No matter where in London, a walk in The City is always enjoyable if you’re prepared to look. Peer down lanes and poke your nose around, and you’ll discover a wealth of history. And no matter how often you visit, there’s always something new as The City keeps changing.
There’s no need to guess how the area got its name: it was the location where Dominican friars had established a priory in the thirteenth century. The colour of their habits gave them their distinct name.
I hadn’t considered this an end of the line until I visited Orpington and realised occasional trains terminated and departed from here. Hence, it was time to visit London’s only station that spans the Thames.
Thameslink trains operate from platforms 1 and 2, with terminal Southeastern trains operating from platforms 3 and 4. Whilst I was here, I had the company of the 14:40 to Maidstone East and the 15:16 to Sevenoaks Southeastern services.
The original Blackfriars station, which lasted less than five years, was built where Waterloo East station now sits. The current station opened in 1886 but was called St Paul’s. The name was changed in 1937 to not confuse it with the newly opened underground station of the same name.
If you’ve been near the station, you may have spotted the now redundant red pillars of the bridge that carried the London, Chatham and Dover rail (LC&DR) services. LC&DR built a second bridge beside the one that carried the South Eastern Railway services. The LC&DR services only ran through to Ludgate Hill but later into Kings Cross. But because the railway company ran into financial difficulties, it closed its passenger station leaving the line with only a goods station until 1965. Due to a lack of investment, the bridge became unsound, and trains stopped running over it in 1971. The deck was finally removed in 1985, although the pillars and piers remain as a reminder of the station’s presence.
As part of the station’s rebuilding in 1971, a part of the stonework elevation from the 1886 LC&DR station is now on show inside the main station’s entrance.
The station was further redeveloped in the years leading up to the London Olympic Games in 2012, allowing for increased traffic and a station entrance on either side of the Thames. As part of that redevelopment, solar panels were installed across the length of the station’s roof, which now generates more than half of the station’s energy needs. It also gives this magnificent station the unique look you can see today.
The Three Bridges
Alongside the railway bridge is Blackfriars Bridge to the west and the no-longer ‘wobbly’ Millennium bridge to the east. But a little more about Blackfriars railway bridge before we move on.
The mouth of the River Fleet, which gives its name to Fleet Street, flows into the Thames under the bridge on its north shore. It’s a little hard to see, as it’s now a drainage culvert, but if you crane your neck, you may just see the obscured outlet.
Blackfriars Bridge: I suspect most people will walk across this bridge or maybe ride/drive over it without a care other than how it enables them to get to their ultimate destination. But there is so much history to learn about London’s bridges.
The first bridge on this spot opened in 1769 and was named after the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Elder. However, it soon changed, becoming popularly known as Blackfriars Bridge. Because the bridge was shoddily built, it was demolished in 1860 and replaced by the current bridge, which Queen Victoria opened in 1869.
Joseph Cubitt, a master engineer who contributed to creating many of London’s railway buildings, built the bridge. He designed it to mirror the Blackfriars Railway Bridge that has since been demolished.
The foot/road bridge is undergoing significant work to maintain its architectural integrity. But if you peer over the sides or take a breather in one of the ‘pulpit’ style recesses and look over the side, you’ll see the works of the sculptor John Birnie Philip.
The pillars are adorned with stone carvings. On the east side are sculptures of marine life and seabirds, and on the west are sculptures of freshwater birds. This is a deliberate feature to signify that the bridge is seen as the Thames’ tidal turning point and reflects sea life to the east and river life to the west.
So tell me, which side of the bridge did I take this shot?
The Millenium Bridge: Famed for its wobbliness when it first opened in June 2020, it closed two days later because of its wobble. Have a read of the Londonist explanation behind the science of why it wobbled. And why it resulted in the bridge being closed for nearly two years whilst the wobble was fixed. But it will forever be known as the wobbly bridge.
But have you looked at it from underneath? If you walk along the north bank, there’s a convenient cascade of steps that enable you to sit directly under the bridge. Here you can get a belly view of this unique bridge.
From this point, if you walk down to the embankment, you’ll come across a small concrete flight of steps leading to the beach when the tide is out. It’s nothing special, but it gave this commentator a moment of reflection to stop and pause and admire the immediate surroundings as the tide was relatively high. It’s surprising how nature clings to life in the most precarious positions.
I discovered something about London’s archaeology while researching these steps. This article by ‘Know Your London’ is well worth a read as it tells a tragic tale of how development overpowers London’s history. As a rule of thumb, London’s history is buried roughly one foot every century due to the city’s continuous development. And the riverfront here has moved 50 feet into the Thames since mediaeval times.
Like many aspects of London, as residents or visitors, we rarely take note of the infrastructure that makes London work. That is until something goes wrong when the media and world stand up to ask the question, why did that happen?
But as in my working life, when a service is excellent, and things just happen, there’s little acknowledgement or thanks given. So let me thank the London Port Authority for keeping our Thames safe for everyone, such as pleasure trips and thrill-seeking rides. Or for the movement of cargo and waste. So enjoy this little montage of some vessels I spotted that keep our city moving.
A walk around Blackfriars
The Dominican friars arrived in London around 1221 and settled in Holborn until they acquired land to build their priory in 1276 in the area now known as Blackfriars. Good ‘ol Henry VIII dissolved the priory, and the land was sold off until it burnt down during the Great Fire of London in 1666. There, that’s the history bit over with.
However, you can still see a black friar when you exit the new station entrance between New Bridge Street and Queen Victoria Street. But of course, it’s in the guise of a pub with a delightfully rotund statue overlooking the street at first-floor level. The pub is a Grade II listed building, and its peculiar triangle shape is because it was built in the late 19th century when buildings still surrounded the area.
Take a short stroll to the west, past the JP Morgan building in the former City of London School at 60 Victoria Embankment and see if you can hail a Taxi. There’s a sculpture at the entrance to John Carpenter Street by the American artist John Seward Johnson Jr. This is entitled ‘Taxi’ and represents an office worker at the end of the day. The life-size sculpture was initially displayed between New York’s Park Avenue and 47th Street until it moved here in 2014.
Meanwhile, go back to the pub and walk behind it through the narrow streets where you’ll come across the area where the Dominican priory once stood. Next, I head up Black Friars Lane, where I re-discover Apothecaries Hall. I wrote about it here.
Continue into Carter Lane, down Church Entry and along Ireland Yard. Of course, none of the original priory buildings remain as they were either demolished or burnt down. However, you’ll discover two small pocket gardens once the burial grounds for ‘The Church or Chapel of St. Ann, within the Precinct of Blackfriars’. These gardens were created by Madelaine Agar, thanks to the formation of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association in the 1880s.
Although the church of St Ann wasn’t rebuilt, its parish was united with that of St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe. This name always fascinated me as I’d often drive past the church or a sign depicting the church’s name, and I was curious to learn more. It turns out that Edward III moved his Royal Wardrobe from The Tower to a storehouse just north of the church for his accoutrements, housing arms and clothing, among other personal items of the Crown. No doubt it was this association that gave the church its name.
Walking across the Millenium Bridge, I ponder how many photographs I am in as tourists pose for selfies regardless of who else may be in the shot. But I guess with today’s advanced software, ‘bystanders’ can be instantly air-brushed out.
Tate Modern is advertising their Surrealism – Beyond Borders exhibition, claiming it will rewrite the history of the revolutionary art movement. But I have a more pressing need to use their facilities and find their one-way queuing system takes a little longer to gain entry into the building. Thank you, by the way.
The scale of the old turbine hall still impresses me, and although there was no exhibition during my visit, it allowed me to ‘people watch’ before returning to the station to end my day.
Picture of the Day – Taxi Break
Capturing this photo was a beautiful moment. I walked around the perimeter of the church, along Wardrobe Terrace and onto the front of the church, where I came across several taxi drivers having a break. Their taxis were parked on Queen Victoria Terrace, and the drivers had stopped for an early afternoon break taking advantage of The Piccolo Bar – a snack bar next to the church.
I walked through them as I walked down the steps and looked back at the church, and after some banter, I asked if they minded posing. Of course, some drivers stepped away, but these four gents were happy to take the limelight.
It was a bright sunny afternoon, and I had already decided a black and white photo would suit the railings framing the shot and the backdrop of the bricked church wall. I was delighted to see the second driver on the left smiling straight at me, as I felt this gave me the legitimacy to take the shot. The other drivers, in different stances, helped demonstrate that my intervention didn’t stop their conversation from flowing.
This was one of those moments when I reminded myself – go on, ask them. They can only say no. I’m glad I did, as they said yes! Some post-production filtering has helped to lift the photo by heightening the black and white effect.
- Location: St Andrew by the Wardrobe, Queen Victoria Street
- Date/Time: Tuesday 12th July 2022, 2:03 PM
- Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture -f/4.5; Shutter Speed – 1/125; Focal Length – 18mm; Film Speed – ISO100
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