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.
One of London’s hidden rivers is flowing through one of the capital’s busy tube stations.
London is home to many ‘hidden’ rivers. Many of these became subterranean in the 19th century as the capital’s population boomed. A host of tributaries of the River Thames and River Lea have been forced underground and now exist in pipes. While most of the secret rivers aren’t visible to most Londoners today, there is one river you can see (sort of).
The River Westbourne was originally named Kilburn – originating from ‘Cye Bourne’, which means ‘royal stream’. It rises in the Whitestone Pond in Hampstead and flows south through Kilburn, Bayswater, Hyde Park and Chelsea, before discharging in the River Thames near Chelsea Bridge. One of the crossings over the Westbourne was the Knights’ Bridge, a name dating back to at least the 11th century. Although the bridge is long gone, its name lives on in the district of Knightsbridge. There was another bridge crossing the Westbourne in the Sloane Square area named Blandel Bridge, later being renamed as Grosvenor Bridge.
The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park was formed in 1730 when King George II’s wife Queen Caroline (1683-1737) ordered the damning of the Westbourne. The river continued to supply the Serpentine until 1834, when it was deemed too polluted, so Thames water was used instead.
London’s population boom in the 19th century prompted widespread development. Increased residential dwellings popping up in the areas surrounding the Westbourne in Paddington, Chelsea and Belgravia, led to the decision to drive the Westbourne underground. The water was directed into pipes in the early part of the 19th century.
Today, commuters who use Sloane Square tube station can see the River Westbourne crossing the platform and tracks in a pipe. A large iron pipe suspended from girders carries the Westbourne through Sloane Square station, which was opened in December 1868. The pipe is the original one from the 19th century and managed to escape damage when the station was bombed during World War II in November 1940.
- Sloane Square tube station, Chelsea, SW1W 8BB. Nearest station: Sloane Square (obviously!).
For more London history posts, click here.
With 2,000 years of history and 8.1 million residents, it’s no surprise that London has acquired quite a lot of urban legends over the years.
Some of these urban myths – or ‘alternative facts’ emerged centuries ago and still circulate today. Metro Girl looks at London’s top 10 urban legends and tries to separate the truth from fiction. However, reality isn’t always black or white and sometimes the answer isn’t so clear-cut.
1. The ‘Coco Chanel’ lampposts
Around the Westminster council district, you may have seen lampposts with an interlinking CC, which look remarkably similar to the Chanel logo.
French fashion designer Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel famously had an on/off love affair with Hugh Grosvenor, the 2nd Duke of Westminster for around a decade in the 1920s-1930s. However, the aristocrat failed to make Chanel one of his four wives.
The story goes, the Duke attempted to prove his love for Coco by having her initials embossed in gold on lampposts around Westminster. Each lamppost features a grand ‘W’ nearby – which many assumed were for the Duke.
True or false? False. Sadly, the truth isn’t so romantic. The W does stand for Westminster – but the council, not the Duke – while CC stands for city council. Despite their traditional look, they only got installed in the 1950s – two decades after Chanel and the Duke’s romance hit the skids.
Read Metro Girl’s blog post to find out more.
2. A rich American bought London Bridge by accident.
The capital has had many London Bridges over the centuries, the first one dating back to Roman Londinium in the 50s AD. Despite its iconic name, many would agree the current 1970s creation isn’t the most attractive of London’s river crossings.
In 1968, US businessman Robert P McCulloch bought the previous Georgian-era ‘New’ London Bridge for just over £1million. It had been put up for sale by the City of London as it was sinking into the Thames and wasn’t suitable to modern vehicle traffic.
After being purchased, it was taken apart and shipped across to Arizona to be rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, where it remains today.
However, the story goes that McCulloch thought he was buying the more ornate Tower Bridge, not London Bridge. Many tourists visiting the capital today still think Tower Bridge is London Bridge because it’s one of London’s most recognisable icons.
True or false? False. City of London council member Ivan Luckin, who was the one who suggested selling the bridge and was heavily involved in the sale, has firmly denied misleading McCulloch and insisted the American knew exactly what bridge he was buying.
Read Metro Girl’s blog post to find out more.
3. There’s no flowers in Green Park because of a cheating King.
Green Park is one of eight royal parks in the capital. It was established in the 17th century during the reign of King Charles II.
Unlike the rest of London’s royal parks, it is noticeable for its lack of flowers and lakes and only having a few monuments and is mostly grass, trees and pathways – hence the name Green Park.
Legend has it the park was full of flowers in the 17th century and Charles II used to venture from nearby St James’s Palace to pick flowers for his wife Queen Catherine.
However, Charles was famously unfaithful to his wife and fathered at least 14 illegitimate children. It’s been claimed Catherine found out her husband was picking flowers for other women so ordered every flower bed to be removed from the park.
True or false? Maybe. Green Park has no formal flowerbeds, although there’s around 1 million daffodils that bloom every spring.
4. Vampire in Highgate cemetery
The myth of a vampire roaming Highgate cemetery first appeared in 1969 when some young people interested in the occult claimed to have seen a ‘grey figure’ lurking amongst the graves. After it was reported in a local newspaper, many people wrote in, each giving a different account of spooky goings on.
One man had a theory that a Medieval Romanian ‘King Vampire’ had been brought to England in a coffin in the early 18th century and buried on the site of Highgate Cemetery. He claimed modern Satanists had ‘woken him’.
By March 1970, there was a media hysteria with a mob of ‘vampire hunters’ arriving to track down the Highgate vampire. One man was jailed in 1974 for damaging memorials and interfering with dead remains in Highgate Cemetery.
True or false? False (probably), but it all depends on if you believe in vampires. Read the rest of this entry
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
The story behind the red columns in the River Thames.
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.
The amazing history behind this old piece of flint.
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), where plays by the likes of William Shakespeare and others would be performed. 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.
The story behind these curious Egyptian benches by the Thames.
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 (1817-1886). 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 (1819-1891) 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.