Tag Archives: London Bridge

The last bus to London Bridge

In the previous post, I linked to The Special London Bridge Special from 1972, which features Tom Jones travelling on a No 13 bus to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where London Bridge had just been sold. Incredibly, that bus is still in Arizona but it isn’t in quite the same condition as the bridge.


Thanks to Travis Elborough for the picture. Travis – who has just published London Bridge In America: The Tall Story of A Translantic Crossing – also pointed me in the direction of this marvellous song by Cilla Black, lamenting love and the loss of London Bridge.

The Special London Bridge Special

This sensational slice of ham and song was made in 1972 to celebrate the purchase of London Bridge by an American theme park. It features a bizarre cast that includes Tom Jones, Rudolf Nureyev, The Carpenters, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston and Terry-Thomas and is basically the film the Olympic opening ceremony could have been.

It’s all here, but watch the intro especially, featuring Tom Jones singing his way round various London landmarks before engaging in a small slice of double entendre on a No 13 bus.

The Shard: ‘There hasn’t been a building like this in living memory’

View from the top floor of the Shard in September 2011

Throughout 2011 and 2012, the Shard has risen on the London horizon, a totem pole wrapped in glass that gets taller by the day and is now impossible to ignore. Not yet finished, it’s been the tallest building in the UK since December 2010 and when completed later this year will be the tallest in Europe, topping out at 310m (1,017 feet). The Shard stretches 72-storeys (although the mast on top takes it to the equivalent of 87 storeys) and will offer 1.2 million square feet of floor space. They say that on a clear day you will be able to see all the way to France from the top of Renzo Piano’s elegant skyscraper, and while that may be rather fanciful, the impact it will have on London is certainly far-reaching.

London is a city with plenty of tall buildings but the Shard is something else. Few buildings have so divided public opinion. ‘It is grotesquely out of scale with other London landmarks,’ says Jonathan Jones, the Guardian’s art critic, while Sir Terry Farrell, the architect, says, ‘It’s got style and it is a phenomenon. If we come back in ten years, people will feel affectionate towards it.’ The Shard’s developer, a straight-talking cockney called Irvine Sellar, cuts to the chase. ‘There hasn’t been a building like this in living memory,’ he says.

It all began in the late 90s, when Sellar purchased an unlovely office block near London Bridge station. After the government indicated they would support high-density buildings that were built near transport hubs, he decided to ‘maximise the potential’ of the one acre site by building a skyscraper. ‘We decided that if we wanted planning permission we had to get an international architect,’ recalls Sellar. ‘We met Renzo Piano in March 2000 in Berlin. He saw the beauty of the river and the railways and the way their energy blended and began to sketch in green felt pen on a napkin what he saw as a giant sail or an iceberg. The Shard emerged from that piece of paper.’

It took another nine years for construction to begin after English Heritage, St Paul’s and the Tower of London objected to the impact the Shard would have on London’s skyline. A spokesperson from English Heritage offers a view shared by many: ‘We have never denied the Shard as a piece of architecture with merit. Our problem is that it is in the wrong place – it is overwhelming and dominating –and in the backdrop of government protected views of St Paul’s Cathedral.’ Critics cite the fact the Shard looms over the dome of St Paul’s when viewed from Parliament Hill.

Irvine Sellar in the Shard

Sir Terry Farrell has built plenty of tall buildings and has also worked with English Heritage. He offers an interesting insight on London’s protected views. ‘We have created these visual roads in the sky,’ he says. ‘These rather ludicrous and arbitrary imaginary sky corridors around St Paul’s. I spoke to a Parisian who told me “You British really do puzzle me. In Paris, Haussmann arranged all the roads in long boulevards so you have these long vistas, but you Londoners have Haussmannised the sky even though it is a mess on the ground.” I mean, what’s wrong with seeing the Shard from Parliament Hill? If you really don’t like it, walk 20 yards to one side and the view will be different.’

The development went to a public enquiry, which Sellar won. ‘There is a case to protect certain sightlines,’ he admits. ‘But we’re not living in a museum. We didn’t want a public enquiry but it did make us think a little bit harder and as a result we’ve ended up with a better building.’

The Shard is unusual among London skyscrapers in that it will contain offices, restaurants, a hotel, public viewing gallery and apartments. Sellar says he always wanted a mixed-use building because he didn’t want to rely on any one sector for income, but it was Piano who pushed for what could be the most important aspect of the building –the public galleries right at the top. ‘Renzo thought it was vital the building was open to the public. That didn’t bother me at first, but it does now because we’ve built a building that Londoners feel they own –they can eat there, sleep there and view there.’ Farrell believes that this factor could make it London’s answer to the Empire State Building.

One positive part of the development that English Heritage does acknowledge is the regenerating effect it will have on London Bridge. ‘We have created a new quarter for London,’ says Sellar. Next to the Shard, Sellar is constructing a 17-storey office and retail building called the Place and the company is also assisting Network Rail in refurbishing London Bridge station. ‘That’s what tall buildings do,’ says Farrell. ‘They create a massive amount of demand and that brings in revenues and taxes that allow the council to sort out the immediate area.’

The overall effect on the neighbourhood will be immense and John Corey, chairman of the Bermondsey Forum, says local reaction is positive to the Goliath on their doorstep. ‘We feel it will put the area on the map. The area between London Bridge and Waterloo will become the third biggest economic region in London.’ A new outpost of the White Cube art gallery has opened on Bermondsey Street, and other developments will surely follow the money. Locals, though, are keen to strike a balance between existing independent shopping destinations like Borough Market and Bermondsey Street, and the new businesses that are soon to arrive.

Shane Clarke, Deputy CEO for Team London Bridge, the area’s Business Improvement District, says ‘There are some dissenting voices on the aesthetics, but there’s a feeling it’s going to be a huge driver for regeneration. But some local shops don’t want the big brands coming in on the back of regeneration, and we agree. We have the riverfront which is corporate and touristy and then we have Bermondsey Street which is more bohemian – both those areas complement each other very nicely and we want to create a gradual transition from the corporate shiny stuff to the independent shops on Bermondsey Street.’

The upshot is a striking building that will dominate the London skyline for generations, as well as transform a neighbourhood, one way or another. ‘It’s an amazing feeling to create this sort of building,’ says Sellar. ‘The Shard will be instantly recognisable around the globe like the Taj Mahal or the Sydney Opera House. We may not always be the tallest building in Europe, but we will be the most beautiful.’

This article first appeared in bthere, the magazine for Brussels Airlines magazine.

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: 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.

Waxworks at war

The other day I headed to London Bridge to investigate Winston Churchill’s Britain at War Experience, a peculiar attraction on Tooley Street next to the London Dungeon that opened in 1992.

This strange place attempts to recreate the experience of wartime London feels rather like a private collection of eccentric memorabilia that has been thrown together in a space under a railway arch. There are no shiny monitors and well-lit cases; some of the labels are handwritten.

I quite liked it, although not at the £13 it would have cost if Laura at About London hadn’t got me in for free.

It begins with a film screened in a mocked-up air raid shelter, features various displays about life in London during the war (evacuation, fashion, rationing, entertainment, land girls), has a real Anderson Shelter to sit in and ends with a gloriously dramatic and gruesome life-size reconstruction of a bombed pub, complete with smoke and severed limbs.

What I liked best, were the waxworks. You don’t get many waxworks in museums these days but there are loads at the Britain At War Experience and they are mostly terrible. Unfortunately, I only managed to photograph a couple, missing out on the frightening one of a small child asleep in an air-raid shelter, looking like a little corpse, and also a brilliant Winston Churchill with a head the size of Gibraltar (this may in fact be physically accurate).

But here are the ones I got.

This one is quite normal. It’s a man using a switchboard. It shows what they can do with waxworks when they put their mind to it.

But then they get progressively weirder. This woman with a massive nose is demonstrating wartime fashion, although I think she is actually a man who dresses like a woman to avoid war service and because he likes the freedom it offers him.

This woman is a fire warden with a bad back. 

At the end, in the bombed pub, this woman can be seen bravely selling tea even though she has clearly suffered terrible burns and should be taken to the nearest hospital. This could be to demonstrate the implacability of London spirit during the Blitz, or it could be because they ran out of artificial hair.

So there you go, if you like weird wartime waxworks and have thirteen quid to spare, get down to Tooley Street before they all come alive and take over the London Bridge Quarter.