Here's a handy guide to what you'll see en route.
You'll begin queuing in Southwark Park, south east London. When I was there earlier, the sign was warning of a 14 hour queue. You'll have lots of time to take in what's around you. Here are a few highlights and fun facts.
After about 10 minutes you'll find yourself down by the river at Bermondsey. You'll be walking alongside the river Thames for the entire route.
The River Thames
The Thames is the entire reason why London exists and the Roman's settled here over 2000 years ago. It's 215 miles long and flows through 9 counties, its source being in Kemble, Gloucestershire. A few years ago I walked the whole thing from the 'Sea to the Source'. It was once a tributary river of the Rhine in Germany (when we were still landlocked to the rest of Europe). In central London the Thames has a tidal change of about 23ft, so see if you can see any 'mudlarks' looking for things that have washed up. It's basically a massive archaeological site and in the 19th century a politician called John Burns referred to it as 'liquid history'.
The City of London
From this point on the river you'll see the City of London opposite. It looks very modern but was the Roman city of Londinium founded in about 48AD. It's the original financial district. You'll see a number of tall buildings including 'the Gherkin' (No. 30 St Mary's Axe) and the 'Walkie Talkie' (20 Fenchurch Street).
Fun Fact - During the hot summer of 2013 (a year before completion) the 'Walkie Talkie' acted as a massive magnifying glass and was melting and scorching things including a car parked on the street below. The architect Rafael Vinoly said "it's not my fault, the sun was in the wrong place".
You'll also get your first glimpse of:
Undoubtedly one of the most iconic structures in London, Tower Bridge was completed in 1894. It's a 'bascule' bridge allowing the road to lift to allow ships through and is actually a steel structure with stone cladding.
Fun Fact - The winning design was chosen as part of a competition, judged by architect Horace Jones. He chose his own design as the winner.
St Saviour's Dock
You'll pass around where one of London's subterranean rivers, the Neckinger meets the Thames. In the 17th and 18th century it became known as Jacob's Island, a notorious place of execution. In 1838, Charles Dickens described the area as "the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities hidden in London".
Fun Fact - The name is thought to derive from 'devil's neckcloth' in reference to the nooses used to hang people here.
Next you'll pass through old riverside warehouses, once used to unload the myriad of goods that arrived in London from across the globe and now turned in to super duper apartments. You'll pass beneath the south side of Tower Bridge which is where all the engine rooms are housed, as originally the bridge was powered by coal furnaces.
Fun Fact - Tower Bridge has its own mortuary on the north side of the river, where bodies from the river were pulled out.
Tower of London
As you pass City Hall, on the other side of the river you'll see the Tower of London. It's actually 21 separate towers, but the White Tower in the centre dates back to 1090, a couple of decades after the Norman conquest.
Fun Fact - The Tower was London's first zoo. From the 1200s until 1835, animals given to monarchs as gifts were housed there, with the public paying to see them.
A WW2 ship that was used during D-Day in 1944. It has been a museum open to the public for over 50 years.
Fun Fact - If the guns on the front were to fire they'd hit a service station on the M1 motorway (over 12 miles away).
The original London Bridge opened in 1209 and was the longest inhabited bridge in the world. It remained there until the early 1800s. The bridge you're passing is the third on the site and opened by the Queen in the early 1970s.
Fun Fact - The 2nd London Bridge was sold to an American called Robert P. McCulloch who shipped it over to Arizona and created a man-made lake around it called Lake Havasu and made it into a tourist attraction.
Next you'll pass Southwark cathedral which was founded in the early 12th century. It's a beautiful church, originally called the Collegiate Church of St. Saviour and Mary Overie. The 'Overie' was short for 'church over the river'.
Fun Fact - William Shakespeare's younger brother Edmund was buried there in 1607.
You'll pass by a replica of Francis Drake's galleon, the 'Golden Hind' which left to circumnavigate the world in 1577, returning to Deptford (near where you started queuing) in 1580. They were really pirates, but we called them privateers to make us feel better.
Fun Fact - The ship was originally called 'the Pelican' but its name changed during the journey in honour of one of the main financiers, Christopher Hatton whose family emblem was the golden hind (a female red deer).
You'll pass the remains of the 14th century palace of the Bishop of Winchester who once had jurisdiction over the area. The imposing wall and its rose window were discovered after a warehouse fire in the 19th century.
Fun Fact - The area of Bankside in the Elizabethan period was known as the 'City of Sin' as it housed the brothels and theatres. The church made money from the prostitutes and the women were known collectively as 'the Bishop of Winchester's Geese'. To be 'bitten by a Winchester Goose' meant you had contracted a sexually transmitted disease on Bankside and features in one of Shakespeare's plays.
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Finished in the late 1990s by American Sam Wanamaker, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is a recreation of an Elizabethan Theatre and memorial to the bard. The original site is actually on the street behind.
Fun Fact - It has the only thatched roof in central London (after thatch was banned following the Great Fire of London in 1666).
Tate Modern and Millennium Bridge
The Tate Modern was a 1960s power station built by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed the now iconic red telephone boxes. It's now a modern art gallery.
The Millennium Bridge opened in the year 2000 and is a pedestrian foot bridge that joins the Tate Modern to St Paul's cathedral in the City.
Fun Fact - The Millennium bridge was open for 2 days and closed for 2 years because it had a massive wobble. It will be forever known as 'the wobbly bridge'.
Blackfriars Bridge & Blackfriars Railway Bridge
The Victorian pedestrian and traffic bridge gets its name from the monastery that stood on the north side until the 16th century. It was run by Dominican monks who wore black, hence the 'blackfriars'.
The railway bridge leads in to Blackfriars station and Underground station which is the only underground station in London to have exits on either side of the Thames.
Fun Fact - The railway bridge has solar panels on the roof which generates half the electricity for the station. It's the largest solar powered bridge in the world.
The National Theatre
Founded in 1963 by Sir Lawrence Olivier (you'll pass a statue of him outside), the current brutalist building opened on this site in the late 1970s. The new King Charles III once said "it's a clever way of hiding a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting."
Waterloo Bridge was bombed at the beginning of WW2, rebuilt largely by women and therefore nicknamed 'the ladies bridge'.
The area now known has the Southbank was destroyed in WW2. It was rebuilt to house arts venues such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery and the Royal Festival Hall, the first building to open here in 1951.
The London Eye
Opened as 'the Millennium Wheel' in the year 2000 and renamed the 'London Eye'. It takes 30 minutes to go all the way around.
Fun Fact - It has 32 pods. Each one represents one of London's 32 boroughs.
Westminster Bridge and the Royal Palace of Westminster
Westminster Bridge is painted green, the same colour as the benches in the House of Commons.
The medieval Palace of Westminster burnt down in 1834. A few bits survived including the Great Hall, where the Queen is Lying-in-State. It was rebuilt by architect Charles Barry and completed in 1870. 'Big Ben' is actually called the Elizabeth Tower and the tower on the opposite end is called the Victoria Tower which houses documents and bills of parliament dating back to the 14th century.
Fun Fact - Big Ben is the name of the 14 tonne hour bell, not the tower.
Lambeth Palace has been home to the Archbishop of Canterbury since the 1200s. The oldest part of the current building dates back to the 15th century.
Fun Fact - Behind those walls is a garden of just over 10 acres, making it one of the oldest and largest private gardens in London.
Lambeth Bridge was completed in 1932 to replace a Victorian Bridge. It had originally been the site of a ferry that took horses across the Thames, which is why the road on the opposite bank is called Horseferry Road. You'll notice the paintwork is largely red, the same as the benches in the House of Lords.
Once you've crossed Lambeth Bridge, you'll be on the final stretch before you enter the Great Hall to see the Queen Lying-in-State.
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.
A visit to London isn't complete without stopping off at the Tower of London. I recently accompanied some people who had said they wanted to “pop in” to the Tower, as part of a morning we spent together. We ended up spending the best part of four hours there.
The name itself is a little misleading, as the Tower of London actually comprises of 21 different towers, the most prominent being the White Tower, situated in the centre. The people I was with on our visit were surprised how big the Tower of London is. It has a village feel to it once you're inside, a fact heightened by the presence of the Yeoman Warders (or Beefeaters) who live there with their families. Because of the sheer scale of the place, both in terms of its size and also the incredible history, it’d be impossible to condense the whole lot in to a short blog post, so I’ll just pick out a few bits and pieces.
Development of the Tower
It is important to remember that the Tower of London didn’t magically spring up, fully formed in the incarnation you can visit today. What you see today is the result of centuries of additions and also subtractions in the form of fires, bombing and alterations. The Tower of London began life during the reign of William the Conqueror (1066–87) and has constantly been tweaked and changed right up to the present day. Major additions took place in the 13th Century under Henry III (1216–72) and Edward I (1272–1307) which included pushing back the Thames, building St Thomas’s Tower, the Beauchamp Tower, the Bloody Tower, Wakefield Tower … and many of the other towers for that matter.
Prisoners and Execution
The Tower of London has always held in the public perception, the mantle of being at the centre of England’s blood soaked history; as a place of torture, execution and of course as a prison. It was initially built as a palace and fortress and in fact only ten people have actually been executed inside the Tower walls on the tranquil Tower Green. Two of them, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard had the misfortune of being married to Henry VIII. In effect, it was a VIP execution site. Sculptor Brian Catling has marked the execution site with a memorial on which is written the names of the ten men and women condemned to death on Tower Green, in the centre of which rests a glass pillow. Non VIPs were executed on Tower Hill just to the north of the Tower.
Perhaps the most well known and intriguing story relates to the Bloody Tower (originally known as the Garden Tower) which actually gets its name from the disappearance and supposed murder of two young princes, Edward V and his younger brother Richard who after their father, Edward IV died in 1483 were taken under the wing of their uncle Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. The two boys were declared illegitimate and their uncle was crowned King Richard III. The two young boys disappeared and rumours of murder not surprisingly spread quickly. Skeletons of two boys were found hidden beneath a staircase in the White Tower in the 17th century and are generally believed to be the two princes. Their bones were reburied in Westminster Abbey.
Some prisoners had it better than others. Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) for instance spent almost 14 years as a prisoner in the Tower of London, but whilst he was there wrote a book, grew vegetables and was visited by his family. His son Carew was both conceived and born at the Tower whilst Raleigh was held prisoner.
The Lower Wakefield Tower will give you a brief insight in to the use of torture at the Tower. The main instruments used were the Scavenger’s Daughter, manacles and of course the Rack; the mere mention of which was often enough for prisoners to tell the authorities whatever it was they wished to hear.
As you wander around you’ll undoubtedly notice a number of men and one woman dressed in blue and red uniforms. These are Yeoman Warders, popularily known as ‘Beefeaters’. There are 35 in total and they have all completed at least 22 years military service and upon appointment, they must be within 40 and 55 years of age. Although they spend a great deal of time giving tours of the Tower, they’re officially the Sovereign’s bodyguards, and as such can be seen accompanying the Queen on state occasions. As previously mentioned, they all live inside the Tower with their partners and families and each night at exactly 9:53pm perform the ‘Ceremony of the Keys’ during which they formally lock the Tower. They’ve been doing it pretty much exactly the same since the 14th century.
Medieval monarchs had a habit of giving each other gifts of exotic animals, and as such they became housed in the Tower of London, known as the ‘Tower’s Menagerie’. The Tower in essence was a pre-cursor to a zoo with the public paying to see them, often with catastrophic consequences. In 1686, Mary Jenkinson died after thinking it a good idea to stroke one of the lions. Over the centuries, the Tower housed animals such as lions, bears, a wolf, eagles, an ostrich, monkeys, an alligator, an African elephant, polar bears and baboons … to name but a few. As you wander around you can see some great sculptures by artist Kendra Haste which allude to the Tower’s animal past. The Menagerie came to an end in the 1830s and some of the animals that remained, formed a new zoo in Regent’s Park which is still there today and known as ZSL London Zoo.
The White Tower
The imposing structure in the centre of the Tower complex is the White Tower, built in the 11th century as a fortress and amongst other things, a reminder to Londoners of the power and authority of their new Norman rulers. Although today, the White Tower is dwarfed by the likes of the Shard and other buildings close by in the City of London … it was, at the time of its completion the tallest building most people would have ever seen. Today the White Tower houses a collection from the Royal Armouries including armour worn by King Henry VIII. The entrance to the White Tower is via a wooden staircase. The main door is set well above ground level, which was for security purposes. The original staircase was temporary and could be dismantled in case of attack, thus making it much harder to gain entrance.
There are loads of other fascinating aspects to a visit to the Tower of London, not least the Crown Jewels, a massive collection of Royal bling housed in the Waterloo Barracks. You’ll notice during your visit, that the walls are festooned with centuries old pieces of graffiti from numerous prisoners left to fester within the Tower of London and a number of other exhibitions relating to different episodes in the Towers long and varied history. It can get pretty crowded at the Tower of London in the summer, but well worth a visit and don’t forget, if you’re in the area, you might want to pop in the nearby church of All Hallows-by-the-Tower or nip to St Katharine Docks just to the east, which you’ll probably do via the ominously named Dead Man’s Hole.
Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and you'll find that some of London's most iconic landmarks, as well as museums, churches and organisations are all remembering 'The Glorious Dead' as is inscribed on the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
If you visit the Tower of London in the next couple of months you can watch volunteers placing red ceramic poppies in to the dry moat that surrounds the historic building. In case you're unaware, the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the battlefields of northern France and Flanders after the ground had been ravaged by conflict. In those fields, unimaginable numbers of soldiers lay buried beneath where the poppies grew after the war had ended, and are still found by farmers to this day. The red poppy has become a memorial symbol to the fallen. The incredibly powerful and poignant installation at the Tower of London is called 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red', created by ceramic artist Paul Cumming and stage designer Tom Piper.
I took some photos last week of the work in progress, but by the time the whole piece is finished in November, 888,246 poppies will have been added; each one representing a British or Colonial soldier who died during the First World War. It will be quite a sight. Each ceramic poppy can be purchased for £25, the proceeds of which will be spread amongst the six service charities.
St Paul's cathedral, another of London's famous landmarks has chosen to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War in a very different way. On display, in the cathedral until 2018, mirroring the duration of the Great War, is an altar frontal. Many of the men who returned from the battlefields, did so with terrible wounds and afflictions; scarred by the experiences in the trenches. One of the many forms of rehabilitation was embroidery, as it involved a steady hand and concentration which men suffering from 'shell shock' invariably lacked. 138 men from the UK, Australia, South Africa and Canada who were recovering in a number of different hospitals all contributed small sections of embroidery to form what became the St Paul's cathedral altar frontal. 'Lest We Forget', the title given to the display can be seen at the cathedral over the next four years, and on the St Paul's cathedral website, you can find information about each of the remarkable men that contributed.
Also, having been closed for most of the year, the Imperial War Museum in south London has just reopened along with their new First World War galleries, telling the story of the war through the lives of those that experienced it, both on the front line and at home, so if you are visiting and have an interest in this particular period of history, you should perhaps add it to your itinerary.
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).
Each year, the Tower of London apparently has something in the region of over 2.5million visitors. Most of these people will have either passed or certainly seen a church perched next to Tower Hill, quite literally a stones throw away from the Tower, one of London's most popular tourist attractions. I'd be quite intrigued to know how many of them also visit the much over looked church whose name actually acknowledges its more famous and popular neighbour. It's called All Hallows-by-the-Tower, but funnily enough pre-dates the already ancient Tower of London by about 400 years and comes with the tag line 'oldest church in the City of London.'
Founded in 675, it was originally called All Hallows Barking, as it was built by the Abbey of Barking who owned a small plot of land on the most eastern edge of the City. In the intervening years, All Hallows has undergone many changes, and seen so much of London's history and its characters come and go. It survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, and Samuel Pepys who lived nearby climbed the spire to view the destruction 'and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw' but finally succumbed to German bombs in 1940. Like many churches, it was rebuilt, but the damage caused, opened an intriguing window in to the church's past, revealing a 7th century Saxon arch and what is now considered to be one of the most perfectly preserved Roman pavements in the City, which belonged to a domestic house in the 2nd century.
All Hallows is a veritable Aladdin's cave of London throughout the ages, with pretty much every century of the city's existence represented in one form or another, not to mention forming the backdrop to a 'who's who' of famous personalities. I've already mentioned Pepys, but visitors from the USA might be interested to know that John Quincy-Adams (6th President of the United States of America) was married there and William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania was baptised there.
Aside from a great crypt museum where you'll discover the Roman pavement, a model of Roman London (made in 1928) and numerous pieces of Roman and Saxon pottery and curios, the church itself is littered with fascinating artifacts. Due to its close links with the Port of London Authority there's loads of models of ships and coats of arms of shipping companies. The screen to the Mariners Chapel has a crucifix made with wood from the Cutty Sark and the ivory figure is said to have come from the flagship of the Spanish Armada. There are 17 memorial brasses on the floor, the earliest dating from the 14th century and a quite incredible font cover, carved in 1682 by Grinling Gibbons, Christopher Wren's 'go to' man where wood carving was concerned.
All in all, you could make numerous visits to this church and still not see all there is to see or absorb in full its amazing history. What I've mentioned here is just scratching the surface, but one thing remains, and for me, it is encapsulated by the huge Visscher panorama of London (made in 1616) that greets you as you walk through the main door. The church itself features on the print, and although on the photo below you can clearly see what is now Southwark Cathedral in the foreground and the old London Bridge, All Hallows is actually hidden behind the door, much like the church itself is hidden in the shadow of its more famous neighbour.
You'll find All Hallows-by-the-Tower on Byward Street, EC3R 5BJ, but basically, if you head towards the Tower, you'll find it. I'll leave you with a few other photos to whet your appetite.
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.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.