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Cleopatra’s Needle: How an Egyptian obelisk ended up by the Thames… and why isn’t it Thutmose’s Needle?

Standing on the banks of the River Thames is a piece of Egyptian history.

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The ancient Egyptian obelisk Cleopatra’s Needle stands on Victoria Embankment

Regardless of your knowledge of ancient Egyptian history, few would disagree that Cleopatra and Tutankhamun are two of the nation’s most famous rulers. While Tutankhamun’s reign was relatively short and his fame is largely down to the discovery of his tomb, Cleopatra was known for many reasons – her power, her beauty and being the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt. So when it comes to the ancient Egyptian obelisk standing by the River Thames on the Victoria Embankment, Cleopatra’s Needle is a lot more glamorous a name than one would have been a lot more accurate… Thutmose III’s Needle.

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The bronze sphinx includes the words ‘the good god, Thuthmosis III given life’ written in hieroglyphics

The name Cleopatra’s Needle is shared between three Egyptian obelisks – the London one’s twin in New York City and a third in Paris – which came from a completely different site in Egypt. The London and New York pair are made of red granite from the quarries of Aswan, weighing a hefty 224 tons each. Standing tall at 68ft (21 metres), they were originally erected in ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis by Pharoah Thutmose III (1481-1425BC) around 1450BC. Ramesses II (1300s-1213BC) added the hieroglyphs around 200 years later to commemorate his military victories. The obelisks remained in Heliopolis for around 1,400 years before they were moved north by the Romans to Alexandria to be placed in the Caesareum around 12BC. Although the Caesareum in Alexandria had been built during Cleopatra’s (51-30BC) reign, the obelisks didn’t arrive there until around 15 years after she had committed suicide. So why her name is associated with the obelisk is inaccurate, but probably brings a bit of glamour to it – but when it’s nearly 3,500 years old, I don’t think it needs the help to be any more impressive! The obelisks didn’t stay standing for long and were toppled some time later, spending centuries in the Egyptian sands.

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Ancient world meets modern: The needle is dwarfed by the Art Deco Shell Mex House (b.1930-1931) and its recognisable clock tower

Cleopatra's Needle sphinx © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Survivor: The west sphinx and its pedestal, as well the obelisk base were damaged by a German bomb on 4 September 1917

Central Park obelisk © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The London obelisk’s twin stands in Central Park in New York City

These days, Egypt is rightly intent on keeping on to its treasures. However, in the early 19th century, Egypt’s ruler Muhammad Ali (1769-1849) was happy to give away a piece of antiquity. Following the victories of Lord Nelson and Sir Ralph Abercromby in the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Alexandra in 1798 and 1801 respectively, Ali gave one of the obelisks to the United Kingdom as a thank you gift in 1819.  Although honoured, the then-Prime Minister Robert Banks Jenkinson (1170-1828) and his government couldn’t justify the huge expense it would have cost to transport the 224 ton monument to the UK. It remained in Alexandria for over five decades until anatomist and dermatologist Sir William James Erasmus Wilson (1809-1884) decided to fork out the money and organise the mammoth feat for  the obelisk to be dug out of the sand at Alexandria and brought to London. The obelisk left Alexandria on 21 September 1877, encased in an iron cylinder – nicknamed The Cleopatra – which included a stern and rudders and was towed along by the Olga ship. However, when it was over halfway to its destination, a storm in the Bay of Biscay put the crew of The Cleopatra in danger. The initial rescue attempt led to six crewmen from The Olga drowning, but eventually The Cleopatra’s Captain Carter and his five crew were rescued. Amazingly, The Cleopatra didn’t founder and was discovered drifting in the Bay a few days later and eventually retrieved by the Fitzmaurice and towed to Ferrol Harbour in North-West Spain. From there, she was towed to Gravesend, Kent, by the paddle tug Anglia, arriving on 21 January 1878. Finally, on 12 September 1878 – 59 years after the UK had been given it as a gift – Cleopatra’s Needle was erected on the Victoria Embankment of the River Thames.

Although they certainly look the part, the two sphinxes ‘guarding’ the obelisk aren’t quite so old. The bronze sphinxes were designed by George John Vulliamy (1817-1886) and created at the Ecclestone Iron Works in Pimlico in 1881. They include the words ‘the good god, Thuthmosis III given life’ written in hieroglyphics. It has been pointed out they aren’t really guarding it, but rather looking at it and should have been facing outwards from the obelisk. Despite surviving intact for nearly 3,500 years, London’s obelisk came close to being destroyed in World War I. A German bomb landed near the needle on 4 September 1917, causing damage to the pedestal of the obelisk, the pedestal of the sphinxes and to the west sphinx itself. However, the damage remains to commemorate the event and can still be seen to this day. A plaque has been placed on the western sphinx to explain this. Meanwhile, it’s twin was erected in Central Park in New York City in 1881.

  • Cleopatra’s Needle is located on Victoria’s Embankment, just south of Embankment Gardens. Nearest station: Embankment.
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Looking at… not quite guarding: One of the two Victorian faux sphinxes

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For more on the Thames Embankment history, read about the lamps on the Thames Embankment or read about Vulliamy’s sphinx and camel benches.

Cross the road to Embankment Gardens to see the 17th century York Water Gate or the racy monument to composer Arthur Sullivan

To read Metro Girl’s other history blog posts, click here.

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Rare colour film of bustling London town in 1927

Watch Claude Frisse-Greene’s amazing footage of the capital in the 1920s.

1927 still

Traffic on Whitehall near the Cenotaph
© Claude Frisse-Greene, courtesy of Tim Sparke on Vimeo

A rare colour film of London in 1927 has been making waves on the internet in recent weeks. Uploaded by Tim Sparke on Vimeo three years ago, it’s audience has suddenly soared, with over 500,000 views so far. Shot by early British film pioneer Claude Frisse-Greene, it uses colour techniques that his father William had been experimenting with. The just under six-minute film shows the hustle and bustle of city life, with footage filmed at the Thames, Tower Bridge, Tower Of London, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Whitehall. It also includes shots of traffic going over the old London Bridge – designed by Victorian John Rennie – which now stands in Lake Havasu City in Arizona. Open-top buses, cars and horse and carriages are seen trotting past the relatively new Cenotaph in Whitehall, where a few pedestrians are seen bending down to read the wreaths. One thing I love about this film is so much looks familiar – but yet there’s no traffic lights or road markings, with policemen controlling the traffic. Marble Arch stands behind some ornate gates which no longer exist – presumably an exit from Hyde Park before the busy road was cut into it, marooning the arch as a polluted traffic island. The Thames looks incredibly busy with so many barges and tug boats. The river is a lot more accessible, with Westminster Pier embarking passengers on tiny boats compared to the Clippers today. Petticoat Lane Market in Spitalfields is as busy as ever, with more men than women it seems, with fur stoles and stuffed rabbits amongst the goods on sale. The men are predominantly wearing flat caps, while some very stylish women in 1920s fashion are seen walking through Hyde Park.

NB: Since this post was written, the original video was taken down, but I have found this extended version – without the modern soundtrack – instead.


If you like the 1920s, there’s a host of Great Gatsby-themed events on in London to celebrate the release of the film. Read the guide to what’s on here.

For a review of the 1920s pop-up club night Candlelight Club, click here.

For more blog posts on London history, click here.

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Reflection of The Shard on melted snow water

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Reflection of The Shard on a puddle of melted snow on the river wall of the northbank of the River Thames

Despite the unseasonal freezing March, I braved the cold today and spent several hours walking around the City of London and Southbank. The poor weather meant there weren’t as many people around so I enjoyed a bit of ‘me time’ with my beloved city. As I walked along the Thames Path on the north bank of the River Thames, I took this photo of The Shard’s reflection in a puddle from the melted snow on the river wall. You can see the murky Thames just at the top of the image, as well as the snow-filled clouds and grey sky. It’s funny, the building has been finished less than a year and already I feel like The Shard has been there for longer.


For more photos of The Shard, read Metro Girl’s blog post on the building’s inauguration laser show.

Or for a review of Silent Disco at The Shard, click here.

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Seen a Dolphin in the Thames? Story behind the lamps on the Embankment

The history of the sturgeon lamps by the River Thames.

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Lining the Thames: One of George Vulliamy’s ‘dolphin lamps’ on
the Victoria Embankment

Many capital cities around the world have a river running through them. However, when it comes to the Thames, one thing that makes it so recognisable is the striking Victorian lamps lining the Embankment. The street lighting in question are called the ‘Dolphin lamps’, but actually appear to be sturgeon fish.

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Spreading south: Replicas of Vulliamy’s lamps popped up on the Southbank to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977

Prior to Victorian times, the Thames was a lot wider in the centre of town, but was slimmed down by the building of the Victoria Embankment on the north side in the late 19th century. Civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazelgette (1819-1891) came up with a scheme to reclaim some 22 acres of marshland and built a new road and sewage system for the rapidly expanding capital. While this transformed the city, it also meant many riverside buildings were demolished, such as York House. Building of the Victoria and Chelsea Embankment meant Londoners had somewhere new to stroll beside the river so of course, some attractive new street lighting would be required.

Step forward George John Vulliamy, (1817-1886) the Superintending Architect of the Metropolitan Board of Works, who created the unique riverside lamps built into the retaining river wall in 1870. Many different designs were submitted, including one by Bazelgette, however Vulliamy’s designs were chosen for the centre of town. The cast-iron lamps featured two sturgeons with their bodies wrapped around the lamp column. Facing the Embankment, the face of Neptune peered out with the year 1870 inscribed underneath him. Vulliamy was said to have been inspired by the dolphin sculptures on the Fontana del Nettuno in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo during his extensive travels around Europe. As well as the lamps, Vulliamy also designed the pedestals and sphinxes for Cleopatra’s Needle – the ancient Egyptian obelisk gifted to London by Egypt in 1819 – and the sphinx and camel benches to complement it along the Victoria Embankment.

For decades, these lamps only stood on the Victoria Embankment. However, in 1977, city authorities decided to create replicas on the opposite Albert Embankment on the Southbank to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Instead of the year underneath Neptune on the Victoria Embankment, ‘EIIR’ was inscribed to mark Queen Elizabeth II.

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Fish face: Despite being described as dolphin lamps, they appear to be sturgeon

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Iconic: The lamps lit up on a stunning September evening

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For the history behind Westminster’s ‘Coco Chanel’ lampposts, click here or for to find out about the last gas sewer lamp, click here.

To find out about the swan benches on the Albert Embankment, click here.

For Metro Girl’s other London history blog posts, click here.

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Who moved the Thames? York Water Gate at Embankment Gardens

A 17th century ‘waterside’ gate marooned away from the river.

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Marooned: The York Water Gate in Embankment Gardens

With Embankment tube station and Charing Cross train station a popular meeting place, many tourists and Londoners find themselves going back and forward between the two along Villiers Street. The one-way street is filled with chain restaurants, pubs, shops and the popular Gordon’s Wine Bar, the oldest wine bar in London dating from 1870.

However, how many times when you’ve walked up and down this short road have you ducked east into Embankment Gardens? Well if you’re like me, never… until this year. I have walked along Villiers Street hundreds of times in my lifetime because Embankment is my station of choice if I’m going to Covent Garden or Leicester Square, which are only a short walk away.

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Locked up: The gate as the owners of York House would have seen it as they walked towards their boat on the river

The small gardens are a much nicer meeting place than bustling Embankment or Charing Cross stations – weather dependent of course – with benches dotted around flowerbeds and statues of famous past Britons. On my first stroll in the Embankment Gardens, my eye was immediately drawn to the Italianate arch marooned by concrete in the north. Upon closer inspection, I learned it was a water gate… but yet the Thames was 150 yards south.

Anyone who has taken a boat trip down the Thames may have noticed how wide it is in the Greenwich and Docklands area and may be forgiven for wondering why it’s so slender in between the West End and South Bank. Well, for hundreds (probably thousands) of years the Thames was a lot wider, in fact Embankment station would have been in the river… or at least on some soggy marshland. As it still remains today, the Strand was always a coveted address, famous for being home to Somerset House and The Savoy Hotel. From the 12th century onwards, grand mansions and houses stood on the south side of The Strand, with many having gates directly into the river so the residents could climb straight into their boats – the best way to travel in those days.

The York Water Gate in the Embankment Gardens is the only surviving piece of the York House estate, which was originally built in the 1200s for the Bishops of Norwich. Over the years, various archbishops and dukes resided at the lavish abode – including a certain George Villiers, whose name lives on in the aforementioned street. The Italianate-style water gate wasn’t built until around 1626 as a grand entrance for York House residents and visitors to enter and exit via the riverways.

Today, York House is long gone and the only water the York Water Gate sees these days is the rain. The building of the Thames Embankment in the 1860s and 1870s saw London reclaiming a lot of the river, with the building of the busy road we know today to relieve pressure on The Strand and to create a sewer system for the rapidly expanding city. As well as the roads and pavements, gardens were built on the reclaimed land – the main one being where the Water Gate stands today. So many of the grand mansions were razed to the ground, leaving the Water Gate as one of the few reminders of a very different landscape seen by those walking down The Strand a few hundred years ago.

So if you want somewhere to sit for lunch or perhaps somewhere a bit more pleasant than a noisy station to kill time while waiting for a tardy friend, step into the gardens and have a look for yourself.

The York Water Gate and The Adelphi as painted by Daniel Turner

The York Water Gate and The Adelphi as painted by Daniel Turner, approx. 1800
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)


For a Metro Girl’s post on the Arthur Sullivan Memorial in Embankment Gardens, click here.

 To find out the history of Charing Cross, click here.

Discover the story of the nearby ‘Dolphin’ lampposts on the Thames Embankments, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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Up in the air: Cruising ABOVE the Thames on Emirates Air Line

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Taking off from Royal Docks heading over to the O2

Given the hills and valleys which make up London, it’s actually surprising its taken this long for the city to get a cable car. When I first heard there was going to be a cable car being built over the Thames in between North Greenwich and Docklands, I did ask why? Although I kept hearing the word ‘Olympics’ as an excuse because it would ferry people between ExCel and the O2 Arena, I protested that the Olympic and Paralympics only lasted a month between them, so exactly when was it going to get used after that. I have loved taking cable cars or ‘gondolas’ on holiday abroad, but thought the London one should be situated somewhere more central.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

When you reaching cruising altitude, you’ll be travelling at 6-metres-per-second

However, when I thought a little more about it, I thought that part of the Thames needs a crossing. After you go east from Tower Bridge, the river noticeably widens and there are no bridges spanning it. If you’ve got a car, there’s the Rotherhithe or Blackwall tunnels or Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels for pedestrians, but none of these have a view.

When the Emirates Air Line actually opened in late June this year, I decided to go on it to check out the view. Although I was prepared to go out of my way to go on it, I actually ended up getting last-minute Olympic tickets to the women’s basketball at the O2. After the match, it was such a beautiful sunny day, my friend and I decided to go on it to get to our next destination – Tower Bridge. Although the long queue (due to the Olympic crowd) was very off-putting, we soon realised we didn’t need to queue if we had Oyster cards, so swiped our way through and were sitting on a cable car within minutes.

With comfortable seating for about 6-8 people, there are 360 degree views. The cable car is pretty stable, although shudders slightly when going over the tall columns holding it up. A friend who was initially a bit nervous actually felt fine once it got going so don’t let the jitters scare you off. The view was spectacular – the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf weren’t far away, the large roof of the O2, the Olympic park, the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, Thames Barrier and, even, St Paul’s Cathedral. You’re cruising at about 6-metres-per-second and the whole journey takes about 5 minutes (I lost all sense of time, but it was pretty quick).

Despite my fears it would only be useful during the Olympics, I am hopeful people will use it for other reasons besides a tourist attraction. For example, people visiting ExCel may find it easier boarding the 10 minute ride to access the Jubilee line at North Greenwich if the DLR is a slower route home (I know I will!). I suspect it will also come in handy during weekend engineering works – something we blissfully forgot existed during the Games. If the Air Line is considered a part of the transport network by Londoners, it will ensure its survival. But if you are a visitor to London, I can highly recommend it as an enjoyable excursion.

What else is there to do? Maybe go and climb Up At The O2 when you’re in North Greenwich. Or perhaps get a boat cruise back to Westminster or Tower Millennium Pier.

  • You can board the Emirates Air Line at the North Greenwich Peninsula or Royal Victoria Docks near the ExCel Centre. Opening hours 7/9am-9pm in summer, earlier in the winter. Tickets: Adult singles £4.50, Child singles £2.30. Nearest station: North Greenwich or Royal Victoria (DLR). For more information, visit the Emirates Air Line website.
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What a view: Try and time your trip on the Air Line for sunset for a stunning vista


For a guide to what is on in London at the moment, click here.

The roof, the roof, the roof is… up higher! Climbing Up At The O2

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This is your reward! After climbing up the roof, you’ll be treated to this view of Canary Wharf

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Balancing act: The blue walkway is actually suspended over the roof

As you may have noticed from my recent posting on my trapeze lesson, I’m a bit of an adrenalin junkie and I’m not exactly afraid of heights. So when the O2 – one of my favourite concert venues in London – decided to open their roof for public access this summer, I knew I had to climb it.

London’s O2 has been on a strange journey, but within over a decade, I think its safe to say most Londoners have embraced the venue. Originally conceived as the Millennium Dome to open in 2000, there were years of negative press leading up to it about the spiralling costs and we were all scratching our heads about what exactly would happen to the venue once 2000 had ended.

Well, of course, following the year-long exhibition inside the Dome, it was bought for redevelopment and the O2 Arena – located inside the entertainment complex – was open for business in 2007. With the acoustics and seating plans, it has quickly become a popular venue for some of the world’s biggest artists and bands, being their first choice to tour in over the older Wembley Arena or Earls Court.

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What a view: Try and time your trip for sunset for a stunning vista

So what was once a target for Brits’ moans about the Government ‘wasting our money’ when it was being built, has now become a fun place to spend a few hours. I’ve seen many concerts there, partied several nights away in the on-site clubs and eaten several meals in the restaurants. So a few weeks ago, it was time to see what was on the other side of the large white canopy, aka The O2 roof.

Accompanied by three girlfriends, after filling out disclaimers, we quickly realised it wasn’t going to be a case of simply walking up a steep slope – which is what I presumed. It actually was quite a climb, require rather fetching jumpsuits (I jest!) and safety harnesses, which would actually attach us to the roof. Once we were given a full safety-briefing, our guide Max showed us how to work the harness, which would be attached to a safety railing guiding us up to the top 52 metres high.

The blue walkway which leads you up is actually suspended above the O2 roof and is incredibly bouncy. However, we were advised not to bounce on it as this would likely to make you very unpopular with the rest of our group… and possibly cause seasickness. It took a bit of getting used to the harness and walking up such a steep incline, but once we got  the hang of it, we were zooming up.

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What goes up, must come down: Climbers in jumpsuits and safety harness make their way down

Once up, there is a large platform where you are free to be detached from the railing and walk around taking photos of the 360 degree vista. The view was pretty amazing and I highly recommend timing your visit for just before sunset if you can. As it was a lovely August day, the sun was shining and bathed the city in a warm light. We could see the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf (just over the Thames from us), the white towers of Greenwich Old Naval College, the Crystal Palace TV transmitter and even our newest additions to the London skyline – the Olympic Stadium and the Orbit.

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Fun day out: The O2 was mostly full of groups of friends

After about 20 minutes on the platform, it was time for the descent. However, don’t be fooled it would be the same as coming up – the incline was even steeper, making me feel incredibly grateful for my safety harness.

All in all, the experience took about 90 minutes and was an exhilarating, awe-inspiring experience. I’m a sucker for a good view – and a good sunset – so to have both of them over my beloved city was a winning combination. All the staff were friendly and informative, with a shout-out to Max for being a helpful guide. Perhaps make a day of it and combine it with a cruise down the Thames from the Westminster. Or if you’ve got a taste for heights, get the Emirates Air Line over to Docklands and get the DLR home instead.

  • Up At The O2 is open all year round, with prices starting from £22 pp, although there are discounts for O2 Priority Moments customers. For more information visit the Up On The O2 website. Booking in advance is highly recommend, although walk-ups are possible (maybe so in the winter!). Nearest station: North Greenwich.

Viva La Fiesta: Gallery of this year’s Thames Festival

The Thames isn’t the only thing that’s flowing: Cocktails with a view at the Oxo Tower Bar

Oxo Tower © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The Oxo Tower restaurant is located on the southbank of the Thames

For me, and many Londoners, the jewel in the city’s crown has to be the River Thames. As well as providing a great way to travel, the rivers also showcases some fine bridges and is bordered by some of the capital’s most iconic buildings and attractions. No visit to London would not be complete for tourists without a visit to the River Thames and some of its sights.

When it comes to dining and drinking riverside, there are lots of options ranging from the affordable (Pizza Express Bankside or Giraffe in the Southbank Centre) to the lavish (Skylon at the Royal Festival Hall or Pont De La Tour on Shad Thames).

Cocktails © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Pleasure boat (left) and Port Of London (right)

However, few of these Thames-side diners come with such a spectacular – and heady – view as the Oxo Tower Bar and Restaurant. I first went to the restaurant in 2001 for a family birthday meal – five years after it had opened and remember the tasty oysters and friendly service.  The bar and restaurant is located on the eighth floor of the iconic building, with an outdoor terrace for alfresco drinking when the weather’s good. But before I wax lyrical on the amazing cocktails, good service and views I experienced on my recent visit, a little bit of history behind the building.

To those who have grown up in Britain, the brand of Oxo is well-known for its stock cubes. Although the building was originally built as a power station for the Post Office in the late 19th century, it was acquired by Liebeg (Oxo’s manufacturers) in the late 1920s. Although much of the building was demolished, the façade remained and was extended. Architect Albert W Moore (1874-1965) proposed spelling out Oxo in electric lights on the tower, but was refused permission, so the compromise of Oxo written in the window panes was agreed.

However, after Oxo moved out, over the years, the building fell into decline. However, a resurgence was in the pipeline when it was acquired by the Coin Street Community Builders in 1984. In the 1990s, the building and tower were refurbished to a high standard, giving the building over to shops, galleries, residential and restaurant space, with the latter opening as Oxo Tower Restaurant in 1996.

Still highly commended as one of London’s best restaurants, you are advised to book ahead to eat. However, when it comes to the bar, you may be lucky enough to have availability. On a sunny Friday afternoon in July, a friend and I decided to go up to the bar on the spur of the moment and were thrilled to be given a balcony-view table.

Our table gave a stunning view of the north bank of the river and some of its famous landmarks – St Paul’s Cathedral, The Gherkin, BT Tower and the list goes on.

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What a view to drink to!

The extensive cocktail menu includes many original creations by Oxo’s mixologists, many of which are London and Thames-themed, with the average price of £12.50 per drink (average West End price for cocktails are £8-£9 so you’re paying a bit extra for the quality and setting). I chose a fruity Pleasure Boat – a Tiki-style drink complete with Tiki cup available to take home (for a price). The drink was a concoction of ‘Elements 8 barrel infused spiced rum & house orgeat, shaken with fresh pineapple, scooped passion fruit, fresh lime, falernum & aromatic bitters’ and tasted really good. My friend opted for a Port Of London, a refreshing combination of HN LBV Port, Beefeater winter release gin, lime cordial and lemon.

The service was friendly and efficient, our drinks came with a little plate of peanuts – a nice bonus that only the best cocktail bars provide –  and the view was amazing. I can highly recommend the venue for drinks for a special occasion or something to remember to visitors.

  • Oxo Tower Restaurant, Brasserie and Bar, Barge House Street, South Bank, SE1 9PH. Nearest station: Blackfriars or Waterloo. Visit the website for more information and booking.

For other London bars with a view, read Metro Girl’s blog posts on Galvin at Windows at the Park Lane Hilton or Vertigo 42 Champagne Bar review or SushiSamba London review.

For a list of other Metro Girl’s bar and restaurant reviews, click here.

Click to add a blog post for OXO Tower Bar on Zomato

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Rain never stopped play – Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant Flotilla

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Essential Jubilee kit – flag, umbrella and Pimm’s Cup

Ahead of the Queen’s Jubilee Weekend, I wrote a last-minute blog with ideas of where to celebrate it. But when it came for me to make a decision, I was torn for choice. As I was flying out to Italy on the Bank Holiday Monday morning for a last-minute holiday, I decided to hit the Thames to watch the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant.

As a South Londoner and having spent a lot of my childhood playing on the South Bank, I was drawn to trying to find a spot to watch the flotilla from that side of the river. We arrived at London Bridge station armed with umbrellas, camera, Union Jacks and some cans of Pimm’s Cups. The forecast was dim, but, like all Londoners, we are used to rain and pressed ahead with our plans to watch it al fresco.

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Grab any spot you can! People clambering for a view from outside Unilever House

Rather ignorantly, we were hoping the rain may have put off some people and arrived about 90 minutes ahead of the flotilla starting. As we walked past viewpoint after viewpoint – which were closed off by police due to crowd control – it soon started to look hopeless that we were going to see the flotilla at all. We got as far as Southwark Bridge (not very far at all, but took ages due to the sheer volume of people) and after being told that most bridges were being closed off (although my official flotilla map said otherwise…), I had the brainwave to walk to Borough tube and get the Underground ‘over’ the river since going by foot looked increasingly difficult.

After riding to Bank, we then headed down to Mansion House and kept looking for viewing areas along Lower Thames Street Embankment – still to no avail. Some people had stood on flights of stairs to get literally a 10ft by 10ft view through a small gap in the buildings. I was determined I wouldn’t be that desperate to put up with a view that poor.

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Hundreds stand on Blackfriars Bridge to watch the flotilla onscreen

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Finally we reached Blackfriars Bridge about 90 minutes after setting off from London Bridge. Our timing was perfect because there just happened to be a few ‘viewing spots’ left on one of the flower beds on a traffic island in front of Unilever House. Now I’m not a vandle and like to respect my city, but needs must, so myself and my group climbed onto the bed – making sure we didn’t crush the plants in the process before anyone accuses me of vandalising them! Finally we could see the Thames – albeit over a sea of heads and flags – but we had a decent wide view on the river bend and Waterloo Bridge. There was also a large TV screen erected on the actual bridge so we could see the action on the Queen’s Barge too.

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Closed roads meant everyone was free to walk wherever

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Kids get into the spirit for their first Jubilee

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A Diamond (Jubilee) Geezer

It might have been raining and it was a lot of standing around waiting, but the atmosphere was amazing. It was London in all its glory – looking around I could see a true representation of London (and the other Brits visiting from out of town). There were people from different classes, races and religion all coming together to celebrate the country and our Queen. I was feeling very patriotic and wore my Union Jack flag as a cape, a style choice many had made that day. One man had gone to extra patriotic lengths and painted the Union Jack on his face – a true ‘Diamond (Jubilee) Geezer’.

Finally when the Spirit Of Chartwell reached the bridge, there was a massive audio Mexican wave of cheers and whoops. The Queen’s barge was sailing particularly close to the north bank of the river, so I ended up climbing onto a pedestrian crossing light and balancing on the button box to get a better view! The barge’s passing under Blackfriars happened to coincide with the heaviest rain since we’d been outside, but the atmosphere was so jubilant, I was past caring.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The lady of the hour

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The flotilla finally reaches Blackfriars – canoes first

After finally seeing the Queen – albeit from a distance – and experiencing the Jubilee atmosphere, we were ready to hit home to watch the highlights from the comfort of the sofa – with a detour to a hot drinks establishment first.

Later reports estimated 1.2million had been by the river to watch the flotilla, which I could easily believe. Walking on some of the City Of London’s busiest roads, where there is usually vehicles, was a surreal experience. As dismal as the weather was, the sea of people wearing red, white and blue raised your spirits.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Spirit of Chartwell approaches Blackfriars Bridge

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Spot the royals – Kate and Wills standing at the front

With the Queen being 86, its unlikely we will see her Platinum (70th) Jubilee, so I felt it was important to be a part of it and was proud to see London on the world stage – for the first of two times this year with the Olympics coming up. I was at the Thames for her Golden Jubilee, but don’t remember it being as big a spectacle as the Diamond. I’ve always associated myself more as a Londoner than a Brit or Englishwoman, but felt very proud to be British on that day.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Someone’s not feeling the Jubilee spirit… although his owner apparently is with their champers!

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The rain was really bad at this point as the end of the flotilla headed down towards Tower Bridge