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Explore 125 years of Tower Bridge with special after-hours talks this autumn

Learn about the history, people and architecture of a London landmark at special late-night openings of Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge being constructed ©City of London, London Metropolitan Archives

Tower Bridge being constructed in 1893
© City of London, London Metropolitan Archives

Tower Bridge is one of London’s most iconic sights. Instantly recognisable the world over, the bascule and suspension bridge is one of the most photographed landmarks in the capital. To mark the bridge’s 125th anniversary, there will be a series after-hour talks for Londonphiles.

Kicking off in September and running until December 2019, each session will invite experts to share their knowledge and skills in a specially-curated event which explores the history of Tower Bridge. Each experience will last an hour and take place in the new Learning Space, high up in the South Tower. Film, food and art are among the themes explored over the talks.

Listings

  • Thursday 5 September : Illuminated River Project

The Illuminated River Project is a London wide public art commission that will transform the capital at night, lighting up 15 bridges across the River Thames. Once complete, the project will be the longest public art project in the world. Join Director Sarah Gaventa and Project Architect Chris Waite at the Bridge to explore the ambitious decade-long public art project and how Tower Bridge will shine in its role.

  • Thursday 12 September : Sir Horace Jones and the Architecture of Tower Bridge

Dr Jennifer Freeman, architectural historian and writer, and a specialist in ‘at risk’ conservation buildings will guide guests through the extraordinary life of Tower Bridge architect Sir Horace Jones. A specialist on the man behind a number of London’s most iconic buildings, including Smithfield Market and Billingsgate Market, Jennifer will not only explore Jones’ legacy and his innovations as a designer and planner, but the architectural marvel Tower Bridge remains as to this day.

  • Thursday 17 October : Tower Bridge Eats – Cooking and Dining with the Denizens of Tower Bridge in 1894

Don your kitchen whites and test your taste buds to explore the past century through an exclusive tasting talk with food historian Dr Annie Gray. Foodies will be taken on a whistle-stop tour of 125 years of gastronomic history at Tower Bridge.

  • Thursday 7 November : An Illustrated Construction of Tower Bridge

From the fanciful to the downright farcical, explore some of the alternative river crossing designs presented to the City of London’s special committee in 1876. Tom Furber, Engagement and Learning Officer with the London Metropolitan Archive offers a fascinating insight into some of the weird and whacky designs submitted for the design competition, as well as the ground-breaking construction of Tower Bridge.

  • Thursday 5 December : Tower Bridge & the Thames on Film

This illustrated talk by British Film Institute curator Simon McCallum will give a flavour of the BFI National Archive’s unparalleled collection of film and TV about London, with a particular focus on life along the Thames. Drawing on a rich array of newsreel footage, documentaries and home movies, this archive tour will include glimpses of the majestic Bridge itself across the past century. These films are part of the Britain on Film initiative, with thousands of newly digitised titles from the BFI and partner archives around the UK now free to explore on BFI Player. Simon’s talk will be complemented by a screening of the classic 1959 film The Boy on The Bridge, made possible by the estate of Director Kevin McClory.

(Please note this event will finish later due to the film screening).

  • Talks will take place in the Tower Bridge Learning Space. At Tower Bridge, Tower Bridge Road, SE1 2UP. Nearest stations: Tower Hill, Tower Gateway or London Bridge. All events: arrive at 7pm for a 7.30pm start. Tickets: £20pp (includes a welcome drink and a return ticket to visit Tower Bridge within 12 months). For more information and booking, visit the Tower Bridge website.

For more London history and architecture posts, click here.

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Nautical, but nice! Get up close with the yachts and crew ahead of the Clipper round the world yacht race 2015

St Katharine docks

St Katharine Docks will play host to the beginning of the Clipper round-the-world race

It’s nearly time for one of the toughest contests of the year – the famous Clipper round-the-world yacht race. And with the big event kicking off in London this Sunday, what better way to celebrate than with a week of nautical fun at St Katharine Docks. The Clipper race features crews of amateur sailors from 40 nationalities racing under the command of professionals.

Ahead of the Clipper launch, the race village will be open for a week (22 – 29 August). Visitors will chance to visit some of the 70ft racing yachts taking part in the Clipper race on the daily free boat tours. There will also be free model yacht racing and Q&A sessions with the crew. From 27 – 29 August there will be paddle boarding sessions, featuring free 30 minute tasters at 11am and 11.45am, following by afternoon classes and yoga paddle boarding (£25 per hour). African drummers, Chinese Lion Dancers and more will be providing the entertainment.

On 30 August, the fleet of 12 yachts will take part in the departure ceremony before parading out of the Docks through Tower Bridge to commence their 40,000 mile trip. At 1pm, the teams will appear on stage for the official departure ceremony, before the fleet departs St Katharine Docks at 2.15pm. At 3.30pm the fleet parades through Tower Bridge into the Upper Pool, before it parades back through Tower Bridge down river at 4pm.

  • The race village will be open from 22-29 August, before the race starts on 30 August 2015. Takes place at St Katharine Docks, 50 St. Katharine’s Way, Tower Bridge, E1W 1LA. Nearest station: Tower Hill or Tower Gateway (DLR). For more information, visit the St Katharine Docks website.

For a guide to what else is on in London this month, click here.

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London in silhouette against an August sunset

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.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Summer sky: A view looking east down the River Thames from Tower Bridge on 1 August 2015

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Alfresco drinking and dining with a bit of glamour at the London Riviera pop-up

London Riviera

Alfresco drinking and dining with one of the best views of the city at London Riviera

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.

London Riviera

Mix it up: There is a range of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages on sale at the bar

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.

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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.

For more blog posts on London history, click here.

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The Shard inauguration laser light show – gallery

Just cruisin’ | Sailing down the Thames with City Cruises

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Enjoying the view of the City from the open deck

I have a complicated relationship with boats – which I include ferries, canoes and general waterway transport under that general term. As a child, I spent many hours on ferries to Ireland and France for holidays with my family and used to enjoy the trips. Then one day as a teenager, I suddenly developed seasickness, which still plagues me now if I don’t take precautions.

Despite my body’s physical reaction to boat trips, in my mind I still love to be at sea or on the river. I love the views and different perspective you can get of a place you know so well from a boat and the general romanticism of travelling on one. I love canoeing, the few cruises I have done I have enjoyed and I’m a qualified scuba-diver, which obviously means going on a boat.

Generally, those who suffer from seasickness will attest it’s usually worse on the open sea than on a river. I have a close relative who actually lives on a house boat on the River Thames and I admit to feeling slightly queasy when the tide moves in or out making the boat shift with it.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Not wobbling any more… Millennium Bridge & St Paul’s

However, despite my ups and downs with sea travel, whenever the temperatures soar in London during our heatwaves, I always recommend the River Thames as the best place to be. The river is generally always the coolest place in the capital all year around – in the winter there’s a blistering cold wind, while in the summer it is transformed into a ‘cooling breeze’ while the rest of the capital sweats it out.

So when we had our mini heatwave in late May, which happened to fall on my lieu day off work, I suggested a river cruise with my friend. I had previously been down the river about six or seven years ago (during another heatwave when it was around 33C I seem to recall) and have fond memories of it. This time round, it was supposed to be about 29C, but it was very humid and felt even hotter.

Before hitting Westminster Pier – where most of river cruising companies have ticket booths and start from, I did some research on the internet. National Rail (overland trains) have teamed up with a majority of London tourist attractions (and some shops, theatre productions and restaurants) to offer discounts – some as much as half-price. So if you’re starting a journey from an overland train station either in or out of London, keep hold of your ticket, visit the Days Out Guide website and sign up for the appropriate voucher.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Tate Modern

So armed with my voucher and my paper travelcard, I was able to buy a reduced ‘Rover’ ticket (unlimited hop on, hop off) for City Cruises for my friend and I (Top tip: Buy the ticket online from City Cruises website and it’s even cheaper). With it being glorious sunshine, we headed for the open deck and landed a plum seat in the front row with an uninterrupted view of the shimmering waters (yes, I know the Thames looks a bit murky, but when the sun shines it really does glimmer!). One thing that appealed to me about City Cruises is that is has a licensed bar so it was cider on ice all round – we even inspired some American tourists seated behind us to order the same.

Setting off down river on the trip to Greenwich Pier – stopping at Tower Hill on the way – we were given a commentary by one of the crew. Although they say it isn’t an official guided tour – there aren’t any multi-lingual options unfortunately – the crewmember was very informative and funny. Having grown up in the city, my friend and I are bona-fide Londoners and assumed we would know much of the information provided, but were pleasantly surprised with our new discoveries. For example, the London Eye has 32 pods – one for each of the London boroughs. I’ve been on the London Eye about seven to nine times (with friends and relatives from abroad) and I had never heard that fact. While I’m mentioning the London Eye, I must recommend it as one of my top 5 tourist attractions in London. It moves nice and slowly for those worried about feeling sick (despite my seasickness – I actually love heights) and the 360 degree views around London are stunning.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Going under London Bridge

We cruised on past the Savoy Hotel, Cleopatra’s Needle, the Royal Festival Hall, the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, St Paul’s Cathedral and under the ‘wibbly wobbly bridge, aka the Millennium Bridge, which links St Paul’s with the Tate Modern and gives a great view of the river and Tower Bridge.

Although not one of our most decorated or admired, Waterloo Bridge is known for having one of the best views of the river out of all the bridges. However, cruising underneath it, my memory was jolted with a fact I had long forgotten that it was actually built by women during World War II, so is often referred to as the ‘ladies bridge’. I have a special fondness for Waterloo Bridge personally as I used to spend my half-term and summer holidays as a child playing on the South Bank nearby.

Tower of London © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Thankfully those who enter, can now leave too – Tower Of London

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

What’s happened to her Maj? Jubilee wrap on Sea Container’s House, South Bank

During a short stop at Tower Pier – where customers are free to disembark if they want to visit the Tower Of London, we were treated to a good view of the Traitor’s Gate from the river. Many centuries ago, prisoners would arrive at the Tower via boat and would pass through the traitor’s gate – a declaration of what they were perceived to be by The Crown, whether they were innocent or guilty. Of all those who passed through, the chance of leaving the Tower alive were very rare. During the stop of Tower Pier, the boat turned side on to face Tower Bridge, giving a great view of the 19th century bascule/ suspension bridge. Although I visited the interior only six months ago on the Tower Bridge Experience, it looked like it had a bit of clean-up since in anticipation of the Queen’s Jubilee Pageant, which took place a week after my cruise. On the South Bank near Blackfriars Bridge, a building called Sea Container’s House was in the process of being draped with a giant Jubilee wrap featuring the Queen and her family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during her 1977 Silver Jubilee. When we passed it on the way back to Westminster Pier, everyone had been unfurled except the Queen herself (although I, and the Royal Family of course got to see it on the rainy Jubilee Sunday during the flotilla a week later when I ended up finding a spot on the north bank of Blackfriars Bridge so right opposite the wrap).

Ninety minutes later after setting off from Westminster, we arrived at Greenwich Pier. We were pleased to be greeted with the newly restored Cutty Sark. Londoners were saddened when the world’s last remaining tea clipper was badly damaged during a fire in 2007 – a few days after I had last visited it actually. However, the phoenix has well and truly risen from the ashes and is back in action for visitors and Londoners to admire. Although its situated slightly differently from the last time I saw it – it has now been lifted 11ft off its dry berth and is surrounded by a glass structure containing an interactive museum. (For Metro Girl’s blog post on the sunset from Greenwich, click here).

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Risen from the ashes – Cutty Sark

To first-timers visiting Greenwich, the Royal Borough (its new title after being bestowed with it by the Queen earlier this year), there is a lot to keep you occupied for the day. As well as the bustling market, there’s the park, Observatory, the National Maritime Museum and various riverside pubs… the list goes on. As we only had limited time, after stopping for a refreshing 99 ice cream, we headed up into Greenwich Park for one of the best views in London – fact. However, due to the imminent London 2012 Olympics, the northern section of the park was partially closed off as it is currently being transformed into an Equestrian centre for the games. After climbing the hill, we arrived outside the Royal Observatory – the centre of the world in terms of time. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) of course originate here and in places both inside and outside the gates of the Observatory you can stand with one foot in each Hemisphere (East and West of course… we’re nowhere near the Equator!). As well as the Observatory, there’s also a great view of London’s new ‘City’ – the financial district of Canary Wharf.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

View of Canary Wharf and Old Royal Naval College from the top of Greenwich Park and the equestrian Olympics site in the foreground

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Old Royal Naval College

After all the walking and sun-worshipping, we decided to seek shade with some afternoon drinking – yes, more cider on ice – at the historic Trafalgar Tavern – just on the opposite side of the Old Royal Naval Gardens and buildings from the pier, on Park Row. The Regency pub was built in 1837 and features bay windows overlooking the river and Isle Of Dogs opposite and plenty of outdoor seating for those warm summer days and nights. Sipping cider, resting our legs and gazing out over the river was a perfect chilled ending to the day before embarking on our ride home.

Oh yeah… one more thing, I didn’t feel seasick – not a bit!

On the cruise, we passed many popular London tourist attractions – vote for your favourite.

  • Although we went on City Cruises, there’s also a host of other companies that do river cruises (both daytime tourist ones and night-time dinner ones), including Crown River, London Eye River Cruise and Thames River Services.

To read about Cardinal’s Wharf, an 18th century house located in between the Tate Modern and Globe, click here Cardinal’s Wharf: A survivor of 18th century Bankside amidst two London landmarks.

Or to read why the London Eye is one of the city’s best tourist attractions, click Metro Girl’s Must Do Series – Part 1: London Eye