WITH SO MUCH controversy about the exploding height of buildings it is pertinent to remind ourselves of the one that started it all – Queen Anne’s Mansions opposite St James’ Park station, the first high-rise flats in London. In those days we didn’t build big. For centuries the tallest secular building in London was the Fishmongers’ Hall which is now a dwarf among the buildings around it. In the late 1880s, Henry Hankey, a dodgy City banker, erected Queen Anne’s mansions, an unprecedented – wait for it – 13 stories high, more than twice as high as normal flats of the time – without bothering with the tiresome task of asking permission. This may not seem large to us as developers line the whole of one side of Victoria Street with 20-storey plus monsters but it was hugely controversial then. The Metropolitan Fire Service warned that its hoses could not reach the top of the building in the event of fire. The Builder magazine described it as “monster blocks of dwellings” and the Times as “the most elevated thing in bricks and mortar since the Tower of Babel”
When Hankey started to expand the building along Petty France, the architect of the Grosvenor Hotel (by Victoria Station) James Knowles – who admittedly lived next door to the mansions – wrote to the Metropolitan Board of Works saying that the mansions, already a bye word for their monstrous and overgrown ugliness would “constitute an eyesore so offensive as would disgrace the whole neighbourhood of Westminster . . And turn this quarter of London into a laughing stock”. Goodness knows what Mr Knowles would make of the current redevelopment of Victoria Street. He would be lost for words. (The quotations above are taken from Richard Dennis’ excellent paper on the mansions)
Eventually, the London County Council gave up its attempts to prove that construction of the building was illegal by making sure that it would never happen again. In an Act of 1890 the maximum height of new buildings was to be 90 feet – later reduced to 80 feet in the 1894 Act.
Queen Anne’s Mansions continued to be a paradigm of ugliness in the early 20th century. A drawing of “one of the most inexcusable buildings in modern London” (see above) was included in 1905 in Henry James’s English Hours. Of course, one solution was to live in the mansions so you could get its wonderful views without having to look at the building itself, a solution adopted by many people including MPs who railed against it in Parliament.The mansion block lasted until the 1970s when it was pulled down and replaced by a much bigger and if not uglier, then certainly more brutalist building, the new Home Office, designed by Sir Basil Spence (above, left). Whether, in the long term, the mansion block was a hero or villain depends on your point of view. It was almost universally reviled but the reaction to it kept London’s skyline much lower than would otherwise have been the case. Well, until recently.
IN LONDON OLD AND NEW published in 1878 Walter Thornbury described the Roman Bath as one the “few real and genuine remains which date from the era of the Roman occupation of England”. Charles Dickens is believed to have taken a cold dip in one of the two fashionable baths and, if he didn’t, he certainly sent David Copperfield there for “many a cold plunge”.
William Newton observed, in his “London in the Olden Time”, that it is “without doubt a veritable Roman structure, as an inspection of its old walls will prove”. Thurlow Weed, in the 1840s reported that it was used now as it has been for centuries, for bathing, and, though situated in Strand Lane, not six rods from the Strand, “I do not believe its existence is known to one thousand of the three millions of people who inhabit London.”
That may still be true today even though London’s population has soared because the bath (above, left) – it’s not Roman at all, by the way – is an orphan among London monuments. It was bought by a reluctant National Trust in 1947 on condition that someone else put up the money (Montague Meyer, a timber tycoon) and someone else looked after day-to-day management, a task that today falls to the parks department of Westminster Council where it is probably not their highest priority and only open to the public on special occasions. It is rumoured that King’s College which owns surrounding properties wants to sell. I tried to get near it yesterday for a photograph but the approach was locked up like Fort Knox.
Things may now be changing thanks to the digital revolution. Kings College is collaborating with the National Trust to add virtual layers, including 3D modelling, on a computer which would integrate the present bath, including the second one currently hidden, with the memories, myths and inter-connections of the past which are necessary to understand its place in history. This would include the role of water in restoring bodily fluids and the social exclusion of being inside the walls of the adjacent Somerset House where water was plentiful with the situation outside where people were scampering for it. Interactivity between the bath and other things gives rise to the interesting thought that Six Degrees of Separation may apply as much to buildings as it does to people like Kevin Bacon.
The 3D model, by Emma King of King’s College, enables you to see the second bath which can’t be seen even if you gain access to the first one which is occasionally open to public view.
Fascinating research by Professor Michael Trapp of King’s College and a colleague shows that, although it was a cold bath for many years with some of the bricks dating back to the 1550s, it was reconstructed as a cistern providing water for an elaborate 30 feet high Mount Parnassus (or maybe Mount Helicon), fountain built in 1612 by James 1 for his wife Queen Anne of Denmark at the eastern end of the grounds of Somerset House, now part of the King’s College campus.
As the 1615 engraving shows it was on a grand scale with manifestations of the four great rivers of England, including the nearby Thames.
The National Trust is rather short of historic buildings in central London and its involvement in bringing digital techniques to augment the experiences of the “Roman Bath” project and Benjamin Franklin House near Trafalgar Square are an attempt to make up for this by using virtual techniques to conjure up the associations of the past.
CYCLING gets enormous publicity in London. Walking is hardly mentioned at all yet London is arguably the most walkable capital city in the world as I have discovered doing my – only slightly barmy – walks from the centre of Trafalgar Square without crossing a road. Among destinations so far I have got as far as Islington, and the Millennium Dome accompanied by witnesses and the Lea Valley (without witnesses). But the most ambitious – Trafalgar Square to Margate – is still a work in progress.
It is in theory 9/10ths complete but the final tenth is the most difficult bit and as it is possible I may not complete the journey it might be wise to give a progress report. Knowing that the dual estuaries of the Medway and the Swale were the likely sticking points I did the walk in a pincer movement, walking from London to Margate and from Margate to London hoping to meet myself in the middle.
It has been an exhilarating experience opening up vistas of my own country hidden from past experience. From the London end I hugged the romantic remoteness of the Thames estuary past Greenhithe, Gravesend along the Dickensian coast ending with a desolate walk of miles and miles to All Hallows without passing or being passed by a single soul. All Hallows, a village on the Hoo peninsular in remote Kent was once planned to be the biggest coastal resort in Europe outstripping Blackpool. It never happened.
From the Margate end I started from the bus shelter overlooking the sea where T S Eliot wrote much of The Waste Land through some lovely resorts like Herne Bay and wonderful shell-soaked Whitstable that I inexcusably hadn’t visited before thanks to a myopic preoccupation with France for holidays. I managed to circumnavigate the Swale Estuary but as the marshland of the Medway loomed optimism began to fade. I stopped a few days ago at Upchurch having taken about 12 miles to walk a distance of a few miles as the crow flies from near Swale station. It looked as though I would have to cross a road so next time I will have to retrace my steps and find another way. When you look at the map above it doesn’t look far to bridge the gap between All Hallows and Upchurch as the crow flies but I walk not fly like a crow. Succeed or fail, it has been an unforgettable experience which I hope to come back to at greater length.
Thames estuary near Tyneham
VISITORS to the House of Commons usually make a beeline for the central lobby without taking much notice of the great hall (above) they have to pass through first, a treasure trove of British history. It started life as the Royal Chapel of Saint Stephen, home to the College of Cannons, before becoming the House of Commons for over 300 years until the building was burned down in the great fire of 1834.
The original chapel had rows of pews for the cannons which were laid out facing each other. When Edward V1 granted the Commons use of the hall in 1547 there was no alternative because of the narrow design of the hall but to keep the cannons’s stalls (there is a reconstruction of one on the right) facing each other – which is why government and opposition MPs face each other today in a confrontational manner unlike other similar institutions abroad. Could this be one of the reasons MPs are cannon fodder to each other and why coalition politics has taken so long to emerge? The cannons also left behind a screen which MPs utilised by asking those in favour of a motion to walk through the right hand door and those against through the left door, a tradition which lingers today as does that of bowing before what used to be an altar and crucifix as MPs enter and leave the chamber.
It was this hall that Guy Fawkes tried to blow up, where the consequences of Henry V111’s sequestration of monastic property were debated, where Charles 1’s death warrant was signed, where Horace Walpole, William Pitt, Charles Fox, Wilberforce and countless parliamentarians argued and near where Spencer Perceval, the only British prime minister to have been assassinated, was shot dead. Statues on either side of the hall commemorate some of the politicians who performed there.
But St Stephen’s Hall sits on even older history immediately beneath it is St Mary Undercroft – not normally open to the public -which survived the worst ravages of the fire and still retains some of the medieval splendour of St Stephen’s.
On a recent visit I was not allowed to take photos so I snapped the poster in Westminster Hall (above) as a substitute. In its time it has been a chapel for the royal household, a wine cellar, a dining room for the Speaker and, by repute, a stabling place for Oliver Cromwell’s horses.
Margaret Thatcher and Tony Benn, implacable enemies in life, were united in death as both of their bodies lay – at different times – in the sumptuous chapel of the Undercroft which is not on the official tour of the Commons and thus rarely seen by the public.
For details of a major historical project exploring the history of St Stephen’s Chapel see http://virtualststephens.org.uk or follow on Twitter @VSS_Project
Also @ThorneyIslandSo or @vickeegan
ONE OF THE the stunning recent successes in London has been the construction of footbridges – which fill up with pedestrians as soon as they are finished. Now there are two more in the pipeline. One is the Garden bridge at Temple and the other a pedestrian and cyclists bridge from Pimlico to yuppified Nine Elms in Wandsworth near where the American embassy is being built.
Over 70 fascinating designs from all over the world (see above and below photographed at the exhibition) were on display anonymously today at the Westminster Boating base and can be seen online here.
Most of them sensibly had separate lanes for cyclists but I was particularly impressed with the few that viewed the bridge as a living space not just a plank to convey pedestrians and cyclists across the river. There are some obvious problems not least whether the bridge might be taken over by rough sleepers and others during the night but there is no reason why these problems can’t be overcome. No one closes the embankment because some people might be sleeping rough on it. A bridge like this should be seen as an extension of the living spaces on both sides of the river.
There is a problem. Unlike the Millennium Bridge, the Hungerford bridges and the proposed Garden Bridge, the PoW link (Pimlico over Wandsworth) isn’t leading to a vibrant entertainment centre – it just goes from one old established residential area (Pimlico) to a new one (Nine Elms). It is not even going to divert cyclists from nearby Vauxhall Bridge unless they were already planning to go west along the northern embankment.
This is not an argument against the bridge, just to say that supply won’t necessarily create its own demand on the scale it did on the south bank – unless a redeveloped Battersea Power station becomes a major tourist attraction. But it will link up two London communities hitherto separated by the river and may also trigger economic re-generation on both sides of the Thames. And, hell, it adds to the fun of being in London.
(The exhibition was on the north bank today and moves to the south bank on Feb 27 and Feb 28 at the Rose Centre, Ascalon Street SW8 4DJ)
(Damien Hirst’s Gallery)
THE OLD PART of Lambeth, just south of Lambeth Bridge, still has a claim to be one of the few undiscovered parts of central London. But not for much longer. Damien Hirst’s new gallery is nearing completion in Newport Street and is likely to attract crowds of newcomers to this neglected part of the capital. I have mixed feelings about the new influx because four of my favourite cafes in the whole of London are situated within a short walking distance of each other and I’m not sure I want to be crowded out of them. The Garden Museum Cafe is next door to Lambeth Palace in the deconsecrated Saint Mary’s Church, which could be forgiven for buckling under the weight if its own history. It is a delightful place for a classy vegetarian lunch especially when it is warm enough to eat outside and savour views of the knot garden, banana trees and the graves of Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty and the Tradescant family of pioneering gardeners. It is too modest to advertise the fact that it was declared one of the top ten museum cafes in the world a couple of years ago by an American gourmet magazine. The people buried there including six and a bit (don’t ask!) archbishops of Canterbury, deserve a book on their own.
A few hundred yards away through a small park off Lambeth High street is the Beconsfield Cafe/Art Gallery in Newport Street (Thursday to Saturday). It is housed in a converted Victorian ragged school with Damien Hirst’s gallery within sight at the other end of the street . Here you can eat very good vegetarian food in an engagingly intimate atmosphere with good wi-fi thrown in. If the street door isn’t open you will have to press a bell – a bit like trying to get into a Chicago speakeasy.
At the end of Vauxhall Walk Is the Tea House Theatre, in a lovingly converted former strip pub on the edge of historic Vauxhall Gardens. It is an excellent place for a meal or tea and sometimes a show as well. On the other side of Vauxhall Station along the Wandsworth Road is Brunswick House Cafe, festooned with architectural artefacts, and none the worse for having become rather fashionable lately.
Old Lambeth, once dominated – and polluted – by Doulton’s immensely successful pottery factory, is still host to the company’s attractively tiled head office, a stone’s throw from the embankment road. Definitely worth a short detour. Costa Coffee, the British company which started in the Vauxhall Bridge Road and is now the second biggest coffee company in the world after Starbucks, has its roastery here. All is now changing as luxury apartment blocks spring up all over the place doubtless bringing in their wake new restaurants and amenities. Setting the pace is the new gallery, head office and cafe complex being built by Damien Hirst to house among other things lots of the paintings and sculptures he has acquired over the years. Artistic projects like this usually stimulate the local economy. This part of Lambeth will never be the same again.
MOST PEOPLE have a vague idea that the old London Bridge was sold to the Americans in the 1960s. Except that it wasn’t. At least not all of it. The Americans built a reinforced concrete structure for the bridge and only wanted the stone as cladding which means that an awful lot of it was left in London. But where?
For some years I have been collecting information about where the old stones of the demolished 1830s bridge – and the earlier mediaeval one – have survived. When the list reached nearly 30, ranging from a suburban wall in Wandsworth to a public space at Amersfoort in Holland. I thought that must be it. But then I came across Bryan Hewitt, author and gardener at Myddelton house in Enfield which itself is home to bits of the mediaeval bridge.
He told me that in the early 1970s a load of huge granite blocks was deposited by persons unknown on a roundabout on the A10 at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. I would guess that they came directly or indirectly from the yard of John Mowlem and Company who demolished the old 1830s London Bridge in the early 1960s when most of it went to Arizona (as chronicled by Travis Elborough in London Bridge in America). According to a letter in the Kew Gardens archives, there were 400 tons of blocks left over in the yard – ranging up to 6′ 3″ high weighing 3 tons.
They are now spread around the Lee Valley Country Park and Bryan kindly took me on a walk last week to see some of them. One of the most iconic is a very large block along the Walton Way section of the River Lee which has a circular mosaic of a fish (picture, above) embossed on it in memory of Izaac Walton, author of the 1653 Classic The Compleat Angler who used to fish along this stretch. The temptation to turn remnants of London Bridge into artworks is also evident in the two sculptured blocks standing sentinel a mile apart on a lane marking the meridian line stretching from Waltham Cross to the Crooked Mile road (above, right).
Outside St Margaret’s Church in Barking (left) two smaller stones have been joined together in a minimalist sculpture. The stone in the most public view stands between the Odeon cinema and the Lee Valley Athletics Centre at Meridian Way, Edmonton (below, left). This stone is dedicated to the Duke of Edinburgh as is a much small one near the toilets at Fishers Green. There are two other similar stones on the other side of the canal to the Lee Valley White Water Centre at Waltham Cross which almost certainly came from the same mysterious drop at the Haddesdon roundabout. I am amazed at the fresh discoveries of bits of the various versions of old London Bridge. If anyone has heard reports of other remnants, I’d be delighted to hear them.
Today’s Somerset House is a wonderful space for art and entertainment contained in a quadrangle mainly remarkable because of the paucity of its neighbours. The original, much grander, Somerset House was built by the rapacious Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector of the boy-king Edward VI (who became sovereign age 9 when Henry VIII died in 1547). He pillaged local inns, churches and other places without compensation to build his grandiose pile. He stole from buildings including the charnel house of Saint Pauls and parts of the Priory of Saint John of Jerusalem at Clerkenwell. He was only stopped from stealing stone from St Margaret’s Church adjacent to Westminster Abbey when his intentions provoked a near riot. It also provoked the intervention of Providence as Protector Somerset died before his palace was completed. Serves him right.
Somerset House was one of a series of grand palaces built along the Strand by bishops and nobility wanting to have a prestigious London pad near the Court in Whitehall. Its neighbours were Arundel House on the east and the Savoy Palace on the west. All of these palaces have now disappeared – only Somerset House, which was completely re-built by Sir William Chambers in the late 18th century, remains as a glimpse of what the north bank of Thames looked like in those days, even though Somerset House lost its river frontage when Sir Joseph Bazalgette built the Embankment.
Fascinatingly, there are still remains of the original building to be found if you know where to look – or if you are given a conducted tour as we were yesterday by Michael Trapp, Professor of Greek at Kings’ College, as part of the Arts and Humanities Festival 2014. The most dramatic remains lie under a glass floor, appropriately in the archaeological department (photo, left below). They include a Tudor wall on the left, the chalky medieval remains on the right by a bed of stones under which was uncovered a rubbish tip dating to the time when the Saxons established the Saxon trading port of Lundenwic along the Strand.
A short distance away in the yard where Kings’ students park their bikes is a late 17th century wall (photo, right) which is the only free standing remnant of the old palace. On the other side is the entrance to what for years has been known as the Roman Bath (photo, below) partly because it was mentioned by Dickens and other authors. However, Professor Trapp has established that, although it has been used as a cold bath for periods, it was in fact a much taller structure which fed water into a spectacular fountain in the gardens of Somerset House and was nothing to do with the Romans. Another myth bites the dust.
AT AN auction in Paris in 1865 James de Rothschild, the richest man in the world – far richer than Bill Gates is today – was beaten in his bid for a painting which sold for six times its pre-sale estimate. The man who beat him was the fourth Marquess of Hertford and the painting was entitled Portrait of a Man (portrait d’un homme). Today we know it as the Laughing Cavalier, though the subject of the painting is neither smiling nor a cavalier. It was executed by Frans Hals in 1624 and it is probably one of the best-known portraits in the country if not in Europe – known somehow even to children – and would fetch well north of £100 million if it were sold today.
Except that it won’t be. It is but one of countless treasures housed in the truly impressive Wallace collection in Manchester Square London. It was a condition of the bequest to the nation (by the widow of Sir Richard Wallace, the illegitimate son of the fourth Marquess who collected most of it himself) that the collection should be on view to the public in its entirety: no painting or artefact – and goodness knows, there are plenty of them – should be lent let alone sold. Given the comparatively small area of the house this must make it the densest collection of artistic wealth in the country. And maybe anywhere. And it is free.
Where did the money come from? As with the Grosvenors it came from land and marriage. The louche 3rd Marquess of Hertford married Maria Fagnani in 1798, She was the illegitimate daughter of a former dancer who was bequeathed separate fortunes by two very wealthy men (the fourth Duke of Queensberry and George Selwyn) both of whom thought they were her father. C’est la vie. . . But a detour into the Hertford familly would need a thick book. There are so many pictures in the gallery, many of them masterpieces, including 22 Canalettos, French 18th century classics plus works by Titian, Velasquez, Rubens, Gainsborough, Reynolds and, ooh the Rembrandts, that they have to be tiered along the walls. It feels as if a multibillionaire – only one of the rare ones with taste – has run amok with his chequebook.
I like it a bit more every time I visit it, not least for its intimacy. It doesn’t even have lines forbidding you to go near the paintings. In this sense maybe it is a good thing it is a little out of the way (in Manchester Square) because too many visitors might make it difficult to retain the magic it conjures up. But that shouldn’t stop you going and maybe even making a contribution to its upkeep as you leave – after you have had a glass of wine and a snack under Norman Foster’s glorious atrium. The entire wine list is French, notwithstanding the resurgence of English and Welsh wines, doubtless because the Hertfords were such ardent Francophiles. Sir Richard himself, who had a palatial apartment in the Rue Laffitte, died in one their other French homes, the Chateau de Bagatelle in Paris. In a word that is so often overused. – not least by me – this is truly a gem of London And I only mention the paintings because that is what interests me most but lovers of furniture swoon at the collection which has more Marie Antoinette furniture than Versailles and the biggest collection of armour in the land etc, etc.
The only criticism one can think of is that there are too many dazzling paintings lined one on top of the other. If they had twice the space it would still look crowded so it is best to come regulartly and spend more time on a selected few. In between read the guide book, The Wallace Collection (Scala) which not only enables you to savour some of the smaller items you have missed but gives a glimpse of how the other half used to live. And how . . .
Little known fact: Among Sir RichardWallace’s charitable donations was 50 drinking fountains scattered around Paris which to this day are known as “Wallaces”.
Is there any other part of London that packs so much history into so small a space? The few square metres on which the statue of Charles 1 stands in Trafalgar Square is chiefly known today as the central point of London from which all distances are measured. It is also the oldest surviving reminder of Jacobean London in the square and sits exactly on the site of the much earlier Eleanor’s Cross which dates back to 1294 when Charing was a village midway between the City of London and Whitehall.
The statue itself has not always been there. It was commissioned by Richard Weston, later first Earl of Portland, in the early 1630s. The plinth was made with Portland stone – geologists have found Jurassic oysters embedded within – and reputedly designed by Christopher Wren with carvings by the eminent Grinling Gibbons. The statue first stood in the grounds of Weston’s Surrey mansion but after the execution of Charles 1, Parliament ordered its destruction.
Fortunately, the man entrusted with this task, a Holborn brazier aptly named John Rivett, hid it – probably in the crypt of St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden – while the civil war raged. After the Restoration it was rediscovered by Portland ‘s son but Rivett was unwilling to give it up until Parliament confiscated it on behalf of Charles 11 who had it erected at Charing Cross, bizarrely, looking down Whitehall at the Banqueting Hall where his father Charles 1 was executed. The Banqueting Hall and the statue are the only two structures from the period still standing. Charles has been there all the time since then except during the Second World War when he was evacuated to Leighton Buzzard.
The space near the statue was for a long time the site of a pillory (picture above) and also a place of public executions including those of the regicides who had signed Charles 1’s death warrant, most of whom are buried under the churchyard of St Margaret’s next to Westminster Abbey.
Eleanor’s Cross was erected in the early 1290s. It was the original Charing Cross, Charing being the name of a village largely owned by the Abbot of Westminster and mainly inhabited by fishermen and farmers. The cross was the last of 12 large crosses laid down at each of the places where the body of Edward 1’s beloved wife Eleanor rested overnight on its journey from Lincoln where she died to Westminster Abbey. It was part of an extravagant series of bequests that Edward, known as Longshanks because of his height, made in honour of his wife.
The cross was demolished in 1647 during the civil war and later replaced by the statue of Charles (map, left) but a Victorian copy of what it might have looked like still stands in the forecourt of Charing Cross station where it was placed to boost the attractions of the Charing Cross Hotel. Only three of the original crosses survive, all heavily restored and without their original wooden crosses on top. Some of the statues from the original Waltham Cross were transferred to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
All of the old village of Charing Cross – the Royal Mews, the village, Northumberland House and Dickens’ Golden Cross tavern – has been demolished. How Charles 1 alone managed to survive all this is hard to fathom. Maybe his ghost has been hovering near.
The “Dolphin” lamp standards have been burning gas for over 125 years
Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the great Victorian engineer, has a very modest memorial. It is embedded in a mausoleum-like wall opposite Embankment Station (see, below), easily passed by without being noticed. A few hundred yards down the road towards Blackfriars there is a much grander statue of his better known contemporary Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Maybe Bazalgette doesn’t need a statue. London is his memorial. No-one but no-one has had a greater effect on the way Londoners live than he, even including Sir Christopher Wren who left his mark over a much smaller footprint of land. If he had only built his bridges (Putney, Hammersmith and Battersea) that would be monument enough for anyone else. But Bazalgette, as chief engineer of the Metroploitan board of Works, also expanded the landmass both sides of the Thames by building embankments from Lambeth Bridge to Blackfriars. Without his achievements there would have been no land on which to build today’s world-leading entertainment complex on the south bank, nor the wonderful gardens on the north bank. He built roads such as Shaftesbury Avenue, Nothumberland Avenue and Charing Cross and shaped Clapham Common, Battersea and other parks. He even built schools. As Stephen Halliday recalls in his excellent book,The Great Stink (from which I have liberally drawn): “The millions who use his parks, streets and bridges every day rarely speculate about how they came to be built. Without Sir Joseph Bazalgette they might never have existed at all”.
But his biggest bequest by far to London cannot be seen at all. It is a vast underground system of ordinary sewers and intercepting sewers (which catch most of the sewage flowing towards theThames and divert it to treatment plants in east London). This made London a modern city.
The wrought iron lamposts with their sculpted Dolphins, which to this day run 70 feet apart – all numbered – along the length of the Embankment, are his above ground memorial. They are still lit by gas which, appropriately, they get from stretching down to the subterranean world that Bazalagette created and which plaŷed a major role in eliminating cholera, typhoid and other water-borne diseases from the Capital. They still bear the initials (MBW) of his employer the Metropolitan Board of Works (see, left) and the foundry that made them, Masefield of Chelsea. Curiously, they were not always gas fired. As Halliday recalls, large crowds gathered on the Embankment in 1878 to watch the great switch over from gas to a new invention called electricity using a technique imported from Paris. The experiment failed. Five years later they switched back to gas and have kept to it ever since.
Bazalgette did many other things that enriched London, not least beautiful sewage pumping stations such as Crossness which would feel more at home in the Victoria and Albert Museum than as part of a sewage system. It us unlikely that sewage works will ever be built like that in the future. That’s because there is unlikely ever to be a person like Bazalgette again, with the power and ability to build to replan an entire city from top to bottom.
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The extension is below the arrow on the left – and Wren’s design for the final stage on the right
The interior of Westminster Abbey is huge and sublime. But we only see part of it as the very spacious Upper Gallery or Triforium – some seven storeys high – has been closed off. But not for much longer. The Abbey is about to apply to Westminster Council to build new stairs and lifts between Poets’ Corner and the Chapter House to enable public access which is only possible at present by way of a small spiral staircase.
The model for the new access, which members of the Thorney Island Society had a preview of yesterday (see arrow, above left) shows how the Ptolemy Dean – an architect with a name even more historic than the Abbey – has tried to overcome the difficult task of harmonising the style with the rest of the Abbey. In common with many other medieval buildings it will be clad in lead rather than stone which is too bulky for the constrained space.
The Triforium, which boasts spectacular views of the inside of the Abbey, will be used as exhibition space for the numerous treasures that the Abbey is custodian of. If planning permission is granted it could be open to the public by 2017. But this doesn’t mean that building work on the present church, (technically it is not an abbey) completed by Edward the Confessor in 1160 on the site of an earlier church, will be finished. The first stage was an education centre and delightful cellarium, where I often have an afternoon coffee, while the third stage will be construction of a spire (above, right) as conceived by Sir Christopher Wren over three hundred years old. Since the original foundations were planned conservatively to support a spire there is apparently no need for further re-inforcement. All that is now needed is someone with pockets as deep as the spire is high.