Monthly Archives: April 2011

Terrible illustrations of the Royal Wedding outside London venues

Prince William as a zombie? Kate Middleton with a dislocated arm? Still, they’ve captured his receding headline and at least he has his father’s ears.

Check out Kate’s adams apple and Cruella De Vil grey streak.

I’m sure there are more out there. Enjoy the big day. I’ll be doing the gardening.

Secret London: more bits of lost London Bridge + Lorne Greene

Last week, I looked at where parts of Old London Bridge had ended up after the medieval bridge was demolished in the 1830s. But the story does not end there.

The new London Bridge, built by John Rennie, only lasted 140 years before it too was replaced, rendered obselete by the invention of the motor car. Rennie’s bridge was, famously and rather brilliantly, sold to Americans and moved to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where it has become a tourist attraction.

The story that the Americans thought they were really buying Tower Bridge is almost certainly apocryphal. The bridge in Arizona was opened by the Lord Mayor of London at a banquet at which the master of ceremonies was Bonanza’s Lorne Greene.

Then they made a film about the bridge starring Greene, Tom Jones, Kirk Douglas, The Carpenters, Charlton Heston, Rudolf Nureyev, Terry-Thomas and Engelbert Humperdink. It was called The Special London Bridge Special and here it is in full.

But although the Americans paid £1 million for the bridge, they didn’t get the lot and a small selection of bits and bobs were left behind.

Some of the oddest remnants of the bridge can be found in Kew Gardens, where four granite blocks from the bridge are used as a feeding platform for waterfowl. Further granite blocks can be seen outside the Mudlark pub on Montigue Close, SE1, where they were placed to mark the Silver Jubilee in 1977, and there are two more on the pavement nearby, at the southern end of the Rennie bridge.

And there’s more. On the previous post, London Remembers reports ‘there’s a piece of granite behind the Duke of Wellington statue at Bank, commemorating his involvement with the London Bridge Approaches Act 1827.’

Other remaining bits of bridge are an abutment and arch at Tooley Street and the outer wall of the river steps up to the old bridge on the north bank. Finally, under the first arch of the new bridge on the north side hang four City of London lamps, which are also believed to have originally come from the Rennie bridge.

Just nobody tell Lorne Greene, okay?

Secret London: the Mail Rail

A group of Urban Explorers have managed to get inside what some people consider the holy grail of subterranean London – the Mail Rail. This is the mini-underground railway that used to take letters along tracks to different station/sorting offices located deep beneath London streets.

The Mail Rail stretches from Paddington to Whitechapel and is still more or less intact, despite having been mothballed nearly a decade ago in 2002. Silent UK managed to gain access and then explored the full length from the track, investigating and photographing nine stations along six miles of track.

Read the lot here – it’s an extraordinary story.

You can watch a film about Mail Rail here.

Marf: City Blues at the Guildhall Art Gallery

My review of Marf: City Blues, an exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery, appears in the Independent.

The Guildhall in the City is an appropriate venue for a series of cartoons about the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath. Marf is Canadian, but her cartoons are all set in London, and the Gherkin, St Paul’s and the tube all make appearances. The exhibition is on until June 20.

The Guildhall has recently become a free venue, which is slightly contrary to current trends, but the City of London has always done things a bit differently. It has a wonderful collection of London-related paintings, and is definitely worth a visit, and there are also plans to host regular paid-for temporary exhibitions. Marf, however, is free. The intention is that local workers, who are overwhelmingly from the financial services, will come to the gallery in their lunchtime to nose around.

I wonder what they will make of cartoons like the following when they do? Water off a duck’s back, probably.

Secret London: finding bits of lost London Bridge

When Old London Bridge was demolished in 1831, it was decided with typical Victorian frugality to sell off some of the old bits and bobs of stonework. Although they were ostensibly part of the medieval bridge, they had largely been added during an 18th-century reconstruction. The best surviving examples are the old stone alcoves.

There were originally 14 of these covered domes at the end of the piers. They looked rather like curved stone bus shelters and were so sturdy and useful that four still survive.

Two now stand in Victoria Park, having arrived here some time in the 1860s and offering a pleasant seat from which to view passing parklife or shelter from London rain.

One other stands in isolation in a courtyard in the grounds of Guy’s Hospital (now with a statue of John Keats as the London Historians blog explains), while the fourth, somewhat bizarrely, has ended up in the garden of a block of flats in East Sheen. This is the Courtlands Estate, and there were originally two alcoves, or ‘porter’s rests’, but one ‘disappeared’ during renovation in the 1930s, as did some balustrading from the Bridge that was used as a wall. Further balustrading was taken to Herne Bay, but this was lost in the storm of 1951.

An arch from the bridge was discovered in 1921 during the rebuilding of Adelaide House, but this was deemed too expensive to preserve and was destroyed. One stone, though, survived, and is now preserved in the churchyard of St Magnus the Martyr

One final bit of the bridge that survives can be seen above the door of the King’s Arms on Newcomen Street in Borough. This was the coat of arms that had been added to Stonegate – the bridge tollgate – during rebuilding in 1728 but was demolished in 1760.

Update Since writing this I have learnt of more rescued balustrades from Old London Bridge. These sit in Myddleton House Gardens in Enfield alongside a piece of the original St Paul’s Cathedral, which burnt down in 1085.

Maps round-up

A quick post on maps. I have a small piece in the Independent about the Museum of London and Londonist’s forthcoming collaboration, Hand-Drawn London. This exhibition, opening on April 21, features maps drawn by Londoners.

I submitted a map drawn by four-year-old daughter of her daily walk to nursery, but it was harshly rejected. I have reproduced it here.

I have also been posting fairly regularly on maps at the Time Travel Explorer blog. Recent posts have included one on London’s first lido and another on London’s forgotten exhibition.

London’s seven statues of shame

When Mohamed ‘Al’ Fayed unveiled this extraordinary tribute to Michael Jackson at Craven Cottage, seasoned statue-watchers found themselves embroiled in a furious debate. Was this London’s worst statue?

Note: the statue is the one in the background

And then there are these: London’s statues of shame.

7. Peter The Great in Deptford
Because it is silly.


6 Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace
Pompous and bloated.

5 Charles II at Soho Square
For its condition as much as its, er, execution. But even if this wasn’t horribly weathered, I reckon it would look a bit shit.

File:Statue of King Charles II in Soho Square.jpg

4 Oscar Wilde at Charing Cross
Disturbing. Like somebody tried to find the face of Jesus in a puddle of vomit.

3 Nelson Mandela at Parliament Square
I know, let’s imagine one of the great icons of the modern era, as if he was a THUNDERBIRDS PUPPET! The nearby statue of David Lloyd George’s cape is also appalling.


2. Horse’s head at Marble Arch
Stupid. Not to be confused with the almost as ridiculous Animals at War statue down the road on Park Lane.

1 The Meeting Place at St Pancras
Widely acclaimed as the worst statue in London, this monstrosity was brought to you by the same person responsible for the hideously smug Queen Mother statue on the Mall.

For a forensic analysis of this statue and its fauls, I point you towards Christopher Fowler‘s excellent critique of its numerous deficencies.

But the question remains: is Jacko worse than this?

Cult Of Beauty at the V&A

The V&A’s Cult of Beauty exhibition opened over the weeked. You can read my feature on the Aesthetic movement in the Independent on Sunday.

The highlight of the exhibition comes right at the end. Alfred Gilbert’s statue of Eros, or to be more precise Anteros, or to be even more precise, The Angel of Christian Charity, is easily overlooked in its usual home of Piccadilly Circus, located as it is in the second worst place in all of London. But lowered to eye level and removed of surrounding neon, tourists and traffic, it turns out to be a figure of real beauty, simultaneously delicate and robust, and gleaming in its shiny aluminium (this is a recent cast).

The rest of the exhibition is similarly eye-catching, as you wander round the gallery following what seems to be an endless procession of portraits of dark-haired, brown-eyed women painted between 1860 and 1900 by the Aesthetes. William Brown, the fictitious schoolboy and one of my chief inspirations, always admitted a soft spot for a certain kind of women: dark-haired, brown-eyed and dimpled. He was clearly inspired by the Aesthetes.


The Muppets in London

The Muppets have a long relationship with London. That’s partly because Jim Henson lived in Camden from 1977 and opened his workshop, the Jim Henson Creature Shop, in the area, filming many of the Henson films in London. A rather fantastic Muppets walk with all locations – including a Muppets bench on Hampstead Heath – can be found on the Camden website here.

Henson’s first workshop was at 1b Downshire Hill, NW3. It was initially used for the production of The Dark Crystal but remained in use from the late 1970s to 1990. It is said it had to be closed after neighbours complained about the strange smells coming from the factory, which reminds me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

You can watch a (rather scratchy) tour of (I think) the second Creature Shop here.

I visited this second Creature  Shop in 2000 on the invitation of a model-maker who I met in a Camden pub. There was a definite magical/spooky Roald Dahl quality to the experience. This Creature Shop was located on Oval Road overlooking the canal, and was a huge mysterious building filled with puppets of all sizes. This is where the puppets for Animal Farm, 101 Dalmatians and The Muppet Christmas Carol were made.


The Creature Shop closed in 2005 and the building has since been demolished, but you can see London’s influence on the Muppets in a number of films. Here are five of my favourites.

1 ‘Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner’
This is from the time when Chris Langham was writing the Muppets. It’s an early, possibly rather clumsy, stab at celebrating London’s multiculturalism, and thus the sort of thing that would make Rod Liddle cry.

2 Burlington Bertie From Bow
A great version of one of the great London Music Hall songs, a repeated inspiration for Muppets songs.

3 The London Fog
Kermit reports from ‘London, England’ and interviews a cockney frog and a Beefeater.

4 The Muppets Christmas Carol
The superior Dickens adaptation is all London, obviously, but this first meeting with Michael Caine’s Scrooge sets the scene nicely. Plus: singing pigeons.

5 Wotcher (Knocked ‘Em In The Old Kent Road)
Another Music Hall classic, with Fozzie Bear dressed as a Pearly King (or possibly as an Old Compton Street stroller).

Among the moles at the Grant Museum

My short piece about the recently reopened Grant Museum of Zoology appears in today’s Independent.

If you haven’t been to the Grant Museum in either its old or new guises, do go and check it out one lunch break. This is the only museum in the country where you can see 18 baby moles stuffed in a sweet jar.

It also has one of only seven quagga skeletons that are known to exist in the world. The discovery of the quagga says much about the delightful way the Grant goes about its business.

The museum had two zebra skeletons, but curators were convinced that one was actually a quagga, so in the 1970s they got an expert to make the requisite calculations.  To their delight it turned out that one of the zebras was indeed a quagga, and this was unveiled to great publicity. However, less happily, it seemed that the other zebra was actually a donkey. Both are now displayed in the new museum, the quagga in pride of place near the entrance, the donkey out of sight on the first-floor balcony. But zebras, there are none.

Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL, Rockefeller Building, 21 University Street, WC1E 6DE. Open Mon-Fri, 1-5pm.