London from the River

Westminster Pier
Westminster Pier

Westminster Pier

One of the pleasantest ways of seeing London is from a river boat, and constant summer services run from Westminster and Charing Cross piers to the Tower and Greenwich downstream and to Battersea and Richmond upstream. For centuries the Thames was London’s main highway and well-to-do Londoners kept handsome barges in much the way that cars are maintained today: a reminder is the York Water Gate near the foot of Craven Street, Charing Cross, which served the Duke of Buckingham’s house.

Going downstream fronj Westminster Bridge we have a full-length view of County Hall, built in 1922 for the London County Council from designs by Ralph Knott and now occupied by the Greater London Council. Set well back from the river is the Shell Centre, a huge block rising more than 300 feet above street level. Lifts to the 25th floor provide the best views with the least effort. On the other side of the river is the main building of the Ministry of Defence.

Beyond the ugly railway bridge is the Royal Festival Hall, one of the finest concert halls in the world. It is an outcome of the 1951 Festival of Britain but was not entirely finished until 1966.

There are seats for 3,000, a large restaurant looking out over the river and good parking arrangements. Between Festival Hall and Waterloo Bridge are the Queen Elizabeth Concert Hall, the smaller Purcell Room, and the National Film Theatre.

Cleopatras Needle Victoria Embankment

Cleopatras Needle Victoria Embankment

Embankment Garden

Embankment Garden

Across the river are the attractive Victoria Embankment Gardens, always gay with flowers and containing a concert enclosure. The building with the clock is the Shell Mex building; adjoining it is the Savoy Hotel. In the foreground is what is known as Cleopatra’s Needle though it stood in front of the temple of Helio-polis in Egypt long before Cleopatra’s time. The bronze sphinxes are modern. Beyond Waterloo Bridge we see the long river frontage of Somerset House and then come a range of moored ships of which the most notable is Captain Scott’s polar research ship ‘Discovery’. Now the buildings recede and there is a charming view across the lawns of the Inner Temple towards the Strand and Fleet Street. The dome of St. Paul’s has been in view for some time and so we arrive at Blackfriars and the end of the Embankment. The boat continues under Blackfriars Bridge, Southwark Bridge, Cannon Street railway bridge and London Bridge to Tower Pier, just short of Tower Bridge.

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament

The voyage upstream from Westminster Bridge opens with a fine view of the rive/frontage of the Houses of Parliament, the whole splendid range nicely balanced between the Clock Tower and the Victoria Tower. Facing it across the river are the buildings of St. Thomas’s Hospital and then comes Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Lambeth Road passing the Palace leads to the Imperial War Museum, avast collection of military and naval and air service equipment, models and photographs, as well as a reference library of 60,000 books and other publications. Facing the museum is St. George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, designed by Pugin as a large parish church in 1848, created a cathedral in 1850, destroyed during World War II and rebuilt 1953-8.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

The Tate Gallery

The Tate Gallery

Beyond Lambeth Bridge rises one of London’s modern office blocks, the Millbank Tower, and just beyond it is the Tate Gallery. Built in 1897 to house the national collection of British painting, it now, after extensions, includes the national collections of modem foreign painting and of modern sculpture. An almost continuous series of special exhibitions is a feature of the Gallery.

Battersea Park

Battersea Park

Beyond the Gallery is Vauxhall Bridge, leading to the Oval cricket ground, and a little further on we see the well-designed Battersea power station. An ugly railway bridge blocks our view of Chelsea Suspension Bridge but once through we can see the Battersea Pleasure Gardens on the left. Opposite them are the grounds of Chelsea Royal Hospital, home of the celebrated Chelsea Pensioners. Founded by Charles II, the buildings were designed by Wren. Entrance to the grounds is from Royal Hospital Road on the far side. Part of the grounds are used in May for the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show. Beyond the little Chelsea Physic Garden we come to Cheyne Walk, in which almost every house has literary associations. Just beyond Albert Bridge is Cheyne Row, where is Carlyle’s House with a small museum. Chelsea Old Church, completely destroyed during World War II, has been rebuilt in the same admirable style. In Danvers Street is Crosby Hall, a 15th century building removed from Bishopsgate Street in 1908. It is now used as an international hall of residence for women graduates studying in London under the British Federation of University Women, but visitors are permitted to see the wonderful roof and 17th century tapestries.

Beyond Battersea Bridge but still in Cheyne Walk is Lindsey House with a lovely 17th century frontage and now cared for by National Trust.

From Battersea Bridge Beaufort Street leads up to King’s Road, busiest and most famous street in Chelsea and one of the most noted in London. Here are art dealers and artists, bookshops, boutiques and restaurants to appeal to every taste. King’s Road ends at Sloane Square, where is the Royal Court Theatre.

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