Heron Tower

Above: A view in October 2011 of the Heron Tower shortly before opening from the fork formed by Threadneedle Street with Bishopsgate.

As the tallest building in the City of London – at 755 feet (230 m) with 46 floors – the building was completed structurally in 2010. It was named after its developers. The designers were a large international company called Kohn Pederson Fox. The cranes were removed from the exterior of the building in November 2010 and it was completed in March 2011. On top of the building is a tall mast 92 feet (28 m) high.

The height of the Heron Tower has passed Tower 42, which at 600 feet (183 m) tall had been the tallest City building for a remarkable 30 years. Heron Tower is not as tall as Canary Wharf Tower, at 770 ft (235 m). The tallest building in London – at the moment! – is the Shard of Glass, at 1.17 feet (310 m). The building is owned by Heron International and is still popularly known as Heron Tower. Following a naming dispute in 2014 involving the tenant Salesforce the City of London planning committee made it clear they would rule in favour of the property being officially named 110 Bishopsgate but that application was withdrawn and it is now called Salesforce Tower. The offices initially struggled to attract tenants in the depths of a recession but they are now fully let

The office block stands on the east side of Bishopsgate, almost opposite Liverpool Street Station. The tower, also known as 110 Bishopsgate, stands on the north side of the junction with Camomile Street. The innovative lift system boasts a total of 10 quick and efficient double deck high-speed lifts, with hall call destination control. In addition, there are six external scenic lifts, fully glazed affording spectacular views over the City. To convince people of its ‘green’ credentials, the building has a veil of photovoltaic cells on the south elevation, to generate renewable energy and help to create a solar shield. The configuration is very praiseworthy but gives the building a rather machine-like look when seen from the south, particularly with the sun shining on it.

The large concierge-style entrance and reception area incorporates a 70,000-litre (15,000 imp gallons or 18,000 US gallons) aquarium with about 1,200 fish. The aquarium is the largest privately-owned example in the United Kingdom and contains over 60 species of fish in an entirely sustainable ecosystem. The species were selected by expert biologists and animal curators to ensure compatibility and adaptability to the environment. The tank is attended to by a team of two full-time fish attendants, who feed the fish a diet rich in natural ingredients according to their requirements and monitor the tank for water chemistry and fish health and two to three part-time divers who clean the rocks and glass regularly.

If you are wondering if you are going to be told how to find the aquarium, there is really no explanation required. The tank is huge! Its total length is about half that of the whole building. If you want to see the aquarium, just stand outside on the pavement in front of the building (beside the rotating entrance doors in Bishopsgate) and look inside at the reception area. Although you will be some distance from the tank, you will have no difficulty seeing it and the fish are so large that they are easily visible. You will be amazed by how large everything is.

The Heron Tower has a bar-restaurant called ‘The Drift’ which occupies part of the ground and first floors. There is also a restaurant and ‘sky bar’ leased to Sushi Samba and Duck and Waffle which are both open to the public on floors 38-40. Situated 175 metres (574 ft) above the City, they are accessed by scenic lifts from a dedicated entrance beside the pavement in Bishopsgate. The restaurant and bar also have external terraces.

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Ratcliffe Wild-beast Shop

Above: Victorian print of an exotic pet shop on the Ratcliffe Highway with creatures imported through the London Docks.

Ratcliffe was once a thriving hamlet beside the Thames. Along with the nearby villages of Shadwell, Wapping and Limehouse, this part of the Thames shore was once teeming with small shipyards and crafts related to shipbuilding. It was also inhabited by sailors who often came back from distant parts with a wild animal or a wild bird that they had collected or bought in a foreign port. They often brought back a parrot or a cockatoo but many other animals were also collected – like monkeys or other small mammals. They seldom kept the animal but, instead, they sold it to a wild-animal dealer of which it is known that there were several in and around Ratcliffe Highway. That road is now known as The Highway and the part that we are talking about is a short length now beside the north side of King Edward VII Memorial Park.

The subject of keeping wild animals in poor conditions is offensive to many people but you cannot just ‘airbrush’ that part of the history out of existence. The telling of the history of London in all its forms – good and bad – is important. How can we learn from history if we are not informed about all the things that went on?

Walter Thornbury in his ‘Old and New London’ (Volume 2, p134), describes the ‘Wild-beast Shops’ in Ratcliffe with the comments ‘The wild-beast shops in this street have often been sketched by modern essayists. The yards in the neighbourhood are crammed with lions, hyenas, pelicans, tigers, and other animals in demand among the proprietors of menageries. As many as ten to fifteen lions are often in stock at one time, and sailors come here to sell their pets and barter curiosities. The ingenious way that animals are stored in these out-of-the-way places is well worth seeing.’

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s story of ‘The Adventure of the Creeping Man’, Sherlock Holmes, while trying to solve one his mysterious cases, visits a shop in Commercial Road run by a man called Dorak. It was a shop that bought and sold wild animals. The eastern end of Commercial Road runs through what was once the northern part of Ratcliffe – running a short distance north of and parallel to The Highway. With his exceptionally good knowledge of London, it may be the actual shop that Conan Doyle was referring to in the story.

See also – Ratcliffe

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Liverpool Street Underground Station Signal Box

Above: View looking west from the west-bound platform of the Circle Line.

Because today’s London underground railway system runs with automatic signalling – with trains requiring very little driver control – the idea that there were once old-fashioned signal boxes beside the rails is probably something that few passengers have ever thought about. Most of the evidence for semaphore signals which were once a common feature beside the track has long gone and lights are now in place. However, there are few old reminders of the early days of signalling, if you know where to look for them.

Liverpool Street Station is a main-line terminus, situated on the north side of Liverpool Street from where it derives its name. Deep in the ground are two platforms serving the underground (or ‘tube’) on the Central Line which are only part of the underground station. The other part serves the Hammersmith and City Line with platforms at the sub-surface level on the south side of Liverpool Street.

The Metropolitan Railway was London’s first underground line, running between Paddington and Farringdon, having opened in 1863. The construction of the line was known as ‘cut and cover’ because the railway ran in a large trench that was dug below the surface of the ground. The lines and station platforms were then laid out about 30 feet below ground level. Eventually, buildings were constructed above the tracks covering them from view. The Metropolitan Line was soon extended at both ends. The line to the east was extended to Liverpool Street Underground Station (then called Bishopsgate Station) which opened in 1875. The line finally reached a new terminus at Aldgate in 1876.

At the western end of the eastbound platform on the Metropolitan and Circle Line stands a wonderful relic from the past – a signal box that was opened for operation in 1875. The signal box was a non-standard design by McKenzie and Holland, built of yellow stock brick, with a weatherboarded timber-framed upper storey. The signal mechanisms in the box have been upgraded over the years. Originally fitted with a 40 lever frame, a second mechanical frame was installed in 1902 with a 20-lever Railway Signal Company frame. On 21 February 1954, this was replaced by a 15-lever Westinghouse miniature power lever frame. The signal box was subsequently converted to an Interlocking Machine Room (IMR) and from 16 November 1956, it was closed and operated remotely from the Farringdon signal box. Control was transferred to Baker Street on 25 March 2001. As of 2020, the IMR is still in use.

In 2013 it was one of 26 signal boxes given listed status by Ed Vaizey, Minister for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, after a joint initiative by English Heritage and Network Rail. It became the third signal box on the London Underground network to be listed (after those at Chesham and Ruislip stations). The listing was because it was an early example of an underground railway signal box, of a specific design for the Metropolitan Railway which was relatively unaltered.

This station serves trains on the Circle Line and on the Metropolitan and City Line. The sub-surface platforms are almost the same depth as those serving railway trains at Liverpool Street Station on the main lines running north under the Broadgate Estate.

Its unique survival at a central London railway terminus is extraordinary. It provides a link to the early days of the London Underground and evidence of the short-lived spur which originally went from the Metropolitan Railway to the Great Eastern Railway’s station at Liverpool Street. It is unusual in having glazing on all sides which was because of its position on what was originally a junction. The box has survived well, with some alteration including the removal of the original lever frame and blocking of the locking room arches. It is otherwise largely unaltered externally and retains much of its glazing and other internal features including its 1950s 15-lever Westinghouse Brake and Saxby frame and control panel.

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Chaucer, Geoffrey

Due to a technical error, you may have already received a post about Geoffrey Chaucer. Please ignore the early version which was published before various additions had been made.

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Chaucer, Geoffrey (Background Page)

Geoffrey Chaucer’s life is an interesting one, not only because he was a poet and wrote the now famous ‘Canterbury Tales’ but also because he lived at an interesting time in history and because we know so much about him. Here is an outline of his life with particular reference to London at that time. The text is not in exact chronological order, due to the various events in Chaucer’s life that have been included.

Chaucer was born about 1340 in the City of London to John Chaucer and his wife Agnes. The house in which he was born has long since gone and even its site is not known exactly but it stood between Thames Street (now known as Upper Thames Street) and College Hill. It was a part of the City known as The Vintry because the Vintners’ Hall was nearby and also because of the many vintners (or wine importers) that lived and worked in the vicinity. Chaucer’s family was descended from an affluent family who made their money in the City’s wine trade. John Chaucer carried on the family wine business and is believed to have had a wine shop in Cheapside. French wine – mainly from Bordeaux – was imported into England from ships which landed their goods at The Vintry. The best wine was conveyed to the Palace of Westminster for use by the court. John Chaucer supplied wine to Edward III’s court.

In 1349 the Black Death struck London when Chaucer was only a young child. It was a frightening time. The suffering by those who caught the disease was terrible and it is estimated that about a third of the City’s population died – in fact, about a third of the population of Britain died.

As a child, Chaucer is thought to have attended St Paul’s School which was then situated near the eastern end of the old cathedral. The school claims to have been founded in 1509 but there would have been a school – for the children whose parents who could afford it – to send the sons of wealthy families for education by the Canons at the cathedral. Lessons would have been mainly the teaching of Latin and Greek. Chaucer would have been introduced to the great writings, including the poetry of Virgil and Ovid.

Chaucer’s Career

In 1357, Chaucer became a public servant to Countess Elizabeth of Ulster, the Duke of Clarence’s wife, for which he was paid a small stipend – with enough money to pay for his food and clothing. In 1359, the teenage Chaucer went off to fight in the Hundred Years’ War in France, and at Rethel he was captured for ransom. Due to Chaucer’s royal connections, Edward III helped pay his ransom. After Chaucer’s release, he joined the Royal Service, travelling throughout France, Spain and Italy on diplomatic missions throughout the early to mid-1360s. For his services, Edward granted Chaucer a pension of 20 marks.

In 1366, Chaucer married Philippa Roet, the daughter of Sir Payne Roet. The marriage would have helped further Chaucer’s career at Court in Westminster. The wedding, by the way, was held in one of the chapels of the Savoy Palace – a large stone building which used to occupy land between Strand and the Thames, just east of (but not on the site of) today’s Savoy Hotel.

In October 1368 Prince Lionel died, at which point it seems Chaucer moved into the service of the Prince’s younger brother, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. In 1368 Chaucer was promoted from page to squire (a position of status above a page and below a knight). In autumn 1369 Gaunt’s wife, Blanche of Lancaster, died, possibly of the plague. John of Gaunt asked Chaucer to compose a memorial poem to be recited at the Mass for his deceased wife and Chaucer wrote the poem ‘The Death of Blanche the Duchess’ (The Book of the Duchess) in her honour. It was a fitting memorial to one of the highest-ranking ladies of the English royal household.

In the 1370s and 1380s, Chaucer travelled widely on diplomatic missions for the king, especially in Italy. Chaucer’s good service to the crown brought him a variety of rewards. In April 1374, at the St George’s day celebrations at Windsor Castle, Edward III rewarded Chaucer with a grant of a pitcher of wine a day from the king’s butler. In May that year, Chaucer took the lease of a house in Aldgate from the Corporation of London – which he gave to a friend in 1386. In June the same year, Chaucer was appointed Comptroller of Wool Customs in London, and a few weeks later John of Gaunt granted him a life pension of £10 per year. In 1375 Chaucer received lands in Kent from the crown for three years, during which time they provided him with earnings of over £100. In 1377 and 1378 Chaucer was sent on diplomatic missions to France and Italy, which brought him great rewards. At that time Chaucer appointed John Gower, a poet and friend, to act as his agent in his absence. Gower’s tomb can be seen in the nave of Southwark Cathedral.

In 1386 Chaucer was elected a Knight of the Shire of Kent (a member of the House of Commons), during which time he was probably living in Greenwich. That year Philippa Chaucer was admitted to the fraternity of Lincoln Cathedral.

In 1390 Chaucer was appointed Clerk of the Works at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. He was also put on a commission to repair the banks of the River Thames between Woolwich and Greenwich. In 1391 Chaucer lost his appointment as clerk of the works; the same year he composed ‘Treatise of the Astrolabe’ for his son Lewis.

In 1394 Chaucer was awarded £20 a year for life by Richard II. In October 1398 he was granted a tun (a large barrel) of wine each year for life. In 1399 Henry IV doubled Chaucer’s pension of 20 marks a year (£13 6s. 8d. which equates to about £15,000 in today’s money) in addition to the grant of £20 in the year 1394 (about £25,000 in today’s money).

Some of the Written Works

In addition to the other work that Chaucer undertook, he is well-known for his writing, most of which was not published until long after his death. Most of his writings are difficult to date with any certainty but despite being written about 600 years ago, his major works have retained their relevancy even in colleges and schools for today’s students. ‘Troilus and Criseyde’ is considered to be one of Chaucer’s greatest works.

One of Chaucer’s most well-known writings today is probably the ‘Canterbury Tales’ – estimated to have been written between 1387 and 1400. Initially, Chaucer had planned for each of his characters to tell four stories. The first two stories would be set as the character was on his or her way to Canterbury and the second two were to take place as the character was heading home. Apparently, Chaucer’s goal of writing 120 stories was too ambitious. In total ‘The Tales’ were made up of only 24 stories and they end rather abruptly – before its characters even make it to Canterbury. The ‘Canterbury Tales’ were not printed until 1532 – 133 years after Chaucer’s death.

Later Life

From 1389 to 1391, after Richard II had ascended to the throne, Chaucer held a tiring and dangerous position as Clerk of the Works. He was robbed by highwaymen twice while working, which only served to further compound his financial worries. To make matters even worse, Chaucer had stopped receiving his pension. Chaucer eventually resigned the position for a lower but less stressful appointment as sub-forester or gardener, at the King’s park, in Somerset.

When Richard II was deposed in 1399, his cousin and successor, Henry IV, took pity on Chaucer and reinstated Chaucer’s former pension. With that money, Chaucer was able to lease a residence in the garden of St Mary’s Chapel in Westminster – beside Westminster Abbey. He lived there modestly for the rest of his days.

Death

Chaucer died on 25 October 1400 – of unknown causes – while living near Westminster Abbey. He was 60 years old and was buried in the Abbey. His gravestone became the centre of what was has become known as Poet’s Corner, a spot where famous British writers such as Robert Browning and Charles Dickens were later honoured by being interred.

Other pages related to – Geoffrey Chaucer

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Cheapside Medieval Model Street

Nearly everyone loves a model. Although remarkable modelling can now be achieved using computer graphics on high-end computer displays, developers still make models in order to show people how a new housing estate will look. Many museums display models of buildings that are no longer in existence – to show people what was once to be seen at a particular location.

When the Museum of London opened on London Wall in 1976, its collection derived from the earlier Guildhall Museum (originally laid out in the old Royal Exchange building) and the London Museum (housed in part of Kensington Palace). Those two collections, in turn, had elements that went back to the 19th century. Over the long period of time that today’s exhibits now span, many models were created in an attempt to show visitors what buildings and streets once looked like – particularly those that are no longer in existence.

When the Museum of London first opened there were many models on display. Not all of them were as accurate as one might have hoped for but, nevertheless, the models were very useful in getting the general idea of how several places used to look. There was a model of medieval Cornhill which included a model of the first Royal Exchange. There was a model of Baynard’s Castle, first built on the north bank of the Thames in Norman times. These and many other models were all swept away when the decision was taken to ‘modernise’ the galleries at the museum. The result was that the exhibits were displayed with a minimum of explanation and almost no models at all. This meant that many visitors walked around and missed many of the historic features because they could not fully understand what was being shown. This state of affairs continues today. The purist museum staff have certainly won the day in their opinions of how the museum layout should be presented to the public. Sadly, they see the museum with their curatorial eye and seem to have overlooked the fact that not everybody who walks around the building is as knowledgeable as they are.

One of the ‘casualties’ among the display items was a model of how Cheapside once looked in medieval times – with its timber-framed houses and quaint layout. It was on show in Kensington Palace where pictures and slides of the models were offered for sale at the gift shop. The above picture is the result of scanning a slide that was on sale many decades ago. The scene looks down on a model of the north side of Cheapside. The large object in the middle of the roadway is The Standard which provided a source of piped water for the residents in Cheapside. The towers of two medieval churches are unrecognisable to our modern eyes because they show buildings that were destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666).

Notice the detail in the model showing an overhanging sign above each shop. Notice also that there was no raised kerb in medieval London. Pedestrians at the side of the road were protected from being hit by carts by posts – erected at short intervals along the road. It’s a lovely model and could do with being displayed once more in the medieval section of the Museum of London.

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Low Line, Southwark

Above: Railway arches supporting London Bridge Station stand on the north side of St Thomas Street.

This is a relatively new name in London. It is not the name of a place but rather of a concept which is associated with the route of many railway arches to be found in Southwark near the River Thames. The Low Line is a new walking destination for London along the length of the mighty Victorian railway viaducts spanning Bankside, the land around London Bridge Station and Bermondsey. It connects diverse neighbourhoods and communities in London immediately south of the Thames, linking existing and new hubs of creativity, entertainment, and industry along its course. The Low Line celebrates the heritage of the railway arches which have been a part of the area for over 150 years, shaping places of interest along the way and unlocking their potential.

The very first railway to be constructed in SE London was the London and Greenwich Railway. It was officially opened at the end of 1836 when the line ran from Deptford Station a new terminus known as London Bridge Station. Greenwich Station was not opened until Christmas Eve in 1838. The design of the railway track was undertaken by an army engineer called George Landmann. He realised that if a railway was laid out across what were still open fields at Greenwich, Deptford and parts of Bermondsey, there would have to be innumerable level-crossings where roads crossed the route. This would have led to very slow journeys by train due to engine drivers having to look out for any blockages to the line. The lines would have to be fenced off to prevent people from walking onto the tracks with the added danger that animals like cows straying through gaps in a fence and causing further problems of safety – as well as damaging the fences.

The planning problems he was considering were very real and his grasp of the dangers in the operation of the new railway was very far-sighted considering that there had never been a railway in London before. Landmann also realised that the planned line from a site near London Bridge running SE to Greenwich would have to cross the Grand Surrey Canal at a point between New Cross and Deptford and the River Ravensbourne on the west side of Greenwich. All thing considered, Landmann decided that tracks running across the flat land along the route was not a practical solution. Instead, he decided to construct a brick viaduct – about three miles long – and lay the two railway tracks along the top. The idea created an enormous problem in acquiring enough bricks to construct such a long viaduct – considered to be the longest brick-built structure anywhere in the world, with 878 arches. However, the arches meant that the railway lines would cross open land without the need for any level-crossings and they would not interfere with the road traffic. Being well above ground, the railway would cross fields of cows grazing without the possibility of them straying onto the tracks.

Once you have grasped the ideas behind what Landmann had created with his first railway line, it follows that all related lines also had to conform to his ideas. This meant that all future railway lines in London had to follow the same principles when they crossed the flat land around Lambeth, Southwark and Bermondsey. Apart from lines further from the centre, where they run in railway cuttings and tunnels, all lines connected to Waterloo Station, London Bridge Station and Cannon Street Station (north of the Thames) conform to the ‘standard’ of being on brick-arched viaducts.

What had been the ‘green and pleasant land’ of South London suddenly became a maze of roads threading through brick arches. The 19th-century plan has caused ‘bottlenecks’ in the flow of traffic ever since. On the ‘plus side,’ it has meant that trains can pass through Central London without all the hold-ups that road traffic encounters on a daily basis due to the sheer numbers of road users.

In many parts of Central London around Waterloo Station and London Bridge Station, the railway arches are seen as being really ugly and a blight to the landscape. However, by cleaning up the arches and making them ‘user friendly’ for pedestrians and cyclists, the areas at the base of each arch can be livened up. Small areas of plants are being laid out and better conditions for footpaths are been implemented. Many of the arches are in use by small businesses who are allowed to rent the space and create workshops under the arch and walls along the ends of each arch.

Until recent times, the arches supporting the tracks have been used for many purposes but never in a coordinated way. The new scheme of the Low Line seeks to unify the uses of the arches and integrate the routes that the arches follow to make conditions on the ground more attractive. By cleaning up the arches – usually a matter of sand-blasting the brickwork – the beauty of the original construction is revealed. Very often, several colours of brick were originally used and the areas that the arches stand beside can be enhanced.

A good example of this is at London Bridge Station where attractive brick arches were restored to their former glory while the rebuilding of the station was taking place in recent years. The project started as a simple concept and is gradually becoming a reality as the years go by. There are a vast number of arches in the area, many of them in need of being cleaned and some tender loving care applied. This will all take time but, by starting in a small way, the scheme can be expanded and the effects on the localities affected speak for themselves. Once the advantages become obvious, further improvements are likely to be made and so the whole scheme grows piece by piece for the well-being of everyone.

-ENDS-

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Canary Wharf from Woolwich Arsenal Pier 2020

Above: View from Woolwich Arsenal Pier in October 2020.

Above: View from Woolwich Arsenal Pier in July 2013.

Taking the same view from the same position over a period of a few years is often an interesting and very revealing project. Friends often say ‘I would have thought you have plenty of pictures of that!’ The comment is intended in a kindly way, even meant as a joke but it misses the whole point of what London is all about. Like any other city, London is made up of people and their needs are constantly changing. Whether we are talking about personal needs or corporate needs, buildings change and new buildings are being built on a continuous basis.

By taking pictures of a view of London and then returning a year or so later, it is surprising how many things will have changed. The collection of ‘long views’ on this Website is building up and it is intended that others are added. The current list can be seen by clicking on ‘Lon_Long Views’ in the Categories list. For convenience, you can just click on the link shown below.

More pictures of – Long Views

The view from Woolwich Arsenal Pier – also called Royal Arsenal Pier – is about 9.5 miles (15 km) downriver of London Bridge. The Thames twists and turns through London making the journey longer than the actual distance in a straight line. Nevertheless, it is surprising how many buildings in Central London can be seen from such a long way off.

A view from Woolwich Arsenal Pier were also shown in 2016. You can take a look at it using the link below.

See also – Canary Wharf from Woolwich Arsenal Pier

The two views on this page illustrate how much has changed over the seven-year interval between them. The view at the top was taken in October 2020. The lower view was taken in July 2013.

O2 Arena – The structure was built to house the Millennium Exhibition, held throughout 2000. The dome was later sold for use as a concert and events centre, being now known as the O2 Arena. In 2013, the O2 Arena could easily be seen from the pier. The white-domed roof is firm enough for people to walk on it but it is not strong enough to support itself. The supports comprise 12 enormous yellow struts with cables attached to the top which are attached to the roof surface. In the 2020 view, the O2 Arena can no longer be seen from the pier. Buildings have been erected near the site, obscuring the view of the roof, with only the tops of the 12 yellow struts able to be seen.

Canary Wharf Tower – The pointed tower near the centre of view in each view remains the same. It is flanked on the left by the tower block called CitiBank, with Newfoundland Quay making its presence felt in the 2020 view. On the right of Canary Wharf Tower is HSBC, with a shorter tower in front which is the headquarters of Barclay’s Bank.

Emirates Air Line Cable Car – On the left of the 2013 view is a white pylon with a ‘twist’ in it. It stands on the southern bank of the Thames and is one of three support pylons for the cable service across the Thames – from near North Greenwich Station to a site ending near Royal Victoria DLR Station. The service opened in June 2012, just before the start of the Olympic Games in London. The cable cars can just be seen. In the 2020 view, only the top of the support pylon can be seen, along with the cable cars.

Tate and Lyle Jetty – On the far right of both views is a jetty with two yellow cranes, used for unloading commodities brought by ship for the Tate and Lyle Sugars factory at Silvertown. As the company’s advertising says ‘It has been leading the cane sugar industry since 1878’. The view in 2020 happens to include a cargo ship moored alongside the jetty.

Thames Barrier – At river level, the northernmost pier to support drop-gates on the Thames Barrier can be seen in both views. To the right of that pier are the small gates which are not navigable for river craft. All vessels are required to pass through the four wider gaps occupied by the drop-gates. The direction of passage by all craft is controlled by intense red or green lights.

-ENDS-

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Canary Wharf from Greenwich Park

The above view was taken in October 2020 while standing near the old Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. The northern end of Greenwich Park is low-lying, being only a short distance from the Thames. Walking in a southerly direction, the land rises steeply onto a plateau. The old Royal Observatory was built near the edge of the steep rise in the land. Although the land is only about 150 feet (46 m) above sea-level, it provides a fine vantage point for looking at the Thames and, in this case, buildings on the Isle of Dogs.

In the foreground is the low-lying ground that has just been mentioned. The elegant white building with a colonnade at either side is the Queen’s House which is situated between two other buildings at the end of the colonnades. The three form the National Maritime Museum. Behind them with the two domed buildings is a group of four quadrangles which were built as a royal palace. When completed, they were not lived by royalty and they became Greenwich Hospital – almshouses for retired seamen. When the hospital moved away, the building became the Royal Naval College and when that moved away, the site was taken over by Greenwich University. The two domes look like copies of the one at St Paul’s Cathedral and indeed, they were designed by Christopher Wren.

Between the two domes can be seen the Thames. The trees on the far bank are situated in a riverside park called Island Gardens. Everything that can be seen as a distant view is on the Isle of Dogs. Until the 1980s, the Isle of Dogs consisted of low-rise buildings – mainly warehouses that stood in the old West India Docks and the Millwall Docks. In 1981 the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was formed and the whole of the Isle of Dogs came under their control with the result that modern high-rise offices and apartment blocks were built.

A new financial centre called Canary Wharf Estate was created with the tallest building being the one with the dark pointed roof. It is often called Canary Wharf Tower and is the tallest of all the buildings at 787 feet (240 m). It was completed in 1991 and if you had stood in the same spot at that time, it would have been the only tall structure on the Isle of Dogs. The residents of Greenwich said the building was an ‘outrage’ and that it blighted the view from Greenwich across the Isle of Dogs. The tower was built anyway and, of course, it was followed by other tower blocks. When they were proposed the good folk in Greenwich complained that they spoiled the view of Canary Wharf Tower!

That all seems a long time ago now. In fact, it was 30 years ago. Over those three decades, many more sky-scrapers have risen on the Isle of Dogs and, as can be seen in the picture, they appear to form a ‘wall’ of tower blocks when viewed from Greenwich Park. The tall, slim, dark-coloured block (to the left of all the tall tower blocks) is called Newfoundland Quay. It is actually all glass-sided, and the dark effect is the way the light is reflected off it. The block appears taller than Canary Wharf Tower but, in fact, it is very slightly shorter (at 220 m).

Details of – Newfoundland Quay

On the left of the picture are four identical 1960s blocks of flats. They are 22 storeys in height but they appear minuscule in comparison to the modern office blocks at Canary Wharf. They stand almost in a straight line and are part of the Barkantine council estate, near the western side of the Isle of Dogs.

More pictures of – Long Views

-ENDS-

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Tower Bridge on a Foggy Night

Above: Looking at the east side of Tower Bridge from the south side of the river.

People from all over the world still seems to expect fog when they visit London. Its probably because of the many films made about the well-known stories by Charles Dickens and also the dramatisations of the stories about Sherlock Holmes. In Victorian times, the fog was common in London in the autumn and winter months. This was due in part to the many coal fires of the residents of the numerous terraced houses. They all had fireplaces. The effect of the soot and the smoke in the air caused the thick fogs, often called ‘pea-soupers’ due to its yellowish colour. The last of these fogs was probably about 1963 when the fog in Inner London lasted for about two or three days.

That was at the beginning of the Clean Air Act in London that banned the use of coal fires to heat houses. What with the soot from coal fires in homes and the smoke from steam trains being phased out in the 1960s, London became a cleaner place. It was then worthwhile for local authorities to start cleaning the soot off old buildings because it was never going to return in the same way as it had before. Today, the really thick fog when ‘you could not see your hand in front of your face’ just does not happen. The fogs seen in television dramatisations and films portraying Dickensian scenes are all created by special effects. Real fogs are not a reality any more.

The picture was taken in December 2000 and is actually nothing more than a heavy mist near the Thames. If conditions are just right, the air becomes very cold and causes water droplets to form in the freezing air. This gives the impression of fog which is usually to be seen on the Thames and around the nearby land, especially if there is open land – like a local park. Quite often, these conditions are to be seen near the Thames and when you walk just a few hundred yards from the Thames night sky is quite clear and there is no mist or fog at all.

That is exactly what was happening on the night when the above picture of Tower Bridge was taken. Just downriver of the bridge, two Thames sailing barges had moored for the night. With the furled sails to be seen in the view. There are no working Thames sailing barges on the river any more. Their working days ended just before the Second World War. In earlier times there were about 4,000 Thames sailing barges carrying cargoes to and from London, with destinations, particularly along the East Anglian coast. In Victorian times all the barges were powered by sail and steered by the skill of men who knew the power of the tides and the availability of the winds. Most of the sailing barges gradually acquired motors to power them and only one sailing barge is now using sails, with no engine. There are probably 30 or 40 Thames sailing barges still in existence, all with engines and all now used for extended trips on the Thames and along the East Coast, carrying fare-paying passengers who enjoy the nostalgia of a trip on such vessels.

-ENDS-

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