A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about views

Britain’s maritime legacy

Greenwich

large_f34cd380-2894-11e9-9db2-9f556b9da7a0.jpg
View over Greenwich and beyond

When people ask on forums where they might go on a day trip within easy reach of central London I often suggest that they look no further than Greenwich.

536728037146532-From_the_Cli.._Greenwich.jpg
River view from a Clipper

It offers history in abundance, elegant buildings, fascinating museums, an attractive market, bars and restaurants to suit all tastes – all in a lovely riverside setting. And to crown it all, you can stand on the Greenwich Meridian, from which the world’s time and all east/west distances are measured.

You can travel to Greenwich by water (river bus or sightseeing cruise) or rail in less than an hour from central London. And a day wouldn’t be enough to see and do everything here, so you will be spoiled for choice.

7146533-Greenwich_Pier_Greenwich.jpg
Greenwich Pier

My own favourite way to travel is by Clipper, the river buses that ply the Thames. They cost a fraction of the tourist sightseeing cruises and while you don’t get the commentary that those offer you don’t pay their high prices either. You can catch the boats from several points including on the South Bank (near the London Eye) and by the Tower of London.

Seating on board is plentiful (maybe less so during the rush hour) and there is a snack bar where you can buy coffees, beer and wine, crisps and chocolate etc. The boats are fully wheelchair accessible and there are accessible toilets on board. All in all, this is a very comfortable way to travel.

The boats arrive at a pier right next to the famous Cutty Sark, so that’s as good a place as any to start our explorations.

The Cutty Sark

large_7146482-Cutty_Sark_Greenwich.jpg
The Cutty Sark

This beautiful ship was built in Scotland in 1869 as a tea clipper – the fast sailing ships which brought tea from China to Europe. Every season merchants competed to be the first with the new crops by employing the fastest ships, so the Cutty Sark was designed for speed – her owner John Willis had ambitions for her to be the swiftest of all the clippers. Between 1870 and 1878 she made eight voyages between London and Shanghai, taking manufactured goods and wine, spirits and beer to be sold in China and returning with her precious cargo of tea. But she never did win that annual race to be first with the new season’s tea.

By the end of that decade steamships had started to dominate the tea trade as they were able to use the newly opened Suez Canal (sailing ships needed to stay in the open sea to get the trade winds). So the Cutty Sark started to take different cargoes around the world: coal from Nagasaki in Japan to Shanghai; jute from Manila to New York; and jute, castor oil, tea and the Australian mail from Calcutta to Melbourne in March 1881. The 1880s and ‘90s saw her mainly carrying wool from Australia, and she established herself as the fastest vessel, the ‘last chance’ ship to make the English wool sales each January. But steamships moved into this trade too. For a while the Cutty Sark was under Portuguese ownership, sailing between Oporto, Rio, New Orleans and Lisbon, before returning to Britain in 1923 when she was bought by Wilfred Dowman who restored the ship to a close approximation of her appearance as a tea and wool clipper. She was used as a training ship for cadets but her condition and usefulness gradually declined. In 1954 however she was taken over by the National Maritime Museum who brought her to Greenwich where she has remained ever since.

7146484-At_the_end_of_the_road_Greenwich.jpg
The Cutty Sark seen in the distance from a Greenwich street

She sits in a dry dock here, as she has done since she was towed here. Initially restored then, and opened to the public, she was again thoroughly restored between 2006 and 2012, a process that was held back for a while by a major fire. Luckily some of her most ornate parts, such as the figurehead, were not on board at the time because of the restoration process, so these escaped the blaze.

It is some years since I was on board, but I remember especially the large collection of figureheads which fascinated me as a child and continued to do so as an adult. These date mainly from the 19th century and came from a variety of merchant vessels. They portray characters from history, legend and literature, such as Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry, William Wilberforce, Disraeli, Hiawatha and Sir Lancelot. The Royal Museums of Greenwich website explains more:

‘Figureheads are carved wooden sculptures which decorate the prow of a sailing ship, and were thought to represent the vessel’s spirit. It was believed that they offered the crew protection from the harsh seas and safeguarded their homeward journey. The figureheads were also used to identify a ship—one of a range of subjects would be chosen, reflecting the name of the ship from mid-18th century onwards.

The figureheads in The Cutty Sark Collection were produced by professional figurehead carvers, who lived and worked by the docks. Hard woods, such as oak or teak, were used and might have been treated with resins to increase the figure’s resistance to water, rot and wear. They were lovingly cared for by the crew, who took great pride in the appearance of their ship and its figurehead. The superstitions of seamen meant that the figurehead held great significance to those on board and they would go to great lengths to protect it.’

IMG_7064.JPG
The Cutty Sark figurehead on a stormy day

The Cutty Sark’s own figurehead is a young witch named ‘Nannie’ who was a character in the poem 'Tam O'Shanter', by the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. In this poem the witch chases Tam dressed only a ‘cutty sark’—an archaic Scottish name for a short nightdress. You can read the full story on the Maritime Museum’s website.

Old Royal Naval College

large_P1000365.JPG
The Royal Naval College

The river bank in Greenwich is dominated by the stunningly elegant buildings of the Old Royal Naval College. And don’t just take my word for it – UNESCO described this as the ‘finest and most dramatically sited architectural and landscape ensemble in the British Isles’!

The buildings were the work of Sir Christopher Wren, who designed St Paul’s Cathedral and many of the City’s churches. One look at the domes that crown the main buildings tells you that – they are so reminiscent of his most famous work. They were built between 1696 and 1712 to house the Greenwich Hospital, a home for disabled sailors, on the site of the former Greenwich Palace. The latter was a Tudor royal palace – the out-of-town pleasure palace of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Queen Elizabeth I was born here and loved it too, but under the Stuarts it fell into disuse and, by the middle of the 17th century, into disrepair.

large_7146485-Old_Royal_Naval_College_Greenwich.jpg
7146486-Old_Royal_Naval_College_Greenwich.jpgP1000357.JPG
More views of the Royal Naval College

7146487-Old_Royal_Naval_College_Greenwich.jpgP1000362.JPG
The domes are very reminiscent of St Paul's Cathedral, Wren's most famous work

The new buildings were the naval equivalent of the Chelsea Hospital for retired soldiers. Wren gave his services free of charge, as did his assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor, because of the charitable nature of the project. His design was the result of restrictions imposed by the then queen, Queen Mary II, who didn’t want her view of the river from the Queen’s House to be blocked – hence the division into two main blocks and the consequent very pleasing symmetry. You can see in my photo below how the Queen’s House, nearer the camera, can peep between these two blocks to see the river beyond.

large_4f9d4170-28ad-11e9-bad7-9928313d07f4.jpg
The Queen's House and Royal Naval College from the park

Greenwich Hospital was closed in 1869 as with more peaceful times there were fewer seamen in need of the facility. The buildings were taken over by the Royal Naval College which needed to expand from its original Portsmouth base. For over 100 years sailors trained here, at first just men and then from 1939 onwards, women from the Women’s Royal Naval Service – the so-called WRENS. In later years there was even a training facility for nuclear-powered submarines which necessitated a small nuclear reactor on the site (unknown to local residents in Greenwich who might not have been keen to have such a thing on their doorstep). The college closed in 1998 as the numbers in the Navy were declining and sailors could now be trained alongside their Army and Air Force equivalents in the Joint Service College at Shrivenham.

Today the college is maintained and run by a charitable foundation which provides access to the three main attractions, the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre, Painted Hall and Chapel. All are open daily with free admission, and there are also regular events held here. Even if you aren’t coming to see any particular sight or attend any event, a stroll around the grounds is a real pleasure, especially on a sunny day when the architecture is to be seen at its best and the river sparkles in the background.

The Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College

7146498-Main_hall_Greenwich.jpg
The Painted Hall

This hall is one of my favourite sights in Greenwich, and I never tire of introducing visitors to its glories (although on my most recent visit that wasn’t possible as it was undergoing major restoration during the summer of 2018). It was built by Wren to serve as the dining room for the naval veterans. After its completion in 1703 James Thornhill was commissioned to paint the walls and ceiling, and instructed to include many references to the importance of the navy in Britain’s fortunes.

Thornhill was paid only £3 per square yard for the ceiling, and just £1 per square yard for the walls. However, he did receive a knighthood in 1720 (the first English artist to receive this honour) and is generally considered to have created the finest painted architectural interior by an English artist. The work took him 19 years and as a result of his achievement here the Painted Hall was felt to be now far too grand for its intended purpose! Instead it became a visitor attraction - one of London’s first tourist attractions in fact. ‘Respectable’ visitors were admitted for 3d (the equivalent of about £1.80) and could hire one of the resident Pensioners to give them a guided tour.

It was also a place for significant events to be held. For instance, in 1806, 3 months after the Battle of Trafalgar, the body of Horatio Nelson was brought to lie in state here. A side room today is devoted to Nelson memorabilia. Between 1824 and 1936 it was home to a naval art gallery, displaying about 300 naval-themed paintings.

P1000349.JPG
Domed ceiling in the entrance of the Painted Hall

But back to Thornhill and his artistic masterpiece. On my first visit here, a few years ago now, I realised that I had seen the hall some weeks earlier in a BBC history programme about the Georgian monarchs, but had not registered then where it was. A happy coincidence, as I was able to recall some interesting information from the programme to share with our weekend guests. Well, I thought it was interesting! If you would also like to know more about the paintings (and don’t have the ‘benefit’ of my half-remembered explanations!) you can book a place on the daily tour (free, at 11.15 am) or pick up a leaflet for just 50 pence. This will explain all the scenes and the mythology and symbolism attached to them. On the main ceiling, for instance:

‘Enthroned in heaven are King William and Queen Mary. Above, the sun god Apollo sheds his light, while Peace, with her doves and lambs, hands an olive branch to William. He in turn hands the red cap of liberty to the kneeling figure of Europe.’

7146497-William_and_Mary_Greenwich.jpg
William and Mary

On the ceiling of the upper hall is Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart monarchs. The TV programme I saw pointed out that Thornhill had relegated the old regime to the ceilings and in doing that had portrayed them as aloof and out of reach of ordinary people.

large_7146496-George_I_and_family_Greenwich.jpg
George I and family

In contrast, the new king, George I, is shown on the far wall of this upper hall as a family man, surrounded by his children and grandchildren. Appearances are deceptive however; the truth is that he and his oldest son, also called George, hated each other, and there is a hint of this in the posing of the two figures, as the younger George turns pointedly away from his father (wearing a blue cloak towards the lower right corner of my photo). Also notable is the man standing in that bottom right corner by the pillar looking out at the viewer, as this is Thornhill himself.

Royal Naval College chapel

large_228983847583184-Chapel_at_th.._Greenwich.jpg
The Chapel at the Royal Naval College

Facing the Painted Hall across a lawn is its symmetrical partner, the chapel dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. Its neoclassical interior was the work of James ‘Athenian’ Stuart and William Newton, and is considered one of Britain's finest 18th century interiors.

The intricate mouldings of the ceiling are picked out in Wedgewood blue, a restful contrast to the splendours of the Painted Hall’s decoration. It was designed by the master plasterer John Papworth and its intricate central ornaments carved, rather than cast in moulds.

7583185-Ceiling_detail_Greenwich.jpg
Chapel ceiling

Much of the rest of the decoration follows a maritime theme, appropriate for the worshippers for whom it was built, the inhabitants of the Royal Hospital for Seamen. There is a ship’s anchor design in the centre of the black and white floor and wood carvings on the pews that resemble ropes.

844301577583183-Chapel_at_th.._Greenwich.jpgP1000353.JPG
Showing the painting above the altar

The painting above the altar is by an American artist, Benjamin West. It depicts St. Paul on the island of Malta, where he miraculously survived being bitten by a snake. According to the account in the Acts of the Apostles, the weather was cold and wet, and the Maltese showed their hospitality by lighting a fire for Paul. As he gathered firewood, and laid it on the fire, a viper attached itself to his hand. He shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill-effects from the bite.

Various monuments in the vestibule commemorate the achievements of great sea-farers. Of these the most prominent is the marble Franklin Memorial which commemorates Sir John Franklin and the crews of the ships Erebus and Terror who lost their lives in the famous ill-fated 1845 expedition searching for the North West Passage.

P1000355.JPGP1000354.JPG
Detail of the Franklin Memorial, and statue of Charity

Also in the vestibule are four statues representing the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, and Meekness. My photo is of the statue of Charity. An inscription on the base of the statue reads: 'Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.'

large_P1000352.JPG
large_P1000351.JPG
Carving details in the chapel

National Maritime Museum

This museum is located in a wing that had been added to the Royal Naval School in the 19th century, which was converted for its new purpose after the college left Greenwich in 1933, being finally completed only in 1951 (delayed no doubt by the war). It also has a new wing, the Sammy Ofer Wing, added in 2011 to house special exhibitions, a café and a library.

7146506-National_Maritime_Museum_Greenwich.jpg
The National Maritime Museum

The museum tells the story of the history of Britain at sea, including maritime art, maps and map-making, ship models and plans, scientific and navigational instruments. Its separate wing at the Greenwich Observatory focuses on time-keeping and astronomy. The children’s gallery has lots of hands-on fun, including loading cargo, a galley where you can ‘prepare food’ and a canon to shoot at a pirate ship. Other galleries cover a range of sea-faring themes including exploration, naval warfare and trade. One area focuses on maritime London, looking at life on the Thames, the growth of the docklands and how institutions like Lloyd’s of London and the Baltic Exchange were formed. Another celebrates the life of Lord Nelson and victory in the Battle of Trafalgar.

large_7583146-Figureheads_collection_Greenwich.jpg
Figureheads collection

I particularly like the display of ships’ figureheads dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, when the art of carving these was at its height. In the same area is the gilded state barge which was built for Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1732.

P1000389.JPG

P1000387.JPG
Details of Prince Frederick's Barge

89468037583145-Prince_Frede.._Greenwich.jpg409931377146507-William_IV_o.._Greenwich.jpg
Prince Frederick's Barge, and statue of William IV outside the museum

There’s a pleasant café here too (at the rear), with outside tables which afford a lovely view of Greenwich Park – worth a refreshment stop even if you aren’t visiting the museum. While here, have a look at (well, you won’t be able to miss!) Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’. This was originally commissioned by the Greater London Authority for the Fourth Plinth project and was unveiled in Trafalgar Square in May 2010. It now has a permanent home here outside the Sammy Ofer Wing.

large_7146505-Nelsons_Ship_in_a_Bottle_Greenwich.jpg
Nelson's Ship in a Bottle

The Queen’s House

The Queen’s House was designed by Inigo Jones, who had studied Roman and Renaissance architecture in Italy, and is considered England’s first Classical building. His design reflects the Renaissance ideals of mathematical, classical proportion and harmony – for example the Great Hall here is a perfect cube. Much of its original splendour has been lost over the centuries, but you can still see the ceiling of the Queen’s Bedchamber painted in the ‘grotesque’ style, the wrought-iron balustrade of the Tulip Stairs (which was the first centrally unsupported spiral staircase in Britain), the painted woodwork of the Great Hall and its impressive geometrically-patterned black and white marble floor.

large_7146513-The_Queens_House_Greenwich.jpg
The Queen's House

The house was built for Anne of Denmark, the wife of James I, who wanted a pavilion at Greenwich to serve as a place of private retreat and hospitality. The story is that the king gave it to her as a gift to apologise for swearing in front of her after she had accidentally killed one of his favourite dogs during a hunt. She however died before it could be finished and work only restarted when James's son Charles I gave Greenwich to his queen, Henrietta Maria. It was finished in 1638.

large_P1000378.JPG
A ceiling in the Queen's House

The house is supposedly haunted and a famous ‘photograph of a ghost’ was taken on the Tulip Staircase. You can see this photo and read all about it on the website: https://www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/we-recommend/attractions/queens-house-ghost

large_P1000366.JPG
large_P1000368.JPG
The Tulip Staircase in the Queen's House

P1000372.JPGP1000380.JPG
Another view of the staircase, and a decorative detail

The house holds a significant collection of paintings, including works by Gainsborough, Hogarth and Reynolds among others. One highlight is the Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I, which has recently been restored to reveal the original colours after centuries of dirt and discoloration. It portrays the queen as a ruler in command of the seas and has been instrumental in shaping our vision of her.

P1000374.JPG
The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I

The Queen’s House website explains:

‘Like many Tudor portraits, it is packed with meaning and metaphor. Elizabeth’s upright posture, open arms and clear gaze speak of vitality and strength. She is draped in pearls – symbols of chastity and the Moon.

Numerous suns are embroidered in gold on her skirt and sleeves, to signify power and enlightenment. She rests her hand on a globe, with her fingers over the New World, and above can be seen a covered imperial crown: both signal her potency as a ruler, not just of England but also as a monarch with overseas ambitions.’

The Royal Observatory

large_665117257146517-Greenwich_ob.._Greenwich.jpg
The Royal Observatory's Flamsteed House on the hill

Crowning the hill that forms Greenwich Park is the Royal Observatory and the nearby Planetarium. The original part of the observatory is Flamsteed House (1675–76), which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and was the first purpose-built scientific research facility in Britain. The ‘Time and Longitude’ gallery tells the story of the quest to find longitude at sea in the age before satellite navigation. You can also see the Astronomers Royal's apartments and the Octagon Room designed for the observation of celestial events such as eclipses, comets and planetary movements.

7146516-Greenwich_observatory_Greenwich.jpg
The Royal Observatory South Building

On top of Flamsteed House is one of the world's earliest public time signals, the bright red Time Ball, which is visible from some distance as my photo above attests. This was added to signal the time to ships on the Thames and to Londoners in general. It was first used in 1833 and still operates today. Every day at 12.55 the time ball rises half way up its mast; at 12.58 it rises all the way to the top; and at 13.00 exactly, the ball falls, thus providing a signal to anyone who happens to be looking. Of course, you need to know to be looking, so you have to have a rough idea of the time already for this to be of help!

In front of Flamsteed House is the Meridian Courtyard. Here you can stand on the world-famous Greenwich Meridian Line, which represents the Prime Meridian of the World, 0º of longitude. Every spot on Earth is measured in terms of its distance east or west from this line, which divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the Earth just as the Equator divides the northern and southern ones.

54468257583217-Stand_on_the.._Greenwich.jpg
The set of measures

965708477583218-Stand_on_the.._Greenwich.jpg
Standing on the Meridian Line

It has always seemed a bit unfair to me that you have to pay for this, probably because (puts on ‘grumpy old woman’ voice) when I was a child you could enter the courtyard and stand on the line freely. So I was gratified on a recent visit to find that you don't have to go far to be able do just that. If you look to the right of the courtyard gate (through which everyone will be peering for a glimpse of the line) you will see an old clock on the wall (an early example of an electronic clock) and below it a set of standard British measures.

To the right of these is a black metal kissing gate, leading to a narrow path that runs below the observatory's courtyard. You only have to walk a couple of metres along this to see the line running down the wall and crossing the path in front of you. Space is tight for photography but it's perfectly possible to stand on the line and get that souvenir shot, as my Virtual Tourist friend from Estonia, Mare, demonstrates.

I should add that I'm not for a minute recommending that you don't visit the observatory, which is very good, but if you don't have time for that or aren't very interested, at least you don't have to miss out on seeing the famous Meridian Line.

By the way, you don't even have to visit Greenwich to stand on the Meridian. This map shows other locations in the UK where it is marked.

As well as enjoying all that the Observatory has to offer, a climb up the hill in Greenwich Park is rewarded with some wonderful views as you can see. The elegant buildings of the Old Naval College, the Queen’s House and the Maritime Museum lie at the foot of the hill. The Thames flows beyond, with lots of river traffic coming and going. And on the far bank rise the dramatic skyscrapers of London’s Docklands. Further to your left (the west) you can see some of the buildings of the City, the Shard and even the London Eye.

large_7146524-View_from_the_hill_Greenwich.jpg
View from the hill

But if you can’t manage the hill, there are still good views to be had along the river bank, as my photo below shows.

large_7146526-Canary_Wharf_from_Greenwich_Greenwich.jpg
Canary Wharf from Greenwich

Greenwich Market

7146530-Entrance_to_the_market_Greenwich.jpg
Entrance to the market

As a contrast to all the history that surrounds you at Greenwich I think it is fun to spend some time in the lovely market. This is tucked between some of the streets in the town centre and has a variety of stalls but with three main focuses: crafts, antiques and street food.

7146528-Wood_turner_Greenwich.jpg
Wood turner

On one visit we bought a beautiful hand-turned wooden bowl as a wedding gift for friends. Each of these pieces is unique, so they aren’t cheap, but they are well worth the price. The same applies to some other of the crafts-people selling here, but you can also get lower-priced jewellery and pretty items for the home.

One of my most interesting purchases here, from one of the antique stalls, was a photo album which really captured my imagination. It dates from the 1930s and shows the travels of an English couple (I assume) in north Africa, pre-war Germany and the Mediterranean.

7146529-Old_photo_album_Greenwich.jpg
Old photo album

I was so intrigued by this that I scanned all the photos and created a website in the hopes of tracing some information about those captured in them: http://sarahwilkie8.wix.com/travel-1930s-style. So far, sadly, no one has been able to identify them although one friend did point me towards some ships’ passenger inventories of the time which unfortunately failed to come up with any likely names.

At one end of the market there is a cluster of food stalls selling the cuisines of several countries: Brazilian churros, Indian street food, Ethiopean vegetarian dishes, sushi, noodles and much more.

Around the edge of the market are some interesting little shops with goods likely to appeal to those who also enjoy the market – more crafts, quirky fashions, art and items for the home. I can happily spend several hours (and more than a few pounds) here! There is also a good pub, the Coach and Horses, where I have had several pleasant lunches. As well as a cosy interior it has some tables outside in the market.

7146527-In_the_market_Greenwich.jpg
In the market

7146536-Good_pub_lunch_Greenwich.jpg
The Coach and Horses

7146538-Good_pub_lunch_Greenwich.jpg
Inside the Coach and Horses

The O2

To the north of this main centre of Greenwich is an area called, unsurprisingly, North Greenwich. Here you will find the (currently named) O2 arena. In the run up to the year 2000 a number of Millennium projects were planned for London. Despite some teething problems, most people agreed that the new bridge was a great success, once it stopped wobbling, and of course everyone enjoyed the fireworks! But the biggest project, the Millennium Dome, was something of a PR and financial disaster – failing to capture the public’s imagination and attract the visitor numbers that would have covered the cost of building it. Perhaps that was because of the rather didactic nature of the exhibition it housed, the Millennium Experience. This was intended to be a World’s Fair style showcase of British life and achievement, but most of its 14 zones were lacking in content and rather dull (I know – I took my mother-in-law along and we were neither of us wildly excited by it, though I remember feeling that it was not as bad as some of the media had suggested).

large_d0347670-2937-11e9-8c3e-a17405808738.jpg
Looking north east from Greenwich Park
The Millennium Dome / O2 is visible centre left

The building itself also received mixed but largely unenthusiastic reactions. It is an interesting one however, its design full of symbolism. A huge white (today rather grey) ‘tent’ is supported by twelve yellow poles, one for each month of the year or each hour of the clock face – a nod to the nearby Greenwich Meridian and the importance of time to this part of the country. And it is 365 metres in diameter, one for each day of a (non Leap) year.

7241947-View_from_upper_tier_Greenwich.jpg
View from the upper tier of the O2 -
tennis tournament

After the end of 2000 the exhibitions were dismantled, and for a while just the roof of the dome remained, a bit of a white elephant. There was much debate about what to do with it, and many more disparaging remarks. Eventually though it was developed as a sports and entertainment complex, with multiple venues sited under the main roof and a network of restaurants, shops, offices and housing around it. Today it is home to a cinema, bowling alley, a number of chain restaurants and an arena that hosts sporting and music events. In a fairly recent development you can also climb the roof for a view of London with a difference (and no, I haven’t done that – yet!!) But we did come here a year or so back to see the Masters tennis event, and were impressed by the excellent views even from our upper tier seats, so I think we’ll be back to see the rejuvenated Dome again.

There is even more to do in Greenwich than I have included here, as I haven’t talked about sights I am yet to visit (such as the Fan Museum). But I hope I have convinced you that it is well worth the trip from central London to spend a day here!

Posted by ToonSarah 02:04 Archived in England Tagged art skylines boats architecture london park history views church market river city museum science Comments (17)

A very English county

East Sussex

In my previous entry I described our recent visit to East Sussex (and a bit of Kent). Here are some of the other places we have visited and enjoyed in the past:

Seven Sisters and Seaford Head

large_5829461-Seven_Sisters_East_Sussex.jpg
Seven Sisters

One of the loveliest spots from which to view southern England’s classic chalk cliff scenery is here at Seven Sisters. They take their name, logically, from their number, and the line of seven white cliffs, especially when gleaming in the summer sun, is truly quite striking – and very photogenic.

The cliffs are the remnants of dry valleys in the chalky South Downs, which are gradually being eroded by the sea, creating this wave effect. As the Seven Sisters Country Park website explains,

‘The cliffs are receding at about 30-40cm each year on average. The process is intermittent with major falls occurring after heavy rain or rough seas, often two of three times per year. Where these falls occur they protect the base of the cliffs from the sea and usually there are no falls in the same places for eight or nine years until the sea undercuts the cliffs again.’

(The same web page, by the way, also has a nice diagram showing the contours of the cliffs and the individual names of each).

These views are only accessible on foot, although you can get fairly close by car, as this map shows: How to see the Seven Sisters. We have in the past followed two different routes. Firstly, parking near the Visitor Centre on the A259 (for which there is a charge) and walking along the lovely Cuckmere Valley for about three miles to the beach below the cliffs, Cuckmere Haven. From here you need to climb the hill to your right if you want to get the classic view in my photo above. You can also get a bus from Eastbourne, Seaford or Brighton to the park entrance.

large_DSCF1747.JPG
Seven Sisters from Seaford Head

Alternatively you can drive via Seaford to Seaford Head, where a free car park gives you access to several walking trails across the cliffs leading to the same hill-top view, from where you can descend to the beach for a closer look.

large_5829477-Seven_Sisters_East_Sussex.jpg
The path down to the beach

Once there you can of course enjoy the views, but it’s also worth taking a closer look at your immediate surroundings. Wild flowers abound on these chalky cliffs (but please don’t pick them), there are shells and pebbles to pick over on the beach, rock-pools to explore for shrimp and other small sea creatures, and sea-birds galore.

491248865829463-On_the_beach..ast_Sussex.jpg5829464-Cuckmere_Valley_East_Sussex.jpg
Seven Sisters from the beach, and in the Cuckmere Valley

Battle Abbey

At the eastern end of Battle High Street is Battle Abbey. This abbey, much of it now in ruins, was built by William the Conquerer to commemorate the thousands who died in the famous 1066 Battle of Hastings – which, despite its name, took place here.

The main attraction here is the opportunity to walk around the battlefield and learn about the events that shaped English history. That may sound dull, especially as an initial view of the area shows nothing more than a slightly muddy field, but the excellent audio tour populates the field in your imagination with soldiers and other significant players. When you first put on your headphones you are invited to choose a character to follow through the events of that day – a great way of bringing history to life. I chose one of the women who followed the soldiers and cared for the wounded, which gave me a very different perspective on the battle.

large_IMG_8728.JPG
Battle Abbey, evening light

There is also a small museum devoted to the history of the abbey, with various artefacts found during excavations. Nearby you can see the spot where King Harold is said to have died. You can’t go in the re-built abbey itself however as that is now a private school.

Bateman's

3702566-Above_the_door_Batemans_East_Sussex.jpg
Roses above the door

This lovely Jacobean house was once the home of the author Rudyard Kipling (from 1902 to 1936). It has been left just as it was when he lived there, decorated in his exotic oriental tastes. If like me you like to see where well-known books were written, you’ll like the study with his collection of books (many unsurprisingly from India) and the original illustrations for The Jungle Book, drawn by the Detmold brothers, which are displayed here.

Outside are pretty gardens to explore, with traditional roses and a lovely lily pond. This garden was laid out according to Kipling’s own design, which still hangs in his study. They run down to the River Dudwell with its working watermill, dating from c. 1750. You can also see Kipling's 1928 Phantom 1 Rolls-Royce in the garage here.

3702567-Lily_pond_Batemans_East_Sussex.jpg
The lily pond

Carr Taylor Vineyard

England may not be well-known as a wine-producing country but for some years now pioneers have been establishing vineyards in the southern counties and trying to change that image. At first their attempts were laughed at and their wines dismissed as sub-standard, but increasingly both the casual drinker and the wine connoisseur have come to take their efforts and their results much more seriously. Indeed some of the wines produced here have won awards in international wine competitions.

ca6d3e40-9d58-11e8-872a-e7ebd36f760a.jpg
Carr Taylor Vineyard
(early in the growing season!)

This site was first planted as a vineyard in 1971 and consists of 37 acres of land which slope gently towards the southeast, creating the perfect micro-climate in which to grow grapes. The owners claim to produce ‘a truly English style of wine which is crisp, aromatic, fresh and fruity’. Certainly we were impressed by those we tasted when we visited.

As well as tasting and shopping for wine (and a whole host of wine-related products) you can follow a trail around the vineyard, where signs along the way give information about the grape varieties grown there and how they are cultivated. All this is on a very small scale compared to in major wine-producing countries but is a novelty here in England.

Pashley Manor Gardens

large_3702506-Pashley_Manor_the_house_East_Sussex.jpg
Pashley Manor - the house

Pashley Manor is a beautiful Tudor Manor House, although only its gardens are open to the public. But these are well worth a visit, and a walk around them will easily occupy an hour or two.

3702479-Rose_Pashley_Manor_East_Sussex.jpg3703604-Flowers_of_Pashley_Manor_East_Sussex.jpg
3703605-Flowers_of_Pashley_Manor_East_Sussex.jpg3703607-Flowers_of_Pashley_Manor_East_Sussex.jpg
Flowers at Pashley Manor

Nearest to the house, are several well planted formal gardens with beautifully planted borders. There is even a vegetable garden that looks more attractive than many flower gardens!

438842383702509-Pashley_Mano..ast_Sussex.jpg
The vegetable garden

Interspersed with the planting, and on the lush green lawns, are a number of sculptures by various artists, all of them for sale (no, I didn’t ask the price!) One section here holds a lovely swimming pool which would be so tempting on a hot summer’s day. The plants in the borders are labelled, so it’s easy to identify ones you might want to try at home, and there are also helpful gardeners working here and there, willing to stop what they’re doing and chat about the plants.

3703608-Flowers_of_Pashley_Manor_East_Sussex.jpg
One of the borders

Beyond these more formal gardens you come to a landscaped area with a woodland walk and a small lake. Everything is very photogenic, with carefully planned views. When we visited, though, I did have a small mishap with my camera, when a black swan on the lake attacked my camera when I was taking his photo and left a small dent in the bodywork with his bill!

434839063702507-Pashley_Mano..ast_Sussex.jpg
Beautiful but aggressive!

There is also a lovely café here and a small shop selling good-quality gifts and a small range of plants. Alternatively, there are picnic tables in the field where you park, although picnicking isn’t allowed in the gardens themselves.

Church of St George, Brede

large_4800432-Church_of_St_George_Brede_East_Sussex.jpg
Church of St George, Brede

The small village of Brede lies about five miles (eight km) north west of Hastings. We stopped here for a drink at the village pub, and sitting outside our eyes were drawn to the attractive old church on the other side of the road, so when we had finished our drinks we crossed over for a closer look. It was the church of St George, originally Norman but with considerable additions over the centuries. It sits in a picturesque churchyard with wonderful views on one side over the Brede River Valley. We spent some time strolling around looking at the old gravestones and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. I found lots of details that appealed to the photographer in me.

310710404800433-Fallen_Angel..ast_Sussex.jpg
Fallen angel in the graveyard

4800434-Lichen_on_tombstone_East_Sussex.jpg
Lichen on an old tombstone

661172354800435-View_from_Ch..ast_Sussex.jpg
View from the churchyard

Inside, the church retains some of its Norman features, including a window (at the west end of the north aisle) and the pillars of the south arcade. It is worth a quick look, but for me it was the exterior and churchyard that made this such a lovely spot.

De La Warr Pavilion

Bexhill-on-Sea is a quieter seaside resort than Hastings, best known for the De La Warr Pavilion on the seafront. It was built in the 1930s, the result of an architectural competition, in the Modernist style of that era. The architects, Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, were leading lights in the Modern Movement. The project was initiated by the 9th Earl De La Warr, then Mayor of Bexhill – hence the name. His vision was of a public building that would put Bexhill on the map, culturally speaking. When he opened the new building, he described it as:

‘a modernist building of world renown that will become a crucible for creating a new model of cultural provision in an English seaside town which is going to lead to the growth, prosperity and the greater culture of our town.’

large_208727314235161-Staircase_at..ast_Sussex.jpg
Staircase in the De La Warr Pavilion

165467254235162-Staircase_at..ast_Sussex.jpg
Staircase lighting

After some damage during the Second World War, and subsequent deterioration of the building, it was restored in the early 2000s and reopened as a contemporary arts centre, with one of the largest galleries on the south coast of England.

If you are interested in 20th century architecture this is a must visit. Its elegant lines epitomise the Modernist style at its best, in my opinion. Whether or not the current exhibitions are to your taste (they change regularly) do go inside to admire the staircase in particular.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this wander through some of the sights of East Sussex. There is lots more to see and do in this lovely county, and as I said, we visit quite often, so I will add another page to this blog when we’ve made some new discoveries.

But meanwhile I need to introduce you to Hastings, the town we visit most often …

Posted by ToonSarah 10:45 Archived in England Tagged landscapes architecture flowers coast history views church vineyard garden wine author Comments (7)

Of Weald and Downs

East Sussex and Kent

large_4328229-East_Sussex_beach_England.jpg
The beach near Rye, East Sussex

213966114800403-Garden_of_th..ast_Sussex.jpg
With Paula & Kevin
in a Sussex pub garden

For quintessential English countryside only a stone’s throw from London you could do far worse than visit East Sussex. This lovely county truly has a bit of everything – pretty villages and interesting towns, centuries of history, coastal scenery and rolling downlands.

19d89aa0-9b43-11e8-b9b1-11a5e46c0447.jpg
Alex & Pete's cottage

To the west of the county lie the South Downs, while the east, along the border with Kent, shares with that county the area known as the Weald, a sandstone ridge which separates the chalk landscapes of the North and South Downs.

We have just returned from a lovely weekend visiting friends in this lovely county, prompting me to share some of its delights here. We’re lucky enough to have two sets of friends living here: Alex and Pete have a pretty cottage in Battle (site of the famous 1066 Battle of Hastings) while Paula and Kevin live in the seaside town of Hastings (which despite its name wasn’t the site of that famous battle!) This past weekend we were with the former in Battle and we took advantage of the summer weather to get out and about.

We visited two beautiful spots, Bodiam Castle and Sissinghurst. OK, I’m cheating a bit, as the latter is actually a few miles across the border into the neighbouring county of Kent. But it sits in the same High Weald area as Battle, so I hope I will be forgiven! In this entry I plan to tell you about those outings and in the next will introduce you to some of my other favourite places in East Sussex.

Bodiam Castle

large_P1000837.JPG
Bodiam Castle

There are many castles in England worth visiting, but what makes 14th century Bodiam stand out is its moat. This is the archetypal image of a moated castle. Although ruined it is sufficiently intact to look very impressive when seen from across the moat in particular.

The castle was built by a knight, Sir Edward Dallingridge, and designed to be both an effective defence against the threat of a French invasion (or peasants’ revolt) and an impressive family home that showed off his status and wealth.

large_P1000859.JPG
Bodiam Castle, with northern gatehouse and Barbican ruins in front (left of photo

There are two gatehouses but you can only enter through the one on the north side, in front of which are the ruins of the Barbican. A National Trust volunteer here pointed out the historic graffiti carved into the stone of the gate, which can also be seen on the southern Postern Gate. Some of this was made by soldiers of the Napoleonic period. It used to be thought that they were guarding prisoners of war in the castle, although that has since been disproved – they are more likely to have been simply stationed in the area. One of the inscriptions here is particularly clear – it was made by James Bryan, of the 35th Regiment of Foot, in 1819.

P1000855.JPG
Historic graffiti

But I was more fascinated by the volunteer’s explanation of these more cryptic carvings. They are known as Witches’ Marks, and were typically carved into buildings as a device to prevent witches from entering – the theory was that they would get lost in the maze-like patterns. These particular Witches’ Marks probably date back to around the time of the building of the castle!

P1000856.JPG
Witches' marks

Once inside you will find the various buildings which once stood around the central courtyard are much more ruined than the outside wall. It takes some imagination to visualise the chapel, great hall, living quarters etc., although the informative signs certainly help.

P1000853.JPGP1000854b.jpg
Ruins of Bodiam Castle

P1000849.JPG

Chris up the tower

You can climb the spiral stone steps of the postern tower for views of the surrounding countryside and for a bird’s eye view of the castle’s layout. But the steps are steep and a little worn so I left that to Chris, who went up with our friend Alex while Pete and I remained on the ground, studying more of the graffiti.

d3612d50-9b45-11e8-8886-2554ebb9e7fa.JPG
Chris's photo of me and Pete (and an oblivious stranger!)

P1000843.JPGP1000846.JPG
Historic graffiti

We also looked up at the murder holes through which guards could throw burning oil, rocks, scalding water, tar and other nasty substances on to invading troops, should they storm and enter the castle.

P1000844.JPG
Murder holes

This gate was the entrance for tradespeople but was also probably used as a private entrance for the family and for informal guests – hence the heraldry above the entrance.

P1000832.JPG
Heraldry above the Postern Gate

P1000861.jpg
Eagle owl

As you explore you see signs of Sir Edward’s wealth – a large number of fireplaces (33 – none of them in the servants’ quarters!), the chapel which once had beautiful stained-glass windows, the landscaped setting with water features.

Outside we saw an area set aside for children to try their hands at archery. There was also an eagle owl, one of several birds of prey to be seen at the castle, but owning to unusually hot weather they weren’t having any of their usual flying displays, understandably. So we headed back to the main entrance after our castle explorations to enjoy a much-needed cold drink and relax with a view of the pretty surrounding countryside

Sissinghurst Castle

Despite the name, Sissinghurst is more of a manor house than a castle. The original manor house was built around the end of the 13th / early 14th centuries. Nothing remains of that house apart from some sections of its moat. But in the 16th century a new Renaissance courtyard home was built here by the Baker family, with a new brick gatehouse and comfortable family accommodation.

large_P1000865.JPG
At Sissinghurst Castle

The house was leased to the government during the Seven Years War (1756-63) to be used as a prison camp for 3,000 captured French sailors. It is to them that we owe the ‘castle’ element of the estate’s name – they wrote home to their families, often referring to Sissinghurst as Chateau de Sissinghurst, and the name stuck. Unfortunately, they also destroyed much of the house.

P1000879.JPG
Building detail

P1000875.JPG
Weather vane

What survived was restored by the Mann Cornwallis family (their initials can be seen on the weather vanes which top the towers). This included the Renaissance gatehouse, stable block and several farm cottages.

But Sissinghurst owes much of its present-day fame to the couple who bought it in 1930 – Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson. They fell in love with the estate and devoted much of the rest of their lives to creating a home here – restoring some of the buildings and adapting them for their needs, but most significantly, creating the garden that would make Sissinghurst famous. It was Harold who designed the series of separate ‘rooms’ but Vita whose influence is most strongly felt in the planting of these. She felt that plants should not be constrained but instead be allowed to tumble over paths in a more romantic style.

When the National Trust took over the property in 1967, five years after Vita’s death, they tidied up the garden, but more recently they have carried out research into Vita and Harold's original designs and vision for the gardens and are gradually restoring them to recapture these.

Climbing the gatehouse tower

large_bfe7d210-9bef-11e8-995d-218a7c9c5bcd.jpg
Tower gatehouse from the gardens

The first thing we did on arrival was climb the 78 stairs in the gatehouse. This is really worth doing and I was very glad I’d made the effort. On the way up you can stop in a series of rooms, of which the first is by far the most interesting. This is Vita’s writing room and has been left just as it was when she died in 1962. Actually, you can’t go in the room, only look from the doorway, as many of the books and other objects are fragile, but that is enough to give you a strong sense of the character of the room.

P1000866.jpg
Vita's writing room
Forgive the quality, it's a dark room and I didn't like to use flash

Further up in the tower you can see some of the graffiti left by those French sailors, and also, as you climb, see collections of coloured glassware and this little stained-glass monk in one of the windows.

P1000877.JPG P1000867.JPG

Stained glass in the tower, and historic graffiti

Once you reach the top the views make the climb worthwhile. As one of the staff had told us, you see no modern-day buildings at all, so these are the same views generations of previous inhabitants will have enjoyed.

large_P1000871.JPG
View from the tower

Looking down, closer to the tower, you can really appreciate the overall layout of the gardens and features of the estate in a way you can’t possibly do when on the ground. The series of rooms into which the garden is divided is clearly seen from here, and the various small buildings dotted around. Unusually Harold and Vita chose to make their home in several of these – they slept in the South Cottage, where Vita also had a flower room and Harold his book room (where he wrote); their two sons had bedrooms in the Priest’s House, which also held the kitchen; Vita wrote in the tower, in the room I have already described; and the library, also used for hosting visitors, was (and still is) in the former stable block opposite the tower. I found it hard to imagine living like this, until I realised that the garden is also part of the ‘house’ and walking through it from room to room would have been an almost hourly pleasure for the family.

P1000873.JPG
The White Garden from the tower

P1000869.JPG
View of the orchard from the tower

The library

Descending the tower we crossed to the nearby library which houses the couple’s extensive collection of 20th century books. Here we found a helpful volunteer happy to answer our questions about the furnishings and fittings, including the large painting of one of Vita’s ancestors, Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset (1536-1608) being presented with petitions by his secretary, and a simpler work by one of the imprisoned French sailors depicting the Sissinghurst of his time.

large_P1000887.JPG
In the library

Exploring the gardens

We went to an introductory talk about the history of Sissinghurst, from which I have drawn some of the info above, and took a break for refreshments in the café, then started our explorations of the gardens. It has to be said that these weren’t at their best and I would love to return to see them perhaps earlier in the year (June would be great for the roses). Our dry hot summer has also hit some of the plants quite hard, but there was still plenty to enjoy.

large_P1000912.JPG
The gardens

The dahlias were looking pretty good, the White Garden had enough in bloom to be very pretty indeed, and elsewhere the borders held much of interest. Here is a selection of my best photos taken as we strolled around.

P1000922.JPGP1000936.JPG
In the gardens of Sissinghurst

large_P1000914.JPG
The White Garden

P1000908.JPGP1000919.JPG

P1000907.JPG

P1000932.JPG

P1000894.JPG

P1000920.JPG
In the White Garden

P1000880.JPG

P1000942.JPG

P1000945.JPG
Dahlias

P1000902.JPGP1000910.JPG

large_P1000930.JPG
Some of the other flowers

It was a hot day, however, so we decided against a longer walk in the fields around the garden, and instead settled for excellent ice creams eaten in the shade of the Elizabethan barn. We checked out the shop where there was a sale on (but didn’t buy anything), and also the separate plant sale (ditto), before heading home, resolving to come again soon.

I'll finish with a few photos of some of the buildings on the estate - and one more of the gardens!

P1000898.JPGP1000946.JPG
In the gardens, and the stable block

large_P1000951.JPG
The old stable block

large_P1000889.JPG
Old cottage

Posted by ToonSarah 12:09 Archived in England Tagged landscapes buildings castles architecture flowers history views garden Comments (12)

London Bridge to Rotherhithe

London

A Bank Holiday stroll

large_P1000253a.JPG
Tower Bridge and St Paul's from Rotherhithe

The early May Bank Holiday this year was unusually warm and sunny, and like many Londoners (and visitors to the capital) we headed to the river to make the most of the weather.

P1000223.JPG
The Shard

We started our walk at London Bridge station, crossing Tooley Street (look up for a view of the Shard!) to reach Hay’s Galleria. This is a former warehouse and Port of London wharf which, like so many in this area, was redeveloped in the 1980s. Many have been turned into (expensive) apartments, but this one has a mix of shops, restaurants, offices and flats. The central walkway covers what was once the dock and to mark that heritage there is a bronze sculpture of a ship, called 'The Navigators', in the centre.

P1000224.JPG
Entrance to Hay's Galleria

As you emerge on to the river bank there are some great views of the City of London opposite, of the Tower of London, and of HMS Belfast, a former WWII Royal Navy ship now moored here and open as a museum. We visited years ago – it’s very well done and worth seeing if you have any interest in naval history or indeed in history in general.

large_P1100989.JPG
The Tower of London from near City Hall

P1100985.JPG
The City of London from near City Hall
(both the above were taken on a previous, winter, walk)

Today though we were more interested in heading east to the open space just east of City Hall known as Potters Fields. This small park takes its name from the Dutch potters who settled near here in the early 17th century after fleeing religious persecution at home. They established the Pickleherring Pottery on this site, which was later replaced by granaries and still later by warehouses. This park was created during the regeneration of the area in the 1980s when the by-then abandoned and dilapidated wharves and associated buildings were redeveloped. Today the park is often used for events and today was the venue for a Polish festival. There were lots of food stalls but we had already eaten lunch, so we just stopped for a short while to soak up the atmosphere.

P1000227.JPGP1000229.JPG
At the Polish Festival at Potters' Fields

P1100983.JPG
Passing under Tower Bridge

Just beyond Potters Fields the riverside path runs under the southern end of Tower Bridge. Emerging on the other side you are among the warehouses of Butler’s Wharf which were converted for (mainly) residential use. I remember coming here just before the redevelopment began, when the smell of spices still hung in the air, as an echo of the Port of London’s past. The path runs between them along Shad Thames, the river views cut off for a short stretch. There is an estate agents here if you want to check out the prices of these exclusive apartments – note how much more expensive it is to buy a place directly overlooking the water!

Very soon you can turn left, along a narrow passageway with the intriguing name of Maggie Blake's Cause, to reach the river bank again. Maggie Blake was a local community activist who, together with other Bermondsey residents, campaigned to retain access to the river front for both locals and visitors. Access was threatened by the redevelopment of Butler’s Wharf and adjacent warehouses. The developers wanted to limit riverfront access to those would occupy the smart new apartments and riverside restaurants. But Maggie Blake and her supporters thought otherwise and fought a spirited campaign which saved the historic riverfront and its wonderful views of Tower Bridge for anyone who cares to explore this area.

large_P1000233.JPG
Tower Bridge from Butler's Wharf

P1000237.JPG
Thames seagull

P1000239.JPG
New Caledonia Wharf

Following the river bank again now, you will pass some restaurants and the old Design Museum building (it has now moved to Kensington) before reaching a small dock. The main path turns away from the river to go around this, but there is a modern steel footbridge across the water which we crossed to reach another group of converted warehouses, New Concordia Wharf. Despite the ‘gentrification’ there are still signs of this area’s past history; the buildings have lots of character and little details will no doubt catch your eye.

P1000241.JPG
Old sign

There is still development going on here – at one point we had to turn away from the river as the route was blocked by hoardings around a building site. But soon you will come to a more open area. On the right is a small grassy square – unassuming now but look carefully and you will see the remains of a couple of walls half-buried in the grass. This was once the Manor House of King Edward III, the king who started the Hundred Years War and ruled during the period of the Black Death. Surprisingly, he chose Rotherhithe as a place to build a royal residence – surprising because in those days it was just a small hamlet set in low-lying marshland. The house was built on a small island directly next to the River Thames and consisted of a range of stone buildings around a central courtyard. There was a moat on three sides of the property, with its north side being completely open to the River Thames, allowing the king to arrive here by boat. It is not known for certain why he chose to build a house in this location, but the most popular theory is that he came here to practice falconry, with the birds being able to stay within eye sight as they flew across the flat marshlands and the River Thames.

The ruins are, as I said, very insignificant – so much so that I neglected to take a photo. But you can see what they look like, and read much more about the house, on the informative Historic UK website: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/Edward-IIIs-Manor-House-Rotherhithe/

Opposite this grassy area is a spot offering some great views back towards Tower Bridge and some seating from which to enjoy them.

large_P1000250.JPG
London view from Rotherhithe

When we were here this seating was full of people enjoying drinks from the nearby pub, the Angel, but before being tempted to join them it’s worth taking a look at a group of statues here, collectively known as Dr Salter’s Daydream. Alfred Salter was a doctor and Labour Party politician who practiced medicine in Bermondsey in the early years of the 20th century, when poverty here was widespread. Most local men worked as casual labour in the docks and Salter and his wife Ada worked hard to improve their lives and those of their families. Among other things, he offered free medical care to those who couldn’t afford to pay for it, paving the way for the as-yet unestablished National Health Service. He became MP for Bermondsey in 1922, and in the same year Ada was elected Mayor of the borough – the first female mayor in London and the first female Labour mayor anywhere in Britain. A detailed information board here tells the story of their lives, explaining:

‘She and Alfred launched what was later called the “Bermondsey Revolution”, an experiment in municipal government that attracted attention throughout Europe.

Alfred promoted free medical treatment using modern methods: a health centre, a solarium for TB sufferers, and educational films about hygiene shown from vans on street corners. By 1935 infant mortality had fallen from 150 to 69 per year, and not one mother died in childbirth. This was his “NHS before the NHS”.

Meanwhile Ada’ Beautification Committee transformed the slums. She planted 9,000 trees, offered prizes for best window boxes or gardens, and filled all public spaces with playgrounds, musical events and sports. She was a “Green before the Greens”….

The Salters destroyed the worst of Bermondsey’s slums. Alfred pushed through a vast slum-clearance programme admired all over the country, while Ada was in charge of designing the model council houses still to be seen in Wilson Grove.'

But as the sign goes on to explain, their personal lives were not happy, as they lost their only child, Joyce, to scarlet fever at the age of just eight. ‘To win trust, and to avoid privilege, they had chosen to live amongst the disease-ridden slums and have their daughter educated locally, but the cost proved high. Though Joyce’s death bonded the Salters forever with the people of Bermondsey, they were inconsolable.’

A statue to commemorate Dr Salter was first commissioned in 1991 and moved here from a previous location nearby in 2003. It consisted of three pieces – the doctor himself, Joyce and their pet cat. But in 2011 the statue of the doctor, which sat on a park bench, was stolen (probably for the value of the metal from which it was shaped). Joyce and the cat were put into safe storage and local people campaigned and fund raised to replace the work and add a sculpture of Ada. The local council match-funded the money raised. In 2014 the new statues were unveiled. Rather than a park bench Dr Salter now sits on a granite one looking towards his daughter leaning against the embankment wall. Further down the cat sits on the wall, and Ada walks, with spade in hand, from the planting beds towards her daughter. The idea was to show Dr Salter in his old age, sitting remembering Joyce as she was when still alive. Ada is represented with a spade because she was so active in tree and planting schemes for the area, and her left hand is designed to hold real flowers. Knowing their story makes an already interesting grouping of statues more poignant.

P1000244.JPGP1000246.JPG
Ada, and Joyce

P1000245.JPG
The cat

But I mentioned the Angel pub nearby. On this sunny holiday weekend it was unsurprisingly busy, with most drinkers choosing to sit or stand outside. A queue to be served half-blocked the doorway but we decided it would be worth the wait. When we did eventually get our drinks, we opted to enjoy them inside – partly for a break from the sun and partly because it meant we could have glasses made of glass, rather than the plastic variety (drinks never taste as good from the latter). Checking the first floor we found an almost-deserted room with fantastic views of the river and a pleasant breeze drifting in through the open windows. We grabbed the best positioned table – in a corner with windows on two sides and the best view in the house! What a great spot in which to enjoy a relaxing break on our walk.

large_P1000258.JPG
Boats on the Thames near Tower Bridge, from the Angel, Rotherhithe

P1000252.JPG
Tower Bridge, St Paul's and the Monument from Rotherhithe

P1000242.JPG
St John's church, Wapping,
from Rotherhithe

After leaving the pub we continued east and soon came to another open space, King’s Stairs Gardens, where local families were enjoying picnics and ball games. There were more good views here across the river to Wapping, where we had been walking quite recently (I will blog about that in a future entry no doubt). Approaching the main part of Rotherhithe the path again leaves the river’s edge and the views are blocked by houses. No matter though, as there is plenty to see in this small patch of London. Again, I will focus on Rotherhithe more in a future entry, as it merits proper exploration. But on this occasion we just meandered around taking a few photos of the church and surrounding area.

P1000283.JPG
Old warehouse in Rotherhithe

P1000280.JPG
Sign in Rotherhithe

P1000275.JPG
Bluecoat School in Rotherhithe

P1000277.JPGP1000267.JPG
In Rotherhithe gardens

This church, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, was built in 1716 to replace an earlier 12th century one on this site. It was designed by John James, an associate of Sir Christopher Wren. I have never managed to go inside – today as on previous occasions it was locked. It is best known for its connection to the Pilgrim Fathers, but that too is a tale for another entry …

P1000269.JPGP1000273.JPG
St Mary the Virgin, Rotherhithe, and in the grounds

Posted by ToonSarah 01:27 Tagged bridges churches art architecture london history views river pubs city garden sculpture Comments (7)

Introduction to this blog

large_London_photo__P1110970.jpg
A travel photography exhibition in London

You don’t have to go far from home to feel like a traveller, if you set out with a sense of exploration – and, in my case at least, the essential camera. This blog will focus on more local adventures – walks in and around London, plus some visits to different parts of England.

There will of course be plenty of photos. I will show you the sights, naturally, but also include images simply because they please me, like the one above - street photography, wildlife, landscapes - all the thing I most like to photograph.

Entries here will not necessarily be chronological, as I will mix recent outings with some older ones, reusing some of the material I wrote for Virtual Tourist. I hope to introduce you to some of my favourite parts of my home city and country.

Here are a few more random photos to whet the appetite.

395214634132359-The_only_rea..estershire.jpg
Adlestrop, Gloucestershire

3702517-Beach_Hastings_Old_Town_East_Sussex.jpg
Beach with huts for drying fishing nets, Hastings Old Town

4366702-Thames_and_city_skyline_London.jpg
The Thames and city skyline, London

7008548-Dungeness_at_the_edge_of_England_Lydd.jpg
Dungeness: at the edge of England

7660211-A_brief_history_of_Syon_.jpg
Syon House, near London

Posted by ToonSarah 05:58 Archived in England Tagged landscapes beaches architecture london views village river city photography street_photography Comments (6)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 15) Previous « Page 1 2 [3]