Category Archives: London Vistas

Views across London

The Furthest Object Visible From The Shard

To conclude my posts on the views from five of London’s high view-points, here is one where my interest in obscure facts about London comes into play.

When standing at the top of the Shard, I wanted to know what is the furthest object visible from this height in central London. The first photo below shows what I believe was the furthest object. This is just visible with the naked eye and the conditions towards the east were good. I used my standard Nikon 18 – 200 lens at maximum to take these and they are clearer on my PC screen when not compressed for the Internet.

If you look at the following photo, on the horizon on the left is the ghostly outline of a tower. This was the chimney at the Isle of Grain power station. The chimney was 801 feet high and a major landmark in north Kent and the Thames Estuary. I say was, as the chimney was demolished on the 7th September, a couple of weeks after I took these photos. (see the article at Kent Online for a video).

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Using the really useful “measure distance” feature of Google Maps, the distance from the Shard to the chimney was 34.58 miles. The measure distance feature also helps to confirm the location by lining up with other landmarks, In the photo above, the approach from the Essex side of the Queen Elizabeth II bridge can be seen across the centre right. This lines up in the map extract below:

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So, at 34.58 miles I believe this was the furthest object visible from central London (please let me know if you know of another).

As this chimney no longer exists, the next furthest is shown in the photo below. Look on the horizon to the right of the photo and another ghostly chimney can be seen. This is the chimney at Kingsnorth Power Station. The photo below also helps tell how industry has changed along the River Thames. There are four chimneys visible:

  • the ghostly chimney of Kingsnorth Power Station
  • in the foreground, the chimney of Littlebrook Power Station on the Thames by the Queen Elizabeth II bridge
  • on the left, the two chimneys of Tilbury Power station, also on the Thames

All these power stations, including the one at the Isle of Grain, were powered by coal or oil and as such are all in the process of being decommissioned and demolished due to various directives to reduce emissions from the heaviest polluters used in electricity generation.

At one time a whole string of power stations operated along the River Thames, including Lotts Road in Chelsea, Battersea, Greenwich (still a reserve power station) and along the Thames to the estuary. In the next couple of years, all the chimneys in the photo below will also have disappeared removing some striking landmarks from along the river.

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The distance from the chimney at Kingsnorth Power Station to the Shard is 30.3 miles:

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There is another object visible on the horizon that helps explain the original purpose of the BT Tower. Look at the following photo and the outline of a structure is visible on the horizon.

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This is a tower at Kelvedon Hatch, just north of Brentwood in Essex, built as part of a chain around the country to support a microwave radio communications network for telephone, TV and other more secure communications. The ring around London provided a link from the BT Tower to the rest of the country.

Microwave radio signals travel by line of sight, so the antennas that transmit and receive these signals need to be high in order for the signal (which has a very narrow beam, similar to a visible laser beam) to pass across the country.

The locations of these radio towers, including the BT Tower, were not originally marked on any maps, despite how obvious they were in the landscape and the amount of interesting looking antennae dishes covering the towers.  It was an article in the Sunday Times magazine on the 28th January 1973 (which, sadly I still have) that published the details of the system, locations and photos of many of the towers across the country, that caught my very young interest in technology and infrastructure.

Looking back through my photos from the Sky Garden, the tower is also visible from this lower location, which makes sense as the height of the BT Tower is 627 feet (with the antennas mounted lower), mush less than the Shard.

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There are other masts surrounding London which enabled the BT Tower to communicate with the rest of the country. These included the mast at High Wycombe, adjacent to the M40, and at Bagshot in Surrey. These should have been visible from the Shard, however I suspect lighting conditions were not ideal in these directions.

The system has been redundant for many years, fibre cable in the ground providing a much more secure and efficient means of communicating than a network of large towers around the country, and the horn and dish antennas have been removed from the BT Tower.

The masts now carry a mix of local commercial services, but they remain a reminder of the communications technology from over 50 years ago and of the original purpose of the BT Tower.

If you know of any visible objects further than the Isle of Grain and Kingsnorth chimneys, I would be really interested to know.

The views of London from the Monument, Sky Garden, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shard and London Eye are excellent, but also take a look at the far horizon as there are also things to be seen that tell a story of both the Thames and London.

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My London 5 Peaks Challenge – The Shard And The London Eye

Continuing from my last post and my visit to five of London’s high view points in a single day, after leaving St. Paul’s Cathedral, it was time to cross over the river to visit the two that are located on the southern bank of the river. The first being:

The Shard

The Shard is very different to the first three locations. It is on the southern side of the River Thames and separate from the cluster of towers around the City. It is also by far the highest so the viewing platforms at the top of the Shard provide some spectacular views of the city, as well as providing some unique views of the south bank of the river.

The viewing galleries at the top of the Shard are over 800 feet high with the overall height of the Shard being 1,016 feet, compared to the 525 feet of the Sky Garden so the Shard is significantly higher than other view points and this is very noticeable as soon as you step from the lifts and out to the viewing area. Glass covers the viewing area so taking photos without reflections and avoiding marks on the glass from an endless stream of visitors is a challenge.

The first view, looking to the east with the River Thames winding towards the isle of Dogs and the rail tracks from London Bridge Station cutting through south-east London.

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View down towards City Hall:

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Looking towards the old Olympic Stadium at Stratford. This view will change over the coming years with the amount of building planned for around the Olympic Park. The higher ground in the distance is beyond Chigwell and Romford.

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The Tower of London:

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Wider view including the City:

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The Monument, a quarter of the height of the Shard viewing gallery:

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The best way to appreciate the height of the Shard is to look straight down at the buildings surrounding the base – almost as if you are looking down at a model city:

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Back over towards the west of the City. The three towers of the Barbican are towards the left of the photo.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral from this height still stands clear of the cathedral’s immediate surroundings:

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Close up view of the cathedral. Again, from this height it almost looks like a highly detailed model. The Golden Gallery is at the top of the dome:

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View towards the Barbican:

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From the Shard it is possible to see how railway viaducts have cut through the area immediately to the south of the river. In the following photo, Southwark Cathedral is in the very lower right of the photo. Borough Market is to the left of the cathedral.

The rail tracks run to the right across the river to Cannon Street station. To the bottom of the photo is London bridge and to the left they run to Waterloo East.

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A number of the plans for post war redevelopment of London proposed transferring the train network from viaducts to tunnels under the city in order to remove the impact of these viaducts. The benefits were justified as, bringing communities together, release of space for building homes and businesses, removing the bridges from across the Thames to improve the view and use of the river.

The following photo from one of the reports shows the view of the same rail junction as above taken before the war. Despite all the proposals for transferring these rail tracks to tunnels, nothing was done after the war. The considerable cost and the financial challenges of the late 1940s and 1950s prevented any of these ambitious plans being developed – see my posts here and here.

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Looking across to Waterloo and it is clear that the area between the junction at the bottom of the photo and Waterloo and Hungerford Bridge at the top is almost walled in by the railway viaduct.

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View of the BT Tower and Wembley Stadium in the background. Tottenham Court Road runs between Centre Point (the building on the left) and Euston Tower (the building on the right).

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As well as housing lots of communications equipment, the original primary purpose of the BT Tower was to provide a tall building in the centre of London on which microwave radio antennas (the old horn and dish shaped objects removed from the area below the old revolving restaurant) could be mounted at sufficient height to send their radio signals to a ring of radio masts around the periphery of London and from there, around the country. As well as providing the network for telephone calls and TV transmissions across the country, the BT Tower was also part of the communications network that was somewhat optimistically expected to provide communications during any Cold War attack on the country.

I will cover a bit more about this in the next post when I look at the furthest objects that can be seen from the Shard.

The view towards the south and south-east of London.

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From the Shard, there is just so much detail to study. Here in the centre of this photo is Greenwich. The Observatory is to the right of centre, with the park running down to the Queen’s House and the old Royal Naval College. The dome of the Greenwich foot tunnel can also be seen.

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Look further to the left of Greenwich and part of the Thames Barrier and the Woolwich Ferry can be seen. The view is across the Isle of Dogs and shows the curve of the river. The river on the west side of the Isle of Dogs can just be seen running along the bottom of the photo before curving round off photo to the right, then continuing to run eastwards towards the estuary.

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The Shard viewing gallery is still a little distance from the very top of the building. The top floor of the viewing gallery is open to the weather.

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Full view of the Isle of Dogs including the tallest building in the Canary Wharf development – One Canada Square. Still shorter at 771 feet than the Shard, although the view from the top of One Canada Square is excellent.

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The white building of the Metropolitan Police River Policing Unit can be seen jutting out into the river at Wapping. This is the location of my post covering the Gun Tavern at Wapping. The river then bends around the area that was the location of the Surrey Commercial Docks, before curving around the Isle of Dogs.

The area above would once have been covered by the docks. The London Docks on the left at Wapping, the Surrey Commercial Docks covering the land in the centre, with the West India, South and Millwall Docks covering the Isle of Dogs.

The following extract from the 1940 Bartholomew Atlas of Great London shows the area covered in the above photo and illustrates the coverage of the docks.

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Looking north across to the City. Further on, the land is relatively flat and stays below 160 feet all the way out to just north of Enfield and close to the M25 from where the land rises to almost 300 feet just north of the M25. It is this high ground we can see on the horizon in the distance.

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From the height of the Shard, architectural features and building utilities can be interpreted in different ways. Here a row of air conditioning units look like rooftop dominoes.

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The view from the Shard provides a fantastic 360 degree view of London all the way to the surrounding hills. I was fortunate that the weather had improved considerably since my morning visit to the Monument and the conditions were ideal to see some considerable distance.

It was now time to head for a walk along the south bank of the river to my final view-point of the day, the:

The London Eye

The London Eye is different to the previous four buildings in that the London Eye provides a moving platform to look across the city. I was working on the South Bank when the London Eye was being built and somewhere I have the negatives of photos I took of the construction.

The London Eye seems to have acted as a hub for a considerable growth in tourists and visitor attractions on the South Bank. For many years when I worked here, the area was relatively quiet. On a summer’s day, the grass would be covered with workers from County Hall and Shell Centre with limited number of walkers along the South Bank – very different to today.

The weather was perfect for a trip around with a low sun causing long shadows on the South Bank. On entering the capsule, nearly everyone else ran to the end of the capsule, before the realisation that they would be looking directly into the sun. For me, the view towards the east, south and west was perfect.

As the London Eye gradually turns, a view over the South Bank on a perfect evening:

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Hungerford Railway Bridge with the new walkways on either side of the bridge. Waterloo Bridge in the background:

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Close-up of the crowds in front of the Royal Festival Hall on a summer’s evening:

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Starting to rise over the Shell Centre building. The viewing gallery at the top of the building is clearly visible in this photo. I was able to visit the viewing gallery and take photos across London from here in 1980. These can be found in this blog post.

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Looking over to the south and the entrance to Waterloo Station:

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Approaching the top of the London Eye:

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At the top of the London Eye, view towards the City:

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The Shard and Canary Wharf in the distance on the right:

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St. Paul’s Cathedral in the sun of a summer’s evening:

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The Walkie Talkie with the Monument to the right of the red crane, the start many hours earlier of my trip found these five London viewing platforms:

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As with so many areas across London, this scene will change dramatically over the next few years. The nine floor office blocks that once ran around the base of the tower have been demolished and new tower blocks, mainly of the ubiquitous luxury apartments will soon surround the original Shell Centre tower.

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View towards the south-west:

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And to the west and the Houses of Parliament:

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The old County Hall building that once housed the Greater London Council. Central court yards surrounded by office blocks.

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View towards the Crystal Palace Transmitter at 719 feet high on land that is already 360 feet above sea level:

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I really enjoyed visiting all these five viewing points in a single day, a fascinating alternative to walking the streets and to see the ever-changing skyline of the city, a city which still looks amazing from above.

Five locations was rather unambitious and with an earlier start and perhaps fewer stops in-between locations I could have added a further two, perhaps the new gallery at Tate Modern or for a different perspective, the tower viewing gallery at Westminster Cathedral. I suspect I will do this again in a couple of years time to see how London’s skyline has continued to change.

In one final post in the next couple of days I will take a look at what is perhaps the furthest man-made objects visible from central London – although not for much longer.

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My London 5 Peaks Challenge – The Monument, Sky Garden And St. Paul’s Cathedral

I do a considerable amount of walking around London, on foot being by far the best way to explore and understand the city. When not hunting down the locations of my father’s photos, then either a random walk or a walk with a specific theme or target.

I also like looking at London from above. My first view of London from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral was over 40 years ago and during occasional visits since it has been possible to witness the changing skyline of the city.

Viewing London from above also gives a geographical context to London. The relationship with the River Thames, the route to the open sea, the surrounding hills and how London has expanded from the original settlement around the City of London.

When thinking about a possible theme for a walk, I had been talking to someone who had recently completed  the Three Peaks Challenge – climbing Scafell Pike in England, Snowdon in Wales and Ben Nevis in Scotland within a period of 24 hours. London does not have any equivalent peaks but what it does have is a number of tall buildings with viewing galleries, so on a Saturday in August I went for my own very unambitious 5 peaks challenge, to see London from the top of 5 locations – The Monument, Sky Garden, St, Paul’s Cathedral, Shard and the London Eye.

Only two of these needed climbing and it is there that any comparison with the 3 peaks challenge ends, but it did provide an opportunity to see the changing London skyline from different locations, understand the structure of London (for example only by looking from above can you really understand how the railways have carved up the south of the river) and just to enjoy the view of this remarkable city.

As you would expect, this is rather photo heavy, so I have split into three posts over the next few days. The first covering the Monument, Sky Garden and St. Paul’s Cathedral, the second post covering the Shard and London Eye, with the third post answering the question of the furthest man-made object visible from London (I am afraid the sort of question I find fascinating).

I am going to stay clear of any discussion of the buildings in these posts, rather just enjoy the views across London.

So, at 10:00 on an overcast Saturday morning in August (with the forecast for improving weather), I arrived at:

The Monument

Completed in 1677 by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke to commemorate the Great Fire of London, the Monument provides a view-point in the heart of the City. When built, the Monument at 202 feet high would have stood clear of the surrounding buildings but today is starting to feel rather enclosed with the continuing growth in height of buildings across the City.

The viewing gallery is 311 steps from the entrance up a narrow cantilevered staircase, so after paying at the entrance it was a swift climb to the top for views across London from the oldest of the viewing points that I will looking from today.

First view from the Monument, looking down Monument Street towards the old Billingsgate Market and running across the Thames, Tower Bridge.

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A series of postcards were published in the early 20th century showing the view from the Monument – the first showing a similar view to the above:

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Looking up Gracechurch Street towards the towers of the City:

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Looking up King William Street with the towers of the Barbican in the distance and the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral on the left.

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Similar early 20th century view to the above photo. The growth in height of City buildings is obvious by how the church steeples once towered above their surroundings.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Post Office (BT) Tower in the distance.

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This view was once dominated by the roof of Cannon Street Station:

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View back across the City towards the towers of Canary Wharf in the distance. The looming presence of 20 Fenchurch Street (the Walkie Talkie building) dominates this part of the City. The Sky Garden at the top is my next stop.

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Although the River Thames is hidden by the buildings in the foreground, this is looking towards Bankside with the chimney of Tate Modern along with the new extension and viewing gallery to the left of the chimney. The top of the London Eye can be seen in the distance – my final stop later in the afternoon when hopefully the weather will have improved.

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View across the river to the Shard. The church of St. Magnus the Martyr in the lower centre of the photo with London Bridge hidden behind the building to the right of the church. This building is on the route of the original London Bridge.

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Time to descend the Monument and head off to the Sky Garden, always easier to climb down rather the climb up.

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The Monument is the City’s original viewing gallery and although now rather hemmed in by the surrounding buildings still offers good views of the City of London.

Above the viewing gallery is the flaming orb which is hollow and reached by a further small flight of stairs. At the very top, not visible from ground level is a CCTV camera which provides a 24 hour time-lapse view on the Monument’s web site, which can be found here, although it does not appear to be updating at the moment.

Now on to my next stop:

The Sky Garden

Access to the Sky Garden was quick and efficient and the lifts provided a rest in between climbing the Monument and the next climb to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Completed in 2014 and at a height of 525 feet, the design of the Sky Garden results in the best views being towards the south.

My first view was back towards the Monument which now looked busier than during my visit. Look closely at the top of the orb and the CCTV camera can just be seen along with the hollow top of the orb.

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Views towards Tower Bridge, City Hall and HMS Belfast. From this height it is easy to understand the flooding risk to London with the height of the river and how low and flat the surrounding land is, and this was not a particularly high tide. It is also at this height that you can start to see the higher ground that surrounds London to the north and south.

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View to the west with the Post Office Tower in the distance with Euston Tower just to the right. As yet, there are few tall buildings across this part of London.

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Wembley Stadium can be seen between the Post Office Tower and Euston Tower.

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Internal view of the Sky Garden.

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Through the revolving doors in the above photo, there is an external viewing gallery. Although there is still a glass barrier it is possible to look down on the City. The church of St. Mary at Hill is at lower centre with the old Billingsgate Market in the top centre.

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Across the river towards the Shard:

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And unlike the Monument, the view of the river from the Sky Garden is unobstructed.

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Looking down towards the Bank junction with the Bank of England building at the centre right.

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Looking north towards the other towers of the City. Tower 42 on the left, the 122 Leadenhall Street building (the Cheesegrater) in the middle and 30 St. Mary Axe (the Gherkin) on the right.

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Tower 42, originally know at the NatWest Tower when completed in 1980 and at 600 feet high was the first really tall tower building in the City. I remember this being built and at the time bought a copy of, if I remember correctly, the Illustrated London News which had a superb photo of the building by a photographer who was suspended in a large bucket away from the top of the tower by a crane also mounted on the top of the tower. Rather precarious, but a superb photo.

The Gherkin building was completed at the end of 2003 and stands at 591 feet high with the Cheesegrater being completed in 2013 at 738 feet.

View towards Canary Wharf with the Tower of London at lower right. From this height we can start to see the route of the river as it heads east towards the sea.

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View towards the east along Fenchurch Street and Aldgate High Street. The church of St. Botolph Without Aldgate can be seen to the left of centre, in front of the yellow crane.

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From this height we can also start to see how the construction of the railways carved through London. Here, the rail tracks running from Fenchurch Street Station out towards the east.

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Leaving the Sky Garden, with the promise of improving weather with the cloud breaking in the west, it was time for a walk to:

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral is my favourite place to look out across London. It is the history of the building, location, the climb up the 528 steps through the Whispering Gallery, Stone Gallery and finally to the Golden Gallery, along with the chance to admire the internal architecture and  the construction methods used.

My first climb of St. Paul’s was over 40 years ago and I started taking photos from the Lantern and Stone Galleries about 35 years ago. My father took a series of photos from the Stone Gallery just after the war showing the devastation around the Cathedral. These can be found here and here.

At the top of the final climb through the Dome, there is a small glass window at the centre which looks down to the floor of the church. This produces a strange optical effect as this is not looking through the roof of the dome directly above the floor, but through the space between the external and internal domes. The distorted view of the stairs that run up above the internal dome to get to the Golden Gallery can be seen in the periphery of this photo. It does though create the impression that you are directly above the internal dome.

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The first glimpse of the view through the door out to the narrow walkway that runs around the base of the Golden Gallery. The cloud is breaking and the sun is out.

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The view as you pass through the door, looking down between the two west towers to Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street.

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The view towards the Post Office Tower and Euston Tower. The Old Bailey can be seen to the lower centre right, just to the right of the red cranes.

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Paternoster Square:

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The three tower blocks of the Barbican with the low-rise block running between the left and centre towers. The church of St. Giles Cripplegate can be seen at the base of the right-hand tower.

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The view towards the east showing the cluster of towers in the City. This view also shows how the 20 Fenchurch Street building is separate from the main cluster of towers and much closer to the river. More towers will be added to this view over the coming years.

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Close up of the Monument from St. Paul’s Cathedral:

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The Shard and Cannon Street station:

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By climbing to the Golden Gallery we can get an understanding of the construction technique used to build the internal and external domes. From the gallery we can see some of the external construction techniques, for example the screen walls which were used as a method to hide the tops of the flying buttresses which were needed to strengthen the core of the cathedral. In the photo below, the roof of the Choir is in the centre, below the Dome with the screen walls running around the edge. The use of screens also avoided the need for expensive decorative work along the top of the choir walls and roof.

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View looking across the Millennium bridge towards Tate Modern, the old Bankside Power Station.

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The view from the Golden Gallery includes many of the local churches. Here, the church of St. Nicholas Cole Abbey alongside a new building site. As soon as this new building is in place, the view of the church from the cathedral will be mainly hidden again apart from the very top of the tower.

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St. Benets Metropolitan Welsh Church surrounded by Queen Victoria Street, the road down to Lower Thames Street and the City of London School.

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View across to the South Bank with the London Eye which will be my final stop.

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Close-up view of Bankside. This was once an industrialised area, but is now home to the reconstructed Globe Theatre. 49 Bankside, the building partly covered by the central tree and with the red door is a centuries old survivor of large amounts of change along Bankside.

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View along Ludgate Hill and into Fleet Street. The way that both these streets drop down towards Farringdon Street is a reminder that they originally ran down towards the River Fleet. The church of St. Martin-within-Ludgate is the dark tower on the right of Ludgate Hill. Further along on the left is the tower of St. Bride’s. Further along Fleet Street is the tower of St. Dunstan-in-the-West, and as Fleet Street curves towards the left behind the buildings is the tower of St. Clement Danes.

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View to the west looking up towards Waterloo Bridge. If the Garden Bridge is built it will cut across the river in the centre of the photo, obstructing views of the cathedral from the South Bank and Waterloo Bridge.

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The church of St. Vedas alias Foster in Foster Lane:

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Looking northwest to the high ground around Hampstead Heath and East Finchley. A number of the old rivers that originate in the north of London come from this area including the Fleet, Tyburn and Westbourne. The maximum height of the land at Hampstead Heath is around 443 feet and at the base of St. Paul’s Cathedral is around 36 feet showing the considerable change in height from the centre of London to the ring of hills around the north and south of the extended city.

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The tower of Christchurch Greyfriars alongside King Edward Street with the shell of the church a reminder of the bombing in this area during the last war:

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View across to Alexandra Palace and Alexandra Park with the Emirates Stadium on the right. The land in the distance sloping down from the heights of Hampstead Heath:

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The view from the Golden Gallery at St. Paul’s is superb. Standing 279 feet above the floor of the Cathedral on a narrow walkway in the open air is a wonderful way to experience the views across London.

After a quick look around the Cathedral and a much-needed drink in the Crypt Cafe, it was time to head to the Shard for number 4 in my London 5 Peaks Challenge which, along with the London Eye, will be the subject of my next post.

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Tower Bridge

A brief post today as unfortunately work commitments have been rather heavy over the past week. Here are three photos that my father took in 1948, the first two show the northern approach to Tower Bridge with the third showing the view across to the City from Tower Bridge. This last photo really makes you wonder how we plan the City and the buildings that tower over their surroundings.

Firstly, standing on the approach road to Tower Bridge. The Tower of London on the right. The cranes that still lined the river are visible to the left and right of the bridge. The sign on the left warns that heavy goods vehicles much cross the bridge at 8 miles per hour.

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68 years later and I am standing in roughly the same spot on a very sunny day – always a mistake due to the deep shadows. It should have been easy to locate the precise location, however I believe that the slip road to the left in the 1948 photo has been moved back, slightly further north.

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My 2016 photo also shows an empty road, a bit deceiving as I had to wait a lengthy period to get a clear road.

The next photo is a bit closer to the bridge.

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And in 2016.

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The photo below was taken from the bridge, looking over to the City of London. Look at the background and the church spires of the City churches are standing above their surroundings. To the left of centre, the Monument is standing clear and slightly to the left of the Monument, in the background, is the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

It is low tide, and along the bank of the Thames is the artificial beach, with stairs down from the walkway alongside the Tower.

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And the same view in 2016. I did not time the tide right, but the beach and the stairs have long gone. If you look carefully, just to the right of the red cranes, the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral can just be seen, with slightly further to the right, the very tip of the Monument.

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But what really intrudes into the 2016 view is the 20 Fenchurch Street building, better known as the Walkie Talkie building. Whilst the City cannot stay static, this building is just in the wrong place and the intrusive top-heavy design does not help.

I doubt that my father, standing on Tower Bridge and looking at the view over the City, would have imagined that it would look like this, 68 years later.

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Climbing The Caledonian Park Clock Tower

I have long wanted to see inside the Caledonian Park Clock Tower and the Open House London weekend provided the opportunity to do so, with tours available on the Saturday, so on a warm, sunny afternoon I was in Caledonian Park ready for the climb.

Referring back to yesterday’s post, the Clock Tower from the south. The old Copenhagen House would have been just in front and to the left of the Clock Tower.

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At the base of the tower are plaques recording the march in support of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the original Copenhagen Fields and House.

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Once inside the base of the tower, a spiral staircase provides access to the first floor:

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Further up the tower, the first glimpse of the view to come from the top:

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Along with the weights that drive the clock.

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The clock has not been converted to an electric system, the original mechanical clock is still in place, driven by weights and needing to be wound once a week.

The weights have almost half the height of the tower to fall when the clock is fully wound to provide a reasonably long running period.

Caledonian Clock Tower 10

On the floor below the clock mechanism is the pendulum. Fully operational with a smooth sweep back and forth. The bottom part of the near vertical wooden steps to climb between floors can just be seen below the pendulum.

Caledonian Clock Tower 4

On the next floor is the clock mechanism. In place since the original construction of the Clock Tower:

Caledonian Clock Tower 5

One of the dials recording that the clock was constructed by John Moore & Sons of Clerkenwell in 1856. Founded in 1790, John Moore & Sons operated from Clerkenwell Close for the whole of the 19th century, finally moving to Spencer Street in 1900 where they would remain for a further 20 years, mainly as watch makers. As well as the Caledonian Park Clock Tower, mechanisms manufactured by John Moore & Sons can still be found in many churches including St. Michael, Wood Green, St. Mary the Virgin in Mortlake and Holy Trinity Church in Fareham.

There have been a few restorations of the clock in the intervening 155 years, however it is still essentially the same as when it was first installed.

Caledonian Clock Tower 6

Other dials record later restorations. John Smith & Sons of Derby in 1993:

Caledonian Clock Tower 25

On the next floor up is the mechanism that takes the single drive from the clock on the floor below and drives four rods, one to each of the four clock faces on each side of the clock tower. Unfortunately the actual mechanism was hidden within a large wooden box.

Caledonian Clock Tower 7

One of the clock faces. The rod running from the right drives the clock and the gearing in the middle is the reduction drive so that both the minute and hour hands can be driven from the single drive.

Caledonian Clock Tower 24

The final set of steps provides access to the viewing gallery around the top of the Clock Tower. Through a small doorway, facing due south and straight into the following view across the whole sweep of central London and to the hills beyond.

Caledonian Clock Tower 11

Canary Wharf:

Caledonian Clock Tower 13

The City of London:

Caledonian Clock Tower 28

St. Paul’s Cathedral on the western edge of the City. When the Clock Tower was originally built. the city horizon would have seemed very flat with the exception of St. Paul’s and the steeples of the City churches.

Caledonian Clock Tower 22

The chimney of Tate Modern:

Caledonian Clock Tower 21

The Shell Centre building on the south bank and the London Eye:

Caledonian Clock Tower 20

The walkway around the Clock Tower is not that wide and the railings around the edge did not seem very high given the height of the Clock Tower.

Caledonian Clock Tower 16

Moving round to the east, the Olympic Park and the ArcelorMittal Orbit:

Caledonian Clock Tower 17And a bit further round, the Arsenal Emirates Stadium:

Caledonian Clock Tower 14Alexandra Palace:

Caledonian Clock Tower 15Looking to the south west, with the BT Tower in the centre. The area now covered by trees, the block of flats to the right and the sports pitches were all part of the Cattle Market.

Caledonian Clock Tower 29

The view looking down onto the park. The area occupied by the park, the football pitches and the sports complex were also part of the Cattle Market. Unfortunately I have not been able to find any photos taken from the tower whilst the market was in operation. It must have been an impressive sight on a busy market day.

Caledonian Clock Tower 27

Above the viewing gallery are the bells, not used having been out of action for many years.

Caledonian Clock Tower 18

As with the clock, the bells are original. The main bell showing 1856 as the year of manufacture:

Caledonian Clock Tower 19

It was about 10 to 15 minutes at the top of the tower, it went far too quickly when there was so much to take in, however It was time to climb back down through the doorway, and take one last look at London:

Caledonina Clock Tower 26

The Caledonian Clock Tower is a fantastic survival from the Metropolitan Cattle Market. Largely unchanged since first built and faithful to James Bunstone Bunning’s original design. It is a Grade II* listed building to recognise the important part the Clock Tower played in London’s commercial and industrial heritage. Long may it survive.

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A Walk Round The Shell Centre Viewing Gallery

Shell Centre is an office complex on the Southbank, located between Hungerford Bridge and the old London County Council building. The most obvious part of the complex is the 26 storey tower.

Designed by Sir Howard Robertson and built between 1957 and 1962 for the Royal Dutch Shell group of oil companies, the office complex set new standards for staff facilities and building automation. Originally two main blocks, one either side of Hungerford Bridge, the “downstream” building to the east of Hungerford Bridge was sold during the 1990’s and converted to apartments.

Although large buildings above ground, there is a significant part of the complex below ground with a large swimming pool, theatre and bar being among the facilities for the original 5,000 staff to enjoy. Two underground tunnels connected the upstream and downstream buildings, running underneath the rail arches leading to Hungerford Bridge and being just above the underground train tunnels running north from Waterloo.

The building also had a tunnel out to the Thames so that river water could be used for cooling.

The “upstream” building to the west of Hungerford Bridge has a “U” shape set of 10 storey offices with the 26 storey, 351 foot tower block being the most obvious feature of the complex.

Shell has temporarily moved out of the complex and there is a proposed redevelopment of the site that will significantly change this part of the Southbank, more on this at the end of this post.

Long before the Shard and the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street, one of the innovations for the time was that the tower had a public viewing gallery. This was when there were very few tall buildings across London and certainly nothing built or planned in this part of the city. The viewing gallery provided almost continuous all round views of London.

The viewing gallery closed not that long after opening. I was told this was because that sadly there had been a suicide (although I have no verification of this). I was able to visit the viewing gallery in 1980 and took the following photos which show a very different London skyline to that of today. It always surprises me that it was not that long ago that there were very few tall buildings across London.

We will start with the view across to the Houses of Parliament and walk round the viewing gallery.

This was long before the construction of the London Eye which would now be the main feature of this view:

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 3

Moving further to the right we can look straight across the river. The large building to the right are the offices of the Ministry of Defence. Buckingham Palace is to the left of centre:

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 15

And further to the right, this is the original Charing Cross Station at the end of Hungerford Railway Bridge. In the years after this photo was taken, in common with many other main London stations, office buildings were constructed on top of the station. This was also before the Golden Jubilee foot bridges were added to either side of Hungerford Railway Bridge. At the time the photo was taken there was a single, relatively narrow foot bridge on the east side of the bridge.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 4

Looking directly onto Charing Cross Station with the Post Office Tower in the background and Centre Point to the right:

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 2

Further to the right, the building left of centre is Shell-Mex House. This was occupied by the UK operating company of Shell. To the right is Waterloo Bridge.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 14

And further to the right with the full width of Waterloo Bridge:

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 13

We are now starting to look over towards the City of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral can be seen to the upper right of centre and the three towers of the Barbican to the left.

The L shaped building in the lower foreground is the downstream building of the Shell Centre complex, and just above this building is the tower that was for London Weekend Television. The base of this tower still consists of TV studios, one of the few buildings that have had the same function over the last 35 years.

To the right of this is Kings Reach Tower, occupied at the time by IPC Magazines, publishers of magazines ranging from Loaded to Country Life. IPC Magazines vacated this tower block some years ago and it is now in the process of being converted into, yes you have probably guessed, more apartments. The height of the building is being raised with additional floors being constructed in top.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 7

And slightly further to the right, the tower in the distance was at the time the tallest office block in the City of London, the recently completed NatWest Tower, built for the NatWest Bank, now renamed as Tower 42.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 1

This photo is looking down onto the roundabout at the southern end of Waterloo Bridge. The large space in the centre of the roundabout is now occupied by an IMAX Cinema. The church to the right is St. John’s, Waterloo. The church was built between 1822 and 1824 and due to the marshy land had to be built on piles.  I was told at the time that one of the reasons for so much space below ground level at Shell Centre was also due to the marshy ground and the need to keep the overall weight on the site equal. Excavating below ground level to remove sufficient weight of earth equal to the weight of building on top. No idea if this is true, but it does seem plausible.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 5

This photo is looking straight across to the City and Southwark. There is nothing of any height in the far distance. The buildings of Canary Wharf would now be very visible in the distance.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 9

Continuing to move to the right, this is looking over south-east London with the roof of Waterloo Station occupying the bottom right corner of the photo.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 8

And round to the right again looking over south London with the extensive network of tracks leading into Waterloo Station. The lower section of tracks at the bottom part of the photo would soon be converted to the London terminus of Eurostar prior to the completion of the HS1 rail route which transferred Eurostar trains into St. Pancras.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 11

Detail from the above photo showing British Rail rolling stock prior to privatisation of the rail network:

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 18And a final view over to south west London. This was as far as the viewing gallery would allow, the gallery did not run along the western side of the tower:

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 12

I cannot remember why I was using Black and White film when I took these photos from the viewing gallery. Shortly after taking the above, I took the following photo in colour showing Shell Centre from the north bank of the Thames. The north facing part of the viewing gallery can be clearly seen at the very top.

Shell Centre Viewing Gallery 17

The building is one of the few immediate post war developments that works well. If the proposed redevelopment of the site gets approval, it will be very different. The plans propose the demolition of the “U” shaped 10 storey office block at the base of the tower, and a whole new cluster of towers built around the original tower.

To see the proposed development, look here.

It was quite a surprise to see how much this area will change, and in my view, the close proximity of towers of very different materials and design to the original tower just does not look right.

It was fascinating to look back on these photos of the London skyline from 1980. It looks very different now, and the almost continuous development of tower blocks look set to continue transforming the skyline for many years to come, although unlike the original Shell Centre complex, with almost identical glass and steel towers that are removing so much of the local character of London.

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The Garden Bridge – A Personal View

The majority of my posts have been covering the changes in London over the last 70 years, showing where London has changed, and the few locations where there has been very little change.

Change in London is a constant, some good, some not so good and often we do not recognise and appreciate what we have in London until it is lost. For this week’s post I want to offer my personal view of a proposed very significant change to London and to the River Thames that now looks likely to get the go ahead and to be built.

The Garden Bridge is a proposal to construct a pedestrian bridge over the River Thames between the Southbank and Temple Underground Station. As the name suggests, this will be far more than a simple pedestrian bridge, the deck of the bridge will be planted with trees, shrubs etc. to give the impression of a walk through a garden as you cross the River Thames.

The proposal has already been granted planning permission by Lambeth Council and last Tuesday evening was granted permission by Westminster Council.

The bridge will span the Thames, across the sweep of river known as Kings Reach between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges, from the Southbank to land on the roof of Temple Underground Station on the north bank.

I am not going to argue against the concept, the design or the economics of the Garden Bridge, there are already a number of articles covering these topics. In this post I will question the location, and show what will be lost as a result of the Garden Bridge.

The bridge will cross the river between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges. It needs to be high enough to provide sufficient clearance for river traffic at high tide, and the overall apparent height of the bridge will be increased by the planting of trees.

The website of the Garden Bridge Trust can be found here where there are photos and videos of the bridge.

The sweep of the Thames between these two bridges is one of the longest between Westminster and Tower bridges and provides superb views of the river from both north and south embankments and from Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges.

Rather than crossed by themed bridges, the River Thames and its relationship to the city and the built environment should be the object of interest. The River Thames is central to the history of London. It is the reason why London was established in this location. It was the artery which carried shipping to and from the rest of the world to the docks of London that were central to the development of London as a major global trading city. The Thames has also divided north and south London, providing two parts of the larger city with very different characters. The Thames also provides a key open space in a very congested city.

The proposed landing point on the north bank of the Thames will be at Temple Underground Station. This is a relatively quiet area and the level of visitor numbers to the bridge (anticipated by the Garden Bridge Trust at 7.1 million per annum – paragraph 8.6.2 of the Environmental Statement Main Report Volume 1) will significantly impact and change this area.

Last Saturday I took a walk round the area where the Garden Bridge is to be constructed to understand the impact and see how the area will change.

I started on Waterloo Bridge, looking east down the Thames and across to the City. The current view is shown in the following photo, where we look down Kings Reach towards Blackfriars Bridge with St. Paul’s and the City in the background. The spire of St. Brides can seen above the trees on the left. The Garden Bridge will run across the centre of the river from in front of the white ship on the left to the south bank on the right.

garden bridge 12
The long view of the sweep of the Thames will be lost with the bridge now running across the river and dividing Kings Reach in two, obscuring the view down to Blackfriars Bridge and having an impact on the view across to St. Paul’s and the City.

Walking along Waterloo Bridge to the north bank, we pass this view of the north bank of the river. This will change considerably as the bridge will be landing in front of the white ship and cutting across to Temple Station which is behind the trees on the left.

garden bridge 10

Compared to the south bank of the Thames, the north bank in this area (apart from the traffic) is still very quiet. The bridge will land on top of the building housing the Temple Underground Station, with steps running down to street level. In the following photo, the bridge will come across the gap between the station entrance and the railings to the right, with access ramps and two lifts onto the roof of the station and down to ground level.

garden bridge 19

The rooftop area on top of the station and the adjacent bar is shown in the following photo. This will become the landing point for the northern side of the bridge.

garden bridge 6

The following view is from the top of Temple Underground Station. The ship is the Head Quarters Ship (HQS) Wellington. Built in 1934 and having seen service across the world, was berthed on the Embankment in 1948 as a floating livery hall of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. The ship is now owned by a charitable trust, the Wellington Trust. The Garden Bridge will come across the Thames, in front of HQS Wellington and onto the Temple roof to the left.

garden bridge 7

A view of the station entrance and building as it currently stands. Again, the bridge would be coming across the Embankment and landing on the roof of this building, with the associated steps and lifts to support the expected volume of visitors to the bridge.

garden bridge 9

Adjacent to Temple Underground Station are one of the Embankment Gardens. This garden currently provides a quiet area to walk and get away from the traffic on the Embankment.

Remember that the Garden Bridge Trust anticipate 7.1 million annual visitors to the bridge.

During peak periods there will probably need to be some method of crowd control / waiting for access to the bridge. The impact on this garden and the area surrounding Temple Underground Station will be very significant, potentially making this area as busy as the Southbank is today.

One of the arguments for the Garden Bridge appears to be that the Temple area is underused and the bridge will bring visitors, but I do not see why there is a need to make everywhere in London busy? One of the pleasures of living, working or visiting London is finding areas that are not crowded, not too commercialised and still having some unique character. The Garden Bridge will significantly change this area of the north bank and bring significant numbers of people to the area around Temple Underground Station and the adjacent gardens, with the almost certain additional commercialisation that the availability of large numbers of people often attracts.

The Embankment Gardens adjacent to Temple Underground Station:

garden bridge 2

Looking back from the gardens to Temple Underground Station:

garden bridge 3

These gardens have some interesting statues. The statue in the gardens to Lady Isabelle Henry Somerset “in memory of work done for the temperance cause”, from the “Children of the Loyal Temperance Legion”. According to the plaque, she was also the founder of the first “industrial farm for inebriate women” whatever that could have been !

garden bridge 1
And the statue to William Edward Forster “To his wisdom and courage England owes the establishment throughout the land of a national system of elementary education”. His Education Act of 1870 set the framework for a system of primary school education:

garden bridge 4

The entrance to the gardens from Temple Place:

garden bridge 5
Hard to believe that the Garden Bridge Trust anticipate 7.1 Million visitors per annum will be crossing the bridge and passing through the northerly landing point at Temple:

garden bridge 17

Walking along the Embankment towards Blackfriars Bridge we can look back at Temple Underground Station. The Garden Bridge will cross the Embankment and land on the roof of the Underground Station. (If Westminster Council want to improve the area, it would be good to replace or remove the “Welcome to Westminster” sign in the central reservation, not the most inspiring of signs or integrated with the surroundings).

garden bridge 8

A short distance along the Embankment we can walk onto the pier where HQS Wellington is berthed and look back towards Waterloo Bridge. The Garden Bridge will cross the river just in front of the Wellington;

garden bridge 18

Continuing along the Embankment, we walk up to Blackfriars Bridge and walk to the centre to look back up river to Waterloo Bridge. The first ship on the right is HMS President, painted in a “dazzle” colour scheme. Further along the north bank we can see HQS Wellington marking where the bridge will cross the Thames to the area with trees on the Southbank to the left. I doubt that very much of Waterloo Bridge will be visible and the planting on top of the bridge may well obscure the buildings running along the north bank.

garden bridge 16
As well as the Garden Bridge, additional future development work is planned to take place for the Thames Tideway Tunnel on the Blackfriars Bridge foreshore where there will be reclamation of land in the foreshore and construction of a new permanent area with ” several ventilation columns, a kiosk and public realm furniture will be permanent above ground features”. See the Blackfriars site on the Thames Tideway Tunnel website here for an illustration.

Continue across Blackfriars Bridge and walk along the Southbank towards Waterloo Bridge. Just past the Oxo Tower building, we pass Bernie Spain Gardens and arrive at the southerly landing point of the bridge, photographed early on a Saturday morning.

In this area will be access to and from the bridge, along with a new building to house maintenance, storage and welfare facilities for the bridge staff and a combination of approximately 410 square meters of retail and/or restaurants and/or visitor centre / community / educational use.

garden bridge 15

Walking a bit further along we come to where the bridge will cross the river. Looking directly across, the bridge will pass over the smaller boat in the middle of the photo, with Temple Underground Station being just behind the trees.

garden bridge 14

To me, the Garden Bridge, however good the concept and design, will be in entirely the wrong location.

1. A significant stretch of the Thames will be changed for good. Kings Reach will be broken up into two smaller segments and the bridge will detract from the focus that should be on the river and the relationship between the river and the City.

2. Views from Waterloo Bridge and the Southbank will be changed for good, with significant loss of the view over to the City. The view from Waterloo Bridge will now be of a much shorter stretch of the Thames.

3. The view from Blackfriars Bridge will likewise change. The view of Waterloo Bridge and the arc of buildings along the north bank will be obscured.

4. A relatively quiet area of the north bank will be subjected to significantly raised numbers of visitors. The area will need to accommodate 7.1 million visitors per annum with the associated infrastructure and commercialisation that this number will attract. The current environment of the Temple will be changed for good.

5. The Southbank is already a very successful cultural and visitor location. It can be incredibly busy at weekends and during the peak summer periods. Can it cope with the additional visitor numbers that the Garden Bridge will bring?

6. Why in this location? What needs to be connected between these points on the south and north banks and what is the purpose of building the bridge in this location?

The last bridge to be built in central London, the Millennium Bridge was for a very specific purpose, to connect Bankside and Tate Modern with the area around St. Paul’s. It is a well designed bridge built for the purpose of moving people, it does not pretend to be something else.

Having received approval from both Lambeth and Westminster Councils, the final decision is now with the Mayor of London.

For further information, the site of the Garden Bridge Trust is here.

Newspaper articles covering the recent decisions are from the Guardian, the Independent and the Daily Telegraph.

Final views of the key locations. From the south bank looking along the line of the bridge towards the north bank:
garden bridge 20
The area on the south bank where the bridge will land along with the staff and maintenance buildings, retail etc:

garden bridge 21
The view from Blackfriars Bridge: garden bridge 23

The view from Waterloo Bridge:
garden bridge 22
The Embankment Gardens at Temple: garden bridge 24

 

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Post War London from the Stone Gallery, St. Paul’s – The North and West

For this week’s post, we continue on our walk around the Stone Gallery of St. Paul’s Cathedral, 376 steps and 53 meters from the cathedral floor. We have covered the south and east views and this week it is the turn of the north and south and the first photo is looking roughly due north:

2014 North 1 old

The street on the left is King Edward Street and the street on the right is St. Martin’s Le-Grand. The large buildings that occupy the space between these were General Post Office buildings  with the larger building in the centre of the photo being the headquarters of the General Post Office.

Whilst the roads are still in the same position, the view again is very different. In the following photo, apart from the streets my only reference points are the building on the extreme left of the photo and the church tower of St. Giles, Cripplegate on the right. These appear to be the only buildings that remains from the immediate post war period.

2014 North 1

Now walk a few feet to the left and look out over to Christchurch Greyfriars.

Newgate Street is running left to right with King Edward Street heading north from Newgate Street.

2014 North 2 old

And the same view today. The body of the church has been left to this day as it was after being destroyed in 1940. Flower beds now occupy the space where the pews once stood. Apart from the church, the building just behind the body of the church also remains.

2014 North 2

The above photos and the ones below are looking down on the area of Paternoster Square and Paternoster Row.

Paternoster Row was mentioned in the thirteenth century when Stow states that it was built around 1282 and that rents from the houses were used for the maintenance of London bridge. Before the war, this area was well-known for book publishing, distribution and warehousing, a fact that contributed to the intensity of the fires that raged in this area. This trade started well before the 20th century. It was in Paternoster Row in 1720 that William Taylor published Robinson Crusoe after Defoe had tried all over London to sell the manuscript. In 1724 Taylor’s publishing business was purchased by Thomas Longman who had founded the publishing firm of Longman, Green and Company also in Paternoster Row. Longman is still an imprint today, owned by the Pearson publishing company.

The following paragraphs are from the book “The Lost Treasures of London” by William Kent and give some idea of the dreadful loss to the long-established businesses that use to thrive in the City.

“On the night of the 29th December 1940 the bombs rained down here and Paternoster Row was more completely destroyed than any other City thoroughfare of importance. All that remained were a few buildings at the east end. The devastation in respect of books has been indicated by Evan Pughe, the Deputy Chairman of Simpkin Marshall and Co. Ltd:

On the night of the 29th December 1940, Simpkin Marshall, Ltd, the greatest distributor of English books in the world, carrying the largest comprehensive stock, lost approximately four million books when their premises in Ave Maria Lane, Stationers’ Hall Court, Stationers’ Hall, Amen Corner, Paternoster Row and Ludgate Hill, were entirely destroyed by the incendiary bombs of the enemy.

This disastrous fire eliminated everything. All the old records of the business going back a hundred and thirty years were destroyed; and most important of all, the great cataloguing system, the only one of its kind in the world, dating back for a hundred and fifty years. These catalogues were handwritten records of books, cross-referenced, so that books on all subjects could easily be traced. These records could immediately give books that had been published on any subject during the hundred and fifty years covered by them, the publisher, date of publication, the price, the size of the books, etc. They were invaluable and their loss will be felt by the reading public for many years to come.”

As a result of the blitz, Simpkin Marshall went out of business. It is hard to imagine the loss that must have been felt when Londoners returned to their place of work after an air raid and realised not just the loss of the buildings, but also what was held within and long established businesses.

Turning a bit more to the left and peering down we can get a glimpse of the Chapter House and the road that was St. Paul’s Church Yard that closely circled the cathedral.

The five circular shapes just behind the Chapter House are the impressions left by water storage tanks. Access to water was always a problem during the blitz. Damage to water distribution pipes, blocked roads and low tides in the Thames all contributed to the lack of the plentiful supplies of water needed to fight the sheer number of fires that would take hold after a raid. After the Paternoster area was destroyed on the 29th December 1940, the area was quickly cleared and these water tanks were built and kept full ready for the next raid.

Further back can be seen the rectangular shape and surrounding streets of Paternoster Square.

2014 North 3 old

I was able to frame the following 2014 photo reasonably well using the statue at the bottom right, to take a photo in exactly the same position as my father 67 years ago. The current incarnation of the Chapter House is currently undergoing re-building / restoration work hence the protective covering.

2014 North 3

Now look up again and walk further to the left and out across to the west. In 1947 the Old Bailey with the “Lady of Justice” holding the sword and scales of justice stand well above the surrounding buildings, with the Senate House of the University of London the next tallest building in the distance.

2014 West 4 old

In 2014, the Old Bailey still stands clear but the rest of the view towards the west is very different. The view of the Senate House is now obscured, and the next tallest building on the horizon is the BT Tower.

2014 West 4

Turning to look further to the left, we can see one of the western towers at the front of St. Paul’s.

2014 West 5 old

And the same view today in 2014:

2014 West 5

Looking at these towers at the front of St. Paul’s, at the Dome, across the different levels of roof across the cathedral, the many small walkways, along with the many stairways leading up to the heights of the cathedral really bring home the complexity of protecting the cathedral during the air raids of the blitz.

The Very Reverend W.R. Matthews, Dean of St. Paul’s wrote an account of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Wartime published in 1946. The following extract covering the 29th December 1940 brings to life the challenges that the Fire Watchers faced whilst protecting the cathedral. We join the account after the external water supplies have dried up:

“The Watch was now forced back on their reserves and had to rely entirely on stirrup pumps and sandbags. How we blessed the prescience of our commander, who had insisted on having our supplies of reserve water augmented in case of an emergency like that which we now confronted. Tanks, baths and pails full of water with their compliment of crowbars, shovels and other fire-fighting equipment were now liberally installed in all the vulnerable parts of the building and were so arranged that men approaching the scene of the fire from any direction would be certain of finding the necessary appliances to hand. But for these precautions there might well have been a different story to tell of the fate of St. Paul’s that night.

The action in the cathedral became for a while a number of separate battles in which small squads fought incipient fires at different places on and beneath the roofs. Some of the bombs were easily dealt with, as for example that one which fell on to the floor of the Library aisle and was extinguished by Mr Allen and myself. I have a special affection for the scar left by that bomb on the floor – it represents, I feel, my one little positive contribution to the defeat of Hitler ! But some of these battles were arduous and protracted. Bombs which lodged in the roof timber were very dangerous and hard to tackle. More than one of these took three-quarters of an hour before they were put out and had to be attacked by two squads, one from below and the other from above. The lower squad had the additional discomfort of being drenched by the pumps of their more elevated colleagues”.

The account also makes clear the need for a “head for heights” when working in the roof spaces and above the cathedral floor. It is the bravery of the Fire Watchers that we have to thank for the survival of the cathedral.

Now for the final view from the Stone Gallery in 1947 and we are looking out over the southerly of the western towers across the River Thames to Westminster. We can see Waterloo Bridge along with the Shot Tower on the south bank of the Thames.

2014 West 6 old

And in 2014, the view of the river and Waterloo Bridge remain but there has been considerable change on both banks of the river. In the 1947 photo, the south bank would soon be cleared for the Festival of Britain, after which the site was part occupied by the Shell Centre building then continuous development leading up to the London Eye.

In the foreground in the extreme lower left of the photos is St. Benets, Paul’s Wharf.

2014 West 6

The following map from Bartholomew’s 1940 Reference Atlas of Greater London covers the area to the north of St. Paul’s and shows the streets between St. Paul’s Church Yard and Newgate Street. This was the area shown in the photos covering Paternoster Row and Square and shows the many small streets that were occupied by numerous businesses including that of Simpkin Marshall Ltd. These were soon to be lost with the rebuilding of the area over the coming decades.

map part 2

Compare this 1940 map with the Google map of today:

View Larger Map
That completes our walk around the Stone Gallery. The air raid of the 29th December 1940 destroyed a significant part of the surroundings of St. Paul’s and the area has since changed dramatically.

The air raids destroyed not only buildings but also business that had been operating for many years, not to mention the thousands of lives that were lost. That St. Paul’s remains is thanks to the bravery of those who protected the building as the area was covered by a deluge of bombs.

For Londoners, it must have seemed that their City was changing forever almost on a nightly basis.

The following photo is from the Imperial War Museum collection © IWM (D 6412) and was taken in January 1942 and perhaps typifies the atmosphere that must have pervaded many parts of the city.

bombed london in the snow

The Stone Gallery (and the higher Golden gallery) provide a perfect location to view the wide sweep of London, from Shooters Hill, to Alexandra Palace, the City, Westminster, North and South Bank. The last stone of the cathedral’s structure was laid in 1708 and since that time it has looked down on a City that has changed beyond all recognition and hopefully will continue to do so for many centuries to come.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Lost Treasures of London by William Kent published 1947
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral In Wartime by the Very Reverend W.R. Matthews, Dean of St. Paul’s published 1946
  • The Blitz by Constantine Fitz Gibbon published 1957
  • The City That Wouldn’t Die by Richard Collier published 1959
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published 1940
  • The Streets of London by Gertrude Burford Rawlings published 1926
  • And for a detailed minute by minute account I recommend reading The City Ablaze – The Second Great Fire of London 29th December 1940 by David Johnson published 1980

 alondoninheritance.com

Post War London from the Stone Gallery, St. Paul’s – The South and East

Soon after the end of the war, my father climbed the 376 steps from the cathedral floor up to the Stone Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral to get the view that only the Stone Gallery can provide of the sweep of London from the City to Westminster. From here he was able to take in what had become of the city that he had grown up in during the long years of the war.

67 years later I climbed the same 376 steps to take in how London had changed over those intervening years.

In this week’s post, the first of two, I will compare the photos he took then with my photos of 2014, however firstly to get our bearings the following Aerofilms photo from before the war shows how St. Paul’s was surrounded by the dense city streets with buildings much closer to the cathedral than they are now. These were not only offices, but also plenty of warehouses with one of the major publishers / book distributors having their office and warehouse just north of St. Paul’s in Paternoster Square. The spires of the city churches still stood clear of their surroundings, but St. Paul’s dominated the area. In view of what was to come it still amazes me that St. Paul’s survived.

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Much of the devastation around St. Paul’s was caused on the 29th December 1940.

Christmas 1940 had been relatively quiet, however on the evening of the 29th December a large bomber force appeared over the City just after 6pm and for just over the next three hours incendiary bombs rained down on the City along with high explosive bombs. This combination caused maximum damage. High explosive bombs would rip buildings apart, exposing their contents to the impact of the incendiaries. During the peak of the raid over 300 incendiary bombs a minute were falling across the City and St. Paul’s quickly became surrounded by a sea of flame, fire crossing over the small streets and debris falling all around.

St. Paul’s was protected by a team of Fire Watchers who had the dangerous job of watching as the bombs fell and getting to an incendiary as quickly as possible to put it out before a fire became established. At one point an incendiary got stuck in the lead dome of the cathedral, where it could not be reached. A moment of danger as a single incendiary could cause a fire that would have engulfed the dome but miraculously it became free as it burned and melted the surrounding lead, and fell away from the dome landing in the Stone Gallery where the Fire Watchers could easily get to it and safely extinguish the danger.

It was not just incendiary bombs that put St. Paul’s at risk. The Fire Watchers also had to deal with a steady stream of flying embers from the surrounding buildings flying across and onto the cathedral. The heat from the concentration of fires stirred up winds that would spread embers quickly to create new fires where bombs had not landed.

The first waves of bombing finished just after 9pm and most of the area around St. Paul’s was ablaze along with many other areas of the City. The Fire Watchers and Fire Fighters worked hard in the dangerous conditions, a low tide not helping with extracting water from the Thames and the constant worry that the next wave of bombers would soon be over. However towards midnight the tide was rising and fog in the channel prevented the next wave of bombers from launching their next series of raids.

Next morning, Londoners awoke to a very different City.

Now join me as we walk around the Stone Gallery. We start looking over towards the south-east of London:

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The remains of the church in the centre of the photo is St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey and just behind is St Mary Somerset. The road between the two churches is Queen Victoria Street. The bridge spanning the Thames is Southwark Bridge and in the distance we can just see the tower of Southwark Cathedral.

The view today is shown in the following photo:

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As with much of the City of London, the church towers provide us with reference points to confirm the location. St. Nicholas, Cole Abbey in the centre of the photo still stands along Queen Victoria Street with the steeple restored on the top of the tower.

Interesting that the River Thames is much more visible in 2014. Most noticeable is that we can now see the rail bridge into Cannon Street Station. The height of the buildings between St. Paul’s and the Thames appear lower than the buildings constructed in the pre-war period. A success of the regulations governing the views of St. Paul’s and surprising that in one area of London at least the buildings are not in a race for height.

Turning slightly to the left, we can now see the full length of Cannon Street Station with the original roof running the whole length from the Thames facing towers through to the station buildings facing onto Cannon Street. The Monument stands clear of surrounding buildings and the tops of the cranes running along the Thames between Billingsgate and Cannon Street can be seen.

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The same view today is shown below:

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Cannon Street has lost the roof and the dominant position it held on the City skyline. The Monument now bravely maintains its position just above the surrounding buildings, but again is not such a prominent landmark on the skyline and all the cranes have been lost along the Thames.

A slightly different view just further to the left.

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And the same view today. the church in the centre of the above photo and just behind the red crane in the following photo is St. Mary Aldermary

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The spire just edging into the bottom of the above photo is the rebuilt spire of St. Augustine, Watling Street and the tower as it was after the war is seen in the following photo from the Stone Gallery.

The building in front of the church in the following photo is the premises of Andersons Rubber Company. One of the buildings that was on the plot to the right of St. Augustine was Cordwainers Hall. In total a succession of 6 livery halls had been on this site from 1440. The one destroyed by bombing was built-in 1909 and was the last on the site as the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers moved to the Law Society in Chancery Lane, then in 2005 moved to the Clothworker’s Hall in the City.

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The view today could hardly be more different. the spire has been restored to the church, the Andersons building has been demolished and not rebuilt and the plot of land immediately to the right of the church are now gardens and pedestrian areas.

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The small road that runs past the church and Andersons in the original photo which is now a pedestrian walkway was the end of Watling Street where is ran straight to the St. Paul’s Church Yard road that ran close around the cathedral. Pre-war, although St. Paul’s was the tallest building in London and so dominated the skyline, it was ringed on all sides by a tight network of roads and buildings. Re-building since the war has opened up the immediate cathedral surroundings.

We continue on our walk around the Stone Gallery, this time we have moved a bit further to the left and are now looking across to the centre of the City.

The tower of St. Mary-le-Bow still stands along Cheapside next to the burnt out shell of the church.

The road running across the photo at the back of the car park is Friday Street. So called due to the fishmongers who had their homes here and serving Friday’s market. A survival from the days when fish was eaten on a Friday. This street has now been lost under the One New Change development.

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The city skyline in the above photo is as it has been for hundreds of years with only the church towers and steeples rising above the surrounding streets. How different this now looks in 2014:

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As well as One New Change in the foreground, the road in front, New Change is a new routing of the original road Old Change that ran directly behind St. Paul’s, so close that it is obscured in the original photo.

In the City, the march of the new towers continues with Tower 42 on the left followed by the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater and the WalkieTalkie just appearing on the right.

Now for the final photo of this week’s walk around the southerly and easterly aspects of the Stone Gallery and we are looking roughly north-east at St. Verdast alias Foster on Foster Lane.

Note in the top right corner is the shell of the Guildhall. The Guildhall suffered badly on the night of the 29th December when the fire spread from the neighbouring church of St. Lawrence Jewry. The roof was destroyed and the wooden figures of Gog and Magog from 1708 were reduced to ashes, along with about 25,000 volumes from the library.

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And today’s photo of the same area, which I admit I did not realise I took a bit too low and cut of the top of the spire on the church. That is what comes with trying to balance an iPad with the original photos and a camera at the same time and not checking afterwards!

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To get a view of the streets around St. Paul’s and how they have changed, the following map is from Bartholomew’s 1940 Reference Atlas of Greater London. The original Old Change was between St. Augustine and St. Paul’s. This has been re-routed to the right and renamed New Change from which the development that is now on top of Friday Street takes its name. Watling Street and Cannon Street ran straight up to St. Paul’s Church Yard. This junction and the building plot where Cordwainer’s Hall was located are now gardens and pedestrian areas.

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Compare this 1940 map with the Google map of today:

View Larger Map

The following photo by the Daily Mail photographer Herbert Mason taken on the 29th December 1940 looking across Ludgate Hill towards St. Paul’s and now in the Imperial War Museum collection gives an impression of the scene with fires raging around the cathedral (photo © IWM (HU 36220A))

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Join me next week as I continue the walk around the Stone Gallery to view the North and Westerly views.

The sources I used to research this post are:

  • The Lost Treasures of London by William Kent published 1947
  • The Blitz by Constantine Fitz Gibbon published 1957
  • The City That Wouldn’t Die by Richard Collier published 1959
  • London by George H. Cunningham published 1927
  • Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London published 1940
  • The Streets of London by Gertrude Burford Rawlings published 1926
  • And for a detailed minute by minute account I recommend reading The City Ablaze – The Second Great Fire of London 29th December 1940 by David Johnson published 1980

 alondoninheritance.com

 

Building the Foundations of the Royal Festival Hall

I have a number of photos of the Southbank as it was just after the war and prior to any demolition for the Festival of Britain, along with a few photos of the building of the Royal Festival Hall and I thought I had found all my father’s photos of this area of London, however I was recently scanning some more negatives and found a set of photos taken in 1948 as the site was cleared and the foundations for the Royal Festival Hall were being started.

I find these fascinating on a number of levels. The methods of construction, the immediate surroundings and the views of London in the distance.

These photos were taken from the end of the footbridge that ran alongside Hungerford railway bridge.

This first photo is looking directly into what will be the Royal Festival Hall. The area has been cleared and the ground dug out ready for the foundations and building to commence.

The remains of the buildings on the edge of the site are running along the roadway that leads to Waterloo Bridge which is just to the left. St. Paul’s can be seen in the distance standing clear as the tallest building in London. The chimney is on the south side of the river, just further along the Southbank.

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In the following photo the camera has moved slightly to the left and we can now see the Shot Tower that will remain for the Festival of Britain, and the start of Waterloo Bridge. After the Festival of Britain the Hayward Gallery and Purcell Room would be built in the space occupied by the Shot Tower and along the approach road to Waterloo Bridge, filling the gap between the approach road and the Royal Festival Hall. The Hayward Gallery and Purcell Room are true examples of Brutalist architecture with considerable exposed concrete, very different to the Royal Festival Hall.Old RFH 3

And now further to the left again to see not just the construction site of the Royal Festival Hall but also the construction of the new embankment along the Thames.

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It is surprising how that, apart from the different types of crane where most building sites now use Tower Cranes, the building site is very much as you find building sites today, however on enlarging the photos to look at the workmen, there is an almost complete absence of any of the protective clothing that would now be considered mandatory.

Trying to take a 2014 comparison photo is next to impossible. The following photo is taken from the end of the Hungerford Foot Bridge looking over towards Waterloo Bridge as close to the above photo as I could get, however the trees and building on the Southbank now completely obscure the view.

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The following photo is looking down into the construction site. Note all the old multi-floor, empty window buildings along the approach road to Waterloo Bridge. These would soon be demolished ready for the Festival of Britain. What was the Shell Centre Downstream building (now converted into apartments) now stands on the site of these buildings and the area behind the Royal Festival Hall.

Old RFH 2And turning to the right we can see on the right hand side the pathway along the side of Hungerford Bridge from Belvedere Road. The buildings in the distance still exist. The church is St. John’s, Waterloo, the building to the left of the church is now the James Clark Maxwell Building of King’s College London. The building to the left of this was the Royal Waterloo Hospital for Women and Children (which closed in 1976) and the building to the left of this is now also part of King’s College London.

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I took the following photo from the end of the footbridge looking down to what was the ground level pathway between the Royal Festival Hall construction site and Hungerford Bridge. Still a very busy route from Waterloo Station to the foot bridge and across to the north bank of the Thames, but as with the rest of the site a complete change to how it was in 1948.

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The original photos were taken from the same position with the same camera settings, so I was able to stitch my father’s original photos together into a panorama showing the whole of the Royal Festival Hall construction site from the edge of the River Thames to the edge of Hungerford Bridge to provide a complete view of the construction site and the horizon as it was in 1948.

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The Royal Festival Hall is on a superb position on the south bank of the River Thames with sweeping views from Westminster across to the City. The building was the only permanent part of the Festival of Britain and one of the first major construction projects after the devastation caused by the bombing during the war.

Considering many of the other buildings that were constructed in the post war period, the design and architecture of the Royal Festival Hall works well within the location, is well proportioned and does not brutally dominate the area.

The following photo shows the view from the north bank of the Thames:

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I did not really expect to ever take this view as I am a firm believer that London needs more trees and green spaces, however with the river frontage of the Royal Festival Hall the trees tend to obscure the building from the river and the north bank and do not open up a view of the building to the wide sweep of the river and the rest of London as I am sure the original architects intended.

It would perhaps be good to open up this area to provide an unobstructed view of the Royal Festival Hall from the north bank of the Thames and to open up the wide curve of the Thames from Westminster to City from the Royal Festival Hall, and give one of the few good examples of immediate post war reconstruction the visibility it deserves.

You may also be interested in my earlier posts of the Southbank site:

The South Bank – Before the Festival of Britain and the Royal Festival Hall

The Royal Festival Hall – Before, During and After Construction 

 alondoninheritance.com