Ride along the river

A portal through to happier times: the Royal Jubilee Bells in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant, June 3, 2012

Armed with a press pass for the riverside in Battersea Park, I wandered through the ill-timed June drizzle to have a look at the preparations for the most spectacular pageant to be seen along the Thames in recent times.

Seven years ago all kinds of boats were organised to celebrate HM the Queen’s sixty years on the throne and to thank her for her service to the country. But then I hadn’t learnt much about the different kinds of boats that ply the Thames, I was there for the bells. The Jubilee Bells and their part in the pageant.

Albert Bridge: STEVEN B and Bennett’s barge URSULA KATHERINE carrying the Jubilee bells lined up on June 3rd before the start of the pageant

However, looking through past pictures for this piece, I was pleased to spot tug Steven B, whom I’ve seen many times since. She was designated to push Bennett’s barge Ursula Katherine downstream with her precious cargo of Jubilee Bells and eight ringers positioned below, led by Captain of the Royal Jubilee Bells, Dickon Love. They were to lead the flotilla with their bells sounding out along the river, something that had never happened before, to be answered by the riverside churches, cathedrals and Westminster Abbey as they passed, then echoed throughout London and the country. Inspired by this evocative and imaginative element of the pageant, I decided to try to photograph as many of these as I could before the event.

Protected by STEVEN B and SWS ESSEX, the bells sound as the ringers had a final practice by Battersea Park before setting off at the head of the pageant
A pause by the Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park for the Jubilee Bells and their escort before the start of the pageant

So on a few bright days before the pageant I set off with my camera. I began at All Saints Fulham, a mustering point for some of the boats that took part in the flotilla, though the official start was at Albert Bridge. Since then their bells have been repaired by the famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry, in London, sadly now under threat from an inappropriate development as a “bell-themed” hotel.

All Saints Church, Fulham

On the opposite side of the river stands St Mary’s, Putney, from where it was possible to watch the gathering of some of the boats taking part. After an arson attack in 1973 their bells were recast by John Taylor & Co, of Loughborough, and the new peal was dedicated in 1983.

St Mary’s, Putney

The present ring of the Chelsea Old Church bells was installed in 1977 by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. The bells were funded by various donors but I liked the fact that the treble bell was given by the members of the Children’s Service and their families, the children having raised money by doing odd jobs at home or for others.

Chelsea Old Church

St Mary’s Battersea has a fine tradition of bell-ringing. Their original ring was cast by Thomas Janaway of Chelsea and after his death in 1788, his tools and equipment were bought by William Mears at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

St. Mary’s Battersea

Further downstream Westminster Abbey, so much a part of our national history, and St Margaret’s Westminster, joined in the celebration. St Margaret’s bells have fallen temporarily silent as the church is under restoration. Westminster Abbey has had a long association with the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and its present ring was cast and dedicated in 1971.

St Margaret’s Westminster in the foreground and behind, Westminster Abbey

As the flotilla passed St Paul’s Cathedral, a specially composed peal was rung to celebrate the occasion. In 2018 the bells were taken down and transported for cleaning and servicing to John Taylor & Co, where they were originally cast in 1878.

St Paul’s Cathedral

St. James Garlickhythe is the permanent home for the Jubilee bells after their starring role in the pageant. They were dedicated on June 17, 2012 and installed out of sight in the tower, from where they were rung for the first time on July 4.

St James, Garlickhythe

The passing Jubilee flotilla would have caught a quick glimpse of Southwark Cathedral and heard a part of their specially composed peal rung for the first time. The cathedral has a long tradition of bell-ringing and their bells have recently been restored by John Taylor & Co.

Southwark Cathedral

Almost hidden from view, the bells of St Magnus the Martyr answered the peal of the floating belfry as it passed by. After a chequered history with bells in the past, the bells now in place were cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry between 2008 and 2009 and dedicated on October 26, 2009.

St Magnus the Martyr with The Monument to the right

The carillon bells of All Hallows by the Tower, set a little back from the river, joined in the joyous chorus of sound with a rendition of God Save the Queen. They were cast by John Taylor & Co, in 1947 after their bells had been totally destroyed during the Blitz.

All Hallows by the Tower

Just below Tower Bridge, where the tall-masted boats unable to pass under the bridges upstream were anchored in the Avenue of Sail, stands the church of St Mary with All Saints, Rotherhithe where there is a strong tradition of bell-ringing.

St Mary Rotherhithe

The idea of a floating belfry came originally from the Diamond Jubilee Pageant Trust. Unable to fund such a venture themselves, the Trust approached the Whitechapel Bell Foundry to see if there was already a ring of bells due to be cast for a City Church to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which they could borrow for the pageant before their installation.

The timing was right: the church of St. James Garlickhythe had just taken the decision to order a new ring of bells. Between them, with the help of others, Sir Andrew Parmley, who became Lord Mayor of London 2016–17, and expert Dickon Love, author of a guide to church bells of the City of London, brought the plan to fruition.

The Jubilee Bells were cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry between February and March 2012 and are named after senior members of the Royal Family and together with other inscriptions on Prince William’s Bell, the words “Dickon Love put us here” will be an enduring testament to his tireless work on behalf of the City of London’s Bells and their history. Famous for the making of Big Ben and the Liberty Bell, many of the Whitechapel Foundry’s bells, along with those of John Taylor & Co., could be heard from the banks of the Thames as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant sailed past. Now plans for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry’s demise after over four hundred and fifty years, have been narrowly passed by the Tower Hamlets Council. In its place will stand a ‘bell themed boutique hotel’ described by protestors as “cultural vandalism”. In these days of thoughtless, easy come, easy go fashion, I wonder how long that will last… Probably nothing like five hundred years.

The casting of one of the Jubilee bells at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry © John Sutton
The Jubilee Bells on display at St. James Garlickhythe, June 2012
The Jubilee Bells installed in St. James, Garlickhythe © John Sutton

For further information:
Read the Gentle Author’s account of his visit to St. James Garlickhythe to see the Jubilee Bells.

Film: the story of the making of the Jubilee Bells with Sir Andrew Parmley, Dickon Love, and others.

Thanks to John Sutton who kindly gave me permission to use his photographs.

Sir Thomas Peirson Frank

The discreet hero who saved London from flooding during the Blitz

Five years ago, in October 2014, a memorial plaque dedicated to Sir Thomas Peirson Frank was unveiled in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament. Until then, virtually no-one knew his name yet it was his vital work that literally saved London from drowning during the Blitz. He was one of that proud and modest generation who got on with what they had to do to protect the country, and then quietly returned to their civilian lives without talking about their achievements and in many cases families were unaware of what they had done.

At the time, his work and that of his team on permanent standby to protect London from flooding, was kept out of the public eyes for reasons of national security. This was partly to give nothing away to the enemy and partly so as not to undermine public morale by making known the very serious danger that significant areas of the capital were at risk from flooding by the Thames.

And yet, this quiet, unassuming but highly efficient engineer, who served with the Royal Engineers in WW1, was at the heart of efforts to keep London as safe as possible and to keep traffic moving throughout the intensive bombing during the War. In 1939 he was appointed the London County Council coordinating officer for Road Repairs and Public Utility Services, and was knighted in 1942 for his organisation of the city’s vital infrastructure, though his flood prevention work was carefully kept secret. He remained in charge until 1945.

On his appointment as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1945 he was asked to give an account of his work in his Presidential Address, which was kindly passed on to me by his grandson, Martin Frank. Though overseeing repairs affecting services across London, he was specifically concerned with drainage, vital in a densely populated low lying area; with the Thames bridges, vulnerable to aerial attack and the construction of four temporary bridges should any become impassable; and a raft of flood defences. As early as July 1934 he was asked to help prepare a report on the parts of London most at risk from flooding. In a transcript of his report he explains “About 20 square miles of the County of London lie below the level of the highest recorded tides and about 10 square miles are below the level of ordinary spring tides.” After a serious flood in 1928 when much of central London was inundated, including sections of the Underground and the Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels, and fourteen people trapped in their basements were drowned, Peirson Frank was well aware of the problems that the city could face: the potential for far greater casualties and widespread disruption in the case of war was alarming.

The fact that his team was able to react so quickly after a breach in the Thames walls was down to his creation of four depots: Battersea Park; Southwark Park; Tunnel Avenue, Greenwich; and Pyrimont Wharf, on the Isle of Dogs. Each was manned 24 hours a day with a store of timber, tarpaulin and sandbags. They were in operation by August 24, 1940. To ensure the quickest response possible, a tug and barges loaded with sandbags were on permanent standby to carry out emergency repairs; which would have to be done as quickly as possible before high tide. Frank describes how on May 11, 1941 “the river wall at Bankside was breached, but by prompt action on the part of the depot staff, temporary protective measures were constructed before high tide which occurred about two and a half hours later.” When possible, their work was carried out at night to minimise the risk of observation by enemy spies.

The Underground tunnels passing beneath the Thames were also at risk, so the London Passenger Transport Board installed hydrophones to detect and locate unexploded bombs. They also installed floodgates to protect the rest of the system and those who sheltered in the stations during the Blitz. Precautions were taken at Blackwall and Rotherhithe road tunnels, both of which emerge on the south bank of the Thames below the high tide level. Each was fitted with a 22 ton flood gate.

In all, Peirson Frank’s teams were called to 122 bomb strikes on the river walls. Gustave Milne, Director of the Thames Discovery Programme, whose researchers have done so much to bring Sir Thomas Peirson Frank’s vital war contribution out from the shadows, explains that “Any one of those could have flooded the area behind the wall causing massive destruction and loss of life.” But it was only when he and his team noticed the many repairs in the river wall that they began to look for documentary evidence. And on searching through the London Metropolitan Archives they discovered logbooks, photographs and correspondance concerning the London County Council’s Thames Flood Prevention and Emergency Repair plans hidden or forgotten for seventy years. They were astonished by this unexpected find and by the sheer number of sites listed.

Frank’s repair to the wall in Victoria Tower Gardens can be clearly seen from across the Thames

One of the best known of Frank’s surviving repairs, for many have been completely rebuilt, is at Victoria Tower Gardens next to the House of Lords. It was struck by a large high explosive bomb on the night of April 16-17, 1941, thought to have been aimed at the Houses of Parliament. It blasted a nine-metre hole in the Thames wall, leaving a large part of Westminster exposed to flooding at the next high tide. But the team reacted quickly, filling in the breach at once with sandbags, then rubble and eventually in August, 1941, with shuttered concrete.

The repair in the wall of Victoria Tower Gardens shows how the blast extended well below the high tide mark

And you can still still the repair from both inside Victoria Tower Gardens, where there is additional strengthening to the parapet in the form of a buttress, and from the river side on the foreshore below, where broken pieces of granite from the original wall lie scattered among the stones in the mud.

Pieces of the original wall still lie scattered on the foreshore

Peirson Frank’s grandson, Martin Frank, born after his grandfather’s death said that the War, being a taboo subject for so many of that generation, the family knew nothing about his secret work until they were approached by the BBC in 2013. The producers of Coast wanted to include a section on how Frank saved London from flooding, and shortly afterwards Gustave Milne got in touch and told them of his discoveries. They already knew about his involvement with the widening of Putney Bridge, the new bridge at Wandsworth in 1940; and the demolition and construction of the new Waterloo Bridge in 1942, where you can see his name inscribed with others at the north end of the bridge. But they knew nothing of his vital flood prevention work.

The names of politicians, architects and engineers, including that of Sir Thomas Peirson Frank carved on Waterloo Bridge
Waterloo Bridge

Having made his discoveries, Gustave Milne felt strongly that Peirson Frank’s heroic work for the protection of London from flooding should be remembered, and it was at his suggestion that a plaque in his memory be fixed to his repair of the Thames wall in Victoria Tower Gardens. It was installed on October 29th, 2014 by the then Westminster City Mayor, Audrey Lewis. Grouped around her were several of Peirson Frank’s descendants, Gustav Milne, representatives from the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Greater London Authority, and the University College Institute of Archeology, together with the Thames Discovery Team, supported by the Museum of London, all of whom had played a part in uncovering and sharing the vital work of Sir Thomas Peirson Frank. Now the story of the exceptional service he gave to our country in the Second World War will live on.

Plaque commemorating Sir Thomas Peirson Frank centred on his wartime repair in Victoria Tower Gardens, still good after all these years
Plaque fixed to the wall of Sir Thomas Peirson Frank’s repair in Victoria Tower Gardens

For further information see:

The Thames Discovery Programme
For more on the temporary wartime bridges see the fascinating A London Inheritance site, whose author has many historical pictures taken by his father from 1946 to 1954.
Cover image of Sir Thomas Peirson Frank by kind permission of his grandson, Martin Frank.

The Thames Barrier

A masterpiece of British engineering and design protecting London since 1982

In 1972 Londoners were asked “If London flooded tomorrow, would you know what to do?” Well most of us didn’t. We were aware of the Thames and its tides of course but hadn’t given the possibility of flooding much thought. Not so the government, they were clearly worried and began a series of measures to raise public awareness. There were a number of public service broadcasts, articles in the press, and notices delivered to thousands of residents in low lying areas close to the river. Living near the Royal Hospital, Chelsea at the time, we received an A5 sized notice warning us about possible flooding from the sewers. Not a happy prospect. There were instructions on one side and ‘HELP’ written in big red letters on the other, which we were supposed to stick on, or wave out of an upstairs window. Luckily we never had need of it and ten years later the Thames Barrier had been completed and London protected for years to come.

Always on the alert, and taking into account information from satellites, weather ships, oil rigs and coastal stations, the Environment Agency can forecast potential danger of flooding up to thirty-six hours in advance. When computer calculations based on a combination of high spring tides, expected tidal surges, low atmospheric pressure and strong winds indicate a risk of flooding, the team at the Thames Barrier are ready to set the flood defences in motion. However, the final decision to close the barrier rests with the Thames Barrier Duty Controller.

At the time of writing the most recent closures have been on Sunday September 30 and Monday, October 1st, 2019. The Barrier has now been closed 186 times since it first came into operational service in 1982. Since its first test in November of that year, this masterpiece of British design and engineering has been operational, ready to be put into a defensive position to protect 125 square kilometres of central London from flooding. It stretches 520 metres across the Thames at Woolwich and its shining, hooded piers are a striking feature of the landscape.

A feature of the landscape: the shining hooded piers of the Thames Barrier

London has been flooded throughout its history both as a result of rising sea levels and the progressive tilting of South East England. The problem was exacerbated by the gradual embankment of the Thames in the second half of the nineteenth century, which channelled the river into an ever smaller space, so raising its level in central London.

The severe 1953 flood that struck coastal areas along the North Sea and particularly Canvey Island where fifty-nine people were drowned and 13,000 evacuated from their homes, and an earlier flood that had struck the heart of London itself in 1928, drowning fourteen people and making thousands homeless, began to concentrate minds on devising proper flood defences for the capital.

In 1954 Hansard reports that the Waverley Committee set up by Parliament, proposed that: “As an alternative to raising the banks”, which would have been likely to obscure stretches of the river from view, “the possibility and cost of erecting a structure across the Thames, which could be closed in a surge should be urgently investigated.”

However, it was not until a further review, conducted by Sir Hermann Bondi in 1967, taking the project forward, that any action took place. The site for the barrier was then fixed at Woolwich, from New Charlton across to Silvertown as part of an overall plan which included the raising of the river banks further downstream. Then a design had to be chosen.

From the forty-one plans considered, it was engineer (Reginald) Charles Draper, working with Rendel, Palmer and Tritton, who came up with the chosen solution. It was a revolutionary idea inspired by a simple gas cock in his home. He was photographed in 1981 by Gordon Gahan, overlooking the as yet incomplete barrier, proudly holding a gas ball valve like the one that had given him the idea: a poignant image as Charles Draper sadly died before the work was finished.

(Reginald) Charles Draper © Gorden Gahan

There followed ten years of modelling, testing, refinement of the design, and actual construction; longer than planned as it was the first project of its kind. There were also funding problems and a number of serious industrial disputes. The Thames Barrier finally became fully operational in November 1982 when it rose for the first time, and was officially opened by the Queen in May, 1984.

Towards the end of its construction, intrigued by reports of its innovative design, we took our young sons to see how the work was getting on. Not easy. There were no signposts. But armed with an A to Z map we got quite close and luckily spotted a workman in a hut on a nearby building site. Clearly we were not the first to have been on this trail as he produced a photocopy of a rough map with directions to a viewpoint at the top of some metal stairs. Breathtaking. The barrier really was as impressive as it had been made out to be.

These days you can see the barrier from the Thames Barrier Park, in Silvertown north of the river; the Thames Barrier Information Centre, near Woolwich, on the south side; or from a boat passing though the barrier itself. It was this last view that really brought home to me the massive achievement of all those involved with the building of London’s most important defensive structure.

Approaching the barrier from upstream, its distinctive gleaming metal-hooded piers seem to rise up through the water like dragon’s teeth warriors each with a cyclopesian eye. The closer you come, the more impressive they are.

Approaching the Thames Barrier from upstream
Reflections of the river in the round window at the top of one of the piers

The six main steel gates are D-shaped. When set in the defence position their rounded surfaces face downstream and their flat surfaces upstream. Known as rising sector gates they normally lie flat at rest in concrete sills on the river bed, allowing free movement of shipping and normal tidal flow. Operated by a hydraulics system in the towers they can be held in four positions: rest, defence, underspill and maintenance. When the barrier is used or tested, the gates are moved into place shortly after low tide to hold back the flow of the river on the upstream side and to stem the incoming tide downstream.

The Barrier fully open with gates at rest on the river bed
The Barrier fully closed with the gates in the defence position

A strong tidal surge will build up considerably more water on the seaward side so that when the tide begins to flow out the gates are gradually moved into the underspill position, allowing a carefully controlled flow upstream so as not to create a rush of water. The gates can only be lowered into their resting position once the levels on each side are the same. They can also be raised and held above the water to allow access for maintenance. In addition, there are four non-navigable gates set close to the river banks.

Two of the gates in the underspill position allowing water from the seaward side to flow upstream underneath
Controlled flow of water flowing upstream from beneath the gates in the underspill position

The decision to close the barrier is made by the Duty Controller after assessing reports from a team of flood forecasters. Taking into account the flow into the tidal Thames at Teddington, the predicted tide levels and weather conditions that can affect the height of a tidal surge, forecasters can predict the likely risk up to thirty-six hours in advance. The control room is staffed at all times. If necessary, the barrier will be closed roughly four hours before the peak of an incoming surge. Each steel gate takes ten to fifteen minutes to close, and the whole barrier an hour and a half.

Flood forecaster Alan with the Thames Barrier in the background

Flood forecaster Alan, who also runs the barrier’s Twitter feed explains that though they run monthly test closures they’ve “never had to close between May and August to protect London against a high tide since the Thames Barrier became operational in 1982. It doesn’t mean that we’re not on the lookout though.”

This year’s annual test closure was due to take place on September 29th but had to be cancelled after particularly high tides meant that the barrier had to be closed twice in three days for real, to protect London from flooding.

Workboat PROWLER moored with another craft at pier 8.

As mentioned earlier, the barrier has been closed to protect London 186 times but the exceptionally high number of fifty closures in the 2013-14 flood season caused real concern. Doubts were raised that the barrier would be able to protect the capital beyond its originally estimated lifespan of fifty to sixty years. However after a study, Dick Tappin, a member of the original team who created the barrier, wrote in 2014 that “The Thames Barrier remains fit for purpose” and provided it is properly maintained, “it will remain so to at least 2070.” This was backed up by a government study revised in 2016 saying that the Thames Estuary defences, “which include the Thames Barrier and 350 kilometres of flood walls and embankments, smaller barriers, pumping stations and flood gates” will continue to protect London throughout the century. We are fortunate that the marvel of modern engineering that is the Thames Barrier will be with us for a while yet.

Approaching the Thames Barrier from the footpath near Greenwich

For the main source of my article, with understandable, technical information and explanatory diagrams, click on the: Thames Barrier and follow @AlanBarrierEA for up-to-date info. An internet search will reveal many striking images of all kinds of ships passing through the barrier including some by Photographer Rob Powell on http://onthethames.net

All Hallows by the Tower

The oldest church in the City, inextricably bound up with the Thames and the Port of London

Just a few steps away from the tourist-thronged Tower of London stands a church, founded in AD 675 as a chapel of the abbey of Barking, that is older than and steeped in as much history as its famous neighbour. And yet only a comparatively small number of visitors make it up to the South Entrance in order to explore within.

Despite standing by a busy main road, it’s the quietness that strikes you as you step inside, though from time to time there is the faint rumbling beneath your feet of a nearby underground train. Yet its situation by the Thames, with the parish’s southern boundary being in the middle of the river, has naturally had an important effect on its life. And the Mariners’ Chapel in the south aisle reflects this.

The altar in the Mariners’ Chapel

The altar, panels, model ships, memorial plaques, and stained glass windows all bear witness to the church’s links with the sea, the river, and the Port of London. The Custom House, quays and docks were on the riverside close by.

The wooden screen behind the altar commemorates the links between the Port of London Authority and All Hallows by the Tower. In the centre of the altar a candle burns for “all seafarers who are in danger or distress”, and a prayer for all those, whoever and wherever they are, “exposed to the many dangers of the deep”.

The Crucifix above the altar in the Mariners’ chapel

The crucifix above the altar was made from a piece of wood from the Cutty Sark and the ivory figure of Christ is believed to have come from the captain’s cabin of the Spanish Armada’s flagship.

A fine model of the Cutty Sark above the altar screen catches the light

Model of a barge that used to stand in the front window of a Thames barge builder

Looking around the chapel you will see several intricately made model ships, hanging from arches, placed on furniture or in cabinets. Over the years they have been given to the church as ex votos, symbols of thanksgiving, memorials, or simply by boat builders as they moved premises.

Model of MV Royal Daffodil, a pleasure steamer. Over a number of trips she rescued 9,500 men from the shores of Dunkirk during the Evacuation in 1940
The British Trent Memorial Bell commemorating the nine seafarers who lost their lives in the North Sea on June 3rd 1993

There are a number of poignant memorials, around the church, in the chapel and in the Crypt Museum, including one for HMS Hood, sunk during the Battle of Denmark Strait in the Second World War, with the terrible loss of 1,415 lives, leaving only three survivors. Also on display is the Maritime Memorial Book, established by the Maritime Foundation in 1987 recording the names of those who “have no grave but the sea” to which names can still be added if you search their site. And on June 25, 2019, a Thames Memorial by Clare Newton was dedicated in a moving service to all those who have lost their lives in the Thames.

The Thames Memorial by Clare Newton

The church was bombed on two occasions during the Blitz: first the east end was badly damaged by a bomb in December 1940, and three weeks later the whole building was gutted by incendiary bombs, leaving only the tower and outer walls standing. However, All Hallows was fortunate at this time to have the Reverend Philip Thomas Byard Clayton, nicknamed affectionately ‘Tubby’, as its vicar.

An army chaplain during the First World War he had teamed up with another chaplain, Neville Talbot, creating Talbot House as a refuge for battlefront soldiers, an alternative to the temptations of the town of Poperinge in Belgium, where they could spend their leave. It was known as Toc H, which grew into an “international philanthropic organisation promoting ideals of service, comradeship and reconciliation.” After Clayton’s installation as Vicar of All Hallows in 1922, the church became the guild church of the movement.

On the very day that the church was bombed Clayton at once declared that it should be rebuilt. His enthusiasm and powers of persuasion had a strong impact. The foundation stone was laid by Elizabeth, the Queen consort of George VI, in July 1948. There followed practical donations in the form of various building materials and financial support from all over the world, and the church was re-dedicated in 1957.

During all this time Clayton remained vicar of All Hallows by the Tower and also chaplain to the Port of London Authority. A report in The Guardian on August 4, 1947, describes how he kept “a close eye on anything happening on the Thames” and highlighted his concern about accidents on the Tower beach. Bathing was allowed “when the tide is safe” and there were wardens to watch the children but several accidents had taken place when the beach was closed. He was also worried about the dangers posed by the ‘Iron Gate Stairs’ there. As a special precaution for the August Bank Holiday that year, Clayton arranged for a “voluntary patrol of men” to watch the Stairs from a boat.

The stained glass windows, especially in the south aisle, bear witness to the church’s close association with the sea and the river Thames. As all but two of the seventeenth-century stained glass panels were destroyed during the Blitz, the beautiful stained glass windows you can now see were all made post war. Several of them were donated by the City of London Livery Companies associated with the church.

The Port of London Authority window can be seen above the book shop
The Coat of Arms of the Port of London Authority
Detail of Port of London Authority Window with representations of the Tower of London and surrounding buildings
Detail of the Port of London Authority window: Edward Grobbe Shipowner, 1278 and John Rolff Shipwright, 1432
The window of the Company of the Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames

The church’s close links with the river can be seen again in the annual ceremony of Beating the Bounds. This is a tradition dating back to medieval times, when parishes processed around their boundaries, beating boundary markers with sticks to mark out their territorial limits. The added interest to the All Hallows’ ceremony is that part of their boundary runs along the middle of the Thames and the beating party “made up of the clergy and the Masters of the livery companies associated with the church, go out on the river in a boat to beat the water with their canes before returning to shore and continuing around the rest of the parish.”

In writing this piece I have concentrated on All Hallows’ close links with the Thames, the Port of London and shipping world-wide. However, there is much more to discover including its architectural history, which dates back to Roman times; its strong association with the Tower of London; its role in the temporary care of bodies of high profile prisoners beheaded on Tower Hill – a list of confirmed executions can be seen here; and its links with America, which will be of particular interest to my American readers.

Memorial to William Penn above an entry door to the Church of All Hallows where he was baptised on October 25, 1644 (c) Alan Levine, USA

Admiral Penn, father of William Penn who founded the colony of Pennsylvania, was also a Member of Parliament at the time and helped to save the church during the Great Fire of London in 1666 by directing some of his men from a nearby shipyard to create firebreaks to protect both St Olave, Hart Street and All Hallows, by demolishing nearby buildings. His son William was baptised in the church and educated in the church school before setting off to America. A further link is that with John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States, who married Louisa Catherine Johnson in All Hallows on July 26, 1797.

At ease with its eventful past, wide international links, and place in the fabric of both the City of London and the country, All Hallows welcomes visitors to its services, those in search of history, and those who seek space for prayer and quiet contemplation. It is today a modern, “active and inclusive Christian community”, and its associations and ties with the river Thames remain as strong as ever.

The east-facing window in the north Aisle

Using the link highlighted here, you can find out more about the history of All Hallows by the Tower

London’s Favourite Lion

Surviving war and redeployment, the South Bank Lion has become a cherished monument.

Standing majestically on the east side of Westminster Bridge is a white, sculptured lion looking down over the traffic and the thousands of commuters and tourists that stream in and out of the city every day.

Known as the South Bank Lion it has become one of London’s favourite landmarks since it was lifted onto its plinth in 1966. Yet its history doesn’t begin there. It was sculpted by William F. Woodington for James Goding’s new Lion Brewery built on the South Bank between 1836 and 1837. 

The imposing five storey brewery, designed by Francis Edwards, had an impressive river frontage dominating a stretch of the South Bank between the Hungerford railway and Westminster bridges. And Woodington’s 13 tonne lion, standing on top of the brewery, supported on its substantial base, became a well-known Thames-side landmark from the start. An engraving dated 1837 depicts an ‘aquatic festival’ on the Thames to celebrate the opening of the brewery and the lion is centre stage on top of the building.

Londoners and visitors noticed it as they passed, among them Emile Zola, exiled from France, who remembered seeing it from the room where he was staying at the Savoy. He describes the morning mist slowly parting, giving the impression that the lion was suspended in mid air. “It amused me greatly […] to see the British lion waiting to bid us good day.”

The lion is made out of Coade stone a durable, very strong weather resistant artificial stone that was manufactured close to the brewery. Businesswoman Mrs. Eleanor Coade perfected the recipe and the firing process, and her firm became the very successful Coade’s Artificial Stone Manufactory. Believed to have been lost since the closure of the factory in the mid-nineteenth century, the recipe has been rediscovered, improved, and is now manufactured by Coade Ltd. in Wiltshire.

The lion, in its natural white colour, stands on top of the building surveying the scene. Artist: E. W. Radcliffe. C. 1850. This image is reproduced by kind permission of the London Borough of Lambeth, Archives Department

From prints dated around 1837, it appears that the lion began its life in the original white Coade stone but a letter to The Times dated December 1st, 1948, from Geoffrey Hoare, whose family took over the Lion Brewery in 1924, makes it clear that the lion had, at some stage been painted red. He writes that his family, who owned the much older Red Lion Brewery by St. Katharine Docks “had thought about objecting to the ‘Lion Brewery’ having their lion red, but did not bother about it as ours was so much better known in the brewing trade.”

In 1931 the main building was badly damaged by fire but the lion survived and remained on top of the parapet. The site was used by the London Waste Paper Company, then stood derelict, miraculously escaping destruction throughout the Blitz, while surrounding buildings were hit and razed to the ground. It was eventually pulled down in 1949, and the lion saved, to make way for the Royal Festival Hall, which was a major feature of the development for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

As plans advanced for the Festival, King George VI studied the details and expressed an interest in both this lion and a smaller one that had stood above the main entrance away from the river. After consultations, it was agreed by the London County Council that “in view of their historical and sentimental interest, as well as their intrinsic value, that the lions would be preserved” and incorporated somehow in the Festival of Britain. This was in no small part due to King George’s affection for these lions, which had survived the Blitz and symbolised the spirit of British resilience, so perfectly matching the theme of the Festival.

A noble symbol of British resilience

The smaller lion was eventually given to the Rugby Football Union in 1971, its centenary year, and now royally resplendent in gold leaf, it stands above the Lion Gate, behind the west stand at Twickenham.

The lowering of the lion from the old brewery rooftop in 1949 was very difficult. A journalist from the Manchester Guardian wrote that “the building looks as though it might crumble at any moment, and the lion in its cradle did not complete its journey to the ground that day.” As restoration began on the sculpture, a bottle was found within it containing a trade card from Routledge & Greenwood, once owners of the Coade building, with the name of the sculptor Woodington on the reverse. There were also some George IV coins, and underneath one of the lion’s paws were Woodington’s initials W.F.W. and the date, May 24th, 1837.

Now the magnificent lion that had watched over his stretch of the Thames for more than a hundred years found himself restored, cleaned, repainted in red gloss and set on a plinth outside Waterloo Station next to one of the entrances to the Festival of Britain. At the time this was a fitting place as the British Rail logo included a red lion as part of its design. A photograph belonging to the Borough of Lambeth archives shows the lion still in position in 1958. By 1966 however, in a letter to The Times, a representative of the Greater London Council explains that “British Railways need the lion’s present site” for redevelopment adding that “this majestic animal weighs several tons and moving it will be no easy task.”

The Lion in Winter

Indeed it was not easy but the lion was once again restored and carefully returned to its original white colour. A copy of The Times dated March 17, 1966 was added to the objects found in 1949 and replaced within the sculpture.

The historical plaque fixed to the plinth on which the lion is standing

The move was completed on April 3rd, 1966 and in 1981 the lion, from then on known as the South Bank Lion was given protection with a Grade II* listing by English Heritage.

The South Bank Lion standing before a more recent London landmark

London, and particularly Westminster, is crowded with historical statues of varying quality and grandiosity, commemorating heroes, politicians and personalities, some of whom have faded from the public consciousness and others that will remain at the forefront of our history. But this noble lion is a symbol for all of us, and if you take the time to look at him, you will see that there is also something infinitely touching about his sad, world-weary eyes…

The South Bank Lion standing proudly at the East End of Westminster Bridge