“London has the trick of making its past, its long indelible past, always a part of its present. And for that reason it will always have meaning for the future, because of all it can teach about disaster, survival, and redemption. It is all there in the streets. It is all there in the books.” Anna Quindlen – ‘Imagined London: A Tour of the World’s Greatest Fictional City.’
Home to a long, varied cultural legacy, London was as well an economic power second to none. Through many centuries ‘Rule Britannia’ was a supremely nationalistic notion nurtured and believed in without self-doubt or open to criticism; colonialism was self-righteously looked upon as ‘the white man’s burden’. The uncontested seat of power for succeeding generations lay in the Royal Throne and yet with the proclamation of the Magna Carta (1215) was born a progressive, philosophical belief in the creation and safeguard of a democratically elected Parliament of the people. In a purely English expression of good manners, both the monarchy and the will of the people co-exists side by side to this day. A gentility not much in evidence during the French Revolution as I’m quite certain flighty Marie-Antoinette would have sadly agreed.
Buckingham Palace, a grand home to succeeding royal families. Throngs of sightseers line the entrance awaiting the colourful Changing of the Guard.
(Note: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)
Pride in national achievements gave the impetus over centuries when much treasure and impressive know-how in the construction of princely palaces, grand public buildings and splendid houses of worship. Some of these structures are today well-preserved monuments to a proud past and a vibrant present. London counts four sites and attractions listed by UNESCO as being of special cultural or physical significance. These are the Tower of London; the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew; The Palace of Westminster, including the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, St Margaret’s Westminster and Westminster Abbey; and Maritime Greenwich. In the following pages along with accompanying photos my personal observations about this fascinating world-class city.
On a spur of the moment rather than take the usual train to return to Blackheath my temporary home base, I decided to board a tour boat leaving from Westminster Pier (just below Parliament Buildings) to Greenwich Village and what a great idea that turned out to be. Behind me is the famed tower often referred to as Big Ben whereas in actual fact it’s the name conferred on the huge 14 ton bell in its belfry.
(Note to history buffs: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few … ” quoted from a wartime speech made by then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on 20 August 1940 exulting in the ongoing efforts of the Royal Air Force pilots who were at the time fighting the ‘Battle of Britain’ the pivotal air battle with the Luftwaffe fearing an imminent German invasion. It is well worth reading the entire text as Churchill was a consummate wordsmith and his speeches indeed inspired the nation to greater efforts and sacrifice culminating ultimate victory. Notwithstanding his inspirational leadership, Churchill was turfed out of power at the first post-war election. I suppose people had had enough of Churchillian ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ and preferred the prospect of a return to improving the lot of the working class.
20 Fenchurch Street is a commercial skyscraper that takes its name from its address on the street of the same name in the historic City of London financial district. The tower was originally proposed at nearly 200 m (656 ft) tall but its design was somewhat scaled down after concerns about its negative visual impact on nearby and much cherished St. Paul’s Cathedral and iconic Tower of London. The project was consequently the subject of a Public Inquiry forced on the city by heritage groups; in 2007 this ruled in the developers’ favour and the building was granted full planning permission.
I promised an interesting story, read on. During the building’s construction, it was discovered that for a period of up to two hours each day with the sun shining directly onto the building, it acts as a concave mirror and focuses light onto the streets to the south. Spot temperature readings included up to 91 °C (196 °F) and 117 °C (243 °F) also measured during the summer of 2013, when the reflection of a beam of light up to six times brighter than direct sunlight shining onto the streets beneath damaged vehicles parked on the street nearby, including one whose owner was paid £946 by the developers for repairs to melted bodywork. The media responded by dubbing the building the ‘Walkie-Scorchie’ or ‘Fryscraper’. Oddly enough the building’s architect, Rafael Viñoly, had previously designed the Vdara hotel in Las Vegas with a similar sunlight reflection problem that some wit christened it, “Vdara death ray”. The glass there has since been covered with a non-reflective film. You’d think he’d have learned something but apparently he mused the London problem probably had to do with ‘global warming’. Oy!
Since this is my blog I’ll graciously allow myself a mild ‘rant’. I wondered when learning the developer ‘won’ the public enquiry into the building being too massive with its attendant risk to the integrity of St. Paul’s dominant place in the London skyline as well as to historic Tower of London. My question is as follows: when do developers with deep pocket ever lose? In London or elsewhere? Vancouver for example, a prime example of uncontested disasters that England’s Prince Charles considering his well known aversion to modern architecture would surely gag upon laying his princely eyes on the tawdry skyline of a city otherwise blessed with a great physical location. It is my firm opinion that every single ‘planning department’ in every major city in the world should as a matter of course be investigated every couple of years for dereliction of duty or worse. Too often permits to build are issued as a matter of routine without real analysis of what is proposed or even worse without consequent supervision by city inspectors. Vancouver’s infamous ‘leaking condo’ episode costing billions (that’s right) to repair and of course paid for by the unlucky buyers is a case in point. And it persists to this day! If there was any real justice for the powerful rich and the politically well-connected, more than a few greedy miscreants ought to be spending a few years in a leaky cell in a very damp jail. There, isn’t it wonderful to have your own blog? I highly recommend it as it allows for such cathartic benefits.
St. Paul’s dome is second only to St. Peter’s in the Vatican and dominates from atop the highest ground in London proper. I fervently hope its position will be protected in the future and not find itself in the shadows of yet another monster skyscraper. Londoners must always remain vigilant as no doubt more attempts will be made, count on it.
Possibly the most recognizable sight in London, the bridge I’m told is spectacular at night, something time didn’t permit for me to enjoy but next time, for sure.
Busy above and below, to say the least it took navigating skill at all times to get around without mishap.
Beautifully preserved, the venerable Tower of London the epicentre for much past English history, often glorious (at times wicked) and now a much visited UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This less than admired building in London is nicknamed ‘The Cheese Grater’ and the odd shaped building to the right the name is known as the Swiss Re building or more aptly perhaps as ‘The Gherkin’.
A spectacular panorama of the city from the Royal Observatory viewpoint, with the financial power house ‘Canary Wharf’ in background to the right.
A world-class monument to man’s ingenuity and the never ending search for knowledge, this small but vital community has been the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) since 1884. Sometimes called Greenwich Meridian Line because it is measured from the Greenwich Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory and the universally agreed place from where all time zones are measured. The clock below indicates Standard Measurements and I’d not quibble with its accuracy.
There a traced line indicates the exact location of the Prime Meridian, the theoretical demarcation between the Western and Eastern hemisphere of the globe. Since the earth rotation is not absolutely perfect, with measurable wobbles, if one wishes to split hairs, the line in the old observatory’s courtyard today differs no more than a few metres from that imaginary line which is now the prime meridian of the world. I had no one to take my photo standing astride both hemispheres – too bad.
The Observatory is located amid a vast parkland that spreads above Greenwich Village. Visitor’s pavilions display the history and uses of the installation as well as coffee shops in a bucolic setting – featured are flower gardens, tree-lined lanes and these magnificent centuries old chestnut trees.
From there it was a ten minute walk to Blackheath Village, my home base. The park is just beyond the wall in mid-photo and the ever-present Shard Building lording it in the middle background.
All Saints, a century old Roman Catholic church in Blackheath and a view from the train station’s quay of the numerous chimneys still dominating rooftops and as evidenced in the former college remodelled as a Senior’s Home in the village.
So much to see and share that in the interest of keeping each photo essay manageable in length I’ll stop here but I promise another one in the not too distant future. Hope to see you then and enjoy reading your comments too. Incidentally, I’ve actually been told by some who have checked my various posts they don’t write comments out of shyness. No kidding! Come on, it takes no time and I like feedback good or bad, whatever kind so I can improve my future output. Okay? I’ll respond to each and every one, promise.