Above: Looking east towards the City of London from Waterloo Bridge.
Probably one of the most photographed views of London is the one shown above. It works from almost every angle and can be found in many picture books of London. Not only do the present picture books often have a picture showing this view but there are even Victorian and Edwardian photographs with similar views.. Of course, until the 1960s, such a photograph showed just the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral towering over low-rise offices with a few spires of Wren churches in and around the City protruding into the skyline. Probably the earliest similar view is a painting by Canaletto, made about 1750 from the nearby old Somerset House – its called ‘Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards the City’ and is part of the Royal Collection.
These days, it seems that St Paul’s has to fight for space among the other office blocks that have been erected on the eastern side of the City. The blocks are not actually close to the cathedral but, due to their great height, they appear to surround it. Architects are, by nature, individualists and so each tower block does not blend in with other blocks but seems to stand out and that does create a welcome addition to the overall scene. As it happens, the view of St Paul’s from the eastern end of Waterloo Bridge is protected. The ’sight line’ of the cathedral’s dome has to be clearly seen, with no buildings in the background to affect its outline. The view above is from a point towards the western end of the bridge and it will be seen that the dome stands clear of any other buildings – at the moment. The time will come when the open view is hemmed in more than we see today. That’s progress – or so they say.
On the river, the white vessel whose bow is facing us is the ‘Wellington’ which is moored near Temple Stairs, on the Victoria Embankment. It has been moored there since 1948 and is in use by the Honourable Company of Master Mariners, a City of London Livery Company, for their Company Hall. The significance of the ship being moored at that exact spot is that part of the vessel is within the boundary of the City of London. All City Livery Halls are required to be situated within the City’s boundary. There are various moorings along this stretch of the river, now in use by river boats.
Part of the tree-lined Victoria Embankment can be seen on the left. On the right, we see part of Blackfriars Bridge. This is a road bridge but beyond that is Blackfriars Railway Bridge which was converted a few years ago as a combined railway bridge and railway station as the stopping point for all Thamslink trains.
On the right of the horizon is what many people regard as one of the strangest (and ugliest) office blocks to be built in the City. Known as 20 Fenchurch Street – which is its address as well as its name – it has been nicknamed ‘The Walkie-Talkie’ because of its distinctive shape. Rising to 160 m (525 feet) in height and with a public viewing gallery at the top, the building was designed by Rafael Viñoly, an architect from Uruguay.
Several other City office blocks are to be seen. The Leadenhall Building, at 122 Leadenhall Street, is also known as the ‘Cheese-grater’ because of its shape – with a sloping side. It is partially hiding the round-topped 20 St Mary Axe which is known as the ‘Gherkin’. One wonders what other weird and wonderful shapes we shall see on the skyline in the coming years.