A number of years ago I wrote a post about Tower Bridge, and more specifically Dead Man's Hole which can be found secreted on the north side of the bridge by the Tower of London. Dead Man's Hole is in fact a mortuary (no longer operational), once used to temporarily house corpses retrieved from the murky clutches of the River Thames.
Galvanised by the video I recently posted of my Thames River walk, I set out on my bike one night last week and did a spot of filming on Tower Bridge. The next day I hastily edited the footage in to a video to accompany a song I wrote and recorded years ago, which has a suitably macabre subject matter about someone committing murder on a bridge; the victim's body left to the embrace of the river.
You can perhaps therefore see why I chose Tower Bridge to film. The song is called 'The Bridge Last Night' and was recorded by my friend William Reid and includes the talents of other friends; Joantoni Segui Morro (Satellites) on drums, John Parker (Nizlopi, Ed Sheeran) on double bass and Matt Park (Mystery Jets, Helsinki) on electric guitar.
Yesterday I went to Tower Bridge to check out the new glass floor they've installed in the west walkway that runs across the top of bridge. It means that visitors to the Tower Bridge Exhibition get a unique view from one of London's most iconic landmarks and if you time it right, can watch the bascule bridge lift up to allow a ship through. I contented myself with watching pedestrians and assorted bits of traffic passing beneath my feet as if I was floating 140ft above the river Thames. It looked very much like this.
Afterwards I went to the exhibition currently showing at the Guildhall Art Gallery celebrating the 120th anniversary of Tower Bridge. It was a Tower Bridge kind of a morning, so thought I'd write some stuff about it. To start with I'll go back in time a little bit.
London only had one bridge for 600 years and that was London Bridge completed in 1209. The next bridge in central London was Westminster Bridge in 1750. Having only had one bridge for so long, we then over the course of the next 100 years had a bridge epidemic with 9 bridges being built. However, despite this, London Bridge remained the most eastern bridge. The stretch of the river between London Bridge and the Tower is known as the 'Pool of London'; historically London's hub of trade and wealth. Because of this, by the late 19th century, east London had a population of over 1 million ... but no bridge.
Another important thing to note is that during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 - 1901) we went from being a largely agricultural country in to an industrial power house, due to the development of steam power and civil engineering. All this sets us up nicely to drop in to Victorian London and discover that London Bridge is struggling with the amount of traffic passing over it. They've tried alternatives like tunnels or expanding ferry services, but eventually and somewhat controversially, it is decided that a new river crossing is needed close to the Tower of London. The criteria are that the design must not only be suitable for pedestrians and vehicles, but allow large boats to pass in and out of the 'Pool of London'. Architects were therefore asked to submit plans.
The winning design was by Sir Horace Jones with important tweaking from engineer John Wolfe Barry (son of Charles Barry, the guy that built the Houses of Parliament). Work began in 1886, but Jones died the following year, meaning that responsibility fell on to the shoulders of his assistant George Daniel Stevenson. It took 432 construction workers (10 of which died) 8 years to build Tower Bridge at a total cost of £1,184,000 and is actually a steel framework surrounded by stone-cladding.
If you visit the Tower Bridge Experience you can walk through the engine room and find out how the hydraulic power worked (not really my forte) and discover why at the time, Tower Bridge was the most sophisticated bascule bridge ever built.
Tower Bridge opened on 30th June 1894 to great fanfare, attended by the Prince & Princess of Wales and it would seem ... most of London. In the first month of use, the bridge opened 655 times. Today it opens about 15 times a week ... and you need to give them a fair bit of notice too. The steam-driven power system was replaced in 1976 and there's also a speed restriction for traffic on the bridge itself as well as weight restrictions. You have to remember that Tower Bridge was built to accommodate horse drawn carriages.
Tower Bridge is an instantly recognisable London landmark across the world ... even if a lot of people seem to think it's London Bridge. Still, you can't have everything.
Last week, I returned from seeing family in Germany and as it was a clear, sunny day and I had managed to secure the all important window seat on the plane, took the opportunity of taking a few photos of London as we flew in to Heathrow. We pretty much flew straight over the Shard, which currently boasts the most spectacular views in London, but from my birds eye view, high above London's skyline, I would at that particular moment, beg to differ.
Below, you can see the Shard (top left-ish), a tiny pin prick really with the ribbons of railway lines cutting through south London in to London Bridge station. You can also see London Bridge next to it, and to the east, Tower Bridge spanning the Thames, with the HMS Belfast, moored, as it always is between the two. The Tower of London (just north of Tower Bridge) which when it was built in the 11th century was the tallest building in London is perhaps only visible due to the fact that it has open space surrounding it.
On the next photo we have now moved down the Thames a bit, and you can see the Houses of Parliament with the iconic Big Ben, Westminster Bridge, the Millennium Wheel and Horse Guards Parade to the top left.
Finally, a rare view of Buckingham Palace with its rather large garden. With Green Park and St James's Park on either side, it seems to be nestling in a clearing in the middle of a forest, rather than being stuck in the middle of London.
August is upon us and my first walk of the month was with the Weinstein family from Israel. Here they are outside the church of St Dunstan in the West on Fleet Street, not to be confused with St Dunstan in the East, which has become, with a little help from bombing during the Blitz, a walled garden. In case you are in any doubt of the proximity of the church to Fleet Street (two words that were for decades a byword for the newspaper industry), the wall adjoining the churchyard is emblazoned with old newspaper titles. The statue behind them is of Elizabeth I, which I mentioned a bit ago in a post about London statues and their stories.
In the afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting Gurudhan and Jennie from the States. I had the feeling they might be nice, as it had been suggested they come on a walk with me by their friend Dylan (also very nice) who had joined the east London walk earlier in the year and taken a few photos along the way. As they were the only two that had booked, we ended up doing a completely different impromptu walk that began at St Katharine Docks near to the Tower of London, then worked our way through the City of London to St Paul's ... and back again. Here they are standing by Tower Bridge, having just passed through Dead Man's Hole.
The walk can't have gone too badly, as they decided to come back for the Sunday east London walk, joining a group of eight people ... sorry nine people if you include five month old Arya. Here they all are standing on Curtain Road, which featured on a piece I posted ages ago, with 'then and now' photos of Shoreditch. The 'then' photo of Curtain Road was taken in 1900, when it was the hub of London's furniture trade.
Youngest - Arya
Tallest - Petra
Best laces (on footware) - Anja
Best Moustache - No winners
Best beard - Gurudhan
If you were to visit the Tower of London (which as I mentioned in my last post that about 2.5million people do each year) and also fancied popping along to the museum housed within Tower Bridge, then you'll walk through a rather eery looking cobbled archway. To add to the eeriness, you might notice that you're being directed towards a place called 'Dead Man's Hole'.
You see ... I wasn't kidding! You'd be forgiven for thinking twice about making the short journey and no doubt your head will become filled with various macabre thoughts as to why you're even going to a dead man's hole, what it might be and what will happen when you get there. The short answer is ... not much. Dead Man's Hole actually refers to a mortuary that at one time was housed beneath the north tower of the bridge. It's still there, but you'll be pleased to hear, no longer used. As you'll probably be aware, the Thames is tidal, and for one reason or another, corpses that found their way in to the murky river; either suicide jumpers, by accident or dumped, often found their way to this particular part of the river. Once 'fished' out of the Thames, bodies could be laid out to await identification ... if possible. The area is now closed off, but still perfectly visible as you take the steps up to the main part of the bridge.
So that's Dead Man's Hole very briefly explained. Now, the thing that never ceases to amaze me about London, is that I spend a lot of time wandering around its streets, but constantly discover things I've never noticed before. I've walked through the cobbled archway I just described loads of times, but last week was the first time I noticed that hanging on the wall is a huge pole, I'm guessing about 8 feet long, and on the end is a series of hooks.
Due to the proximity of this pole to the mortuary I just mentioned, built expressly for the purpose of taking in dead bodies retrieved from the Thames, this pole would seem to me, to be the perfect bit of equipment for pulling those corpses ashore. However, there was no explanation that I could find, no little plaque, so being an inquisitive sort of chap, I went to ask the security guard sitting in his little cabin about 10 feet away. He looked rather perplexed, mildly uninterested and admitted that he'd never actually noticed it himself, but agreed it sounded very much like the sort of thing that at one time, might have been used for the aforementioned reason.
So, if anyone is able to corroborate my theory, or indeed disprove it, then I'd be delighted to hear from you. Either way, it has added another layer of intrigue to the short walk through the archway to Dead Man's Hole.
(Incidentally - Dead Man's Hole is situated within the arch to the left on the above photo, and the pole I just mentioned is fixed to the wall, behind the door on the right hand arch behind the guy with the red jacket).
Saturday - St Paul's to Monument
On Saturday I was joined by three siblings from Germany; Julian, Vanessa and Valentine. They came along for the afternoon walk that begins at St Paul's cathedral and finishes by Monument, via Borough. Vanessa has been living in Borough, so in a way it was her own 'neck of the woods' walk.
Here they are standing on London Bridge, which is what many tourists actually call Tower Bridge, because I suppose it's a bit more iconic. You can see Tower Bridge in the background with the Olympic rings hanging underneath.
Sunday - 'My neck of the woods' east end walk
Vanessa and Valentine returned on Sunday for the east end walk and were joined by 11 others. For the first time in ages, we've had a few days of sun, so it was nice to wander around without getting rained on. Huzzah. They were a lovely group and a mixture of ages, interests and countries. I took the below photo just after they'd had a look around Columbia Road flower market and we have Valentine, Richard, Irina, Mary, Michael, Roana, Cat, Gail, Anis, Kim, Andrew, Kirsty and Vanessa.
Oh yes ... it's really interesting to find out how people hear about the walks and it's generally a complete mixture. I was delighted to discover that Michael had spotted a poster in his favourite sandwich shop in Smithfield that I must have put there about 6 months ago.
Most German - Julian, Vanessa & Valentine
Most Bostonian - Cat
Most recently historically qualified - Kim
Most well preserved American accents despite living in the UK for decades - Richard & Mary
Best Moustache - No winners
Most Glaswegian - Roana & Anis
The other week, I was asked to do a three day London walking extravaganza. Sheree and Cortney were visiting London for the first time, over from Wisconsin before heading off on a cruise, and wanted to pack in as much as possible in to their three days.
We spent the first day around Westminster, and aside from passing by Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, 'Big Ben', Downing Street, Horse Guards Parade. Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, St James's Palace and much more, they also spent some time in both Westminster Abbey and The Churchill War Rooms.
The second day began at the Tower of London (which they visited), and of course Tower Bridge, which is currently adorned with the Olympic Rings.
Then, after a minor detour through the City, including Leadenhall Market, the old Royal Exchange and the Bank of England we headed over London Bridge to Borough, taking in the 17th Century George Inn, Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral and of course Shakespeare's Globe Theatre before heading over to St Paul's cathedral.
After Sheree and Cortney had finished having a look around St Paul's we headed through Fleet Street taking in lots of places including Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Dr Johnson's House and Twinings Tea Shop, before finishing off at Covent Garden.
The final day was split between east and west London. It was pouring with rain in the morning. East London was grey and miserable, so I don't think it ingratiated itself with my two London explorers, but we did manage to pop to Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station, a constant source of delight for Harry Potter fans from all over the world.
In the afternoon, we headed west and Sheree and Cortney had a look around the recently refurbished Kensington Palace, where Queen Victoria was born and Princess Diana lived.
I think I'm still a bit undecided as to my thoughts on it, but it's certainly a different way to impart information in a museum setting, with the emphasis less on information boards and artifacts behind glass and more on exploration and uncovering information through emotion led stimulus, activities and participation.
Anyway, by this time I think we were all pretty knackered after three days exploring London, so on the way back to Victoria, where Sheree and Cortney were staying, we passed by the Royal Albert Hall and had a quick stop off at Harrods.
That's them pretending to be interested in the Albert memorial. We did a lot of walking over the three days and saw absolutely loads of stuff, and I should also add that Sheree and Cortney had both bought The London Pass before coming to the UK, so all the museums, cathedrals, palaces and wot not they visited had already been paid for, they didn't have to queue for a ticket and it also included all public transport travel for the three days.
Thanks to them both for putting up with me for three whole days.
Bits of london at night
Here are some photos of London at night. Not because I'm a photographer of any note, or can take night-esque photos, but purely because I really love London at night ... as well as most other times of day. No doubt I'll do more at some point.
Very Confusing Bridges
I've been walking and talking people around London for a while now, but it very quickly became apparent that the two bridges pictured below, which are next to each other, are very often confused. More to the point, people actually seem disappointed that London Bridge is London Bridge, like it's somehow a bit of a let down. The current London Bridge was built in 1973 and was completely paid for (at a cost of £4m) by a pot of money that has been floating around since the first bridge was built there in 1209. Not bad. Anyway, I took these photos on Monday night after a walk when a brilliant wintery fog was descending. If you'd like to know why London Bridge has that very distinctive red light at night or see a bit of the original one, come on a Bowl Of Chalk. Innit.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.