Barmy bridges – 1

This is the first in a series of three about bridges that might have spanned the Thames. Americans think of Tower Bridge as a symbol of London, reinforcing that image organisers used the bridge as the centre piece of the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant. Opened (literally) by the Prince of Wales on 30th June 1894 just three years before Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee the design has achieved an iconic status.

[I]ts Gothic tweeness won the day over 50 other designs submitted some of which were just barmy. The brief was to design a bridge capable of allowing ships through into the then-thriving Pool of London.

Falling into that category is this design by Frederic Barnett, a low-level scheme that, the architect promised, allowed an “uninterrupted continuity of vehicular and general traffic”.

Other designs to improve the completed bridge included a monorail straddling the towers and artist W. F. C. Holden thought that the bridge would be greatly improved if it were encased in glass and steel.

In 1910 the high-level walkways, which were designed so that the public could still cross the bridge when it was raised, were closed down due to lack of use by everyone except “professional ladies”.

Two years later Frank McClean had to fly between the bascules and the high-level walkways in his Short biplane, to avoid an accident.

In 1952 a number 78 London bus driven by Albert Gunton had to leap from one bascule to the other when the bridge began to rise with the bus still on it.

It wasn’t until 1977 that Tower Bridge’s chocolate brown was re-painted red, white and blue to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

In the slow lane

The meticulous planning by LOCOG to allow the Olympic family unimpeded travel around London could be put in jeopardy by rickshaws.

Cabbies must feel a sense of schadenfreude as their two biggest gripes – rickshaws and zil lanes – have conjoined with inevitable predictability.

The Olympic lanes and cabbies right to use them have been a matter of contention since they were announced so many years ago. Enter them at your peril, even crossing them you risk a demand for £200 landing on your doormat within days.

[P]edicabs plying for hire as the only unregulated and unidentifiable vehicle carrying the public in London have had cabbies complaining for over a decade.

But even with the backing of both past and present London Mayors, the London Taxi Drivers Association and Westminster Council to have rickshaws curtailed, or at least regulated, Parliament has not found time to debate the issue.

As MPs discovered to their horror that Sunday trading laws prevented the sale of goods within the Olympic site beyond a six hour period, now like a slow moving train crash the spectre of unidentifiable rickshaws using the Olympic Lane Network has become a reality nobody envisaged.

Now John McDonnell Member of Parliament for Hayes and Harlington has tabled the Motion:

“This House notes with concern the danger posed by pedicabs to the general public and visitors to London during the Olympic and Paralympic Games . . . Banning the operation of pedicabs during the Olympics is necessary to reduce congestion and in particular its impact on the emergency services.”

Will MPs find the time in their hectic schedule to settle the pedicab question once and for all? If they don’t resolve this issue the Olympic Family might think they are back in Beijing.

Liquid history

The River Thames is etched into England’s psyche, over the years it has played a central role in the life of the nation, historically used for coronations, processions, funerals and as we saw this weekend pageants.

In 1929 the MP John Burns famously described the river as “ The St Lawrence is water, the Mississippi is muddy water, but the Thames is liquid history ”.

[K]ing Henry VIII loved his palaces at Greenwich and Richmond, but once he had sight of Cardinal Wolsley’s palace at Hampton Court he did not rest until he “persuaded” Wolsley to “give” it to him.

Queen Elizabeth I also loved Greenwich and Richmond, and it was at Richmond Palace in 1603 that she died. Her body was brought downstream to Westminster for her funeral on a magnificent black barge; the poet William Campden described the scene as follows:

“The Queen was brought by water to Whitehall. At every stroke of oars did tears fall”.

Less romantic was Henry VIII’s final trip from London to Windsor – he was due to be buried in St. George’s Chapel there. During the overnight stop between London and Windsor his barge moored at Syon House in Isleworth. His coffin suddenly split open, and dogs were found licking his remains.

The banks of the Thames became the favoured location for buildings of all kinds, from monastic abbeys to gorgeous palaces. The huge number of famous buildings along the course of the Thames gave rise to the description of the river as a “string” linking a series of “pearls”.

In the 17th and 18th centuries during the hard winter freezes, Frost Fairs were held on the River Thames, complete with ox-roasting, groups of musicians playing, stalls selling a variety of popular novelties and food, fairground amusements and performing animals.

The last fair to be held on the Thames was in February 1814. In 1831 the old London Bridge was replaced, and – with the removal of the “starlings” or piers upon which the old bridge rested – the river no longer slowed down sufficiently for it to freeze over sufficiently to support public events.

The River Thames also provided some of the greatest “shows” seen on water. In 1422 the Lord Mayor’s Show took to the water. The participating barges of the City Livery companies became ever more ornate. Barges were covered in gold leaf and some rowed with oars of silver.

In the 17th century the Lord Mayor’s procession included dramas and pageants. However, these came to an end in 1856 as the river had become clogged up with working vessels.

It was an actor who established one of the most enduring of the traditions of the River Thames. In 1715 Thomas Doggett was so grateful to a local waterman for his efforts to ferry him home on a bad night, pulling against the tide that he set up a rowing race for professional watermen.

The winner receives prize money and also the coveted scarlet coat and badge, made of silver – hence the name of the race “Doggett’s Coat and Badge”. The race is still held on 1st August each year when professional watermen row from London Bridge to Chelsea and is recognised as the world’s oldest rowing race.

Coronation cock-ups


On the eve of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee here is the second part of CabbieBlog’s Coronation trivia:

Regal rag on bone men

Three families share the role of the Lord Great Chamberlain a title that has been in existence since Norman times. The present holder the Marquess of Cholmondeley – Lord Carrington’s family and the Earl of Ancaster stand in the wings chomping at the bit – in return for some minor coronation ceremonial duties has the right to demand anything the sovereign wears during the ceremony (including underclothes), also his or her bed, and incredibly the throne.

On the throne

Queen Anne was unable to sit on the throne (presumably left behind by the Lord Great Chamberlain) as she was so fat and gout-ridden she had to be carried into the Abbey in her own chair. Her statue outside St. Paul’s west front doesn’t do her justice, at the time of its creation she was at least twice that size. Catholic Mary I refused to park her trim bum on the seat asserting that it had been defiled by the ‘Protestant heretic’ her brother Edward VI.

Losing it

Henry IV trying his best to appear regal was hard pressed when he lost a shoe, followed by a spur from the other foot and finally to complete the indignity the wind blew the crown clean off his head.

Trouble with the ex

At the coronation of George IV prize fighters were engaged to bar his estranged and enraged wife who proceeded to spend much of the day battering the doors of Westminster Abbey, while wailing loudly that she had been barred.

Coronation chicken

George VI’s big day was ruined when the Lord Chamberlain, whilst having an attack of nerves, couldn’t fix the Sword of State his Majesty completed the task in hand. Next a chaplain fainted and finally completing a hat trick the Archbishop of Canterbury put the crown on back to front.