retrieved the plaque when the original Wren building was demolished and placed it on No.49 to protect it from demolition (for a photo of No.49 in 1946, click here). While the act may have led many to confuse fact and fiction, the plaque’s incorrect placing has managed to save the house from destruction. Bankside was heavily bombed during World War II, before there was mass demolition and redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s, so the continued existence of these three houses in Cardinal’s Wharf is a remarkable thing. Situated next to the 1940s-built Tate Modern (formerly Bankside Power Station) and the modern reconstruction of The Globe theatre (opened 1997), Cardinal’s Wharf is a striking contrast to the modernity around it. The house used to stand a lot closer to the Thames, until the Greater London Council revised the waterline back in the 1970s, creating a larger pedestrianised area we see today. No.49 remains the oldest house on Bankside today. Read the rest of this entry