“London in 1891”
This view of London Bridge looks towards the City of London from a point beside the edge of the pavement on the west side of the bridge. Whether the artist sat at the southern end of the bridge or at a point actually on the bridge is hard to tell. However, what he drew in the evocative picture is not hard to explain.
The date is 1891 which is exactly 60 years after the bridge was opened. This was the bridge that was built on a new site just upriver of the first London Bridge (the one with the houses on it). If you are old enough, this is also the bridge that you will have walked across in your younger days because it was not replaced with the present bridge until the late 1960s. The present replacement was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.
A quick look at the surface of the bridge in the picture reveals that the roadway was made of stone sets – made from granite blocks. An endless stream of pedestrians is seen to be walking over the bridge on the left-hand pavement – several in top-hats and some wearing bowlers. The late 19th century was still the days of horse-drawn traffic. A tradesman is pushing his barrow, laden possibly with fruit, to a ‘pitch’ where he would then sell the goods to passing pedestrians. Up ahead of him is a cart laden with empty baskets. Don’t forget that only a short distance from the southern end London Bridge was then (and still is) Borough Market, a fruit and vegetable market.
To the right of the man pushing his barrow, a horse-drawn knife-board omnibus is to be seen, laden with passengers on their way to the City. Passengers inside sat facing the direction of travel. Those sitting upstairs sat in two rows, back-to-back, facing the sides of the vehicle. Some readers may remember that, when the modern bus had a conductor, he would shout ‘Plenty of room outside’ when the seats downstairs were all occupied. The term ‘outside’ referred to the early days – as seen in this picture – when passengers did sit outside on the top of the vehicle.
On the right, travelling towards the observer is a constant stream of Hansom cabs. They were designed and patented in 1834 by Joseph Aloysius Hansom. The cabs in the picture appear to be empty. They were, no doubt, returning to the cab-stand at London Bridge Station after taking their ‘fares’ to their place of work in the City. London Bridge Station is just a short distance from the southern end of London Bridge.
We shall now consider the buildings, starting with the one of the far left which is the front of Fishmongers’ Hall. Above the man with the barrow is an elegant white church tower which is probably St Michael, Cornhill. The offices are too tall for it to be possible to see that church from London Bridge today. Just behind the bus is the unmistakable outline of the top of The Monument. To the right of the bus is part of the original Adelaide House, an office block built beside the 1831 London Bridge. If only that office block were still there, it would be easier to see the landmarks behind it. Today the 1925 replacement is so huge that it is almost impossible to see anything of The Monument from this viewpoint.
Behind Adelaide House, we can also see most of the splendid tower of the church of St Magnus the Martyr. The church is still there but, sadly, the office block obscures the tower from the view of pedestrians walking over London Bridge today.
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