Sunday, June 21st 2015
We may be on holiday this week but as we are staying at home, we have to do the usual chores. The morning was fully occupied with laundry and shopping, leaving only the afternoon for more leisurely activities. We took a bus to London Bridge and from there walked west along the south bank of the Thames.
We left the bus at the north end of London Bridge and started walking across it. The view from here always captures people’s attention because you can see HMS Belfast, permanently moored here, and, behind it, the Gothic exuberance of Tower Bridge. While taking my own photos, I did vaguely notice other people clicking away but it was only after a while that I realized that the reason for the excitement was that Tower Bridge was open!
It is not rare for the bridge to open to allow passage to tall ships but these days, advance notice needs to be given. In times past, staff were permanently on duty to open the bridge as needed but this is no longer the case. As road traffic has increased considerably since the bridge first came into being, a bridge opening causes long tailbacks in both directions and a lot of frustration for drivers. For the observer on foot, however, an opening is still a fascinating sight.
At this time of day, especially when the sun is shining, people tend to point their cameras downriver in the direction of the light. Facing upstream, you are looking directly into the sun. I have no objection to this and in fact find that contre-jour photographs (photos taken facing the light source) often have a charm and excitement of their own. Here I was attracted by the luminous trail in the water made by the sun breaking through layers of cloud.
Here we are in the Borough of Southwark (for pronunciation see Pronunciation of names), famous for, among other things, its Cathedral, known formally as The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie but just plain ‘Southwark Cathedral’ to most of us. The riverside path passes around behind the Cathedral, presenting this less conventional view.
The path takes us into an area known, appropriately enough, as Bankside. It passes under the Cannon Street Railway Bridge beside which is the Anchor Inn. Here we stopped for refreshments and a light lunch.
There would once have been many pubs here, because this was a place of theatres (Shakespeare’s rebuilt Globe is along here) and entertainments of every kind. The Anchor is a lone survivor on a site where it is said that an inn has stood for 800 years, though I think it would take an expert from English Heritage to disentangle the history of this particular building.
The Cannon Street Railway Bridge, as its name suggests, carries only trains and no road traffic or pedestrians. This picture shows three of our bridges: Cannon Street Railway Bridge, in the foreground, then the rather plain London Bridge and, in the distance, the castellated Tower Bridge.
Cannon Street Station, and therefore its bridge, is easily recognized from its two domed Italianate towers. The bridge is a solid enough piece of engineering but utilitarian in appearance. What few decorative features it possessed were removed during refurbishment in 1979-82.
Continuing upstream again, the next bridge is Southwark Bridge. Lurking behind it you can see the famous dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. This is the second bridge on the site and dates from 1921. Unlike Cannon Street Bridge, it is a road bridge for vehicles and pedestrians.
St Paul’s Cathedral is not visible, at least in its entirety, from the river. Its dome and two towers do, however, rise above the obstructions. When first built, St Paul’s was the tallest building in London and lost that prestigious title only in 1962.
A little further on from where I took the previous photo, we come to this intriguing terrace of houses, set back from the river and collectively known as Cardinal’s Wharf. They have aroused considerable curiosity and controversy, not least because of a plaque affixed to the wall of the leftmost, taller, building. This reads as follows: ‘Here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Pauls Cathedral. Here also, in 1502, Catherine, Infanta of Castille & Aragon, afterwards first Queen of Henry VIII, took shelter on her first landing in London.’ Is there any truth in these statements?
To answer the question, we need to know that age of the buildings. First let us note that there are two sets of buildings that clearly differ from on another: the taller white house, No 49 Bankside, and, the lower red brick building, separated from it by the once public way, Cardinal’s Cap Alley. They are so different as to make it unlikely that they were built at the same time.
British History Online quotes the Survey of London as follows: ‘Until recently there was a lead rain-water head on the front bearing a crown and inscribed “B.H.S. 1712.’ 1712 would seem to be a reasonable date for those buildings. However, this date has been taken by some as also being that of No 49 and I think that is an unjustifiable conclusion, given the very clear differences between the two sets of buildings.
It happens that No 49 is a Grade II listed building and we can therefore look to English Heritage for an expert estimate of its age. The listing says this: ‘House. Late C17 or early C18 with earlier C19 alterations.’ I understand this to mean that the house could have been in existence from sometime in the second half of the 1600s or not until the early decades of the 1700s. St Paul’s Cathedral was built between 1675 and 1708 and the existence of No 49 could have overlapped this period if the earlier date applies. This means that while the reference to Catherine of Aragon is pure fantasy, the idea that Christopher Wren could have been associated in some way with No 49 is not outside the bounds of possibility.
There is another possibility, namely that Wren did lodge near here but not in this house. Evidence for this appears in the above mentioned source which says first ‘No confirmation has been found in the records for the statement on the wall plaque there that Sir Christopher Wren frequented the house and watched from thence the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral’ but goes on to add ‘There is a water-colour drawing in the Guildhall Collection which is stated to represent Wren’s house near the Falcon Inn on Bankside. It probably represents the house next the Falcon built by John Hayward.’
We shall probably never know for sure but I have to say I am sceptical that Wren lodged here during the building of the Cathedral. I would have thought that he would have lodged near the site, but that too is mere speculation.
Soon we pass under the famous footbridge called the Millennium Bridge. That it is useful to have a bridge here is not in doubt because it links St Paul’s Cathedral on the north bank with the Tate Modern art gallery on the south. Useful but not aesthetically pleasing, at least, not in my opinion.
Pleasing or not, it serves its purpose and carries a lot of people daily from one side to the other of the river. It is also popular with street vendors who set up their stalls at either and and even on the bridge itself.
The light was beginning to fade and so we hurried on to our next point of interest. We wanted to photograph the Dazzle Ship again. We had already photographed this one and its companion in Liverpool. For an explanation of the purpose of the real dazzle ships and their artwork analogues, see here. As I was framing my picture, the fire launch hove into view and helped liven up the picture. (Low light and movement together conspire to make the image of the fire launch a little blurred.)
To reach this point we had passed under Blackfriars Bridge but I had not photographed it then. To capture the Dazzle Boat I had positioned myself on a wooden pier or jetty and this gave good views back down the river to Blackfriars Bridge. You can see that the light is now fading fast.
Looking upstream we could see Waterloo Bridge where we hurried next.
And here we are, on Waterloo Bridge, looking upstream toward the London Eye and the last of our bridges, Hungerford Bridge. We would not go there but be satisfied with photographing it from here.
Hungerford Bridge carries rail traffic in and out of Charing Cross Station. Stuck to the eastern side of it, there used to be a footbridge of stone and brick. Owing to the numbers of people accessing the Southbank Centre, this footbridge came to be considered inadequate. It was demolished and in celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee a new pedestrian crossing was created. In fact, there are two identical footbridges, one on each side of the railway bridge.
Here is a check list of our bridges in alphabetical order:
- Blackfriars Bridge
- Cannon Street Railway Bridge
- Golden Jubilee Footbridges
- Hungerford Railway Bridge
- London Bridge
- Millennium Bridge
- Southwark Bridge
- Tower Bridge
- Waterloo Bridge
In case you would like to check the position of the bridges, here is a map. Click on it to go to Google Maps.