Tag Archives: Christmas Lights

The City At Christmas

For fifty one weeks of the year, the City of London is busy. During the working week, the City is full of office workers, the pubs and restaurants are busy in the day and evening, and building sites are covered by workers in hi-vis jackets. During the weekend the City still does not sleep. Roads will be closed for roadworks, or to allow cranes to block the road as they lift equipment into construction sites. Hi-vis jackets continue to be a common site across the weekend as building work does not stop.

There is one week in the year when all this stops. Between Christmas and the New Year the City turns into a rather magical place. The number of office workers is considerably reduced and almost all the construction sites are closed for the week. The City takes on a very different appearance, much quieter, less traffic, the cranes are still and there are very few walkers along the City streets.

At the end of 2017, between Christmas and New Year I took a walk through the City. I waited until late afternoon as the City looked better after dark than on a grey December day.

I took the underground to Tower Hill and then followed a random route to Blackfriars. Along this route I found streets where on a late afternoon / early evening I could stand for twenty minutes and not see another person (this could also have been longer but after twenty minutes I was getting bored and cold).

Leaving Tower Hill station, I walked up Coopers Row and passed one of the entrances to Fenchurch Street Station with only a solitary passenger making their way up to the platforms:

Christmas in the City

In Crutched Friars, underneath the rail tracks leading into Fenchurch Street Station is the Cheshire Cheese. A warm, welcoming glow coming from the pub, but few customers at this time of year:

Christmas in the City

I walked up Lloyd’s Avenue, along Fenchurch Street to the junction with Leadenhall Street. The Aldgate Pump is on the corner and along Leadenhall Street is the Leadenhall Building (perhaps better known as the Cheesegrater):

Christmas in the City

There is a common scene in the entrance foyers to many of the office buildings. A solitary security guard sits behind the reception desk and decorated Christmas Trees celebrate the season, but with very few people around to admire them – they will probably have been removed by the time the City returns to life after New Year’s Day.

Christmas in the City

Just off Leadenhall Street is Creechurch Lane. The church of St. Katherine Cree is on the corner, and part of the church is on the right of the photo below looking down Creechurch Lane. Despite the City’s 2,000 year history, the noise, traffic, construction work and numbers of people often make it hard to reconcile the City streets with that long period of time, however at this time of year, and along such a street, it is possible to feel the history of the City.

Christmas in the City

At the base of the Leadenhall Building. All the escalators were running, but at this time of year there were no passengers for them to take up into the building.

Christmas in the City

The Gherkin, or officially, 30 St. Mary Axe:

Christmas in the City

At the base of The Scalpel – work having ceased on the construction of one of the City’s latest towers until the new year:

Christmas in the City

From Leadenhall Street, I walked up St. Mary Axe:

Christmas in the City

Among the increasing number of glass and steel towers, there are still historic buildings to be found. This is the church of St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate.

Christmas in the City

Opposite the church is the base of the Gherkin:

Christmas in the City

And here it is possible to appreciate the multi-dimensional nature of the City. An entrance to a recently built underground car park is next to a church which was originally established here in the 13th century, whilst the City’s original tall tower, the NatWest Tower, now Tower 42 stands in the background with the frame of a new building to the left.

Christmas in the City

There are so many take away food outlets across the City, but at this time of the year, many are closed, or close early:

Christmas in the City

Leaving St. Mary Axe I turned into Camomile Street to find more building sites, although they were quiet and empty. Only a few security staff taking an occasional walk around the site:

Christmas in the City

Leaving Camomile Street I turned into Bishopsgate. One of the narrow streets leading off from Bishopsgate is Alderman’s Walk, silent on a December evening with no footsteps echoing off the walls.

Christmas in the City

My next stop was Liverpool Street Station. Outside the station was the busiest street that I would see during the evening with plenty of taxis waiting for passengers:

Christmas in the City

The concourse of the station was the quietest I have seen for many years. A reduced service during the Christmas / New Year period was serving a reduced number of passengers.

Christmas in the City

Outside Liverpool Street Station, the construction site for the Elizabeth Line / Crossrail was closed, also part of the construction break between Christmas and the New Year.

Christmas in the City

One of the entrances to Liverpool Street underground station on the right and Liverpool Street station in the background.

Christmas in the City

Walking along Old Broad Street, this was the view along New Broad Street:

Christmas in the City

The entrance to Tower 42 in Old Broad Street (although I still think of this building as the NatWest Tower):

Christmas in the City

There has been building work around the base of the tower, however the walkways that lead from Old Broad Street, round the base of the tower to Bishopsgate are now open and a number of businesses targeting the local working population have now taken up residence:

Christmas in the City

Leaving Bishopsgate, i then walked down Threadneedle Street. Normally these streets would be busy, but this was the view down Finch Lane from Threadneedle Street:

Christmas in the City

I then walked round the back of the Royal Exchange towards Cornhill:

Christmas in the City

The Cornhill pump:

Christmas in the City

There are many narrow lanes and alleys running south from Cornhill. These follow an old street plan and were often the location for the City’s original coffee houses. This one is Change Alley:

Christmas in the City

At the Bank junction of Threadneedle Street and Cornhill looking back at the Royal Exchange. The towers of the City form a menacing backdrop to the low-rise buildings around this usually busy junction.

Christmas in the City

A quiet entrance to the Bank underground station:

Christmas in the City

Leaving the Bank junction, I walked up Cheapside. All still relatively quiet, the pavements were getting busier as I left the central area of the City. The church of St. Mary-le-Bow always looks magnificent after dark:

Christmas in the City

The Plane tree that stands at the site of St. Peter Cheap (one of the churches destroyed during the Great Fire, but not rebuilt) has been decorated for Christmas:

Christmas in the City

I turned off Cheapside and walked down Wood Street. Many of the office buildings looked as if everyone had suddenly just got up and left. This office still had football playing on the ceiling mounted screens:

Christmas in the City

From Wood Street I turned into Gresham Street and this is the view looking down to the church of St. Lawrence Jewry:

Christmas in the City

And from Gresham Street I turned up Noble Street to see the remains of Roman and later buildings that run along the side of the street:

Christmas in the City

At the top of Noble Street is London Wall. It was easy to take a casual wander across the road, unlike most days when there is usually plenty of traffic.

Christmas in the City

From London Wall, I walked up Aldersgate Street, then turned into Long Lane to head towards Smithfield. This is East Passage that runs parallel to Long Lane and Middle Street, between the backs of the buildings that face onto these two streets. Another place where I stood for some time without seeing another person.

Christmas in the City

Back into Long Lane and this is the junction with Lindsey Street. The Smithfield market buildings are on the left and one of the new ticket halls for the Crossrail Farringdon Station is on the right:

Christmas in the City

The Crossrail / Elizabeth Line ticket hall for Farringdon Station. This is planned to open in a year’s time in December 2018 and will probably be the catalyst for significant development in the area. For now, all is quiet.

Christmas in the City

from Long Lane I walked up Rising Sun Court into Cloth Fair. The Rising Sun pub was open and looking very inviting on a cold December evening:

Christmas in the City

Into West Smithfield and the view across to the market buildings:

Christmas in the City

From West Smithfield I walked under the gatehouse into the alley leading to the church of St. Bartholomew the Great. Again one of the places where the past feels almost tangible (despite one of the towers of the Barbican in the background). Whilst I was here, one person did walk across the graveyard and then along the alley – the noise of their footsteps, echoing of the buildings was surprisingly loud and emphasised the lack of other sounds in the alley.

Christmas in the City

The central square at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital:

Christmas in the City

From West Smithfield, I walked along Giltspur Street, turning left into Newgate Street then down into Paternoster Square. The Temple Bar gateway looks very good after dark.

Christmas in the City

Walking around St. Paul’s Cathedral. This is a view from the south:

Christmas in the City

From St. Paul’s it was then down to Queen Victoria Street to my destination of Blackfriars underground station, although before reaching the station I had a much needed stop off at the Blackfriar.

Christmas in the City

Photographing London over the Christmas to New Year period can be a bit of a cliché, however I really do find that walking the City at this time of year, without the noise, construction work, traffic and crowds does help to bring the history of the City to life – so many of the normal distractions have been removed.

Standing in places such as Creechurch Lane, East Passage and the entrance alley to St. Bartholomew the Great feel like standing in places unchanged for hundreds of years.

The City pubs are also much quieter in the evenings at this time of year and there is nothing better than walking into a warm, inviting pub from a cold street – which is exactly where I finished.

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London Christmas Lights – 1978 and 2016

Before I start this week’s post, which also falls on Christmas Day, can I wish you a very Happy Christmas, and thank you for reading and subscribing to my blog. I am almost at the end of Year 3 and have lots more to write about which I hope you will find of interest.

For a Christmas Day post, a comparison of London Christmas Lights from the rather gloomy late 1970s with those in 2016.

In 1954 Regent Street was the first of the central London shopping streets to have Christmas lights, Oxford Street followed five years later in 1959. There were a number of years in the 1970s when Oxford Street did not have any Christmas lights due to the recession of the middle years of the decade and the general financial climate, however they restarted again in 1978 with the unusual option of having laser lights shining up and down the street. I assume it was thought that these would be a rather novel form of lighting and much cheaper than large light decorations run across the street.

To mark the return of Christmas lights to Oxford Street and to record what was hopefully an impressive display, I took my first decent camera up to Oxford Street (a Canon AE1 recently purchased on HP – Hire Purchase before the days of Credit Cards) and without a tripod I attempted some photos using Kodak Kodacolor 400 film, faster than my normal film in the hope that I would not suffer too much with camera shake.

Arriving at Oxford Street as it got dark, the lasers did not really meet with expectations. A number of laser systems were mounted a various places along Oxford Street with a beam of light from each running the length of the street. There were not enough lights and a thin beam of blue, red or green light did not seem to have any relevance to Christmas. It was all rather strange and I can understand why it has not been repeated since.

Oxford Street in the mid 1970s was generally much darker than it is now. Shops did not have the same level of Christmas displays and window lights that they have today.

The following photos are a sample I took in 1978 and then for comparison I went for walk one evening in December 2016 to look at the lights across the main shopping streets of central London today. The 1978 photos also show some of the retail brands that have since disappeared.

One of the Oxford Street lasers. The Christmas tree is on the construction site for the new Bond Street station and the Jubilee Line. The large sign on the left reads “Work in progress for the Jubilee Line – Reconstruction of Bond Street Station”.

London Christmas Lights

Looking up Oxford Street towards Marble Arch. Selfridges has a row of lights just above street level. A Take 6 store is on the right.

London Christmas Lights

Blue and red lasers. The sign of the 100 Club is on the right – fortunately still there today.

London Christmas Lights

Blue laser running down the street. Debenhams on the right, Dolcis shoe shop on the left.

London Christmas Lights

A rather faint laser shines down a gloomy 1970s Oxford Street. The vertical lights are advertising the now defunct shoe shop Saxone.

London Christmas Lights

Christmas trees along D.H. Evans, with a fan of blue and green lasers from just above the main entrance to the store. The D.H. Evans store disappeared in 2001 when it was re-branded as the House of Fraser.

London Christmas Lights

Woolworth’s on the left, D.H,. Evans on the right. Just beneath the Berlitz sign (language school) is a sign for the Lady at Lord John fashion chain (click on the photo to enlarge) – one of the many high street brands that have disappeared in the last 40 years.

London Christmas Lights

The best place to see the lasers seemed to be from directly underneath when they were at their brightest.

London Christmas Lights

Regent Street kept to their more traditional Christmas lighting with displays running across the street and were more impressive than those at Oxford Street. Looking down Regent Street with a Take 6 store on the right.

London Christmas Lights

Dickens and Jones.

London Christmas Lights

So how does 1970s London compare with the Christmas lights of 2016? In the week before Christmas, I took a walk one evening starting at Monmouth Street, through Seven Dials and up to Oxford Street, then down Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus.

Starting in Monmouth Street with lights across the street and in the trees.

London Christmas Lights

Seven Dials looking very festive.

London Christmas Lights

Neal’s Yard just off the northern leg of Monmouth Street.

London Christmas Lights

View down Monmouth Street.

London Christmas Lights

Penguins decorating the front of Arthur Beale, London’s Yacht Chandler on Shaftesbury Avenue.

London Christmas Lights

From Shaftesbury Avenue, it was along St. Giles High Street and into Denmark Street. Not known for Christmas lights, although the music shops look good after dark.

London Christmas Lights

London Christmas Lights

Regent Sound Studios with their take on Christmas window decorations.

London Christmas Lights

Up now into Oxford Street and the lights of John Lewis.

London Christmas Lights

Oxford Street’s 2016 Christmas lights.

London Christmas Lights

House of Fraser.

London Christmas Lights

Looking down New Bond Street from Oxford Street.

London Christmas Lights

Oxford Street at Christmas. Pavements crowded with people and the street at times seems more like a car park for buses……

London Christmas Lights

…..and taxis.

London Christmas Lights

Back down into Regent Street who in most of the years I can remember since 1978 have more ambitious street lights than Oxford Street.

London Christmas Lights

The length of Regent Street looking down towards Piccadilly Circus.

London Christmas Lights

Carnaby Street from Regent Street with their own interpretation of Christmas lights.

London Christmas Lights

Lights continue down the southern end of Regent Street towards Waterloo Place.

London Christmas Lights

London Christmas Lights

An elevated platform had been built around the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain – or Eros as it is more commonly known. A choir huddled together against the cold and breeze of a December evening but sounding beautiful above the noise of traffic.

London Christmas Lights

View from Piccadilly Circus towards Leicester Square.

London Christmas Lights

My photos from 1978 probably do the lasers a slight injustice due to my lack of photographic experience at the time and the equipment in use, however London after dark at Christmas is now much brighter than it was in the 1970s. The crowds and traffic do seem much the same in the weeks running up to Christmas, but as ever I will take any excuse for a walk around London.

Thanks again for reading, and a very Happy Christmas.

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