Blood swept lands and seas of red…

The Byward Tower, a sea of poppies lapping at its feet.

It is now nine years since the Tower of London moat was filled with a mass of red: 888,246 ceramic poppies, each flower representing a British, or British Commonwealth soldier killed during the First World War. And so, on Remembrance Sunday, here is a reminder of Blood swept lands and seas of red, a tribute to all those who “did not grow old, as we who were left grow old”.

The West Gate at the entrance to HM Tower of London and a wave of poppies.

Conceived and designed by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, the installation caught the imagination of the public, attracting over five million visitors during the period of its assembly, which began in July 2014 and ended the day after Armistice Day that year. Of all the images commemorating the start of the First World War during 2014, this resonated the most, reaching nearly everyone in the country through the media, and of course, it had a huge impact on those who came to see the installation for themselves. From aerial photographs of the Tower’s blood-red moat to close-ups of one or more poppies, the images of Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red expressed the incomprehensible number of soldiers killed.

Volunteers at work *planting* ceramic poppies in the moat.
Volunteers, so many of whom had family members killed in the Great War.

Every poppy was slightly different. Unique. Like every life lost. And this was because they were hand-made by different ceramic artists and nothing in their manufacture was automated. Any machinery used was hand-powered.
All those involved, from the original idea to the volunteers who helped with the installation and the dismantling of Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, were moved by their connection with this extraordinary commemoration. Many had had family members killed in the First World War, and the loss of life really hit home when they saw how many poppies there were.

Sea of red…

There were some dissenting voices suggesting that it would have been better to include more obvious symbols of war and its horrors but designer Tom Piper pointed out that it worked at a more subtle level, adding that he had learnt from his years of set designing “not to illustrate a play with the obvious”.

Sea of poppies to the east of the Tower.
Tide of poppies spreading towards the east side of the moat.

Poppies are an instantly recognisable symbol of Remembrance that almost everyone in the country can relate to, and knowing that every poppy in the “sea of red”, represented an individual soldier, lost to their family, made a lasting impression on all those who came to see them, including HM Queen Elizabeth II, and the Duke of Edinburgh. The final poppy was planted by Cadet Harry Alexander Hayes on Remembrance Day, 2014.

Spilling from above.
The advancing tide…

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

The poppies went on sale to the public for £25 each, the profits being shared between six service charities. As they were removed from the moat they were taken away to be cleaned, packed in special commemorative boxes and sent out to those who had bought them. The last poppy was removed on November 28, 2014.

To mark the centenary of the end of the Great War, Beyond the Deepening Shadow, saw 10,00 candles lit nightly in a ceremony of Remembrance, which took place during November 2018.

Further Information
A short history of the Tower of London moat can be found here at Historic Royal Palaces.

Waves on Lambeth Reach

Lambeth Reach: Waves on the Victoria Tower Gardens foreshore

So often, walking along the banks of the Thames we take in the overall scene, then the obvious landmarks such as buildings, boats, or monuments but Tristan Gooley can guide us to a less assertive feature: an appreciation of the ever-changing surface of the river. And his book How to Read Water, inspired me to take a closer look at the Thames during regular walks. No plagiarism! Nothing clever here. Just hommage to an engaging author, who knows his subject. The pictures below include some of the variations that I observed, and in looking more carefully, the river began to assume another dimension.

ALMERE 4 ruffling the river with her wash waves

Almere 4, a general purpose waste barge, is usually my focus of interest if she’s passing by but in this case the way the wash she leaves fanning out right across the river catches my attention.

JUPITER Clipper’s wash wave pattern complicated by her motors. In the distance, near Westminster Bridge, two boats leave their trails in the water
Wash waves fanning out from M.V. CONNAUGHT

The Thames tidal currents are strong, particularly in mid tide when the flow is at its fastest and if you look carefully, tidal waves can be distinguished from the wash waves of passing boats.

Small tidal waves lapping the shoreline on a flood tide
Wash waves breaking on a calm day
Breaking wave. Its colour is determined by a cloudy sky and silt stirred up from the river bed
Wash waves on a windy day
Chill winds blow across the surface of wash waves
Chilly ripples upon ripples, like fractals
Ripples over shallow shore
Troubled waters during a Thames Barrier closure for testing, September 3, 2023
The remains of a jetty used before the construction of the embankment wall and the demolition of warehouses that once occupied the reclaimed land that is now Victoria Tower Gardens

In his history of Victoria Tower Gardens, Dorian Gerhold published an image of the 1872 Ordnance Survey Map which marks the position of the several wharves and jetties for factories, workshops and warehouses that existed at the time. The remains of one of them, as illustrated in the photograph above, and marked on the Port of London’s Hydrographic Survey, July 2015, have an interesting effect on the river as the tides ebb and flow around and above the structure.

Wave disturbance and ripples around the sunken jetty on Victoria Tower Gardens’ foreshore
Waves swirling round the jetty
Breaking waves
Flood tide waves beginning to cover the jetty, more smoothly where the water is deepest
Now hidden, the jetty’s presence is betrayed by the movement of the water
Water changing speed and shape as it surges over the jetty

From rough to silky smooth, watching the infinitely changing surface textures of the waves can be a way of escaping for a few moments from the troubles of the world.


Further Information
Gerhold, Dorian: Victoria Tower Gardens, The prehistory, creation and planned destruction of a London park, London 2020
Gooley, Tristan: How to Read Water, London 2016
See Tristan Gooley, The Natural Navigator
Port of London Hydrographic Surveys
Wandle News Excellent article explaining why the Thames looks brown.