Hello again and welcome to the fourth instalment of my walk along the Jubilee Greenway , a 60km. footpath in London which was constructed from existing rights of way to celebrate Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 even if it was hijacked by being linked to the London Olympics of that year. If you haven’t read my previous entries, you can start here.
I had finished my previous section at Westminster Tube Station and so this is where I started again on a fairly chilly but dry Sunday morning. As always I had no set distance I wanted to cover as the walk, apart from my natural love of walking and discovering, was primarily intended to build up my strength following major surgery the previous August. I certainly wasn’t out for a route march, I gave that caper up years ago! The Jubilee Greenway was an ideal choice as my home is actually inside it’s circular route so no point on it was difficult to get to or get home from.
Added to that is the fact that most of it passes through very interesting areas and much of it forms day walks that I have recommended to visitors to London on other travel websites. I am a great fan of inland waterways and often point out the joys of the Regent’s Canal as an “off the beaten path” activity. I have covered that in the first post in this series. The previous post dealt with the “green lung” of London comprising Kensington Gardens and Hyde, Green and St. James’s Park and today I was going to be walking along the South bank of the Thames which is also jam-packed with interesting features. Grab a brew, settle back in your chair and we’ll go for a walk.
Remarkably for a weekend I was able to get to Westminster easily which is not usually the case as TfL regularly close multiple Tube lines for works and that is another insiders tip for visitors. If you are using public transport, especially at weekends, check before you travel using the TfL website which is usually up to date. I only wish they could run the system as efficiently as they run their online presence.
Coming out of Westminster Tube Station I should have been greeted with the sight of Big Ben which must be one of the most photographed structures in the UK, if not the world, but I wasn’t. The venerable old structure is showing it’s age and has been clad in scaffolding for conservation for some considerable time. Work is scheduled to be completed in 2021 so that probably means about 2023 if other Government projects like Crossrail are anything to go by.
Passing the front of the Parliament building I had to stop, remove headgear and pay my respects at this memorial, one of far too many similar plaques all over the country erected by the Police Memorial Trust. The Trust was founded by the late film director Michael Winner in 1984 following the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher by a “diplomat” in the Libyan embassy. He was subsequently allowed to fly home under diplomatic immunity. Since then every police officer in UK killed in the line of duty has been similarly honoured.
PC Palmer, a 48 year old father of one daughter, was on duty on 22nd March, 2017 outside the Houses of Parliament when he was confronted by a knife-wielding Islamic terrorist who had already killed four people and injured 50 more by driving a car into them at up to 76 mph (122 km/h) on nearby Westminster Bridge. There are plenty of armed officers in and around Parliament but PC Palmer was unarmed as he tackled the terrorist and was fatally stabbed before the murderer was shot dead by other police. He was posthumously awarded the George Medal for his selfless heroism.
Somewhat sobered by this, I passed along the front of the Parliament building and paused to take an image across Parliament Square of the rather fine building which is now the Supreme Court but which I remember as Middlesex Guildhall which was home to a Crown Court. It is relatively young considering the other buildings in the area like Parliament and Westminster Abbey and was only constructed in the first decade of the 20th century to the design of James S. Gibson, a Scottish architect.
Britain, which has given legal systems to a large portions of the world, survived perfectly well without a Supreme Court until 2009. Prior to that the ultimate Court in the UK was the House of Lords sitting just across the Square. All sorts of fanciful reasons were put forward as to why we needed such an institution (history showed we didn’t) but I ascribe it to be part of a seemingly obsessional desire to be like others, in this case the USA and the EU. I’ll not get on my soapbox about this and we’ll pass on to the next point of interest which was only a few steps away.
Before you tell me that I could / should have cropped the accompanying image, I could have done as that is one of the few computer skills I have mastered but I took it like this on purpose to show more of the current building works which extend to most of the Parliamentary estate. The martial looking chap you can see astride his destrier is Richard I, more commonly known as Lionheart or Coeur de Lion and the latter soubriquet is probably more appropriate. Despite being King of England from 1189 until his death in 1199 he was French, is buried in France and didn’t speak a word of English so Lionheart would have meant nothing to him.
OK, he was born in England but brought up in France, spent his childhood there and most of his adult life crusading, specifically leading the Third Crusade where he had considerable successes against Saladin, the Islamic leader. It is generally reckoned that he spent only six months of his ten year reign in the country he ruled.
If you have ever wondered about the three lions on the shirt of the English football (soccer) team and as immortalised in the song of that name by the Lightning Seeds, that heraldic device was introduced by Richard. In my first digression of the day, I was meant to be going to see the Lightning Seeds four days from the day I am writing this in March 2020 but the coronavirus has put paid to that.
I don’t intend to go into a whole detailed history of Richard as there is more than enough online already and you probably know most of it so we shall walk a bit further and we don’t have far to go. Immediately to the South of the Houses of Parliament are the Victoria Tower Gardens, bounded to the West by Millbank and to the East by the Thames which houses a couple of interesting monuments, the first of which is the Emmeline Pankhurst statue.
Emmeline was one of main activists of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a group she founded in 1903 to promote the cause of female suffrage. She was assisted by her equally famous daughters Christabel and Sylvia and between them they are credited with successfully securing the vote for women in 1918. Noted for their attacks on property and subsequent hunger strikes in prison the WPSU were a formidable group and even tinkered with making bombs as well as having a ju-jitsu trained all female close protection squad for Emmeline when she was speaking or marching. All this was remarkable in the early part of the 20th century when women just were not expected to do such things.
All was not sweetness and light in the organisation though and Emmeline kicked out her own daughter Sylvia along with several other founding members over ideological differences. It appears she was a formidable woman and would not let even family loyalty stand in her way. She herself was imprisoned and went on hunger strike in Holloway Prison but when prison officials came into her cell to force feed her, she picked up a jug and threatened to batter the first one that came near her. Conscious of the averse publicity effect of force-feeding her she was released a few days later on the spurious grounds of ill-health.
Emmeline Pankhurst died on 14th June 1928 and was buried in Brompton Cemetery. The statue, unveiled in 1930, is the work of Arthur George Walker with the plinth by Sir Herbert Baker and was funded by public subscription organised by “Kitty” Marshall, Emmeline’s bodyguard. It is now officially the Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst Memorial although the extended base bearing Christabel’s image at one end and a prison brooch of the WPSU on the other was not added until 1958. Notably, Sylvia, the “rogue” daughter is not commemorated which I find sad and a little petty.
At this point a quick look down showed me that not only was I following the Jubilee Greenway but also the Jubilee Walkway. Confused? I don’t blame you. The Jubilee Walkway commemorates Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 and is much shorter than the Greenway at a mere 15 miles. When we cross the river in a moment we’ll actually be on the Jubilee Greenway, Jubilee Walkway and Thames Path all at the same time. Never let it be said that I don’t give my dear readers good value. Although I’ve never set out to walk the Jubilee Walkway as a project, I have walked every step of it many times and perhaps I’ll cobble together a piece about it in the future.
Still in the Gardens and only a few yards away from Mrs’ Pankhurst I came upon the Burghers of Calais memorial which I find pleasing on the eye even if the subjects in it look pretty wretched and they had good reason to. In 1347 the English King Edward III had besieged the French town of Calais for a year and the conditions were appalling with widespread hunger and disease. In a very noble act, six of the leading citizens of the town, the Burghers or Bourgeois in the French, offered their lives if the rest of the town was spared. They were duly taken prisoner and Queen Philippa of Hainault, the King’s wife, upon hearing of this action interceded successfully with her husband to have their lives spared.
The statue itself is also interesting. The famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin, probably best known for “the Thinker” spent five years producing a statue of the Burghers to stand outside Calais Town Hall. Twelve casts were made of it and this is one of them with others at places as diverse as Copenhagen, Philadelphia, Seoul and Tokyo. The cast here is on a slight plinth carved by Eric Gill but even this modest structure is contrary to Rodin’s wishes as he wanted the original statue at ground level so the ordinary people of Calais almost “bumped into them” (his words).
Whilst you could hardly miss the two statues we have so far encountered, it would be easy enough to miss the small plaques on the river wall which commemorates the life of Sir Thomas Pierson Frank (1881 – 1951) and that would be a pity. Sir Thomas who? I didn’t know either until I started writing this post and that is to my shame as I should have. As the plaque states he “saved London from drowning during the Blitz” when h was Chief Engineer for London County Council between 1930 and 1946 so how did he do that?
During the War he was the “coordinating officer for Road Repairs and Public Utility Services” which is a rather cumbersome title but meant the he was responsible for organising repairs to damage caused by German bombing during the Blitz. An important part of that was repairing over 100 breaches of the Thames wall and preventing catastrophic flooding of low-lying parts of the Capital. One such breach was at the site of the plaque and, whilst I know there are those that would argue that drowning politicians en masse is a good thing, it was undoubtedly a worthwhile action. Another piece of history learned and we are still not out of the Gardens yet.
If you talk about the abolition of slavery in the UK you will probably mention William Wilberforce and that is about the only name I knew connected with that particular cause. Obviously such a momentous undertaking required more than one man to bring about but I had never heard of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton. Actually, I had obliquely heard of him but never made the connection.
Buxton was born into a Quaker family in Essex and after a good education which finished in Trinity College, Dublin he went to work at the brewery of Truman, Hanbury in Brick Lane which is walking distance from my home and which I passed only a couple of weeks ago. The firm was renamed Truman Hanbury and Buxton when he joined and he went on to turn it into a hugely successful operation which, following some mergers, was eventually the largest brewer in the world. Also near my home is Buxton Street which houses the Thomas Buxton Primary School, both named for the man.
Buxton was elected a Member of Parliament in 1818 and this gave him the opportunity to pursue issues close to his heart. Possibly due to his Quaker background Buxton was heavily involved in social reform and was a champion of both prison reform and animal rights. He formed the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals which was given a Royal prefix by Queen Victoria and exists to this day as the RSPCA. He also opposed the death penalty and although he did not live to see it’s abolition he managed to get the number of hanging offences reduced from over 200 to eight.
The slave trade had been abolished in 1807 and when Wilberforce retired in 1825 Buxton took over in the van of the abolitionist movement. He eventually succeeded in having slavery abolished in the British Empire with the exception of India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and it is this event that is commemorated here.
Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of all things Gothic and so I loved this memorial which is to the design of Samuel Sanders Teulon and was paid for by Buxton’s son, also an MP. It was from this point that I managed a decent image of the South aspect of the Houses of Parliament which is much less photographed than the other three sides.
I had exhausted the possibilities of Victoria Tower Gardens now, with the exception of the kiddie’s playpark but I thought that a romp on the equipment might have been frowned upon. Before you read on you may wish to check your doors and windows and put an extra firewall or two on your internet as you never know who’s watching.
The rather imposing building here, built to the design of Sir Frank Baines who was born near where I live and went to school just up the road from me, is in the Neoclassical style and was opened in 1930 on land reclaimed following a disastrous flood in 1928. Originally the home of the ICI chemical giant it was subsequently used by various Government departments but since 1994 it has been home to MI5, the UK’s domestic intelligence organisation.
Don’t tell anyone I told you although in truth the spooks are a lot more open than they used to be about non-operational matters. You can even read all about them on their website. Six weeks after taking this photograph and before writing this piece ITV screened a documentary about the organisation where they had been given limited access to this very building. I’m going to watch it soon but I need to press on with this now as we have a bit to go yet and I’m still only half a mile from where I started.
In the spirit of all things being connected which I mention often there are supposedly two sculptures on the outside of the building depicting St. George and Brittania although I am damned if I can see them even after blowing up the image. These are the work of Charles Sargent Jagger who we met in the last entry here as he was the man who designed the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner. It all goes round in circles.
A final piece of trivia about MI5 for you and we’ll scurry off across Lambeth Bridge in case they don’t like me taking photos. You can write to the spooks at PO Box 3255, London SW1P 1AE and it will get there but for many people the term Box 500 is still in vogue. This was the wartime address and led to the nickname “The Box” or simply “Box” which many people, myself included, use to signify the organisation.
Crossing Lambeth Bridge I could not resist a “tourist snap” down the river with the Houses of Parliament on the left and “the Wheel” on the right. In the left foreground are some of the many pleasure boats that ply the Thames but were moored up at this time of year.
I had barely cleared the bridge when I came on the old gateway you can see on the left of the image which is the entrance to Lambeth Palace, London HQ and official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury who is head of the worldwide Anglican church. The Palace, formerly Lambeth House, has been owned by the Church since about 1200 and this Tudor Brick gatehouse dates to 1495. It was built on the orders of Cardinal John Morton who was not only Archbishop but also Lord Chancellor so quite an important chap all told.
The Church on the left is now de-consecrated and serves as a Garden Museum. Despite not owning a garden and having no interest in horticulture whatsoever I did go there once some years ago and found it quite interesting but there was no time for a repeat visit now as I wanted to get some more miles done.
Opposite Lambeth Palace on the small strip of land between Lambeth Palace Road and the river it was time to get my headgear off again and pay my respects, this time at the SOE memorial.
The Special Operation Executive is an organisation that I have a huge interest in and have read many books about. It was formed in 1940 following Sir Winston Churchill’s instruction to Hugh Dalton, the Minister of Economic Warfare, to “go and set Europe ablaze” which is exactly what they were to go on and do.
Initially formed by the merger of several existing organisations, many of which were duplicating the effort of others, the SOE quickly became responsible for all covert operations overseas, typically involving sabotage and liaison with Resistance groups. Agents were normally parachuted into enemy controlled areas and whilst they are now best remembered for their exploits in Nazi occupied Europe they were also active in North Africa and Southeast Asia where they were known as Force 136.
We “met” a couple of SOE men in the last entry, the two Czechs who assassinated Heydrich in Prague in 1942. This was one of the better published exploits of the group and there are many others although I am convinced that there are probably still some dusty files locked away somewhere under the “too politically embarrassing to ever be released” embargo. The SOE were certainly no angels and some of their tactics and that of MI6, with whom they worked and whose modern HQ is nearby was questionable at best. For example, recent research has shown that an SOE agent called Dericourt probably betrayed a number of his SOE and Resistance comrades to the Germans at the behest of MI6 to divert attention away from the forthcoming D-Day landings.
SOE used many female operators on the reasonable supposition that they were less likely to be suspected of violent covert activity. Two of the most famous of these were Odette Sansom (aka Churchill) and Violette Szabo whose bust tops this monument.
Of the many remarkable people in SOE, Violette was exceptional and yet her story, which I promise is the only SOE biography I am going to include here, is very typical of SOE operators. She was brought up in both England and France with the family of her French mother which made her fluent in French and being bi-lingual was a pre-requisite of SOE membership. When speaking English she spoke with a pronounced Cockney accent which endeared her to her future comrades. Having worked as a shop assistant before the war, she joined the “land girls” on the outbreak of hostilities.
In 1940 she met Etienne Szabo, a Hungarian soldier in the French Foreign Legion, and they married after a five week whirlwind romance. She joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) which Her Majesty the Queen also served in alongside Churchill’s daughter, and in June 1942 she gave birth to her daughter Tania. She went on to work in a munitions factory where her Father was employed and it was about this time that she learned of her husband’s death whilst fighting in North Africa. He never saw his newborn child.
Violette, or Louise as she was known, was now a 21 year old war widow with an infant and yet that did not deter her from accepting SOE’s advances to join them. After training and one mission in the Cherbourg area, from which she was successfully exfiltrated by Lysander aircraft, she was prepared for her second, ultimately fatal, mission.
Violette was part of a team of four whose mission was to co-ordinate resistance in the Limoges area following the D-Dy landings a couple of days previously and actually dropped on her daughter’s second birthday. It is said that her prime motivation for joining SOE was to get back at the enemy who had killed her husband and that is certainly a powerful motivation but it must take something special to leave your first-born toddler at home and go and do something as perilous as this.
Whilst travelling through France in a car, which was risky as car transport for French people had been banned by the Germans following the invasion, Violette and her two male companions ran into a roadblock looking for a German officer who had been kidnapped by the Resistance. After twisting an ankle that she had previously injured in parachute training, she insisted that her remaining colleague (the other one had escaped earlier) make good his escape and she had a gun battle with the Germans before being captured. She was moved to a local prison where she was tortured before being transferred to the infamous Ravensbruck concentration camp where she endured more barbaric treatment.
On an unknown date in early February 1945 she was taken into a yard known as “Execution Alley”, forced to kneel and shot in the back of the head. Two of her comrades, unable to walk because of their treatment, were shot in their stretchers. Violette was posthumously awarded the George Cross which was accepted on her behalf by her then five year old daughter. She was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre.
Perhaps the last word is best left to Odette Hallowes, her SOE comrade and fellow holder of the GC who said simply, “she was the bravest of us all”. Suitably thoughtful for the second time that morning, I continued walking.
I hadn’t gone too far when I chanced upon another plaque that I don’t remember seeing before, to the memory of Lt. Col. John By of the Royal Engineers who I was informed had founded the city of Ottowa, now the seat of government in Canada. Some more research called for, I feel.
John By was born in 1779 near the site of the plaque and was commissioned in the Royal Artillery but transferred to the Royal Engineers a few months later. He was initially posted to Canada where he worked on fortifying Quebec and also on improving navigability on the mighty St. Lawrence River. He returned to serve in Spain under Wellington (who we also met in the last entry) in the Napoleonic Wars before resigning his commission at the end of the campaign in 1815.
He was recalled to service in 1826 because of his engineering experience in Canada and set the task of constructing what is now the Rideau Canal to connect the Ottowa River to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence. His first act was to establish a settlement for the construction workers which was originally called Bytown and subsequently renamed Ottowa for the river. The 126 mile canal was completed in six years which was regarded as an engineering marvel and it opened in 1832. It was hugely over-budget for which he was investigated and eventually exonerated although the process took a huge toll on his health. He retired again, this time to Frant in East Sussex where he died in 1836. How had I never heard of this man before?
Passing St. Thomas’s hospital I had a quick look up to where I underwent surgery on my spine many years before and then followed the walkway under Westminster Bridge where I paused briefly to take the obligatory image of the London Eye or whatever corporate sponsorship name it currently has. I was persuaded once, against my better judgement to ride on it and I cannot remember ever having been so scared in my life. I really do not like heights.
A little further on I came to a walkway / underpass or whatever it is properly called. It is completely covered in graffiti and has long been the haunt of BMX bikers and skateboarders performing the most ridiculous stunts. That is fine but I wish they would stay in their own area and not charge up and down the embankment on one wheel terrifying people trying to enjoy a peaceful walk
Just beyond the wheeled maniacs is another relatively new innovation, a large book market situated under Waterloo Bridge and which specialises in paperbacks and antique books. I really did have to discipline myself to walk past this or I would have spent the rest of the day’s walking lugging a load of heavy books round with me. If you want to visit it yourself, it is open every day.
Just next to the book market is the National Theatre which I know is hugely important theatrically but which I just cannot learn to love as I think it is one of the ugliest buildings in London and that is a large field. I simply fail to see anything pleasing in it’s architecture and Denys Lasdun, who was responsible for designing it, has something to answer for. It was opened in 1976 and, whilst I don’t agree with Prince Charles about some things, I have to concur with his judgement when he compared it to a nuclear power station.
At the front of this monstrosity is a piece of art which is rather more pleasing on the eye and that is a statue entitled “London Pride”, a bronze from an original plaster piece by the sculptor Frank Dobson which was commissioned for the Great Exhibition in 1951, hence the name. In these modern times the word pride has been appropriated by the homosexual community and now refers primarily to their annual march in central London. For a Philistine like me London Pride refers to a pretty average beer brewed by Fullers!
A bit further on I saw some people engaged in a very traditional London pastime called mudlarking. You can see people on the foreshore at low tide scouring the sand for anything they can find. It is surprising just how many “beaches” there are in central London. I am told that mudlarkers turn up all sorts of interesting and occasionally valuable items but before you get your wellington boots on (we are back to the Duke yet again) you actually need a licence to do this. The licence is available from the Port of London authority and costs an obscene £40 for one day. You read that right, £40. Admittedly it is only £85 for three years but it is still a lot. It might be worth it though as in 2016 a mudlarker discovered a very early Victoria Cross medal worth about £50,000 then. Very nice.
Outside the Sea Containers building, which was originally built for the company of that name but which now houses a hotel boasting an acclaimed restaurant, I spotted this rather natty phone box. Remember on day one of this walk I had seen the Soane memorial which inspired the design and “bumped into” G.G. Scott, the designer? I swear I am not going to mention circles.
If the NT was likened by the heir to the throne to a nuclear power plant then the Tate Modern art gallery looks like a power station but at least it is honest as that is what it was built as. On the walkway here were a couple of guys blowing giant bubbles for the amusement of the many children who were there, not to mention making an awful slippery mess of the pavement. It is a variation on the theme of busking as they had containers out for donations.
I was concentrating on framing the building properly on my little compact camera so I didn’t even see the bubbles until I uploaded the image to my computer and I am rather pleased with the effect so it gets full-width treatment here. When I try to be arty I usually fall flat on my face and then when I am not even trying I manage a degree of artistic photography. How very appropriate that the subject should be an art gallery.
I took a quick image of the Millennium Bridge, known now and presumably in perpetuity as the “wobbly bridge”. In case you don’t know, this was erected to celebrate the Millennium as the name suggests and it cost an absolute fortune. After the grand fanfare of the opening it was closed later the same day due to an alarming swaying motion and it took another two years and lots more money before it was rectified. People have been walking across nearby Southwark Bridge since 1921 and it doesn’t wobble about. I’m so glad I pay my taxes to pay for things like this.
Just past the “wobbly bridge” I made a conscious attempt at being creative although it is nowhere near as good as my accidental image. Why this particular stretch of railing should have been chosen for the relatively new phenomenon of “lovelocking” is a mystery to me but, as you can see, it is popular. I had only become aware of this practice in Austria a few years before and if you don’t know what it is then here is a quick rundown. Two lovers attach a padlock to some sort of structure and then throw the key in nearby water symbolising that they are linked together forever.
Although it is becoming very popular now, the practice has it’s origins in Serbia in the First World War and is a rather sad tale of lost love. A schoolteacher in Vrnjačka Banja fell in love with a Serbian officer and they pledged to be together forever and other romantic promises of that nature. The officer got posted to Corfu, fell in love with a local girl and broke off the relationship. Heartbroken, poor Nada the teacher never recovered and died of a broken heart. Wanting to avoid the same unhappy fate the young women of the town took to writing their names and that of their loved one on padlocks and attaching them to the bridge where Nada and her faithless beau used to meet.
After this the practice more or less died out until the early 2000’s when it took off like wildfire all over Europe and beyond. Whilst many people regard them as a bit of harmless fun they are not without risk. In Canada a cyclist was hospitalised after a lovelock snagged her arm (quite how that happened I don’t know) and in France 22,000 had to be removed from one bridge when the suspension cables began to sag under the weight.
Personally, I think it is a waste of perfectly serviceable padlocks but I have not got a romantic bone in my body. Beyond the railings you can see some of the modern buildings in the City of London and I do hope you like my effort.
From the modern buildings in the last image to a building that looks positively archaic but actually isn’t, the famous Globe Theatre which is but on the site (near enough) of Shakespeare’s original of the same name. It is as good a replica of the Bard’s playhouse as can be guessed at from the incomplete records available and is the brainchild of the late Sam Wanamaker, actor and director, who is commemorated in plaque outside.
It was opened in 1997 so sadly Mr. Wanamaker did not live to see his dream come true but it certainly lives on in a building with no steel used in the construction and the only thatched roof permitted in London since the Great Fire. The Globe is completely self-financing and realises a decent £24 million a year.
On a bit further and I passed the replica of the Golden Hinde, Sir Francis Drake’s ship which replaced an earlier replica of the Kathleen and May, a three masted schooner. When the K&M was still there I used to sing beside her with a shanty crew one Sunday every month. We used to pass a hipflask of rum about, in prper nautical style, and had a rare old time to ourselves. It could prove to be quite lucrative, especially when Japanese tour groups passed, and we would all retire to the Old Thameside Inn where we would retire for further revelry. Ah, those were the days.
With the sea shanty South Australia as an earworm I walked on past Southwark Cathedral and “discovered” this statue which I must have passed before but never looked at. The work of Alan Collins, it represents Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, poetry, weaving and strategic warfare (amongst other things) which I didn’t know. I think it is rather pleasant although when I saw it I thought it represented a soldier due to the helmet. Again my complete lack of an artistic eye is amply proven. There is a story that this was originally commissioned to stand outside nearby Minerva House which was home to the National and Grindlay Bank but didn’t go there when the bank changed names.
Leaving “Centurion” Minerva behind I took a brisk walk along the next stretch which I know pretty well until I passed under Tower Bridge and came upon this attractive building which was originally the Anchor Brewhouse founded by John Courage of the famous Courage Brewery in 1791 although the present structure dates mostly to the late 19th century.
This area was traditionally known as Horsleydown although that name is rarely used nowadays but Shakespeare mentions brewing in Horsleydown so there is obviously a long tradition of that fine craft here.
I would argue that Tower bridge in London, often erroneously referred to by visitors as London Bridge, is probably the most photographed bridge in the world. Certainly the Golden Gate, Brooklyn and Sydney Harbour bridges are all up there but I reckon this is the one. If you have ever had to pick your way through the throngs of camera wielding tourists on a sunny day, as I have many times, you’ll know what I mean.
Personally, and here is a tip for you if you do visit from elsewhere which I hope you do, I think the best images of the bridge are obtained from the area in front of the Tower Hotel. If you frame it right you can include David Wynne’s beautiful “Girl with a Dolphin” statue in the foreground which makes for a great shot. Get there early in the day and the sun will be behind you and that’s enough of a photography class for now. To listen to me, you’d almost think I knew what I was talking about!
Whilst there are undoubtedly tens of millions of images of the bridge in existence, both online and off, I would be surprised if 1% of them were taken from this angle and I like it for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is unusual and I like to do unusual things as you probably know by now and secondly, I think it shows the Thames for what it is, a working river.
To the right of the image are the high rises of the City of London, one of the major financial districts in the world and to the left in the middle ground a “botel” called the Harpy Houseboat. It was originally a floating Customs and Excise office for the Port of London and looks very swish on it’s website. Given the phenomenal views of the bridge, it is not too expensive for central London although you need to book as a party of eight.
If you look at the smaller image here you can make out what looks like the beginnings of a small forest which is no less than a nursery (of the plant type and not small children) and I really have no idea who decided to do such a thing here or indeed why. Just London being it’s usual odd self, I suppose.
Not far along from the floating garden centre I came upon a pub which is very well-known to locals. Although this version of the Angel dates “only” to 1837 there has been a pub of that name on the site for a lot longer than that. To put that in context, Stephenson’s Rocket (the world’s first steam locomotive) had only been built eight years earlier and neither Canada nor Australia were even countries.
I have mentioned before that certain historical characters seem to follow me around and the painter J.M.W. Turner seems to be one such historical “stalker”, the guy just won’t leave me alone to the extent that I have developed a strange affection for him.
When I lived in Wapping, just across the river from here, my local pub was Turner’s Old Star, so named because he lived there with his Mistress under an assumed name. A few months earlier, whilst recovering from my spell in hospital, I had walked the Turner and Dickens path between Broadstairs and Margate which you can read about here.
Turner’s most famous work is probably “the Fighting Temeraire” which depicts the ship that saved Nelson’s flagship Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar being towed to the breakers here in Rotherhithe and it was painted from the balcony of this very pub. I have included a Wikicommons image of the painting here to save you the bother of looking it up and so you can see the artistic liberties Turner took which I shall explain now.
Contemporary reports tell us that the ship was towed by two tugs not one, all it’s masts and rigging had been removed and the sunset is a complete fiction. It would have to be as I know that the sun does not set there judging by the orientation of St. Paul’s cathedral. Still, let’s not have the truth get in the way of a great painting.
In another piece of historical synchronicity, Captain James Cook planned the voyage where he “discovered” Australia in the Angel and at the time he lived right across the road from my home.
The earlier incarnations of the Angel were diagonally opposite the moated manor house of King Edward III who we have met before on this walk (remember the poor Burghers of Calais?). Although he was a keen huntsman and built many hunting lodges, this would not have been one as there was no Royal hunting ground nearby. The current best guess is that it was where he practiced falconry, of which he was also very fond. Just to indicate how things have changed, the building had a moat on three sides with the river running right up to the front wall so he could moor a boat there at high tide and walk straight in the front door.
By the 16th century the land to the riverside had been reclaimed which I am rather glad about as otherwise I would have been swimming by now. The manor house had been sold into private ownership and after briefly being a pottery it was eventually covered by warehouses to service the port. It was only in the 1970’s when the warehouses were demolished that archaeologists from the Museum of London were able to restore what was left of the foundations to leave us with what you see now.
On the other diagonal from the Angel to the manor house is the pleasant King’s Stairs Gardens which is named for pretty obvious reasons and which was once part of a plan to extend Southwark Park all the way to the river that sadly never came to fruition.
There are two markers here denoting significant dates in Her Majesty’s long reign. On the ground is a marker showing the area as one of the “Fields in Trust” and dated to the Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The other is a rather more impressive memorial stone unveiled by the Earl and Countess of Wessex (Prince Edward and Sophie to you and me) in 2002 for the Golden Jubilee and which replaced another stone unveiled by her Majesty herself 25 years earlier on the occasion of her Silver Jubilee.
I was a little intrigued about the “fields in Trust” concept which I had never heard of before but probably should have as it dates back to 1925 and administers over 2,800 open spaces in the UK. It is a charitable trust and completely unbeknownst to me is responsible for no less than four open spaces about half a mile from my home that I regularly walk through. Live and learn as they say.
It is probably just as well the charity is fighting the cause of open spaces as there was a very recent threat to the existence of the Park. In my recent walk along the Wandle river, a couple of miles upstream on the Thames from here, I had encountered and blogged about the Thames Tideway. This is a massive infrastructure project currently underway to alleviate the outdated London drainage system. As part of this huge undertaking, the park was mooted as the site for a large works but this suggestion was successfully resisted by local people. In a move which will hopefully further protect the Park in future it has now been granted “village green” status by Southwark Council which I suppose chimes with the notion that London is merely a series of linked villages to which I strongly subscribe.
There is no shortage of things to see on this stretch and less than 200 yards further on I came to the lovely Church you see here, St. Mary’s Rotherhite and, as you can see, it was still only half one in the afternoon so plenty of light left yet.
St. Mary’s, properly St. Mary the Virgin, is like so many other parish churches in London in that it is a more recent building on a much more ancient site of Christian worship. In this case the history of that religion extends back almost a millennium according to documentary evidence which proves a church in 1282. The probability is that there were earlier churches as Roman bricks have been found in the current foundations.
Because of it’s proximity to an unwalled river Thames the Church was by 1710 in danger of collapse due to persistent flooding. Following an unsuccessful petition to Parliament for funds, the parishioners raised the money themselves and local craftsmen were largely responsible for executing architect John James’s design. James was an associate of Sir Christopher Wren and worked at Greenwich as joint Clerk of the Works with another Wren compatriot Nicholas Hawksmoor who is another of my historical “stalkers” as regular readers will know. With Hawksmoor he had also designed St. John’s in Horsleydown, which we have just passed and which was bombed by the Germans in the Blitz and demolished.
I often lament that churches are not often left open nowadays for very good reasons but at St. Mary’s they have come up with a rather ingenious solution. You can go into the vestibule area where you are prevented from entering the church proper by a glass wall with locked doors which means you can look at the rather wonderful interior but the valuable items inside are protected to a degree. Very clever.
Remember the Temeraire? You should do as it was only a few paragraphs ago. When she was broken up near here, some of her timbers were used to construct a communion table and two Bishop’s chairs for the church.
Ask most people about the famous “Voyage of the Pilgrim Fathers” and those without specific interest in the subject will probably tell you that they sailed in the Mayflower from Plymouth to the “new world” and it is certainly true that the Devon port was their last landfall in Europe but the voyage starts earlier right here in Rotherhithe although the story of the Pilgrims goes back a lot further and throws up another odd coincidence about my travels.
In the late 16th and early 17th century several groups challenged the authority of the established Church of England on theological grounds which was illegal at the time and at least one of the members was executed for sedition. Opting for the relatively religiously liberal regime in Holland they went there and settled in Leiden. I had spent some time in that beautiful city three years before and it was the start point for a totally unplanned three month jaunt round Europe which you can read about here if you like.
I had never known this about the Pilgrims, of whom my knowledge is admittedly scant, and I certainly saw no mention of it in Leiden which I explored fairly extensively.
For various reasons, primarily economic, things did not work out for the Dissenters in Leiden and they decided to form a new colony elsewhere. After various locations, including Guyana, had been discussed and rejected they decided on what is now the Northeast of the USA. I wonder how different things might have been had they gone elsewhere.
One of the two ships earmarked for the voyage was the Mayflower, captained and partly owned by Christopher Jones of Rotherhithe and it was moored here when the passengers embarked for the historic trip. The other ship was the Speedwell which had to be abandoned after it sprung a leak and the small “flotilla” had returned to Plymouth on the first aborted voyage. Despite the popular misconception that the passengers literally stepped off British soil here, they didn’t as they were ferried over from either Wapping or Blackwall on the North bank. Wherever they stepped off from the rest, as they say, is history.
Captain Jones returned successfully from the trip on 6th May 1621 although he did not live long to enjoy it as he died less than a year later and is buried in the churchyard here although the exact spot is unknown. He is commemorated on the blue plaque on the Church that you can see here.
Another notable burial here is that of the wonderfully named Prince Lee Boo of the Pelew Islands, a tiny (181 sq. miles) territory in Micronesia where a British crew had been shipwrecked in 1783. When they were rescued after three months the Captain, Henry Wilson of the East India Company, agreed to take the young Prince to Europe which he did, putting him up in his own home. Lee Boo charmed London society but did not enjoy his fame for very long as he died of smallpox on 27 December 1784, a scant six months after arriving. The poor young man would probably have done better to have stayed at home.
Directly across the narrow Rotherhithe Street is the Mayflower pub, formerly the Spread Eagle which, apart from it’s obvious Pilgrim Father connections and for which it is now named, holds the distinction of being the only pub in the UK licensed to sell postage stamps. I have been in here once or twice but it was years ago and it has now “gone gastro” so I decided to give it a miss although the river views are wonderful as I recall.
Before being the Spread Eagle, the pub was originally the Shippe Inn and dates to about 1550 which gives rise to the claim that it is the oldest pub on the river although that would be disputed by the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping, another old haunt of mine from my days of living there, which claims to go back to 1520. Who knows?
Opposite the pub and beside the Church I saw an obviously converted warehouse which interested me and went to investigate. It turned out to be the Sands Film Studio and I was looking at some of the very interesting items in the windows when a friendly chap came out and asked if I’d like to have a look round. I told him I was out for a walk but I would definitely return another time which I fully intend to do as it looks fascinating. Sands really is a bit of everything. It is a functioning film production company and has produced costumes for some major films. It is also ” home to The Rotherhithe Picture Research Library which is an educational charity providing a free visual reference library to designers and students”, to quote from their website. There are regular screenings of obscure films and I do intend to go to one of those as soon as this coronavirus nonsense calms down.
As always on this walk, I didn’t have far to go for something else to photograph and wonder at, in this case the Brunel museum situated in the old Engine House used for excavating the world’s first vehicular tunnel under a navigable river. I’m not going to tell you about it here as we shall be visiting it in the next post and it is something to look forward to, I promise you.
I had been making great time and had a vague idea of making for Greenwich that day but then, out of a clear blue sky and without any warning, my old knees decided to play up. From striding out nicely I was reduced to a painful stroll in the space of a couple of hundred yards. Damn this getting old. It wasn’t a major disaster as I knew I was very near Rotherhithe Tube station which takes me back to one of my nearest stations without a change and only a few stops so I made for that.
I got home in reasonable shape and consoled myself for my early departure from the “field” with a nice dinner of bangers, beans and mash with a fried egg. I wouldn’t normally include an image of my evening meal but I do so to reassure my friends that I am actually eating these days and to demonstrate to casual visitors that single men don’t necessarily exist on microwave meals (I won’t have one) and takeaway food. It was pretty tasty if I do say so myself.
A quick explanation before I sign off about why this blog is always so far behind. I timed myself researching and typing this up and deliberately avoided all my usual online diversions like solitaire to which I am addicted and irrelevant tangents from place I am writing about, and it has taken me about 18 hours. Experience shows that it will take about another three hours to proof read, insert links, add the images and tidy up the layout and this is not a particularly long day’s walk. The last entry took me four days on and off (more on than off) to get together. Don’t get me wrong, I love it and it gives me a great hobby but it is very time consuming. My insomnia helps a lot!
In the next instalment I visit Brunel’s Museum, see a dead bike, a dead police boat, a dead pub and some aesthetically dead pieces of alleged “art” before my knees die themselves so stay tuned and spread the word.