Category Archives: London Vistas

Views across London

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

A common theme throughout my blog is that since the 1940’s many areas of London have changed so dramatically that they are almost unrecognisable, however there are almost always some points that have remained fixed and remain to this day to allow a photo from over 60 years ago to be compared with today from very similar points of view.

One of these areas is the South Bank, and for this post specifically the area bounded by Waterloo and Hungerford Bridges and Waterloo Station.

In my father’s photo collection there are a series of photos covering the South Bank as it was starting just after the war and through to the Festival of Britain which was held on the site, with the Royal Festival Hall being the legacy from the Festival.

Over the coming months I will cover this area in detail, however as a starter I have three photos that show the area as the demolition started in preparation for the building of the Royal Festival Hall.

The first photo was taken from the area of Waterloo Bridge looking towards County Hall.

The road in the centre of the photo is Belvedere Road and the bridge is taking the railway line from Hungerford Bridge across the Thames and Charing Cross station to Waterloo East.

The area to the right was ready for demolition and the construction of the Royal Festival Hall. The white sign to the right of the road is for “North London Demolition” indicating that demolition had already or was about to start. The sign just to the right of the bridge is for “Southern Railways Sale Room”. Not sure what would have been sold here as it is some distance from the station, perhaps unclaimed lost property?

Southbank 3Although it should have been easy, I had some challenges trying to find the location for this photo. Firstly it was not taken from ground level and as far as I can tell was not taken from Waterloo Bridge, but may have been taken from some derelict building adjacent to the bridge.

I spent some time working my way round the back of the Hayward Gallery and the closest I was able to get is shown in the following photo. The perspective is almost right, but I could not get into the exact position (see the slight difference where the slope of the roof of County Hall touches the Victoria Tower of the Palace of Westminster)

Southbank 3 new

DSC_1163Belvedere Road still runs in almost the same position and the bridge is still in the same location although obscured by trees.

I moved to the left and took the photo on the right which shows the road and bridge. I suspect the original curve of the road has been smoothed out slightly during the construction of the Royal Festival Hall, however it is still in almost exactly the same place.

As far as I can tell, the three photos I am featuring were taken from roughly the same position.

If we now turn to the left we can compare the view towards Waterloo Station as it was:

Southbank 1

The main entrance to Waterloo Station just to left of centre of the photo is almost the same as it is today. The railway still runs across the same arches, however the arches are now mainly occupied by bars and restaurants.

Southbank map 1The map extract to the right is taken from the 1913 edition of Bartholomew’s Handy Reference of London & Suburbs. I have circled the area being covered in this post. The map identified the two roads shown in the above photo. The road in the centre of the photo was Tenison Street and the road to the left was Rowley Place.

There are no obvious people in these photos, however look just to the right of centre in the above photo and there is a man standing on the site of the demolished buildings. Had he lived here and was returning to see what had been done to the area or just a curious passer-by? In the first photo there are a couple of children in the street with a cyclist just behind them.

Despite the horror and destruction of the war and the bombing of London, the large number of derelict sites across London during and after the war effectively became an adventure playground for children. Reading through my father’s account of his childhood in London during the war he tells of exploring and playing across the old bomb sites. They were not fenced off, there were effectively no health and safety rules as there would be today and London was free for a child to explore.

The same view today is very different:


For this one it was very difficult to get the position right as the view of Waterloo Station is now totally obscured. I suspect that in the original photo Belvedere Road runs behind the brick walls. Waterloo Station is just behind the office blocks. All these were part of the original Shell Centre complex built for the Shell oil company between 1957 and 1962 after the closure of the Festival of Britain. The building to the left was the “Downstream Building” and the building and tower to the right was the “Upstream Building”. All part of the same complex  connected by tunnels under the railway so that employees could move between buildings without going outside.

The Downstream Building on the left was sold by Shell in the 1990’s and was converted into residential apartments.

Now turning to the right we can look across the site that will be occupied by the Royal Festival Hall.

Southbank 2

The large building is what is left of the Lion Brewery, the white Lion which used to stand on top of the building has already been removed and now stands at the southern end of Westminster Bridge. The building in the distance under construction with the cranes is the Ministry of Defence building that still stands on the north bank of the Thames.

Again, it was difficult to get the exact location, but the following picture shows roughly the scene as it is now:


The South Bank is a fascinating place that sums up in a small area the changes that have and continue to take place across London, the change from light industrial use to service industries, entertainment and expensive apartments.

Over the coming months I will continue to explore the South Bank with the development of the Festival of Britain and the Royal Festival Hall.


A de Havilland Dragon Rapide Flight Over London

For this week’s post I am going to dive back into my own photo collection, and back to 1980 when my early interests in London, flying and photography all came together.  I found an advert for flights over London in a de Havilland Dragon Rapide. Cannot remember where I found the advert, it was probably one of the London evening papers. This was in the days before the Internet and to apply for tickets the process was to send a letter with a cheque and sit back and wait hoping that I would get one.

Thankfully I did, and on the booked Saturday when remarkably for British summer weather, it was ideal flying weather, it was a drive down to Biggin Hill in Kent.

The Dragon Rapide entered service in 1934 as a short haul commercial passenger transport with a crew of 1 and capacity for 8 passengers, and was designed and built by the de Havilland company who also manufactured aircraft such as the Gypsy and Tiger Moth and during the war the Mosquito, along with Britain’s first commercial jet airliner, the Comet.

The Dragon Rapide for my flight was G-AIDL which was manufactured in 1946 by Brush Coachworks of Loughborough under licence from de Havilland.

The Dragon Rapide 1

 de Havilland Dragon Rapide G-AIDL ready to go at Biggin Hill.

Biggin Hill is about 12 miles from central London and from the airport there is a good view over to the city. The weather was good, the plane was ready and boarding started.

Everyone had a window seat as there were two lines of seats against the edge of the plane with a very small passengerway in the middle. Very small and cramped compared to passenger planes of today, and very noticeable how thin the construction was between the passenger cabin and the outside of the plane.

Inside the Rapide

Inside the Rapide. This is what passenger flight used to be like. Everyone had a very good view. The door lock does not too strong though !!

The two propeller engines started and we taxied to the runway and were quickly away and heading towards London.

The flight was relatively smooth, but noisy due to the proximity of the engines and the non existent sound proofing in this age and type of plane, but that was part of the enjoyment and if it was quiet it would not have been the same experience.

At the relatively low height and slow speed it was easy to follow the landmarks below and see those of central London slowly getting closer.  The flight crossed the Thames at Greenwich, flew to the east of the city, turned and followed the same route back. This allowed passengers on both sides of the plane to get the same views of central London and to the east.

Limehouse basin

In the above photo we are crossing the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs. The Regents Canal basin is clearly seen in the lower right of the photo with the Limehouse Cut leaving the basin diagonally from the top corner. The Regents Canal leaves the basin roughly in the middle of the basin and passes the tower blocks and then the gasholders.

As I was sitting on the right of the plane, my first views of central London came when the plane turned and we started to head back.

Many of my photos are slightly blurred. I was taking photos from a moving object which was also vibrating so it was a challenge to get a good photo. This was also the days of film photography with the standard maximum film cartridge of 36 photos so I also had to ration how many I took, we would be past a location before I could change a film. This would not be a problem now with digital photography and a memory card capable of storing many thousand of high quality photos.

Central London

Despite these challenges, the photo above was almost perfect.

Christ Church Spitalfields stands out well in the lower right of the photo with Spitalfields Market in front of the church. Slightly above and to the left of Spitalfields Market is Liverpool Street station, and to the left of the station, the buildings of the City of London with the (as it was at the time) National Westminster Tower having just been completed and the tallest building in the city.

City and Thames

The second photo as we passed the city also came out well and shows Fenchurch Street Station to the lower right and St. Pauls to the right of centre. Still not that many tall buildings between the centre of the city and the river. The bridges starting with the bridge closest are London Bridge, railway bridge into Cannon Street station, Southwark Bridge, Blackfriars rail and road bridges

The gleaming white building between London Bridge and the rail bridge into Cannon Street station is Mondial House. This was a Post Office (British Telecom) building completed in 1975 which hosted one of the largest telephone switching systems in Europe and was a major international telephone exchange. Changes in telephone technology made the services provided within the building redundant by the late 1990’s and it was demolished in 2006.

Note that the Monument was very visible just to the right of London Bridge.

All too soon, the flight headed back along the Thames before turning back to Biggin Hill over Greenwich, giving some superb views of Greenwich, Blackheath and back towards London.

Greenwich 1

Looking down on Greenwich Park

Greenwich 2

 Greenwich and the edge of Blackheath

Greenwich 3

Looking back towards a very hazy city.

We landed back at Biggin Hill all too quickly and I had a roll of 36 photos to be rushed of to Boots for developing (how digital photography has changed all this!).

London is a fantastic city to explore at ground level, however flying over the city always puts the city in context. How central the River Thames is to the topography of the city, the differences between the south and north banks of the river, the complexity and difference in style and age of the buildings from the modern office blocks to the Tower of London.

Following a quick internet search, it is still possible to take a flight in a Dragon Rapide over London. See the Classic Wings web site for flights this year. I am very tempted to take another flight for a comparison view of the city 34 years later, and this time I can book via the internet rather than post. Now where is my credit card?


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.