While walking along the banks of the central London Thames, your attention is most likely to be focused on boats, bridges and buildings. Yet, if you if you pause for longer than a few moments when the foreshore is exposed during the rhythm of the tides, you will see some of the birds that that feed or breed along this stretch of the river. Having been largely limited to views from Victoria Tower Gardens, I have concentrated on its foreshore, where all the photographs below have been taken. Though they amount to just a few of the ninety-two species of birds that can be found along the tidal Thames and Estuary, they have been a delight to watch and an absorbing escape from the concerns and anxieties of life.
A London landmark, the North Wing of St. Thomas’ Hospital, stands on the banks of the Thames beside Westminster Bridge and opposite the Palace of Westminster. Designed and built by architects Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall it was completed in 1975. Opened by Queen Elizabeth on November 16, 1976, it was regarded by some, including MPs seeing it from their riverside terrace bars, as rather too large and forbidding, and public opposition led to the cancellation of a second block of the same height proposed as part of the site’s further development. Looking at it from across the river, I suspect I’m not the only one to find its presence reassuring.
The doctors and nurses of St. Thomas’ Hospital rose to the almost overwhelming challenge of the Covid-19 virus with selfless courage and professionalism as did all those working across the NHS. Enthusiastically applauded by politicians and celebrities in an initiative started by Annemarie Plas called ‘Clap for Carers’, more significantly they were also applauded by millions of people in town and village streets all over the country. Every Thursday evening at 8 o’clock for nine weeks, from March 26, 2020, applause rang out from houses and flats: cheering, clapping and clanging of pots and pans. But now those who were in the front line await a fair reward for their service in the same way that retired members of our armed forces are cared for by “The Armed Forces Covenant, a promise by the nation ensuring that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly.”
St.Thomas’ Hospital, now part of the Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, was founded in the 1100s. It has a long history, changing location a number of times, and was finally established on its present site in 1871. Their website author explains how during the First World War “it was requisitioned in 1914 to create the 5th London General Hospital to treat military casualties.” The Second World War saw the hospital “repeatedly bombed during the Blitz, but it never closed.”
“The first bomb, on 9 September 1940, killed two nurses and four physiotherapists. During the war, ten members of staff were killed and many wounded, but incredibly, no patients were seriously injured.” 1941 saw further destructive bombing and by the end of the war, “the northern part of the hospital was severely damaged, with three ward blocks destroyed.”
The Victorian St. Thomas’ Hospital designed by Henry Currey, was built on the newly-reclaimed land that formed the Albert Embankment. The foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria in 1868 and impressively, four years later in 1871 the building was completed. It was designed on the ‘pavilion principle’ advocated by Florence Nightingale in her Notes on Nursing, 1859, emphasising the need for separate ward buildings, the segregation of patients with infectious diseases, and good ventilation. The system remained in place until the destruction of three of the pavilions by bombing during the Second World War.
The view of the Palace of Westminster over the Thames from the hospital is famous. The image above is taken from ground level but the higher you go, the more impressive it becomes. From the other side, the North Wing of St. Thomas’ hospital has become a striking yet familiar and comforting Thames landmark.