Watching the river…

The tidal Thames and its endlessly restless water…

Gazing down at the water is like watching a continuously moving work of art; tides, wind, weather, and the wash of passing boats all changing the texture of the surface and reflections into an infinite variety of shapes and patterns. An alternative focus and escape into another dimension. Here are some moments from the past year captured, frozen in time…


Chill Wind I
Chill Wind II
Migratory black-headed gulls alight on wind-ruffled water
Lion drinking from a silky-smooth high tide
Softly, softly black-headed gull
Blue silk
Clear water


Reflections 1
Reflections II
Reflections III
Reflections IV


Troubled by a Thames Barrier closure


Glitter Path I
Glitter Path II
Glitter Path III
Glitter Paths IV

As I wrote last June, “There are those who, through their long experience of work on the Thames, understand its moods, complexities and dangers.” But for me, escaping for a while from the state of the world, I have looked down at the water from the safety of Victoria Tower Gardens, struck by the beauty and constant changing of its surface patterns, shapes and colours, etched by winds and painted by skies.

Lights to lighten the darkness

Street lighting on Central London’s Thames Bridges

There’s something magical about cities at night and London is no exception, particularly with the recently created Illuminated River art project lighting nine central London Thames bridges from below. However lighting of some kind for the roadways above has been in place for the safety of pedestrians and traffic almost since the bridges were first built, and a number of the more decorative designs between Tower and Putney Bridges are well worth a closer look.

Tower Bridge
The bright light blue of the lamps leading up to the central section of the bridge are part of the existing blue and white colour scheme designed for the steel hangers, suspension chains balustrades, and the bascules of the bridge itself. But there is, if you’re on the look-out for it, one rather strangely shaped lamp, in fact a chimney connected to a coal fire once used in what was a guard room below. It fell out of use after the introduction of the Clean Air Act in 1956, which prohibited the emission of “dark smoke”, so banning the use of coal, apart from smokeless fuel, from any chimney on any building.

Lamps leading up to Tower Bridge
The chimney plainly visible from above or below when you’re looking for it
The chimney rising from below, manufactured by Durham Bros.

London Bridge

Standard modern, municipal lighting the roadway

Southwark Bridge

Southwark Bridge, with its decorative lanterns clearly visible
Close-up of a decorative street lamp on Southwark Bridge

The Millennium Bridge
Nicknamed to begin with as the “Wobbly Bridge”, due to a design fault by architects Foster & Partners, now rectified, the walkway of this slender and elegant footbridge is lit from the side. Its incorporation into the Illuminated River Project saw artist Leo Villareal develop Foster’s orignal idea of a “blade of light” into pulses of light along the side of the bridge, echoing the movements of people crossing, creating silhouettes enhancing the structure like a moving picture with a constant stream of images.

Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge
A closer look at one of the street lamps on Blackfriars Bridge

Waterloo Bridge

Waterloo Bridge with unremarkable modern street lighting

The Golden Jubilee Footbridges
Lighting on the Golden Jubilee Footbridges, which run both sides of the Hungerford Railway Bridge, is now more intense as the already existing lights have been modified and incorporated into the Illuminated River art project.

Lighting structures on the Golden Jubilee footbridge, the upstream side of the Hungerford Railway Bridge

Westminster Bridge
Visitors to London crossing the bridge naturally focus on the Palace of Westminster, the tall Elizabeth Tower and clock, known more widely as Big Ben, though that, as you might know, is actually the sonorous bell which has marked so many national events. But stop for a moment and consider the lanterns. Created in the Tudor-Gothic style by Sir Charles Barry, to match that of the Houses of Parliament, they are strikingly elegant, subtly changing colour along with the quality of daylight. Look closely and you’ll notice a tribute to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, a V&A in the centre as part of the design.

Westminster Bridge with its elegant Neo-Gothic lamps designed by Sir Charles Barry to match the newly rebuilt Palace of Westminster
One of the Westminster Bridge lamps contrasting with the modern structure of the London Eye
Sunlight catching the tinted glass of a lantern on Westminster Bridge

Lambeth Bridge
1932 saw the opening of Lambeth Bridge by George V and Queen Mary, and the style of its street lighting reflects the Art Deco fashion of the day.

Lambeth Bridge just after sunset as its Illuminated River lighting begins to come into its own below
The two types of lamps on Lambeth Bridge: double lamps on granite pillars placed above the piers, separated along the bridge by single lamps on steel latticework stands

Chelsea Bridge

Chelsea Bridge
The two pairs of light bearing pillars on Chelsea Bridge are decorated on each side, this one with a golden galleon and the old London County Council coat of arms, the wavy lines on the lower part of the shield represent the Thames

Albert Bridge
The Victorian lamps light up the roadway at night, and the whole bridge is illuminated by thousands of LED bulbs, delighting all those who walk, drive, or sail past.

Albert Bridge linking Chelsea to Battersea
Albert Bridge with its original toll booths and row of street lamps

Battersea Bridge
In 1992, English Heritage approved the restoration of the bridge to its original appearance. Removed during WW2 the lamps had been replaced with replicas, and exterior lighting experts DW Windsor undertook the refurbishment of the lanterns and columns “which were broken and had been damaged from years of use.”

Battersea Bridge

Putney Bridge
Taken by Wal Daly-Smith on his way under Putney Bridge, this photo shows a fleeting glimpse of two of the fine lamps that light the roadway above. These ornate, Victorian cast-iron lamp posts and lanterns have been carefully looked after by Wandsworth Borough Council and restored by specialists J.W. Lighting.

Putney Bridge ©Wal Daly-Smith
One of the Putney Bridge Lanterns restored by J.W. Lighting

Of course there is attractive lighting on Thames Bridges further upstream such that as on Hammersmith, Kew, and Richmond Bridges but hopefully that will be for another time…

Further information
Bridge House Estates: City Bridge Trust
See The Historic England Blog
Visit Know your London
Look at The Londonist
Clic here for Port of London Authority article on central London bridges

With the birds…

…in Victoria Tower Gardens and over the Thames

Unlike many patient photographers, huddled in huts at unsocial hours waiting for a rare visitor to frame in a perfect shot, my encounters with birds are mostly completely random. They’ve been mainly in and around Victoria Tower Gardens, where crows rule and seem to coexist with the gulls, pigeons, ducks and parakeets. I have, over time, as well as the birds photographed below, seen coal tits, blue tits, blackbirds, and the strewn evidence of hawk activity but as yet have been unable to film them in any detail. Here below are pictures of the birds that I have been able to observe in this much-loved, pocket-handkerchief, Thames-side park, so join me for a few moments of escape into the natural world.

Noisy, busy and entertaining to watch, the crows feed on the lawn, from proffered or left picnic morsels, and on the Victoria Tower Gardens’ foreshore where they find an abundance of small shellfish and other creatures.

Crow collecting twigs for a nest
Part of the crow courtship ritual
Crow with tasty snack
Crow looking quizzically, or impatiently

There seems to have been an increase in the number of cormorants along Lambeth Reach in recent years. They often choose to rest on one of the Palace of Westminster markers floating on the river. I’ve seen them further upstream along non-tidal stretches of the Thames, such as at Pangbourne the other day, where their prodigious talent for fishing rivals that of local anglers, and so they are not always welcomed.

A Palace of Westminster marker, a favourite resting place for cormorants
Cormorant stretching its wings out to dry

Despite the fast flowing tidal currents along this stretch of the Thames, geese often make an appearance, sometimes with their goslings. Egyptian geese seem particularly fearless, finding food on the grass in the park and along the foreshore, or taking up positions on the embankment wall.

Egyptian goose perching on the Victoria Tower Gardens’ embankment wall
A pair of greylag geese, their feet visible through the clear, momentarily undisturbed water along the foreshore
A pair of Canada geese with three goslings finding food on the foreshore

Much rarer here than geese are swans, occasionally passing by, either afloat or in flight.

A pair of swans heading downstream
A pair of swans flying upstream past Lambeth Palace

There are always a few ducks on this stretch of the Thames. The Mallards live around here permanently and can often be seen dozing on the Lambeth Bridge Piers, or on the embankment wall.

Resting but ever watchful: two Mallard ducks on a wall by Lambeth Bridge
This Tufted duck was a rare visitor
And even rarer, a pair of Gadwell swam past one day: the drake on the left, the hen on the right

Notoriously difficult to tell some from others, I’ve come across three distinctive types of gull: the lesser black-backed gulls, herring gulls and black-headed gulls, the latter winter here, adding extra life to the park and its foreshore.

Lesser black-backed gull on the remains of a structure on the Victoria Tower Gardens’ foreshore
Herring gull with a shellfish of some sort
A pitying, or pleading look from a friendly herring gull, nicknamed Bonzo
Immature gull holding a yew twig
One of our winter visitors: an elegant black-headed gull in flight, its winter plumage just a faint mark behind the eyes
Black-headed gull with its changing plumage almost complete, ready for the breeding season

And others…
…including magpies, parakeets, wood pigeons, London pigeons, and robins.

A magpie perched as if part of the decor, on the Buxton Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens
Green, ring-necked parakeet looking out over the Thames from a nest in one of Victoria Tower Gardens’ plane trees
Fluffed up wood pigeon on the lush, green lawn of Victoria Tower Gardens
A typical London pigeon, always ready to clean up picnic crusts and crumbs, unless the crows get there first
A robin in challenging mode, one of at least two with territories in Victoria Tower Gardens at the moment
Robin perched at one of the entrances overseeing Victoria Tower Gardens. The emblem below its perch is the logo of the Royal Parks

Now the fate of Victoria Tower Gardens as a public park hangs in the balance as it is the subject of an Appeal against a decision to build over, and dig deep below, a large portion of the space, which apart from other downsides, risks damage to the mature plane trees and wildlife, especially birds. Let us hope the the Appeal succeeds…

Further information
To see a greater variety of birds, you can go to London’s beautifully maintained haven of peace St. James’s Park just half a mile away.
Familiar London Birds
Explore The London Wildlife Trust
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: RSPB
Photo Essay on Herring Gull Plumage
Save Victoria Tower Gardens Appeal
Thanks to garden designer Louise Venter for advice on robins. You can follow her on Twitter @Louise_Venter
Thanks to Master Thatcher Chris Dodson Follow him on Twitter @c_dodson_thatch
Thanks to Ian Young Follow him on Twitter @ianyoung33
Thanks to Kabir Kaul Follow him on Twitter @Kaulofthewilduk

The Vauxhall Bridge statues

Out of sight to road users…

…and mostly ignored by river users focussed on navigating safely through the arches, Vauxhall Bridge has eight large bronze statues, four on each side, allegorical figures representing, Science, Fine Arts, Education, Local Government, Agriculture, Architecture, Engineering and Pottery. Commissioned by the London County Council, they were installed in 1907.

The sculptures are mounted on plinths in alcoves set upon the bridge piers but being below the level of the parapet, they are invisible from the roadway. The best full views are from the river but the safest views are from the embankments, so as not to obstruct river traffic, though they are further away and more difficult to see. A good way to study them in detail is to use a pair of binoculars. Leaning over the parapet for an even closer look at the heads is possible but only with care.

The sculptors, Alfred Drury and Frederick Pomeroy, were part of what was known as the New Sculpture movement, which came into being during the late nineteenth century. The Victorian Web states that the movement “does not represent one singular style, but rather a range of approaches to make sculpture more dynamic and life-like.” Both Drury and Pomeroy were known for their architectural sculpture, and the approach to the statues on Vauxhall Bridge, though coming from their background of structural ornementation, resulted in the creation of symbolic, yet more natural-looking figures with thoughtful faces and a feeling of movement in their demeanour and flowing draperies.

Vauxhall Bridge with its empty plinths © Lambeth Borough Council. Image reproduced by kind permission of the Archives Dept, London Borough of Lambeth

Above is an interesting photograph of Vauxhall Bridge with its empty niches before the installation of the statues. And below is the scene on the bridge as the statue representing the Fine Arts, holding a sculptured figure and an artists’ palette, is raised into the air before being lowered over the parapet into position. About twice life-size, she is cast in bronze and weighs, as do all the statues, around two tons.

The installation of the statue representing Fine Arts, 1907. By courtesy of the Mary Evans Picture Library © Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans

The upstream statues by Frederick W. Pomeroy, RA (1856 – 1924)
Pomeroy was one of the leading sculptors in the New Sculpture movement, with works around Britain and in London, including the impressive figure of Lady Justice on the dome of the Old Bailey, erected in 1906. It was he who undertook the commission for the four statues on the upstream side of the bridge.

The statue of Agriculture holding a sheaf of corn and behind her head a scythe, as she looks out over the Thames
Agriculture – close up
The statue of Architecture viewed from the river, holding her model of St. Paul’s cathedral
Difficult to see from afar, Architecture’s detailed model of St. Paul’s cathedral
The statue of Engineering with a mallet in her right hand, an anvil at her feet, and holding in her left hand “a model of a steam engine with a cylinder and flywheel” writes The Victorian Web
Engineering holds a model of “a steam engine with a cylinder and flywheel”
The statue of Pottery with her amphora, being a reminder of the Doulton pottery that existed for many years in Vauxhall

Follow a link to the history of the Royal Doulton Pottery here.

The pensive face of Pottery with her amphora

The downstream facing statues by Alfred Drury RA (1856 – 1944)
Drury was, like Pomeroy, an architectural sculptor. He too was part of the New Sculpture movement creating several works in central London, and others all over Britain including the eight elegant bronze lampholders in Leeds Square, called the Morning and Evening Girls. He took on the commission for the four downstream facing statues.

Close up of the figure representing Science holding an orb
Close up of Science with a thoughtful expression and downcast eyes
Statue representing the Fine Arts holding her artist’s palette in her left hand and a sculptured figure in her right hand
Fine Art, holding a miniature sculpture
Figure representing Education carrying one child and with an arm around another
Education holding a child
A rather authoritarian statue representing Local Government
Local Government holding her weighty tome

Here below are a few images of boats that pass regularly beneath Vauxhall Bridge, where skippers will be more concerned with navigation than observing the finer details of the sculptures. If you take any of the boat trips upstream be on the lookout with cameras and binoculars at the ready as you approach and pass beneath Vauxhall Bridge.

Survey boat approaching Vauxhall Bridge
Cory tug REDOUBT about to pass under Vauxhall Bridge
STAR clipper, in her previous livery, passing under Vauxhall Bridge

Vauxhall Bridge was in line to be the next London bridge lit up as part of the wonderful Illuminated River public art installation already stretching across nine central London bridges. However plans to proceed with the work have been put on hold for the moment due to funding problems but Leo Villareal’s artwork is already completed and ready to go when possible.

In an article quoted by The Victorian Web, architect Sir Reginald Blomfield wrote in 1921 that it was important for a bridge to be “a symbol of the life and civilization of the people who use that bridge”. Though this could not be said of all bridges by any means, Vauxhall Bridge’s statues do remain a symbol of pride in the achievements of the age when it was built.

Further information
Illuminated River plans for Vauxhall Bridge
The London Metropolitan Archives: Vauxhall Bridge, 1956
The Lambeth Archives
Vauxhall Bridge: Wikipedia
The Tate Gallery
A section on Vauxhall Bridge in A London Inheritance
The Victorian Web

Reach for the sky…

A dizzyingly high run up the 1,120 steps of London’s tallest tower to raise funds for a new Thames Lifeboat Station in the heart of the City.

Not for the fainthearted, this. The RNLI Tower Run on Saturday, February 19th, will involve climbing 1,120 steps to the top of 22 Bishopsgate, on the 56th floor. It’s in aid of a new Tower Lifeboat Station, London’s busiest Thames lifeboat station, which many of you will have seen by Waterloo Bridge. And support is needed if you’re ready for the challenge.

As a precaution, considering the physical effort that will be involved, “runners will start in staggered groups of up to 30 runners every half hour.” There will also be first aid points every five floors with teams from the St. John Ambulance in case any help is needed.

On reaching the top, there will be a Reception and you will have the best views of London other than from an aircraft. You will also be given a souvenir t-shirt and a medal, which will surely become a symbol of pride and a collectors’ item.

A new station is urgently needed as the present one, now beyond repair, has come to the end of its useful life. See here. It served well both as a pier and as a Thames Division Police Station for over a hundred years, before being taken over by the RNLI in 2004, refurbished and occupied by Tower Lifeboat crews in 2006.

Tower Lifeboat Station ©Patricia Stoughton
Tower Lifeboat Station on standby 24 hours a day, 365 days a year ©Patricia Stoughton
Tower Lifeboat station facing the Thames and, among those tall buildings in the misty distance, the runners’ target: 22 Bishopsgate, London EC2 © RNLI
Lifeboat HEARN MEDICINE CHEST heading upstream towards Lambeth Bridge ©Patricia Stoughton
22 Bishopsgate, reaching into the sky above London – the ultimate challenge for stair climbers. ©Patricia Stoughton

Further Information
See details of the Run on the link here.
Read my article about the Tower Lifeboat Station Appeal here.
Discover Tower Lifeboat Station here.
Meet Chris Walker, one of the Helms at Tower Lifeboat Station here.
Follow Tower Lifeboat on Twitter @TowerRNLI
If you see anyone in difficulty along the Thames, call 999 ask for the Coastguard.