Following on from the image of Tower Bridge in the previous article, here just downstream, in the image below, is my favourite London sculpture Girl with a Dolphin by David Wynne, both swirling freely as if in water.

There are just a few works of art in this section, as I am less familiar with the riverside downstream from Tower Bridge, my views being somewhat limited for the moment, and though I have covered this before, I will end with the imaginative and quietly spectacular illumination of nine central London bridges by Illuminated River.

Girl with a Dolphin by David Wynne close by St. Katharine Docks.

Timepiece, an impressive, eye-catching sculpture by Wendy Taylor stands by the riverside entrance to St. Katharine Docks. A monumental steel sundial in a top tourist spot, it never fails to attract attention. Its three heavy chains are in keeping with the “incorporated industrial or dockside objects in much of Taylor’s work from the 1970s onwards”. The hours are clearly marked on a large steel ring with raised dots, in the middle of which is a pointer, known as a gnomon, “resembling an oversized dockyard nail”. However, its specific positioning means that you can only read the time on it when the sun is north of the equator. Created in 1973 it was Listed Grade II in 2004.

Time Piece by Wendy Taylor by the lock leading into St. Katharine Docks.

Further downstream on the opposite bank, the Quantum Cloud designed by Antony Gormley, stands on the Greenwich Peninsular near to the O2 Arena. Made of galvanised steel it was installed in 2000. If you look carefully, you can make out a human figure in its centre. There is something rather satisfying about this but when the commentator on a boat trip pointed it out as a “brillo pad”, I couldn’t help smiling.
Conceived using digital technology, Gormley explains that “The result, a combination of art and technology, will be a monument to the future, expressing the potential of the human being at the end of the twentieth century.”

Quantum Cloud by Antony Gormley on the Greenwich Peninsular.

Conceived before the advent of digital technologies, the Morden gas holder, though essentially functional is none the less, to my mind, a work of art, its structure and patterns adding a filigree decoration to an industrial landscape.

The Morden Gas Holder.

Also arguably an evolving work of art, certainly appealing to photographers and romantics, is the M.V. Royal Iris, sadly abandoned, slowly sinking, rusting into the foreshore near the Thames Barrier. Well-known and much loved in Liverpool, particularly in the 1960s, she was based on the river Mersey, where she was in service for over forty years. Alan Weston of the Liverpool Echo writes of her varied and at times rather glamorous history both as a ferry and occasional concert venue. Among other claims to fame, she was the inspiration f0r Gerry Marsden’s classic song ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’. But she suffered from a series of accidents and the failure of various plans for her restoration. And now, still beautiful but beyond repair, it is sad to see her coming to such a slow, forsaken end…

M.V. Royal Iris languishing close to the Thames Barrier.

Back in the centre of London, and visible from miles around for just a few days in 2014, Japanese light artist Ryoji Ikeda’s Spectra shone powerful beams of light skywards from Victoria Tower Gardens to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Walking among the forty-nine beams projected from massive dark, humming boxes was strange enough, but an extra other-worldly experience was added by Ikeda’s deep, slow pulsating music and the subtly changing patterns of the light beams, their eeriness heightened by the flickering of insects caught and mesmerised within them. An unforgettable experience.

Spectra: the forty-nine beams converged in a bight point visible for miles above London.

A more recent installation on an altogether different scale, destined for long term addition to London’s night light scenes, is the illumination of nine central London bridges in a public art venture known as Illuminated River. From when I first heard details of it on a boat trip where Sarah Gaventa, Director of the Illuminated River Foundation, gave a talk explaining the project and the artistic inspiration behind it, I followed its progress closely. In the following ‘gallery’ I have listed the bridges in order heading upstream from London Bridge.

It was a complex undertaking involving not only artist Leo Villareal in collaboration with architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands but also specialist teams to deal with specific areas of work, and the involvement of all the various authorities from whom permission for lighting the bridges had to be sought. And then there was the fund raising. A monumental task…

London Bridge, the first of the Illuminated Bridges.

… However, it succeeded and the venture was “fully funded by private philanthropists, with the backing of the Mayor of London, including Arcadia; the Blavatnik Family Foundation; the Rothschild Foundation; and the Reuben Foundation, which funded the illumination of Westminster Bridge”,

Canon Street Railway Bridge, upstream from London Bridge.

The creation of the scheme involved close consultation with Historic England to make sure that there were no “adverse visual or physical impacts on existing architecture.” In the end eighteen Listed Building consents were obtained.

Southwark Bridge.

As the majority of the work was carried out on the sides, or beneath the bridges, there was no disruption of traffic or pedestrian access.

Millennium Bridge, Southwark Bridge, and in the far distance, Tower Bridge.

The bridges light up together at sunset, slowly beginning their computerised light-changing rhythm, so if you have time to stay by one of them for a while, you will see the evolution of the patterns beneath their arches and their reflections in the ever-dancing surface of the Thames.

Blackfriars Bridge.

Leo Villareal’s designs are specially tailored for each bridge taking into account the cityscape around them.

Waterloo Bridge.
Hungerford Railway Bridge with a train, flanked by the two illuminated Golden Jubilee Bridges.

The green lighting of Westminster Bridge is a nod to the tradition, not that old (1970), of echoing the colour of the seats in the House of Commons, in the same way that the pinkish colours of Lambeth Bridge echo the red seating in the House of Lords.

The lighting of Westminster Bridge was funded by the Reuben Foundation.

There were some concerns about the lights having an effect on wildlife in and around the river but the low energy LED lighting is muted and has reduced the previous levels of light pollution. And, by 2.00 am the illuminations fade, restoring the river to a quieter state for the rest of the night.

Lambeth Bridge at nightfall.

Lambeth Bridge, being closest to Victoria Tower Gardens where I walk most days, it was possible to see some of the skilled work being undertaken there by engineers and electrical specialists. It looked risky but they knew what they were doing and always had a safety boat, usually ‘Protector’, close at hand on the river below. It was the last bridge in the second, and for the moment final phase of the project, being illuminated together with Blackfriars Bridge, Waterloo Bridge, the Golden Jubilee Footbridges, and Westminster Bridge, in April 2021.

Twice in 2022 the lighting of the nine bridges was changed by Leo Villareal with a new creation of colours specially co-ordinated in honour of Queen Elizabeth. The first occasion was part of the celebrations of her Platinum Jubilee and from June 2 until June 6, all nine bridges were lit in the Jubilee colours, purple and silver.

Westminster Bridge and the London Eye lit to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in June 2022.
Lambeth Bridge in the colours of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, purple and silver, June 2022.

On the second occasion the lights were once again co-ordinated but this time as part of Reflections, a solemn yet heart-lifting and moving event organised by Totally Thames, with an illuminated flotilla of over a hundred boats, marking the death of the Queen. The bridges were lit at sunset on September 24 until 2.00 am on September 25. Their usual colour scheme was interspersed with silver and purple as a tribute to the Queen. Sadly I was unable to be there but this lovely film by Livett’s will give you a good flavour of that special evening.

I hope to return to the theme of Thames-side art in the future and to include sculptures that I regret not having yet been able to photograph, particularly those of Ada Salter by the Thames at Bermondsey and Princess Pocahontas at Gravesend.

Sources and further information
Sculptor Wendy Taylor
Detailed analysis of Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud in LUSAS article.
Article by Ian Visits The Royal Iris
The nine bridges of the Illuminated River
Article on Sarah Gaventa and the Illuminated River project in Arc Magazine.


Boudicca in pride of place by Westminster Bridge.

Beginning where I left off in the last article, with some of the varied works of art to be found along the central London Thames, here is another view of Thomas Thornycroft’s heroic statue of Boudicca on the west side of the river. In full charging mode she appears to be heading south towards the Palace of Westminster…

The South Bank Lion.

Often passed with rarely an upward glance by the thousands thronging across Westminster Bridge, the South Bank Lion looks wistfully to the east. Sculpted by William F. Woodington in Coade stone, and originally painted red, he first stood at the top of the Lion Brewery facing theThames in 1837 and remained there, surviving among widespread bomb damage to the surrounding area during the Second World War. Saved by a London-wide petition strongly aided by the advocacy of King George VI when the brewery was demolished, it was installed outside Waterloo Station, one of the entrances to the Festival of Britain in 1951. The Lion was finally, restored in 1966 and placed close to Westminster Bridge where it now stands. See: London’s Favourite Lion.

The RAF Memorial.

The golden eagle presiding over the Royal Air Force Memorial and shining proudly across the Thames, was designed by William Reid Dick and stands on the top of the monument designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield. Completed in 1923, it was dedicated to the airmen who died in the First World War. “In 1946 additional inscriptions were added in memory of those who lost their lives in the Second World War. On September 15 every year the Chief of the Air Staff places a wreath at the foot of the Memorial to commemorate Battle of Britain Day, and every Remembrance Day the Fund lays a wreath.” From the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund.

Cleopatra’s Needle

Ellen Castelow writes that “Britain wanted something big and noticeable to commemorate the British victory over Napoleon sixty-three years earlier.” After a hazardous journey from Alexandria, which nearly saw the 3,500 year old artefact sink into the sea, Cleopatra’s needle arrived to cheering London crowds in January 1878.

Living statue on the South Bank.

Across the river from Cleopatra’s Needle is one of my favourite sections of the South Bank: the stretch of embankment between the London Eye and the Hungerford Railway Bridges. For it is here that hundreds of *living statues* have over the years, delighted crowds with their imaginative costumes and their ability to stand absolutely motionless until a coin is dropped into a hat, or bowl beneath their feet. And then you might have a smile, a nod of the head, or a gentle wave.

Living statue of Neptune owning the Thames.
A Cavalier takes a break.
Jubilee Oracle sculpted by Alexander in 1980.

Close by the living sculptures is an abstract sculpture, un-noticed by the majority of South Bank crowds: ‘The Jubilee Oracle’ cast in bronze resting on black marble. Sculptor Alexander whose works can be found in art museums around the world, writes that his work was “influenced by Henry Moore, who later became a good friend, and Barbara Hepworth, who I never met.” The inscription on the black marble below explains his philosophy: “Mankind is capable of an awareness that is outside the range of everyday life. My monumental sculptures are created to communicate with that awareness in a way similar to classical music. Just as most symphonies are not intended to be descriptive so these works do not represent figures or objects.” And this sculpture evokes that awareness.

Moinument dedicated to Samuel Plimsoll.

A celebratory monument dedicated to Samuel Plimsoll, stands on the opposite side of the river on Victoria Embankment. As a member of parliament, his campaign against the overloading of cargo ships eventually led to the Merchant Shipping Act of 1876, which made law the use of loading marks on the side of ships. Known as the Plimsoll Line “They consisted of a circle with a line through it at the level the water would reach when the ship was fully loaded.” Despite fierce opposition from *interested* parties, his determination to see the Act through Parliament won the day and thereby thousands of seafarers’ lives were saved. The inscription on the monument reads: “Erected by the members of the National Union of Seamen, in grateful recognition of his services to the men of the sea of all nations.”

Father Thames looking out from an arch along King’s Reach, on of many depictions of Father Thames along the river.

The stone head of Father Thames looks out somewhat mournfully from an arch along King’s Reach.

Skateboarding in the Undercroft.

Art is in a constant state of flux beneath the Southbank Centre as bright graffiti murals come and go in a flash, leaping across your sightline as do the gutsy, gravity defying skateboarders and bikers darting about the Undercroft


To the delight of children, and many grown-ups, there are often street performers blowing bubbles along the riverside. Every prolonged breath creating a new picture.

T.S. Eliot: From the Waste Land

Etched into the pavements, not far from the National Theatre and Southbank Centre, you can see verses written about the Thames by famous poets. They are all damaged now, even this, my favourite, one of the many references to the Thames, from The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot.

Antony Gormley sculpture on Waterloo Bridge.

Here standing on Waterloo Bridge, is just one of Antony Gormley’s statues cast from his own body form, and part of a large-scale sculptural project called Event Horizon which appeared in 2007. Thirty-one statues were placed on buildings close to the Thames, the idea being to encourage the looking up above street level, however there was some concern that the sculptures were real people contemplating suicide.

Father Thames as part of George Vulliamy’s dolphin lamp structure, reproduced along the Queen’s Walk in 1964.
Sir Laurence Olivier as Hamlet.

Sculptor Angela Conner’s statue of Laurence Olivier, one of Britain’s most famous actors, in a dramatic pose, stands on a plinth in Theatre Square facing the entrance to the theatre that bears his name and with whose creation he was closely involved.

London Pride sculpture by Frank Dobson RA outside the National Theatre

Originally created in plaster for the Festival of Britain in 1951, the sculpture ‘London Pride’ by Frank Dobson was recast in bronze in 1987 and set outside the National Theatre on the South Bank. It started out as part of an artistic programme for the Festival of Britain featuring over thirty sculptures by leading British artists of the day.

Dragon emerging onto Gabriel’s Wharf beach from the depths of the Thames.

Ephemeral art dictated by the rhythm of the tides, is one of the pleasures to discover along the shore of Gabriel’s Wharf. Sand sculptures, some in great detail, others such as a sofa on which the artist sits until completely surrounded by water, have more of a traditional sandcastle feel.

Fairy tale castle below Gabriel’s Wharf.
The Coat of Arms of the London Chatham & Dover Railway on the southern end of Blackfriars Railway Bridge, 1864.

As you walk along the Thames Path, heading downstream passing beneath the Blackfriars Bridges, you will come across the splendid London, Chatham and Dover railway coat of arms with the shields of London, Kent, Rochester and Dover dated 1864. A real statement of pride in the age of steam trains.

City of London dragon.

Further downstream you will come across another statement of pride, one of the City of London’s boundary dragons set on the east side of London Bridge. Ian Mansfield writes that the design is “based on two huge dragons that once stood above the entrance to the Coal Exchange.” An impressive building opened in 1849 it was demolished in 1962, an act of vandalism described by Lost Architecture as “one of the great conservationist horror stories.”

The Monument, commemorating the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Seen from across the river, or fleetingly as you pass by on a boat, The Monument commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed or severely damaged many thousands of houses and businesses. It was designed by Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke.

Elephant Parade in London, 2010.

Just a few of the painted elephants in London’s 2010 ‘Elephant Parade’ that brightened the riverside and parts of the city. There were 250 elephants standing or sitting, each designed and decorated by a different artist. In June 2010, an auction of the elephants raised four million pounds which went to secure a vital area of elephant habitat in Kerala, India.

The Olympic Rings on Tower Bridge 2012.

Unveiled in June 2012, a month before the opening of the Olympic Games in London, the distinctive Olympic rings, conceived by Pierre de Coubertin in 1913, gave an extra dimension to London’s most famous landmark. Looking back, it seems that the pride and togetherness felt by so many across the country then has for the moment been lost…

To be continued…

Sources and Further information
See article by Ian Visits ‘A History of the South Bank Lion’.
The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, RAF Memorial.
Article by Ellen Castelow: Cleopatra’s Needle
See article London Details on Plimsoll and his monument by Baldwin Hamey, also the Science Photo Library.
Sculptor of London Pride Frank Dobson.
History of The Monument.
For the story behind the City of London dragons, read Ian Visits
The London Elephant Parade, 2010.