Today’s outing might best be described as a ramble because we have no fixed destination in mind. We shall follow our noses, so to speak, and find out where they lead us.
We started at the City Road bus stop at the Angel. To the right in the above picture of one of my favourite buildings. Once the Angel Hotel and now a bank, it stands on the site of the original and historic Angel Inn from which the area takes its name.
The Smith & Sons clock has stood at or near its present position at the meeting point of Goswell Road and City Road for over 100 years and is a much loved landmark. I have written about it before (e.g. Researching the Angel Clock). In the past it has kept good time but for some months now has not be working correctly, either showing the wrong time or not moving at all. It was an hour slow when this photo was taken.
We changed buses in King William Street, and I took this photo looking along St Clement’s Lane. The City still retains many of the ancient lanes, alleys and narrow roads dating from medieval times. (The church at the end is that of St Edmund King and Martyr in Lombard Street.)
We made our way down to London Bridge station to see the new railway bridge. This station is a famous bottleneck that holds up trains and causes delays because of the narrowness of the approach. In order to alleviate this, a new railway bridge has been added. It had reached the side of Borough High Street and needed to make the leap across it. Today was the day for it to do so.
We carried on westwards along the south bank of the Thames, passing the site of the original Globe Theatre and the modern offices of the Financial Times beside Southwark Bridge, and eventually came within site of the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral.
The Millennium Bridge, which joins St Paul’s and the Tate Modern, had to be closed for two years when, after only two days of use, it was found to sway uncomfortably. Londoners still refer to it as the “Wobbly Bridge”. The embarrassingly expensive modifications have stabilized the bridge which is now in daily use, though the name the designers gave it – “the blade of light” – seems somewhat optimistic to me.
Looking over the parapet, I was quite surprised to see a pair of ducks with six tiny ducklings paddling along the edge of the river. The passing boats were making waves and these were were strong enough to throw the ducklings off course and, sometimes, to leave them high and dry on the shingle.
The parents didn’t seem concerned, so perhaps they are used to the Thames and its vagaries. If the ducklings survive and thrive here, they will certainly cope with the ponds and lakes in London’s parks. They all seemed vigorous and energetic as they paddled along furiously to keep up with the adults and shot off in different directions to explore objects found along the way.
The photo above shows Blackfriars Bridge where work is in progress to enlarge the station, lengthening the platforms to accept longer trains. Part of the station will be actually on the bridge. The work requires careful scheduling as the station is to remain open and in use throughout.
Nestling at the feet of tall modern buildings, but near the Thames, these picturesque almshouses are still serving a purpose similar to that for which they were founded in 1752. For more on their history and on Charles Hopton, see this page on the Web site of British History Online.
In Hopton Street too, I was able to “collect” another cattle trough. While the name of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association is clear enough, the inscriptions on the ends are eroded and hard to read. I was able to make out that the trough was dedicated to Charles Kingsley.
On we went along the Thames, past flamboyantly designed modern office buildings…
under the famous Oxo Tower, whose architect, not allowed to add the company name, instead designed it into the windows…
and beside old wharf buildings that look old and neglected but are still in use – for an arts centre among other things.
Back at the water’s edge, you come to the intriguing Gabriel’s Wharf, an open yard surrounded by small shops and restaurants, the open space itself usually being filled up with tables and chairs and goods for sale. (We sometimes go for brunch to the crêpe stall.)
Looking over the parapet, we saw an artist, apparently transfixed, staring out across the Thames, in the midst of creating a sand sculpture representing a garden. Was the garden ever finished? Either way, the water of the tidal river would soon sweep it away. (Yes, that is my shadow in the bottom left corner.)
Returning to the road, we caught a bus to Tower Bridge.
Tower Bridge used to be permanently manned and the two control rooms are still visible, with dummies standing in for live staff. The bridge still needs to be raised from time to time but nowadays a minimum notice of 24 hours needs to be given though there is no charge for a “bridge lift”.
From the north side of Tower Bridge, we turned down towards St Katherine’s Dock. Today, the dock is full of millionaires’ yachts but when it opened in 1828 it was a commercial dock and its security of access made it suitable for valuable goods such as tobacco and ivory. It is named after St Katherine’s Hospital, a 12th century foundation that was destroyed – along with numerous homes and businesses – when the port was established.
To protect the water level in the Dock from the fluctuations of the tidal Thames, ships enter and leave through a lock.
The dock is roughly circular and there are shops and restaurants all around. It is a popular place to go, especially on a sunny bank holiday. Traffic across the lock has to be suspended when the bridge is lifted to allow ships in or out of the lock.
Though it is surrounded by buildings, the wide spread of water gives the dock an open airy feeling that makes it a pleasant spot to walk, sit or have a cup of coffee in fine weather like today’s.
While I was watching operations in St Katherine’s lock, I was lucky enough to catch a “bridge lift” on Tower Bridge. You can see the ship that has required it going through. Notice too, the bright white undersides of the lifted spans: this is because Tower Bridge was recently repainted.
By now we had been “on the road” for quite some time since breakfast and the thought of having something to eat was uppermost in our minds. We decided to take a late – very late – lunch. But where?
There are a number of eateries in St Katherine’s Dock, of which the Dickens Inn is well known and does a roaring trade. It is not as ancient as the design is meant to suggest. It was created from a converted warehouse.
To be honest, I don’t think we had any doubts that we would go to the Mala Indian restaurant. We had been here several times before and knew that the food is excellent and that despite the formal appearance (the male staff wear black tie and dinner jackets) the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. On top of this, the prices are not significantly higher than you would pay in your local high street.
That wasn’t quite the end of our day or of the outing but it is a good place to stop. We walked a little further after lunch and saw other interesting things (how can one not do so in London?) before finally boarding a bus for home.
Considering that we had had no particular goal in mind, we covered a lot of ground and saw much to interest us and encourage us to further explorations.
Royal Mint Court
Once the Royal Mint where all British currency used to be made (and many foreign currencies as well), though much extended and altered during its history, this building now provides accommodation for offices, the Mint having moved out in the 1960s