Saturday, April 2nd 2016
Tigger celebrated her birthday while we were in Nice but decided to have a second celebration with friends today. The plan was to meet at London Bridge and to to go on an extended ramble by both tour bus and Thames tour boat. We did exactly that, and covered a fair amount of ground (and water), though in a fairly random manner. What follows is a dozen haphazard shots of London taken along the way.
We determined to have breakfast en route and went straight to London Bridge. On Duke Street Hill, near to the entrance of London Bridge tube station, there is an arch in the brickwork, of the sort that is typically found in bridges. Why it is there I have no idea. Someone has cleverly crammed a cafe into this arch and it must be one of the smallest cafes in London – or in any other town, for that matter. Its name, My Tea Shop, is slightly misleading as it’s a proper cafe serving the usual cooked foods.
There are only 4 tables and I think you could seat about 6 to 8 people at a push. The food is typical ‘caff’ fare and is as good as you would find anywhere. We needed to keep an eye on the time and for a moment or two the cafe clock confused me until I realized it’s reversed and runs counter-clockwise!
We met our friends and proceeded to Hay’s Galleria where we spent some time chatting and drinking coffee. We have visited (and photographed) Hay’s Galleria before, for example in November 2011. Here’s what I wrote about it then (see Tooley Street and Tower Bridge):
Today this is a covered precinct lined with shops and eateries. It was opened in 1651 as Hay’s Wharf, the oldest and largest wharf in the Port of London. The central open area was then the dock, full of water, where ships came to load and unload their cargoes. The dock would once have been open to the sky and the weather but today it is cosily protected by a steel and glass roof which follows the curve of the precinct. The roof was built as part of the regeneration project in 1982-6.
We went down onto the nearby pier to wait for the Thames Clipper tour boat and from there you get a good view of HMS Belfast with Tower Bridge in the background. HMS Belfast was a Royal Navy cruiser that saw action in WWII and in the Korean War. It now belongs to the Imperial War Museum and is permanently moored here as a museum. You will find more information about HMS Belfast here.
We disembarked at Westminster (the tour boat ticket allows you to get off and on as often as you like), where I photographed the Houses of Parliament, partly bandaged, as you can see.
What used to be officially called the Clock Tower, is of course, known all over the world. It appears in books and films and has become the very symbol of London. Most people know it as ‘Big Ben’ though that, sensu stricto, is the name of the great bell that strikes the hours. To celebrate the current monarch’s Diamond Jubilee, it was renamed the Elizabeth Tower. I am sure, though, that the world will go on calling it Big Ben. It is a unique creation with a character of its own and deserves a unique name. More about Big Ben here.
From earliest times, the River Thames has been both a means of transport and also a barrier to land travel. Once, there was only one bridge leading from the south into the city of London, London Bridge, and all traffic had to use it. Since then, other bridges have come into existence, often prompted by the needs of the developing railway network.
The first Hungerford Bridge, built by I.K.Brunel, opened in 1845 and was a suspension footbridge. It was replaced with a railway bridge in 1864, an interesting feature of which was that it had separate footbridges added to it on either side. The upstream footbridge was later lost when the railway bridge was widened. The downstream footbridge remained until the beginning of the 21st century and I have walked across it many times.
In 2002, two new footbridges, one on either side either side of the railway bridge, were opened and called the Golden Jubilee Bridges in honour of the 50th anniversary of the accession the present monarch. The old footbridge has completely disappeared except for pieces attached to the pillars of the railway bridge and it will, sadly, soon pass from living memory.
We again boarded the Thames Clipper and disembarked at the Tower of London, on the north side of the river. From there I took the above photo of Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge is another icon of London although it is 35 years younger than Big Ben, counting from the date of the latter’s first chime (May 31st 1859). It was opened by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) on June 30th 1894. The horizontal bar near to the tops of the towers is in fact an open-air walkway, provided so that pedestrians could still cross when the road bridge was raised to allow ships to pass. It unfortunately became the haunt of prostitutes and pickpockets which resulted in its being closed to the public in 1910.
The Tower of London was first built by the Norman invaders in 1066 but has been modified and extended many times since then. During its long history it has served as a royal palace, a fortress, a prison, a place of execution and, latterly, as a source of income derived from tourists.
While we were waiting for a bus, I took a quick snap across a busy main road of this structure, known as the Tower Hill Memorial. It was built following the First World War, added to for the Second, and commemorates those members of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who were casualties of war and ‘WHO HAVE NO GRAVE BUT THE SEA’. We hear little about this memorial compared with others but I think it is in its way just as important. The tower you see rising behind it belongs to what is now called Ten Trinity Square and was opened in 1922 as the headquarters of the Port of London Authority. (It will probably become an expensive hotel.)
Already a familiar landmark in the capital, the London Eye has in fact being operating only since the year 2000. For your money (currently £39 at the gate or £28 online), you get a 30-minute ride on what looks like a giant bicycle wheel. I am told you have good views over London but cannot confirm that from personal experience as I have never tried it. This video might give you some idea of what it’s like.
Later, once more on our own, Tigger and I found ourselves here. As the caption says, it is part of a famous residence but few tourists will recognize it. The fact that it is in Buckingham Palace Road will give you a clue. Yes, it’s the back entrance of the Queen’s London residence, Buckingham Palace. (See here for a more usual view.)
That was the end of today’s ramble. Nearby we found a coffee shop and relaxed with coffee and cake before taking a bus homeward. Not a bad re-birthday!