Category Archives: London Vistas

Views across London

The View from Greenwich Park and the Isle of Dogs

There are a number of locations across London where the juxtaposition of areas where there has been really significant changes with those where there has been almost no change over many decades can be seen. One of the best locations for this is from the top of the hill next to the old Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park.

My father took the following photo in 1953 looking out across the Queen’s House and the old Royal Naval College across to the Isle of Dogs.

Old Greenwich hill

I took the following photo 61 years later in 2014 from the same location. Greenwich Park, the Queen’s House and the buildings of the old Royal Naval College have not changed. Even the paths across the park have stayed in the same position, despite the Equestrian events held on this area during the 2012 Olympics.

The view across to the Isle of Dogs is where the changes have been significant. Not just in the buildings that have changed what was a flat landscape into one where tall office blocks fill the horizon, but also in the core function of these areas, employment, traffic on the River Thames and how the landscape of London has changed over the decades.

New Greenwich hill

The area just across the River Thames from Greenwich Park is the Isle of Dogs. Here were some of the major docks that during the 19th and much of the 20th centuries were part of the complex of docks along the Thames that made London the busiest port in the world.

I took the following photo in the early 1980s. This was just after the docks had closed in the 1970s, but before the significant re-development of the docklands had started. At the time I was flying regularly between London and Amsterdam and always got a window seat as when the approach was over London the views were fantastic. I was always the one glued to the window! This is an evening photo on a route which took the flight in over Essex. across east London to the south of London to Heathrow.

isle of dogs

The Isle of Dogs is in the centre of the photo. The loop of the Thames (if I remember Geography from school this is a “meander”) around both the Isle of Dogs and the Greenwich Peninsular (future home of the Millennium Dome, now the O2) is very clear from this height.

I have added the names of the docks and the location of Greenwich Park where my father and my photos were taken in the following graphic.

London Docks Photo v3


The West India Docks were opened in 1802 and in total consisted of 54 acres of water. The Millwall Dock was opened in 1868 and consisted of 36 acres of water in the shape of an L (visible in the above photo).

The docks further east in the photo (Victoria, Albert and George V) were the last to be built in London and were the largest area of enclosed dock water in the world. The Victoria was opened in 1855, the Royal Albert in 1880 and the George V dock was opened in 1921, its’ construction having been delayed by the 1st World War. The soil excavated from the Victoria dock was used to complete the construction of Battersea Park, which until then had been partly marsh land.

The Regents Canal Dock is at the end of the Regents Canal were it enters the Thames at Limehouse. The canal connects the Grand Junction Canal at Paddington with the Thames. The canal was opened in 1820 with the dock constructed soon after.

The Greenland Dock is almost all that remains of the Surrey Commercial Docks that once covered most of the peninsular. The core of these docks was started in 1697 and with various developments lasted until 1970.

The complex of office blocks in Canary Wharf which now dominate the view from Greenwich Park have been built across the area that was occupied by the West India and South Docks. Parts of these docks remain but are now confined within an ever growing number of very tall office blocks.

The following map is from the 1940 edition of Bartholomew’s Reference Atlas of Greater London and shows this area of dockland in detail. Compare the significant number of docks that made up the Surrey Commercial Docks on the left page with the 1980s photo. These have almost all disappeared.

Docklands Map

There is a description of the Isle of Dogs in a “Peepshow of the Port of London” by A.G. Linney published in 1929:

“As has been established, its island area has been halved, but within the truncated region remaining cut off from the “mainland” many industries, mostly of a smelly sort (oil refining, chemical manufacture, candle making) are carried on; there are some timber yards and foundries. Poverty is not discernible on any wide scale, but it has to be admitted that the streets are sombrely depressing, though to my view the small streets of Millwall and Cubitt Town are boulevards when compared with the utterly drear, blank depression of those rows of houses such as one finds in pit villages of South Yorkshire and Durham”

The reference to “its island area has been halved” is to the area occupied by the docks which as can be seen from the map occupy a significant percentage of the Isle of Dogs.

The closure of the docks from the end of the 1960s to the 1970s resulted in the loss of a culture, often unique to a specific set of docks, and a chain of related industries that had made this part of London a major trading and industrial community.

It would take until the mid 1980s for any form of redevelopment to start across the acres of derelict land left after the closure of the docks, the results of which can now be seen from Greenwich Park.

Quite what the residents of the “small streets of Millwall and Cubitt Town” would have thought of the Canary Wharf development and the financial services industries that have now replaced the docks would be interesting to know.


The Monument, Lower Thames Street and Fish Street Hill

My next location is easy to find. One of the most well known landmarks in the City of London – the Monument to the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The Great Fire has been a theme to some of my earlier posts as it was this event which resulted in the building of the Wren churches that feature as landmarks in many of my father’s photos of a bombed city. The impact it had on the City was such that a monument was needed to commemorate the Great Fire and celebrate the rebuilding of the City.

Out of Monument Underground Station, I walk past the Monument and down to Lower Thames Street to find the location where my father took the following photo.

My father's photo of the Monument from Lower Thames Street

My father’s photo of the Monument from Lower Thames Street

Lower Thames Street is much busier than when the above photo was taken and also much wider. In the above photo, the building on the extreme right with the street name was a Bank. This building was lost as part of the widening of Lower Thames Street into two, dual lane carriageways.

Thames Street (Upper and Lower) marks the waterfront of the ancient City of London and follows the line of the wall that defended the city on the riverside.

The sign on the left advertising “Best Large Mussels” is part of Billingsgate Market, located on the south side of Lower Thames Street.

The building on the right with the curved top to the windows still exists. It is the building covered by scaffolding in my 2014 photo shown below (as with Fore Street, why are the key buildings always under scaffolding?) In my father’s original photo it was the Billingsgate Christian Mission. The name can be seen just above the 1st floor windows in the original photo.

The Monument from Lower Thames Street in 2014

The Monument from Lower Thames Street in 2014

The Monument was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London. It is 202 feet high, which is the distance between the Monument and the point where the fire started in Pudding Lane.

Plaque commemorating the location of where the fire began

Plaque commemorating the location of where the fire began

The  site in which the Monument stands was formerly the churchyard of St. Margaret’s Church which was destroyed in the fire.

The Monument was often used by people throwing themselves from the top to commit suicide. Incredibly it was not until after the last suicide in 1842 that a cage was built around the top.


Possible Parish Boundary Marker

Possible Parish Boundary Marker


Walking around the base of the Monument, I found the metal plaque shown in the photo to the left. This is in a very sorry state and from the rubbish around the base is not treated well. I believe that this is a parish boundary marker. It was made by E&S Poynder of London in 1838. The inscription in the middle is St. M.N.F. which is the Parish of St. Margaret New Fish Street.

Fish Street Hill is the road that runs at the back of the Monument. This was the original thoroughfare down to Old London Bridge which was immediately south of Fish Street. The Black Prince had a palace here roughly opposite where the Monument now stands.

With the confidence that there continues to be a cage around the top viewing platform and with a six year old in tow who was sure she could make it, we decided to climb the 311 steps to the top. The Monument is managed by the City of London Corporation and climbing to the top (and getting down again) entitles you to a certificate from the Corporation.

Monument Cert 1Monument Cert 2










The view from the top is well worth the climb. I will leave you until next week with a selection of photos from the base and top of the Monument over a very sunny London.

Towards St. Pauls which looks as if is about to be attacked by cranes.

Towards St. Pauls which looks as if is about to be attacked by cranes.

The Shard

The Shard

The continuing skyward march of City buildings

The continuing skyward march of City buildings


A change to the opening times requires a wet paint sign!

A change to the opening times requires a wet paint sign!

The base of the Monument

The base of the Monument



Monument from Monument Street

Monument from Monument Street

The Thames From Hungerford Bridge And A London Bridge Across The Rhine

After leaving St Mary Aldermanbury, I found another location nearby from where one of my father’s photos had been taken, however I am still checking a couple of facts about this location, so lets head out of the City of London, along the Embankment and down to Hungerford Bridge and stand on the footbridge over the Thames looking east.

If we had stood here in 1950 the view from Hungerford Bridge would have looked like this:

View from Hungerford Foot Bridge looking east in 1950.

View from Hungerford Foot Bridge looking east in 1950.

The foot bridges alongside Hungerford Bridge (there is one on either side of the railway bridge and they are more formally known as the Golden Jubilee Bridges)  were opened in 2002 and replaced the original narrow footbridge from where this photo was taken. Looking towards the city we can see the Portland Stone of the newly constructed Waterloo Bridge gleaming in the sun. The bridge had been completed 5 years previously in 1945 and due to construction during the war, it was built mainly by women.

This is not the first Waterloo Bridge, the stone for the first was laid on the 11th October 1811 and the bridge opened on the 18th June 1817, the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. If it was not for this historical event, the original proposal for the bridge was for it to be named the Strand Bridge.

The first bridge was weakening in the early decades of the 20th century and in May 1924 the bridge had to be closed to vehicular traffic owing to the weakening of the main archway and sinking of part of the roadway.

A temporary bridge was constructed and repairs undertaken to the main bridge. The temporary bridge was taken down in November 1943 and stored for use in the war effort. After the capture of Antwerp, the temporary bridge was transported across the channel and after the Germans had destroyed the Rhine bridges, the temporary bridge, with some additional sections, was built across the Rhine at Remagen, and within weeks, tanks, guns, lorries and troops were streaming over the bridge that had originally carried Londoners from the south of the river to the north.

St. Paul’s stands clear above the city, to the right we can see the OXO tower, built in the late 1920’s by the owners of the OXO brand. If we had turned further to the right we would see the Royal Festival Hall under construction as part of the Festival of Britain development. I will cover this in a future post.

Although the footbridge I am standing on is new, I try to find the position from where this photo was taken. It is an unusually sunny February afternoon, without the dramatic cloudscapes of my father’s photo. I find the position, not far from the north bank, and take the following photo:

Looking east along the Thames - 2014

Looking east along the Thames – 2014

Despite 65 years of building, and thanks to some intelligent city planning, St. Paul’s Cathedral still stands clear of its immediate surroundings, however to the right the march of steel and glass is clearly visible.  The angled shape of the Cheesegrater (or 122 Leadenhall Street to use its official name) and further to the right the Walkie Talkie building (or 20 Fenchurch Street) now dwarfs the OXO Tower.

Whilst there has been very little change along the north bank of the Thames, the south bank has changed dramatically. In the original photo, the chimney is a sign of the industrial activity that ran along the south bank of the river. Wharfs, factories, warehouses have now been transformed into theatres, offices, television studios, shops, restaurants and residential flats.

Comparing the south bank in the old and new photos, it is just possible to see how the Thames is now far more constrained than in the past. Originally along the Thames there were many inlets, wharfs etc. (and centuries ago much of the south bank was marshland), but now the Thames runs through the city constrained by stone and concrete walls.

Time to leave Hungerford Bridge and the Thames and a quick walk back past St. Pauls and to find a location which has changed beyond all recognition.