This is a gallery of photos that I have put together, and will continually add to – that shows the impact the Covid19 Virus has had on the landscape of wonderful London
Under a rare beautifully sunny London sky for this time of year, last week, London Shoes ventured out to the far west of the west-end district – for the specific purpose of viewing a magnificent building, which in my opinion – is one of London’s most unappreciated and undervalued architectural masterpieces:-
“Broadcasting House” – in Portland Place-London W1 – the long-time head-office of the BBC.
Broadcasting House is located in the iconic street of Portland Place, just a couple of mins walk from Great Portland Street tube station (on the Circle/Hammersmith & City/Metropolitan tube lines).
This iconic landmark was built in a fashionable ‘art-deco’ style and was opened in 1932 – as the BBC’s first purpose built home for its radio broadcasting (no TV’s back in them days).
At that time the building was commonly referred to as the new ‘Tower of London’.
The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) became, and probably still is, the most recognisable news corporation on this planet – an institution and brand that is immediately known anywhere throughout the world.
Broadcasting House is built of Portland stone and consists of 12 floors – 9 above ground and 3 below.
Its rooms are heavily buffered with sound proofing materials, to control the acoustics and unwanted noise when broadcasting – especially the noise (& rumbles) from the Bakerloo and the Victoria Line tube trains that run underneath the building.
The buildings front section has a distinctive clock tower and aerial mast.
On 15th March 1932, the very first official radio broadcast was transmitted from the Broadcasting House building – it was a performance by the top band leader of the day ‘Henry Hall & his Band’.
Embossed into the buildings original Portland stone structure, are a number of statues – all of which depict a connection to the Broadcasting House building and the activities undertaken within it.
These statues are the characters ‘Prospero’ and ‘Ariel’ from William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” – in which Prospero was a magician and a scholar, whilst Ariel was a ‘spirit of the air’……the air being what radio waves transmit on.
During WW2 Broadcasting House was hit twice by German bombs – killing 7 employees. Following these bombings the building had to undergo some extensive renovation works.
It was recently revealed that in the early 1980’s MI5 had a secret room within Broadcasting House, which its officials used for the purposes of vetting BBC employees – for national security reasons.
In 1981 Broadcasting House was (quite rightly) granted official Grade II Listed protective status.
In the early 2000’s the building underwent massive renovations, where all the old post-war extensions and other annexes were demolished and replaced with a completely new ‘wing’ which was formally opened in 2005.
In 2012, this new part of the Broadcasting House building was officially named the ‘John Peel Wing’ after the legendary late DJ/presenter ‘John Peel’ (one of my all-time fav radio DJ’s).
John Peel joined BBC’s newly launched Radio 1 back in Sept 1967, having previously been a prominent DJ on the unlicensed Pirate Radio ships.
When opening the ‘John Peel Wing’ the director-general of the BBC described it as “a fitting tribute to a man who personified so much of what the BBC stands for” !!!
Today the John Peel Wing of Broadcasting House is the home of BBC Radio 1 & Radio 1 Xtra.
On the roof of the Broadcasting House extension is a cone-shaped glass structure called ‘Breathing’ – a memorial to all the journalists killed in the line-of-duty.
This memorial was officially opened in 2008 by United Nations Secretary ‘Ban-Ki-Moon’.
At 10pm every day, and in line with the broadcasting of the daily BBC News – a column of light shines from the ‘Breathing’ statue, 3,000 ft up into the night sky.
BBC News – BBC World Service – Radio 3 – Radio 4 – 4 Xtra – Arabic TV – Persian TV plus many more TV and radio broadcasts are transmitted from Broadcasting House studios today.
Most people will be familiar with and immediately recognise the backdrop against which the BBC News is broadcasted on a daily basis – this studio within the building was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 2013.
Within the large piazza area of the Broadcasting House extension, there stands a statue of author ‘George Orwell’.
On the wall behind Orwell’s statue, is an inscription taken from his famous novel ‘Animal Farm’:– “If liberty means anything at all – it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”
The George Orwell statue was officially unveiled in 2017, and stands there as a representation for ‘call for free speech’ – a philosophy the BBC claim that it has always advocated.
Another of Orwell’s classic novels ‘1984’ famously makes mention of ‘Room 101’ – a torture room.
Between the years 1941-43 George Orwell worked for the BBC as a journalist, and was based at Broadcasting House in Room 101. He hated job and the BBC as an institution, and it is believed that this room heavily influenced the inclusion of this fictional room in his book 1984.
Today – Broadcasting House is one of the largest live broadcast centres in the world, with facilities including 36 radio studios, 6 TV studios and 60 edit/graphic suites, and it houses BBC Radio, News and World Service.
So – that’s Broadcasting House for you – in my opinion, a magnificent architecturally structured building with a wealth of important and influential history.
In the next street to Broadcasting House, Great Portland Street – there stands another iconic BBC building – notably “Wogan House”.
99 Great Portland Street used to be known as Western House and in 1953 it was leased to the BBC on a massively long lease.
In 2016 the building was officially renamed as ‘Wogan House’ after the legendary BBC presenter Sir Terry Wogan who used to broadcast his famous Radio 2 and other radio programmes from there – and who died earlier that year.
Today – Wogan House is the home of BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 6 Music, plus many other smaller radio broadcasting platforms – and also located within the building is a bar, restaurant & gym for all the BBC employees and their guests.
So – heading off east towards home, I stopped off for a quick cuppa at the mainline London-Liverpool Street station terminus – a station whose large concourse, at whatever time of day, usually resembles a rugby scrum with like hundreds of NZ rugby players heading towards you doing the Hakka – but in today’s Covid19 virus London, in what looks like being the ‘new normal’ for some considerable length of time – this stations large concourse is now almost totally deserted – very sad to see, and very concerning.
See below the entire gallery of photos taken to accompany this blog
Anyone visiting the ‘Smoke’ during the past couple of years will be aware that one of the capital’s most globally recognised landmarks ‘Big Ben’ has been scaffolded and boarded up whilst it undergoes 4 years of essential repairs.
In fact back in August 2017 my London Shoes website published a blog entitled “Bong-less’ Big Ben” which was all about the history of the famous clock tower and the extensive work that was about to be done on it.
Fast forward 3 years – and London Shoes took advantage of the one day of glorious weather we had last week, and headed off to Westminster to witness the most recent developments to this iconic and historic London landmark – the removal of some of the scaffolding from the very top of the clock tower.
Whilst up in Westminster ‘Shoes’ decided to wander down the road to Victoria Station to take a look at an elusive landmark, that I never knew existed until now.
So – the subject matter of this week’s blog is “Big Ben” & “Little Ben”.
You’re probably already aware that Big Ben is actually the name of the bell in the clock tower – the Clock Tower itself was originally named the St. Stephens Tower – but was officially changed to the ‘Elizabeth Tower’ in 2012 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. The clock mechanism itself is simply named the Great Clock
The Tower consists of 2,600 cubic meters of brick plus 850 cubic meters of stone – and the Great Clock took over 13 years to build and was finally unveiled to the great British public in May 1859. Big Ben chimed the ‘hour’ for the very first time on the 11th July 1859, and continued to do so until the repair works began in August 2017, when it became ‘bong-less’ with the exception of New Year’s Day & Remembrance Sunday’s.
The restoration work on Big Ben is expected to last 4 years and is intended to be completed sometime next year (2021).
However, like all massive projects, not everything has gone to plan. Apparently the budget has already been exceeded by £80m, as the work uncovered loads of asbestos that they didn’t know was up there – also there was far more bomb damage and pollution to the original stonework and tiles than originally expected.
Also – renovation experts unexpectedly discovered that there was tons of broken glass up in the clock face and its dials – and came across far more instances where toxic lead paint had been used during the original construction – all adding more challenges to the project.
However – the work has continued to progress and last week saw the removal of some of the scaffolding revealing the very top of the Tower, where 3,433 cast iron roof tiles had been removed, repaired and cleaned up, by restoration specialists.
The rest of the scaffolding and covering will remain in place whilst the rest of the restoration work is being undertaken, and will be removed once that has been completed – and no doubt at which time there will be a more formal re-opening.
So – it was a memorable moment for London Shoes to actually be up there in Westminster on such a lovely sunny day, to see the first glimpses of the newly renovated ‘Big Ben’ Tower top and clock face.
Now – how many people knew that there London also has a ‘Little Ben’???– I certainly wasn’t aware of existence.
It is located a hundred yards or so outside the extremely busy Victoria Station.
From a personal perspective I couldn’t work out why I had never noticed it before – bearing in mind that I used to take some my Barclays work colleagues from Canary Wharf, up to Victoria once or twice a year, to do a volunteering stint in the ‘real world’ where we used to serve up breakfasts for the homeless at ‘The Passage’, a huge charity organisation that offer support to the homeless on the streets of Westminster – and we never once ever noticed ‘Little Ben’.
‘Little Ben’ is a cast iron miniature clock tower that’s design replicates its big brother – Big Ben – just 10mins further down the road in Westminster.
It was built and erected outside Victoria Station way back in 1897 – and is situated at the junction of Vauxhall Bridge Road and Victoria Street.
It was made by the reputable company ‘Gillett & Johnston’ of Croydon – who are still in the business of making clocks today – but are now located in Bletchingly-Surrey.
Little Ben was sponsored by the French, as a gesture of French-British friendship – and up until recently, to keep its attachment to France, its time piece never recognised the British Summer Time (BST) & GMT time changes in winter, like all other British clocks – and it has an inscription displayed on it that references this:-
“My hands you may retard or may advance – My heart beats true for England as for France”
A replica of Little Ben is erected in Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles – to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.
In 1964 it was removed from its location whilst the roads around Victoria Station were being widened.
In 1984 Little Ben was removed again for a thorough restoration, before being re-erected.
In 2012 Little Ben was removed once again from its London location and was put into storage whilst the entire area surrounding Victoria Station was being extensively redeveloped.
Whilst it was away in storage Little Ben was completely refurbished.
In 2016 it was put back in its original spot outside the iconic ‘Victoria Palace Theatre’ just across the road from Victoria Station – and that explains the reason why, on me & my work colleagues jaunts up to Victoria to feed the homeless – we never saw it – (mystery solved).
Some may ask, what’s the point of Little Ben?? – Well, when it was originally erected way back in 1892, it was for the purpose of helping the Victorian non-watch wearing travellers entering or exiting busy Victoria Station – know what time it was.
So – that’s ‘Big Ben’ & ‘Little Ben’ for ya – hope you enjoy the accompanying photos.
Before heading off back home, I ambled my way from Victoria Station to Grosvenor Gardens just a 2min walk away – where one of London’s few remaining classic ‘Cabman Shelters’ is situated – where I bought a cuppa and sat in the small but perfectly formed greenery of Grosvenor Gardens for a while to take the weight off me ‘plates’ and watch the world go by – very pleasant it was too.
Another really good few hours out on-the-road, under gloriously sunny London skies – but a day that was also tinged with concern, because, as with all my London Shoes jaunts out in recent weeks since Covid19 lockdown restrictions eased in July 20 – to witness a Westminster Bridge, that is usually totally rammed with tourists and sight-seers – now so deserted, soulless and lifeless, like some backdrop to zombie apocalypse movie – is really is very very worrying and upsetting.
See below the entire gallery of photos taken to accompany this blog
Under a dull, grey, damp and miserable London sky last week, London Shoes took the short train journey from its base – into the City’s ‘Square Mile’, for the purpose of exploring a historic London landmark that’s been a ‘constant’ since the 1300’s and quite possibly since Roman times………..the structurally magnificent and splendid:-
“Leadenhall Market”-London EC3
Maps and records indicate that there may well been a form of market area where Leadenhall Market is today, since early Roman times – where there was a building that was designed in a basilica and forum style.
Way back in the 1300’s the land was part of the Manor of Leadenhall and was a designated meeting place for poultry sellers.
In 1411, records show that the Lord Mayor of London at the time “Richard Whittington” (yes ‘Dick Whittington’, he of the panto fame – he really did exist) bought the lease of the Leadenhall Manor land and its buildings and ‘gifted’ it to the City of London – and subsequently the market was expanded and converted it into a place where meat, game, poultry & fish could be traded and bought.
In 1463 a huge wooden beam was erected in the middle of the market place – which large weighing scales were hung from, so that wool could be traded there.
By the early 1600’s, cutlery and leather were added to the now extensive list of produce & products sold at Leadenhall Market, which now included dairy produce such as cheese – milk – butter – eggs – making Leadenhall Market the biggest location of business commerce in London, and the City’s largest and most important market.
At that time, the market area was surrounded by a solid stone wall – mainly for protection against unwanted attacks, theft & vandalism. It was a good job the market was walled, because when the Great Fire of London ravaged the City in 1666, the stone walls of Leadenhall Market helped prevent the sort of damage and destruction that the other buildings surrounding it suffered.
The development of the Port of London on the nearby River Thames, just a little further down the road from the market site – meant that traders from all over the world came to London to trade at Leadenhall Market.
The Leadenhall Market site was now so big, it was a popular area for street performers and street musicians, and many outdoor festival events were held there.
The late 1700’s saw Leadenhall Market adopt a legendary character – a goose named ‘Old Tom’.
Roughly 35,000 geese were slaughtered at Leadenhall Market every year – and for some reason, a goose nicknamed ‘Old Tom’, managed to continually dodge ‘execution’.
Old Tom became a ‘celebrity’ within the confines of Leadenhall Market and all its traders – and on a daily basis, he could be seen waddling around from stall to stall & pub to pub – where he would always be fed and pampered.
Old Tom the goose eventually died in 1835 at the grand old age of 38, and was ‘laid-in-state’ before being buried at the Market.
Today – there can be seen a number of references to Old Tom at the Leadenhall Market site – and in fact, down some steps in the Market area, there is now an “Old Tom’s Bar”.
In 1881 ‘Sir Horace Jones’ was commissioned by the authorities to redesign and rebuild, what was now a bit of a run down market site.
Jones was chosen for this project because he had been responsible for designing and building London’s other huge market sites at Billingsgate and Smithfield.
All the long standing stone walls and stone features were replaced, and Leadenhall Market was redesigned and rebuilt in wrought iron and glass, with a huge roof – in typical Victorian fashion – and it is this structure that exists today.
Although Leadenhall Market has had a few ‘clean-up’ jobs throughout the past century, many of its Victorian fixtures & fittings and shop fronts still exist.
Right up until the mid to late 1980’s, Leadenhall Market was knocking out poultry, fish & cheese to the masses – in fact, during the 80’s and the early years of my marriage, my good-lady-wife Angela used to work at a Barclays Bank head-office building in St. Mary Axe – right nearby to Leadenhall Market – and she always used to buy my ‘fish’ and her ‘cheese’ from the Leadenhall Market.
By the 1990’s the trend in shopping habits had changed, and so to stay-alive, Leadenhall Market started to move away from its produce culture of poultry other stuff, and it diversified into an enclosed shopping area that had up-market cafés – bar – restaurants – delicatessens – wine shops – exotic take-away food outlets – high end clothes shops etc – mostly frequented by the City workers, particularly those working at the iconic London Stock Exchange building right next door to the Market.
Because of its unique design and its historical importance – Leadenhall Market has, many times, been the chosen location for photographic shoots, music videos and film scenes. In fact some scenes from ‘Harry Potter & the Philosophers Stone’ were filmed at Leadenhall Market – where, in the film, it was the fictional area of London that lead to the popular wizarding pub ‘The Leaky Cauldron’ and the magical shopping street of ‘Diagon Alley’ (by the way – I’ve never watched a ‘Potter’ film – so I haven’t got a ‘scoobie’ what any of that means)!!
Obviously – Leadenhall Market as a building and an area is protected by its Grade II Listed status, and long may it remain so. However – as with all the blogs London Shoes has published over the past couple of months – there is a very sad and very worrying aspect to unique historic London landmarks such as Leadenhall Market – and that is the impact the Covid19 virus has had on this magnificent capital City, its people and its culture.
Like all other historic landmarks, Leadenhall Market is usually a hive of activity – almost 24/7 the place is crammed full of people, either shopping or socialising throughout its outlets – but since ‘lockdown’ in March early this year, the site is now like an old closed-down abandoned movie set.
It was almost completely empty for the couple hours I spent there last week, and is most probably like that every day now.
So many of the retail outlets under the Market’s roof, are now closed-down, never to return – its bars and cafes are empty, and the only folk around were sightseers like myself, taking advantage of the unique photo opportunity.
To think – a market has been on the current Leadenhall Market site, as far back as the 1300’s – and in all that subsequent time, it would have never seen what it is witnessing in today’s world.
It’s not just the Market itself – as directly outside its entrances are the historically famous roads of Gracechurch Street – Threadneedle Street – Cornhill -& Bishopsgate – the hub of the ‘Square Mile’ – streets that are normally totally gridlocked with vehicles and pedestrians 24/7 – but, the reality is that (on the day of my visit), I was able to actually stand in the middle of these roads (not on a traffic island) and take photos, without any fear of cars hitting me!!!
Without meaning to sound too negative, I’m afraid I don’t know what the answer is – but, in retrospect, at least my London Shoes website will hopefully always be around to tell the story ‘as it once was’.
Hope you enjoyed the photos accompanying this Leadenhall Market blog.
See below the entire gallery of photos accompanying this blog
The week before last, London Shoes took advantage of what was probably the last of the summer sunshine and warmth for this year – and ventured ‘up west’ to Piccadilly way, to explore “Green Park”………London’s smallest ‘Royal Park’.
Of London’s 8 Royal Parks, Green Park is the smallest one – and it is unique in that it has no lakes – no flower beds – no buildings in it grounds – no playgrounds, but what it lacks in general parkland amenities, it certainly gains in some interesting monuments and memorials.
Green Park is a 40 acre triangular area of parkland that is lodged between the much larger St. James’s Park and Hyde Park – with Buckingham Palace stuck in the middle of all 3 of these parks.
Constitution Hill and Piccadilly are the 2 streets that form Green Park’s boundaries.
Going back quite a few centuries to the 1500’s, it is believed that the area now known as Green Park was once a burial ground for lepers.
However, it is in the 1600’s that the park started it’s ‘journey’ to what it is now.
In 1668 King Charles II commandeered what was a privately owned piece of land – and then built a massive brick wall around it and designated it a ‘Royal Park’. Many of the pathways and ways that the gardens have been laid out – were how they were originally designed by the King.
In 1746 it was officially named ‘Green Park’ – because it was almost like an open meadow, with very few trees in situ.
The story goes that at its origins, Green Park used to have loads of beautiful flower-beds. However, one day King Charles II wife ‘Queen Charlotte’ caught him red-handed picking some of the park’s flowers for one of his many lovers – and as a result she ordered that all the flowers in Green Park be pulled up and the flower beds filled in – and to this very day Green Park does not have any flower beds!!!
It’s very hard to believe it today, but back in the 1700’s & early 1800’s Green Park was situated in a rural part on the outskirts of London – and it was a popular place for highwaymen to hang-out, and so a very dangerous place to travel through.
It was the chosen site for the huge firework displays that were popular throughout the 18th & early 19th centuries – and in fact the composer ‘Handel’ performed a number of his pieces of music in Green Park, whilst fireworks were being let off all over the place.
Green Park underwent extensive re-landscaping in 1820 – still with trees and not flowers – to the design as it is to this very day.
In 1840, Constitution Hill, one of the borders of Green Park, was the scene of an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, by Edward Oxford – as she was travelling down the road on her was to Buckingham Palace.
Situated at the north of Green Park, alongside its Piccadilly border – there is the magnificent ‘RAF Bomber Command Memorial’ – that commemorates the 55,573 who died in WW2 whilst serving for the ‘Bomber Command’.
At the entrance to Green Park, opposite Buckingham Palace, there stands the magnificent ‘Canada Gates’ which were installed in the early 1900’s as part of Canada’s tribute to Queen Victoria – and celebrating Canada’s contribution to the British Empire. These magnificently designed gates are covered in crests representing all of the Canadian provinces.
Near the Canada Gates is the ‘Canada Memorial’ which was unveiled in 1944 by our present Queen – to commemorate all the Canadian servicemen who fought with the British Forces in WW1 & WW2.
The memorial deliberately points in the direction of the Canadian port of Halifax-Nova Scotia, where most of the Canadian servicemen set sail for Europe to join the British Forces in WW1 & WW2 – and the memorial is adorned with bronze maple leaves.
There are a number of public drinking fountains situated throughout Green Park – but of course, their taps are all turned off, because of Covid19 – which is a shame, but perfectly understandable.
One of the drinking fountains is designed so that adults, children and dogs can all use it. It’s made of Cornish granite, the same stone used for the Princess Di memorial fountain in nearby Hyde Park. The interesting thing about this particular drinking fountain is that it was financed by way of a gift from the famous jewellers, the Tiffany & Co Foundation – who apparently fund the restoration and renewal of all the drinking fountains in London’s 8 Royal Parks.
At the western end of Constitution Hill, that forms one of Green Park’s 2 borders, there stands the ‘Memorial Gates’ – which were opened by our present Queen in 2002 to commemorate the 5 million from India, Africa & the Caribbean, who served for the British Forces – and lost their lives in WW1 & WW2.
This wonderful memorial celebrates the contribution made, and still being made by those from many countries – to support the British Isles.
This magnificent memorial is made from Portland stone and is topped with a bronze urn that is lit on special occasions such as Remembrance Sunday – Armistice Day & Commonwealth Day.
Inside the dome of the Memorial Gates are engraved the names of all the holders of the Victoria Cross & George Cross that were from Africa – India & the Caribbean.
Directly opposite the Canada Gate entrance to Green Park is Buckingham Palace.
This globally instantly recognisable London landmark, started life in 1703 as a privately owned large townhouse – but in 1761 it was acquired by King Charles III as a residence for his Queen and it was formally known as Queens House. By the time Queen Victoria frequented the place in 1837 it had acquired 775 rooms and had, and still has – the largest private garden in London.
On any day of the week, and throughout the year – there are always hundreds of tourists/visitors in front of the railings of Buckingham Palace to watch pageantry stuff like the Changing of the Guard – but with the Covid19 virus, (and like the rest of London’s globally famous landmarks) – the roads & pavements surrounding Buckingham Palace on the day of my visit, were almost completely empty – very upsetting to see & very concerning as to whether things will ever return to the ‘old’ normal again.
Anyway – there were no pubs nearby that were open, and so I couldn’t neck down a ‘cheeky’ beer before setting off back home – all I could really do was purchase a can of ‘pop’ (I love to deliberately call a fizzy drink ‘pop’ as it really annoys my 2 daughters so much) from the kiosk in Green Park, and then rest me trotters on a bench in the park for a while, and watch the world go by.
As a matter of interest, there were far more people on the tube and overground trains during this day out than there had been in the previous 5 weeks or so when I’ve been out blogging – so that was a positive observation from the day.
So that’s all about ‘Green Park’ – London’s smallest, but perfectly formed Royal Park – & well worth a visit, especially on a lovely warm sunny day.
Hope you enjoyed the accompanying photos.
See below the entire gallery of photos taken to accompany this blog
Throughout its 3.5yrs existence, there have been a number of instances where ‘London Shoes’ has (totally unintentionally) just happened to be in the right place at the right time – when something unusual, newsworthy or historically interesting has happened.
Such an occasion happened last week, when ‘Shoes’ visited a long standing and notable London landmark that had been shut-down for the past decade, and had only just re-opened a few days before London Shoes visit.
So – the subject matter for this week’s blog is “Finsbury Circus” – the oldest and largest public park in the City of London’s ‘Square Mile’!!!
Now – the name ‘Circus’ has absolutely nothing to do with dancing elephants, trapeze artists or clowns driving exploding cars – the term derives from Latin origins and quite simply means an ‘elliptical’ shape or space.
Not to be confused with Finsbury Square or Finsbury Park, which are located further north – Finsbury Circus is located in the Moorgate district of the City, right next to Moorgate station and just a couple of minutes’ walk from the Liverpool Street station main-line terminal.
Historic records show that as far back as the early 1500’s when some parts of the city was partly rural – there was a plot of land known as ‘Finsbury Manor’ on the site of today’s Finsbury Circus site.
In 1600 the area was raised and planted with trees becoming a public park, the first in London, in 1606.
In 1812 the park became enclosed and in 1815, popular landscaper Charles Dance (the Younger) was commissioned to redesign the park – and he introduced many differing varieties of plants, trees and flowers, and even a circuit of lime trees.
Massive magnificently designed majestic houses encircled Finsbury Circus – occupied by wealthy merchants, solicitors and other well to do, and well-off professional people – plus establishments such as university offices, exclusive schools and societies – and Finsbury Circus became the private gardens for these wealthy residents.
By the mid 1800’s when the rail network really started to develop – Finsbury Circus was threatened with demolition so that a brand new railway station could be built on its site. A huge public outcry ensued, protesting against such an action – and the proposal for a new station was eventually dropped.
However in 1869 a large tunnel was dug underneath Finsbury Circus which linked up to the Metropolitan Railway that ran through the City.
In the early 1900’s Finsbury Circus was compulsory purchased by the City of London Corporation, and returned again to being a public park – a decision that didn’t go down at all well with the wealthy residents encircling the ‘Circus’ as they felt that their house prices would drop considerably with riff-raff loitering around in the gardens.
The person assigned with transforming Finsbury Circus back into a public park area, was the renowned architect ‘Alpheus Morton’ – and for quite a while after, the park was known briefly as “Morton’s Park”.
Throughout the decades of the 1900’s Finsbury Circus became a very popular recreation area for city workers to have their lunch in the fresh air or linger around in the evenings after work, before setting off back home to the ‘burbs’. Throughout those decades the ‘Circus’ acquired a lawn bowls green – a badminton court & a basketball court.
Another claim-to-fame unique to the history of Finsbury Circus – is that since 1957, it has been the ‘finishing point’ of the annual “Miglia Quadrato” motor event – a very strange event to hold in the middle of one of the world’s busiest City’s.
The annual ‘Miglia Quadrato’ motor event start at the time of the Suez Crisis when fuel was very short in supply, and to keep spirits high, it was decided to hold some sort of motoring event with a difference, in the City of London.
The event comprises of teams of 6 (very convenient for the current Covid19 rules at the time of this blog) – and these teams have to drive around the City in all sorts of vehicles, for 5 hours trying to find the answers to 60 clues – 20 difficult – 20 medium – 20 easy, all within a 5 mins per clue timescale challenge – and the finishing point has always been Finsbury Square.
However, in 2010 the unique splendor, peace & tranquillity and popularity of Finsbury Circus ended abruptly, when it was completely closed to the public.
The park area was completely dug up and a 42 foot deep shaft excavated as part of the massive ‘Crossrail’ project – the new rail network that will link all of London’s mainline terminal stations, plus other most used stations (tube & overground) so that you can travel from the east, right through to London Heathrow Airport.
Finsbury Circus remained closed for the next decade, as the Crossrail excavation and engineering teams completely took over the area, and carved up the entire park area, to dig out tunnels along with new and additional station platforms, in the subterranean world underneath the Finsbury Circus site.
Crossrail was supposed to be up and running and fully operational in 2018 – however, unsurprisingly, that hasn’t happened as the Crossrail project has gone way over budget and many deadlines have been missed – and the latest completion date has been put back to 2021.
However – after an absence of 10 long years, and following a massive clear-up operation by Crossrail engineers – good old Finsbury Circus re-opened again to the public, just a few days before this London Shoes visit (I wasn’t aware of any of this until I got there).
Although the lawn bowling green, the basketball court, the badminton court and the colourful flower beds and other floral displays were all removed as part of the excavation work – a brand new lawn has been laid out, and I’m guessing that it won’t be too long before Finsbury Circus gets back to how it once looked.
The road encircling Finsbury Circus is still rammed with Crossrail related vehicles and engineering fixtures & fittings, but again, when Crossrail eventually opens – these ‘road residents’ will gradually become less and less – leaving Finsbury Circus to return to as it should be.
Although the park itself was full of rail and construction engineers when I was there, it was good to see some ‘office workers’ (those that weren’t ‘working from home’ obviously) mingled in with them, eating their lunch or simply enjoying a coffee in the ‘new normal’ fresh air.
So – having spent a couple of hours enjoying the newly re-opened Finsbury Circus – whilst I was in the City’s ‘Square Mile’ I thought I would take a short stroll across town to track down the site where once stood ‘St. Swithins House’ a building just across the road from the Bank of England, – a place where I worked for a few years when I left the Barclays Bank branch network in 2001 after a 30 year stint – and joined a head-office team.
St. Swithins House was an old building even then, and it used to be the main Barclays ‘Clearing House’ where all the transactions of cheques & credits that had taken place in Barclays branches, went off to every night to be ‘processed’ through the Bank’s ‘clearing systems’.
At the time I arrived at St. Swithins House in 2001, the mechanics of ‘clearing’ transactions was changing fast. The building itself was from another era and commercially was probably on its last legs and wasn’t really fit-for-purpose in the ‘modern’ world.
Upon starting my new head-office role at St. Swithins House, where I was working totally on my own – I was given a desk in what was no more than a broom cupboard situated in a darkened basement with no natural light – and was given a lap-top (had never ‘worked’ one in my life before) and a business mobile phone, and told to get on with it. To say I felt like a fish out of water is an understatement – but it was the only way to learn and very soon I enjoyed every minute of it.
I knew that the old St. Swithins House had been pulled down long ago, but I didn’t know that the whole of its old site and the buildings that had surrounded it, had also been completely regenerated – the old lane looked nothing like it did when I worked there in the early ‘noughties’ – There now stands a massive modern office complex on the old St. Swithins House, and the surrounding area was nothing like it used to be – but I was pleased that I took time out to track it down.
I then headed off to Liverpool Street Station to catch a train back home, and again, like the rest of the London I’ve witnessed every week over the past month or so – it was a bit surreal to see a usually manically busy main line London inter-connected rail & tube station that on average sees in excess of 63 million passenger entrances & exits per year – looking so spookily quiet and underwhelmed. So, I took a seat on its main concourse and got stuck in to a tasty M&S chicken & bacon sarnie washed down with a bottle of fizzy pink stuff – before heading off back home following another interesting & enjoyable day out.
See below the entire gallery of photos taken to support this blog
Amazingly there are a total of 35 bridges that span the River Thames between Tower Bridge & Hampton Court – my personal favourite is Hammersmith Bridge, which has featured quite a lot in the local London news lately, because it’s falling apart and being viewed as potentially unsafe. My 2nd favourite bridge is the Albert Bridge.
The least used Thames crossing is Southwark Bridge, and the 2nd least used is the ‘Albert Bridge’.
The oldest ‘original’ bridge structure is Tower Bridge – and the 2nd oldest original structure is the ‘Albert Bridge’ – and it is the magnificent Albert Bridge, down in the Chelsea district of the ‘Smoke’, that London Shoes ventured out on a beautifully sunny day last week, to explore and find out more about.
The ‘Albert Bridge’ was opened in 1873 – and it links Chelsea on the northern banks of the River Thames – to Battersea on the southern banks
Plans to build the bridge were originally submitted in 1842 when work on constructing the Chelsea Embankment was commissioned, making a roadway and pedestrian pathway wide enough to support the design and structure of a new bridge.
In 1860 ‘Prince Albert’ suggested that this new crossing should be a ‘Toll-Bridge’, because it would be so profitable that the revenue from it would easily pay for the bridge’s construction in no time at all.
In 1864 Parliament passed an Act for construction of this new bridge to start.
A ‘Rowland Mason Ordish’ (1824-1886) was the engineer commissioned to design and oversee the construction of the new bridge crossing.
Rowland Ordish was very much the authorities ‘favourite’ architect of that particular time – his previous works being:- The Albert Hall ‘Dome’ – St. Pancras Station – the Crystal Palace – Holborn Viaduct – Derby Market Hall – the Franz Joseph Suspension Bridge-Prague – the Cavanagh Buildings-Singapore & the Esplanade Mansions-Mumbai.
With a particular love of the new popular bridge fashion of the time, Ordish decided that this new Albert Bridge should be a ‘suspension’ bridge. His design involved loads of wire rope, support cables (eg known as ‘stays’) and wrought iron structures, to support and hold up the middle of his bridge, to prevent it from falling into the Thames.
Construction of Ordish’s new bridge finally got underway in 1870 and took 3 years to build at an over-budgeted cost of some £200k (£17.9 million in today’s money).
The bridge dimensions were:– 41 ft wide / 710 ft long / 384 ft high.
It rested on 4 massive cast iron towers that were unusually positioned outside of the bridge itself, to avoid any potential roadway obstructions.
At each entrance to the new bridge there stood 2 ‘toll-booths’ with barriers across the road to prevent people from entering without paying a fee.
The ‘Albert Bridge’ finally opened in 1873, 10yrs after its initial authorisation – but it was decided not to have a formal ceremony for its official opening, because it was felt a bit embarrassing as it had taken so long to get built – and also, because its cost had gone so much over budget, the authorities need to recoup ‘Toll’ income from it as soon as possible.
The ‘Albert Bridge’ was very soon mocked and nicknamed “The Trembling Lady”, because it would vibrate terribly when people used it.
The ‘Trembling’ was especially prevalent when troops from the nearby Chelsea Barracks used to march back and forth across it.
It wasn’t long before there were serious concerns about the overall safety of the Albert Bridge – and it started to get some very negative and damaging reports in the media, where it was described as ‘an accident waiting to happen’.
There were even large notices displayed at both ends of the bridge that instructed the military troops to ‘break-step’ (eg march out of sequence) when crossing the bridge – and amazingly, these notices are still in situ on the bridge to this very day.
The Albert Bridge was also a disaster financially – as in its first 9 months of being open it only took just over £2,000 – as Londoner’s were a tight bunch of gits in those days, and would go out of their way and add time onto their journey’s, to use a ‘free’ bridge, rather than part with their hard-earned cash to cross the ‘Albert’.
Prince Albert himself could see that, this bridge named after him, being a toll-bridge – was going to be it was a complete waste of time – and so proposals were put to Parliament to sort this mess out.
In 1877 the ‘Metropolitan Toll Bridge Act’ was passed which handed over the ownership of the London bridges between Waterloo and Hammersmith to the ‘Metropolitan Board of Works’ – and as a result, all these specific bridges were operated ‘toll-free’.
In 1879, the Albert Bridge also became toll-free – however, its 4 original toll-booths still stand on the bridge to this very day – the only bridge in London that has its original toll-booths still in situ.
By 1884 fears about the safety of the Albert Bridge were still a concern, and so the Government commissioned London’s ‘king of the sewers’ Sir Joseph Bazalgette, to conduct a full inspection and thorough survey of the bridge, and produce a report detailing its faults, and his recommendations for rectifying them.
Bazalgette’s report detailed a load of design and safety problems – the main issues being that the majority of the iron supports were corroding, and also, the wooden deck of the bridge was rotting away – as a result of all the Chelsea set in the north, walking their dogs across the bridge to Battersea Park on the south side – on route, their dogs were taking a piss on the bridge, and their urine over time, had badly rotted away the wooden decking.
Following the submission of his report, Bazalgette was commissioned to make the necessary repairs to the Albert Bridge. He reinforced the suspension ‘stays’ with steel chains and laid a completely new timber decking, and because he felt that the bridge was not fully strong enough to cope with constant weight being carried across it – he initiated a weight-limit restriction of 5 tons.
However, this was at a time when there was a rapid increase in motorised transport, and as a result, the traffic passing across the Albert Bridge soon increased – making it a safety concern once again.
Fast forward 40yrs and those safety concerns surrounding the Albert Bridge were still an issue.
In 1935 the weight limit for the bridge was reduced even further down to 2 tons.
In 1957 the London County Council proposed to completely demolish the Albert Bridge and build a new one.
This proposal was opposed considerably by a well-supported protest group headed by Poet Laurette ‘Sir John Betjamin’ – who liked the bridge and its history just the way it was. The protest group got their way, and the Albert Bridge remained untouched.
In 1964, the bridge was so congested with traffic which, as a result, had a knock-on effect to the roads on the northern banks of the Thames at Chelsea and its southern banks at Battersea.
As a result, a ‘traffic-flow’ experiment was introduced, which allowed only northbound traffic during the day and only southbound traffic during the evening and throughout the night.
In 1972 extensive re-strengthening work was undertaken to the bridge – where 2 large concrete piers were positioned in the Thames, to support the middle of the bridge. Also, the structures main girders were replaced and a new lightweight road-tile decking was laid, completely replacing any of the old wooden decking.
In 1973, a proposal was put forward by the Greater London Council to turn the Albert Bridge into a public park with pedestrian access only!!!
Once again – a protest group headed up by Sir John Betjamin and also acclaimed actress Dame Sybil Thorndyke – and another protest group set-up by the RAC and headed by iconic London actress Dianna Doors – all fought to oppose these plans from going any further – a protest which they won.
In 1990 the ‘tidal-flow’ traffic system across Albert Bridge was dropped – and it converted back into a 2 way traffic system.
In 1992 the Albert Bridge underwent an extensive ‘paint-job’ make over – to make it much more visible to passing boats in foggy weather, as for some geographical reason, a lot of fog seems to gather around the Albert Bridge stretch of the River Thames.
In 1993 the Albert Bridge was decorated with 4,000 low voltage bulbs so that it could be lit-up and more visible at night.
In the late 1990’s traffic islands were installed at both entrances of the Albert Bridge, for the specific purpose of restricting large vehicles. The 2 ton weight limit still applied, but this didn’t (and still doesn’t) go down to well with the ‘Sloanies’ (the Sloane Rangers) zooming about in their 4×4 ‘Chelsea Tractors’.
In 2011 the Albert Bridge was closed for most of the year so that it could be re-painted, with 3 layers of paint, at a cost of £7.2 million. It was re-opened later in the year, with a formal ceremony that included 2 dogs ‘Prince’ & ‘Albert’ from the nearby world famous Battersea Dogs Home.
Today, the Albert Bridge is a Grade II listed London landmark – which sees only around 19,000 vehicles per day crossing it, making it the 2nd least used London road-bridge after Southwark Bridge.
The Albert Bridge still continues to deteriorate and cause concern – and the dogs on route to & from Battersea Park, still take a leak on it.
Albert Bridge has been a bit of a movie star in the past, appearing in films such as ‘Clockwork Orange’ / ‘Absolute Beginners’ / ‘Sliding Doors’ – and it even has a song named after it – the well know Pogues track ‘Misty Morning Albert Bridge’.
So – that’s the Albert Bridge for you.
Before jumping on the tube and heading back home , I crossed the Albert Bridge one last time, and entered the beautiful ‘Battersea Park’ located immediately as you leave the bridge on its southern banks – and sat down to chill-out whilst having a nice cuppa and a small packet of biscuits purchased from the park café.
Battersea Park opened in 1858 – it is a 200 acre area of public parkland that used to be an old ‘dueling’ site.
The very first football match played under ‘Football Association Rules’ took place in Battersea Park in 1864.
In WW1 & WW2 it was the ideal site for anti-aircraft weaponry and air-raid shelters.
It was one of the main sites of the Festival-of-Britain in 1951 and, since the 1950’s it has been the site of the famous annual Battersea Fun-Fair.
Now – not many people are aware of this, but I was actually born in Battersea south west London (the dark-side), some 63 & a half years ago.
For the first 5yrs of my life, before moving to the east of London, I lived in Battersea – near the River and right close to Clapham Junction station – and, when I was a baby, my dear old late mum Gladys, would often take me to Battersea Park to get me out and about in the fresh air.
The day I did this particular blog, I had completely forgotten that it was the 13th anniversary of my mum’s passing (in 2007) – it was only when I was sitting on a bench in Battersea Park having a cuppa, that it suddenly came to me, what day it was. How significant was that to find myself in the same park that I used to go to with my mum, some 57 years ago – very spooky – I sometimes think that there are unseen forces working amongst us.
Anyway – that’s the historic and magnificent Albert Bridge for you – well worth having a walk over if you’re ever down Chelsea or Battersea way.
Hope you enjoy the accompanying photos.
See below the entire gallery of photos taken to support this blog