In the small London district of Rotherhithe is a museum devoted to the history of the “eighth wonder of the world”. Situated in the Brunel Engine House, the Brunel Museum celebrates the construction of the first underwater tunnel. Next to the building, the Grade II* listed tunnel shaft and the world’s first caisson marks where the beginning of the tunnel began, which eventually reached the opposite side of the River Thames, opening in 1843 as a foot passage from Rotherhithe to Wapping.
The Thames Tunnel was the result of Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s architectural genius. Started in 1825 by Marc Brunel (1769-1849), the project faced several issues, particularly flooding, for which Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59) sought solutions. Whilst the Brunels intended the tunnel for horse-drawn carriages, it was mostly used by pedestrians as a tourist attraction. In 1869, it became a railway tunnel for the East London line, and since 2010 is part of the London Overground railway network.
Due to the rapid expansion of the London Docks, Londoners needed a new land connection between the north and south banks of the Thames. During busy periods, people could hop from one boat or barge to another until they reached the opposite bank, but this was not a practical method of crossing the river. Whilst there are many bridges across the Thames, another would restrict the size of boats entering the dockyards. The only solution was to dig a tunnel under the water. Ralph Dodd (1756-1822), a British civil engineer, attempted to produce the first underwater tunnel in 1798 between Gravesend and Tilbury, but constant flooding prevented the construction.
In 1805, a group of Cornish miners made a second attempt to dig a tunnel under the Thames, this time between Rotherhithe and Wapping. Used to working with hard rock, the workers did not have appropriate tools for the soft clay by the river. After four years of trying and failing, the engineers concluded that “an underground tunnel is impracticable”. Marc Brunel, on the other hand, disagreed.
After studying the two failed tunnels, Marc Brunel invented and patented the tunnelling shield. This technology acted as a temporary support structure, preventing the tunnel from collapsing while under construction. Believing the shield was the solution to underwater tunnel building, Brunel sought funding for another attempt at the Rotherhithe and Wapping tunnel. With financial support from several private investors, including Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), Brunel formed the Thames Tunnel Company in 1824 and began the construction the following year.
Brunel began constructing a shaft on the Rotherhithe side of the river, approximately 46 metres from the water. Using a steam-powered pump, Brunel cut through the earth with a 15-metre-wide iron ring. As the machine sliced through the ground, Brunel’s workers manually removed the soil from the hole. By November 1825, the Rotherhithe shaft was complete, and another was constructed in Wapping on the opposite side of the Thames.
To create the tunnel between the two shafts, Brunel used his iron tunnelling shield, which weighed over 7 tonnes. Whilst the shield worked well, the unsanitary conditions caused illnesses and delays. For hundreds of years, the River Thames served as London’s main sewage system, which slowly seeped through into the tunnel. The methane gas in the sewage often sparked small fires when ignited by the worker’s oil lamps. At best, the engineers only extended the tunnel by two metres a week.
Although the tunnelling shield prevented the tunnel from collapsing, water frequently leaked through the ceiling. On 18th May 1827, by which time the tunnel was 167 metres long, the tunnel flooded. Brunel’s son, Isambard, repaired the damage by lowering a diving bell to the bottom of the Thames and throwing bags of clay over the hole. To celebrate saving the tunnel, the young Brunel held an underground banquet. The artist George Jones (1786-1869) captured the event in a painting, revealing a long table set for 50 guests, including the Duke of Wellington. The Coldstream Guards played music during the meal, making it a rather noisy affair. In the foreground, Jones portrayed Marc and Isambard Brunel, although Marc Brunel did not attend the banquet.
Sixth months after work recommenced, the tunnel flooded again on 12th January 1828, killing six men. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was among the injured and dragged from the tunnel unconscious. Marc Brunel sent his son to Bristol to recover from the incident and attempted to continue the construction. By August, the project faced financial problems, forcing Brunel to halt the progress and seal the tunnel.
It took seven years to raise enough money to continue building the Thames Tunnel, by which time the original tunnelling shield had rusted. After installing a new, improved shield, work started again in March 1836. Before completion, workers faced delays from five more floods, several fires and gas leaks. Finally, in November 1841, the tunnel reached the shaft on the Wapping side of the bank. After installing roads, lights, and spiral staircases and building an engine house on the Rotherhithe side, the Thames Tunnel officially opened on 25th March 1843.
The Thames Tunnel cost £454,000 to dig and a further £180,000 to make it safe for pedestrians. The original plan aimed to make the passage suitable for vehicles, but a lack of funds prevented this. Instead, people paid a penny to pass through the tunnel, which soon became a tourist attraction, with around two million visiting every year. The American traveller, William Allen Drew, described it as the “eighth wonder of the world”, although he had not yet experienced walking through the tunnel. When Drew finally visited, he admitted he felt “somewhat disappointed in it”.
There is no official “eighth wonder of the world”, and it is unlikely the Thames Tunnel deserved the title, despite being the first of its kind. Other nominations for the eighth wonder include Niagara Falls, Angkor Wat, the Great Wall of China, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal and Stonehenge. It seems far-fetched that the Thames Tunnel would win the position against these nominees.
In September 1865, the East London Railway Company purchased the Thames Tunnel for £800,000. They wished to use it as a railway link between Wapping and the South London Line. Sir John Hawkshaw (1811-91), an English civil engineer, built the railway track through the tunnel, which opened on 7th December 1869. Wapping Station, which repurposed the disused construction shaft, eventually opened in 1884. The East London Railway later became part of the London Underground, which wanted to make cheap repairs to parts of the tunnel. A Grade II* ruling in 1995 prevented this, meaning extra care must be taken to preserve the original architecture. As of 2010, the tunnel between Wapping and Rotherhithe forms part of the London Overground line.
Marc Brunel’s determination and invention of the tunnelling shield, alongside the support of his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, paved the way for future underwater tunnels. A second underwater tunnel opened in London between Tower Hill and Vine Lane in 1869, and Sir John Hawkshaw constructed the Severn Tunnel under the River Severn between 1873 and 1886. Hawkshaw belonged to the original Channel Tunnel Company, which aimed to build a tunnel under the Strait of Dover. This feat was not achieved until 1994.
With so many underwater tunnels in existence, the world’s first success is largely forgotten. The Brunel Museum aims to keep the history of the Thames Tunnel alive with a detailed exhibition inside the former engine house. In 2011, a concrete floor was added to the shaft above the tracks. Visitors can climb down to this level of the shaft and see the smoke-blackened walls caused by old steam trains. Occasionally, concerts and exhibitions are held in the shaft.
The engine house has been used as a museum since 1961 but has needed lots of work and refurbishment over the years. In 1975, the Brunel Exhibition Rotherhithe Trust prevented the building’s closure by providing money to repair structural decay. In 2007, the museum underwent major restoration work to create a larger exhibition space and better toilet facilities. These refurbishments coincided with the addition of the concrete floor inside the shaft.
Since 2019, the Brunel Museum has received development funding from the Heritage Fund to continue improving visitor experience and for the protection of the Grade II* listed building and shaft. The museum has recently acquired a collection of Marc Brunel’s Thames Tunnel watercolour designs, which detail his ideas and progress. Some of these are on display, and others are shown digitally on interactive screens.
The Brunel Museum is currently open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm. From 1st April, opening times will change to Fridays, Sundays and Mondays between 11 am and 5 pm. General admission for adults costs £6, while children and the over 65s cost £4. Special events and group talks are available at various times of the year.
Designated a Grade II listed building in 1980, Battersea Power Station is a decommissioned power station on the south bank of the River Thames, London. Constructed between 1929 and 1941, the station burned coal to create electricity until it closed in 1983. For many years, the building stood empty while several companies attempted to develop plans for its use. Finally, with the help of Malaysian investors, Battersea Power Station reopened as a combination of apartments, offices and a shopping centre in autumn 2022.
The London Power Company proposed the construction of a new power station in 1927. Many protested against the plan because they feared it would be an eyesore and damage the environment. After reassuring the locals the emissions would be “clean and smokeless”, the company commissioned the industrial architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) to design the building. Scott, famed for developing the iconic red telephone boxes, produced plans for two stations, A and B. The construction of Station A began in 1929, with John Mowlem & Co building the facade.
Scott initially proposed square chimneys, but these were switched to cylindrical chimneys during the construction process. Whilst the chimneys are 50 metres high, they sit on a 51-metre-tall building, meaning they reach 101 metres above ground level. Station A, completed in 1935, comprises the western pair of chimneys and the boiler house. It cost £2,141,550 to build, and 207 accidents occurred during the process, six of which were fatal.
During the Second World War, Battersea Power Station continued running, despite the steam from the chimneys making it visible from the sky. Royal Airforce Pilots benefited from the smoke, particularly on foggy nights, because it helped them determine their location. Similarly, the German Luftwaffe used the smoke for navigation, so they never bombed the power station.
Construction of Station B began in 1944 and gradually started operating between 1953 and 1955. Scott’s design for the second station was the mirror image of Station A, resulting in the iconic four-chimney layout. The final chimney was ready for use in 1955, making Battersea Power Station complete. The boiler room was now so large it could fit the entirety of St Paul’s Cathedral.
With Station B complete, Battersea Power Station could produce up to 509 megawatts (MW), making it the third-largest generating site in the UK. London Power Company initially operated Station A, but by the time Station B came into use, the government had nationalised the UK’s electricity supply, thus transferring the station’s ownership to the British Electricity Authority (BEA).
The station was responsible for powering a fifth of London’s electricity, so when an electrical fire occurred on 20th April 1964, a wide-spread area experienced power outages. Unfortunately, one affected building was the BBC Television Centre which was due to launch BBC 2 that evening. As a result of the fire, BBC 2 could not go on air until 11 am the following morning.
Aside from producing electricity, Battersea Power Station became an iconic structure in popular culture and featured in many films and television programmes. Even before the construction of Station B, the building appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Sabotage (1936). In more recent years, it has been a setting in Children of Men (2006) and the 2020 video game Watch Dogs: Legion. Most notably, Battersea Power Station appeared on the album cover of Animals (1977) by Pink Floyd.
Designed by Storm Thorgerson (1944-2013), Pink Floyd’s Animals album cover featured an inflatable pig floating between two chimneys of Battersea Power Station. For the photoshoot and music video, the band tethered a helium-filled 12ft pig called Algie to one of the southern chimneys on 2nd December 1976. A marksman stood nearby with a gun to shoot the pig balloon down in an emergency. The following day, the band returned to the station to add the finishing touches to their video but forgot to inform the marksman. Inevitably, the balloon escaped its moorings and quickly disappeared from view. The pig flew over Heathrow, causing delayed and cancelled flights, while pilots up above panicked about the strange object in their flight path. Eventually, Algie the pig balloon landed in a field on the coast of Kent, frightening a herd of cows.
Before the Pink Floyd fiasco, Station A ceased operating on 17th March 1975 due to increased running costs. Rumours began to spread about Station B following suit, resulting in a campaign to save the building. In 1980, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine (b.1933), awarded the building Grade II listed status, which meant the building could not be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission from the local planning authority. As a result, when Station B ceased operating on 31st October 1983, the building remained standing and empty.
In 1983, the Central Electricity Generating Board, responsible for looking after the building, held a competition for redevelopment ideas. The winning idea proposed a theme park with shops and restaurants. John Broome, the owner of Alton Towers Resort, purchased Battersea Power Station for £1.5 million, but he estimated the development costs at £35 million. The theme park would need to attract 2 million visitors annually to make a profit. Undeterred, Broome started converting the site, and British Rail considered installing a shuttle service between London Victoria and Battersea.
After removing the roof to extract the old machinery, Broome halted the project in 1989. Costs had escalated to an unaffordable £230 million, so Broome ditched the theme park proposal. New ideas flooded in, such as a mixture of offices, shops and a hotel, but the building remained stationary and open to the elements for several years.
In 1993, Parkview International, a Hong Kong-based development company, purchased Battersea Power Station for £10,000. The building came with £70,000 of debt and significant damage from bad weather and flooding. Ten years later, Parkview International began a £1.1 billion project to restore the building and develop it into a retail, leisure and housing complex. Various architects submitted plans for the interior of the complex and extra buildings surrounding the area. The local Battersea Power Station Community Group actively campaigned against these schemes, stating the housing would be unaffordable and “If you surround it with buildings 15 storeys high, you don’t have a landmark any more.”
Further problems arose after construction workers discovered that parts of the chimneys had corroded. Impossible to save, Parkview International sought permission from English Heritage and the London Borough of Wandsworth to demolish and replace the chimneys of the Grade II-listed building. Unfortunately, this unexpected cost put an end to Parkview’s redevelopment plans.
In 2006, Real Estate Opportunities (REO) purchased the site for £400 million, intending to create a 980-foot-high “eco tower” and reopen the building as a power station. The plan included using the chimneys as vents for the biomass and waste fuelled station, while the interior of the building housed a shopping centre and museum. Rather than replacing the roof over the boiler house, REO proposed developing an open-air park in the space. REO claimed the materials used would reduce energy consumption in the buildings by 67%.
REO’s plans were due to go ahead in 2011, but the failure to secure a financial backer put an end to the proceedings, and REO went into administration. New proposals for Battersea Power Station came flooding in, including Sir Terry Farrell’s (b.1938) urban park and a new stadium for Chelsea Football Club. Finally, on 7th June 2012, Ernst & Young Global Limited (EY), partnered with Malaysian developers SP Setia and Sime Darby, won the bid. They proposed to restore the power station, create a riverside park and high street and construct 800 homes.
Construction commenced in 2013 on phase one of the latest project. The entire scheme comprises six phases, three of which are complete as of writing. Phase one involved the development of Circus West Village, a complex to one side of the power station. Completed in 2017, the village contains 23 restaurants, cafes and retailers, and houses over 1500 residents.
Phase two also commenced in 2013. It involved the restoration of the Art Deco power station and the reconstruction of the chimneys. Although the majority of the building work was completed by 2017, the interior required more work. Eventually, the main body of the power station opened to the public on 14th October 2022. Where the engine room once stood, shops, bars, and restaurants fill the space. There are also 254 apartments and a cinema.
To make Battersea Power Station more accessible, the London Underground agreed to create a new branch of the Northern Line. Branching off at Kennington Station, the 1.9-mile-long track serves two new stations: Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station. The construction cost £1.1 billion and opened on 20th September 2021.
Since the opening of the main shopping centre, phase three reached completion. Known as the Electric Boulevard, it contains 1,300 sustainable (and supposedly affordable) homes and a handful of shops, cafes and restaurants. Phase four promises more housing and an NHS medical centre. Phases five and six will also provide housing as well as outdoor areas.
Despite the promises of affordable houses, the Battersea Power Station shopping centre feels like a rich person’s playground. Upmarket shops and brands fill the various levels of the building, including Calvin Klein, Mulberry, Omega, Ralph Lauren and Rolex. Similarly, restaurants cater for those with extra cash to spend, notably Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen. The successful businesses will help pay for the £10 billion restoration project, but it is currently only targeting a niche clientele.
A unique highlight at Battersea Power Station is Lift 109, which carries visitors 109 metres to the top of the northwest chimney. At the top, tourists are treated to a 360-degree view of London. The (overpriced) experience allows people to watch planes landing at Heathrow Airport in the distance and gaze down at the many significant buildings that make up London’s skyline.
It is too early to say if Battersea Power Station’s make-over is a success. It is not yet reaching its target footfall, but it promises many events and exhibitions in the future, which will help attract much-needed visitors.
Whilst Battersea Power Station features parking facilities, it is easy to get to on the underground. Battersea Power Station underground station is situated next to the shopping centre; alternatively, the River Boat service provides regular transport into central London. Tickets for Lift 109 start at £15.50 when purchased online but are considerably more expensive at weekends or if purchased on-site.
Dear Simeon, Norway has gifted our Queen a majestic pet of a polar bear. Her Majesty has given permission for the incredible creature to swim along the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge to hunt for fish and stretch his big, fluffy, white legs. The other day, the royal pet came back from his paddle with something stuck between his teeth … it’s a treasure map of the long-lost mysterious island of Bridges! It’s no surprise that the Palace has tasked YOU to find out where the gold and gems are hidden, after all, you are the world’s most famous treasure hunter. You will need to venture on this epic journey, solving clues scribbled on the back of the map and avoiding booby traps to pinpoint the exact location of the treasure. Good luck, Simeon!
Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), was intrigued to read these instructions while having his elevensies in a cafe on Tooley Street near London Bridge Station. Fortunately, Simeon was only a stone’s throw away from the start of the Treasure Trail, so after finishing his cup of tea, Simeon set off on his search for clues.
To solve his first clue, Simeon carefully climbed down the steps belonging to the 1831 London Bridge designed by John Rennie (1761-1821) and built by his son of the same name (1794-1874). Not only are these stairs very old, but they are also the location of the murder of Nancy in Charles Dicken’s (1812-70) book Oliver Twist (1837). Fortunately, there was no sign of the criminal Bill Sikes, so Simeon safely reached the bottom of the staircase.
The current London Bridge is one of many that have spanned the River Thames since the Romans built the first one around 2,000 years ago. The original may have had a drawbridge in the centre to allow ships to pass, but today’s bridge does not have this feature.
Simeon quickly hastened across the bridge, staying away from the edges so that he would not fall into the river. He was a little nervous after hearing that the British warship HMS Jupiter collided with London Bridge in 1984. The Leander-class frigate of the Royal Navy weighed 16,060, approximately the same as 3,200 elephants, so the collision caused a lot of damage. The ship’s captain, Commander Colin Hamilton, was severely reprimanded for the accident.
The first bridge, built around 50 AD, was a wooden pontoon bridge made from several barges that floated on the river. Naturally, this bridge did not last long, and another was constructed in 59 AD. This time, the Romans used long poles known as piles to lift the bridge above the water level. The surrounding area became a small trading settlement, which grew into the town of Londinium. Unfortunately, the second bridge was destroyed in 60 AD by Queen Boudicca of the Celtic Iceni tribe. Although the bridge did not survive, the Romans fought back and defeated the rebels. After this, they built a wall around the town, some of which still survives today, and another bridge.
At the end of Roman rule in Britain, Londinium was abandoned, and the wall, buildings and bridge fell into disrepair. Some claim Alfred the Great (849-899) built another bridge in 878 AD, but others suggest this was Sweyn Forkbeard, father of Cnut the Great (d. 1035). Regardless of its creator, Norse poetry records the destruction of the bridge in 1014 by Olaf II Haraldsson (995-1030), the King of Norway. In Saxon literature about the Battle of Brentford, fought in 1016 between the English led by Edmund Ironside (990-1016) and the Danes led by Cnut, there is mention of a bridge crossing the Thames, which suggests another had been built.
Records reveal that William the Conqueror (1028-87) built a new London Bridge after the Norman Conquest in 1066. His son, William II (1050-1100), repaired or replaced it during his reign, only for it to be destroyed by fire in 1136. King Stephen (1096-1154) built a new one, and Henry II (1133-89) created the “Brethren of the Bridge” to oversee repairs and maintenance.
In 1170, following the murder of Saint Thomas Becket, the repentant Henry II commissioned a new bridge from stone rather than wood, upon which a chapel stood in memory of the martyr. Building works began in 1176 and continued during the reign of King John (1166-1216). In addition to the chapel, several houses and shops spanned the distance across the Thames. Money from the rent helped maintain the bridge. By the late 14th century, the bridge had reached its capacity of 140 houses. Presumably, several of these later merged because, by 1605, there were only 91. Descriptions of the buildings from the 17th century suggest they had four or more storeys, including a shop on the ground floor.
Simeon wishes he could have seen the bridge with all the shops and houses, but sadly several fires made the upkeep of the bridge impossible. These fires destroyed sections of the bridge over the years, and the houses were gradually demolished for safety purposes. The last house was pulled down in 1761.
In 1799, architects and engineers entered a competition to design a new London Bridge to replace the medieval one. Whilst Thomas Telford’s (1757-1834) proposal was deemed the safest, it would result in the demolition of many neighbouring buildings. Instead, John Rennie the Elder (1761-1821) won the competition with his conventional five-stone-arches design. Rennie had previously designed Waterloo Bridge further along the river, which featured nine equal arches. Unfortunately, Rennie died before work on the new London Bridge began, so the construction was overseen by his son, John Rennie the Younger (1794-1874).
The new London Bridge opened in 1831 and soon became the busiest point in London, with over 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossing every hour. Unfortunately, by the 1920s, the bridge was sinking into the riverbed, and talks began about replacing it. Due to costs, nothing much happened for a few decades until Ivan Luckin of the Common Council of the City of London suggested selling the bridge in 1968. Robert P. McCulloch (1911-1977) of McCulloch Oil purchased it for $2,460,000, and the bridge was carefully disassembled and sent to Arizona, where it was reconstructed over Lake Havasu.
The current bridge, or the “New New London Bridge”, as Simeon jokingly calls it, was designed by Baron William Holford (1907-1975) and opened in 1973. It cost £4 million to build, which equates to roughly £60.1 million today. “No wonder they were not happy when HMS Jupiter collided with it in 1984!” exclaimed Simeon.
Shortly after crossing over London Bridge, the clues led Simeon to a church, where he thought he would stop for a rest before carrying on his journey. Peeking through the door into the sanctuary, Simeon almost jumped out of his fur when he came face-to-face with a Viking! Fortunately, it was only a statue, so Simeon bravely entered the building for a closer look.
On closer inspection, Simeon discovered the Viking was Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney (1080-1115), also known as Saint Magnus the Martyr, to whom the church is dedicated. Magnus’ father, Erland, and his uncle Paul were the joint rulers of the Orkney islands off the northeast of Scotland. When he was young, Magnus and his cousin Hakon were kidnapped by King Magnus Barefoot of Norway (1073-1103) and forced to serve aboard a pirate ship. Magnus resisted because piracy went against his Christian values, so he spent his time on board singing psalms and praying. Eventually, Magnus escaped and sought asylum at the court of Malcolm III of Scotland (d. 1093).
When Magnus Barefoot died in 1103, Magnus and Hakon returned to the Orkneys, where they began jointly ruling in 1106. Unfortunately, the power-hungry Hakon wanted full control of the islands and, by 1114, was prepared to battle for the title. Not wanting to fight, Magnus agreed to hold peace negotiations on the Island of Egilsay in c.1115, but instead of reconciliation, Hakon ordered his cousin’s murder. Magnus tried to take refuge in a church, but Hakon’s soldiers captured him. The soldiers refused to kill Magnus despite Hakon’s demands. Instead, Hakon forced his cook to strike Magnus over the head with an axe.
The Church of St Magnus the Martyr was built in the Baroque style of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) following the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed the original church on the site. Due to its proximity to Old Billingsgate Market, a famous fish market, the church became the guild church of the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. It is also the guild church of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers and the ward church of the Ward of Bridge and Bridge Without.
Although a church has existed on the site for around 900 years, it was not dedicated to St Magnus until the 20th century. Initially, the church considered dedicating the building to the Roman saint of Cæsarea until the famous Danish archaeologist Professor Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae (1821-85) proposed St Magnus while conducting research about the Vikings in Britain. Support for the latter proposal increased after the discovery of St Magnus of Orkney’s relics in 1919. After much discussion, the dedication to St Magnus took place in April 1926.
During Simeon’s exploration of the church, he came across many exciting things, most notably a model of Old London Bridge by David T. Aggett (1930-2021), a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers. Aggett’s phenomenal attention to detail reveals the precariously balanced medieval buildings and over 900 miniature figures, showing how crowded the bridge was on a daily basis. Amongst the crowds is King Henry V (1386-1422), processing from Southwark to the City of London.
Aside from the model of the bridge and the statue of St Magnus, there are several artworks in the church, including iconic paintings of the Virgin Mary. A statue of Our Lady of Walsingham references the village where the Virgin allegedly appeared to Richeldis de Faverches, a devout noblewoman, in 1061. On the other side of the church is a monument to Myles Coverdale (1488-1569), an English preacher who produced the first complete printed translation of the Bible into English. Other dedicated items are dotted around the church, including stained glass windows, but Simeon had no time to investigate everything. He had treasure to locate!
After leaving the church, Simeon hurried through Old Billingsgate Market, which thankfully no longer smells of fish, and past a church called All Hallows by the Tower until he reached the Tower of London. Due to the temporary Superbloom event, the area in front of the Tower was much more crowded than usual, making searching for clues harder for Simeon, but he was not deterred. Until 18th September 2022, the water-less moat of the Tower is open to the public. In honour of the Queen’s platinum jubilee, over 20 million flower seeds were sown in the moat to create beautiful gardens, including the Queen’s Garden, inspired by her 1953 coronation gown. Simeon had a quick glance down into the moat in case any clues had fallen in and spotted a few (thankfully pretend) fierce lions. He did not spot any polar bears (or gibbons), despite knowing that Henry III was given a white bear by the King of Norway in 1252.
At the side of the Tower of London, Simeon spotted a curious set of stairs leading into the River Thames. Known as the “Queen’s Stairs”, this was once the main entrance to the Tower for important visitors. Anne Boleyn (1507-36) entered the Tower here from a boat to prepare for her coronation as Queen and marriage to Henry VIII (1491-1547). Further along the river, Simeon came across “Traitor’s Gate”, where Anne Boleyn entered the Tower for the final time. All traitors were brought into the Tower through this gate as prisoners, subjected to a trial, and received their punishment. Unfortunately for Anne, she had her head chopped off. With fur standing on end, Simeon hurried away from the Tower before he could suffer the same fate!
Simeon’s next task was to cross back over the river via Tower Bridge. This was even scarier than London Bridge because Tower Bridge is a bascule bridge, meaning it can swing upwards to let large boats pass beneath. After double checking no large boats were heading his way, Simeon began the 240-metre walk across the Thames.
Commercial development in the East End of London rapidly increased in the 19th century, leading to the requirement of another river crossing downstream from London Bridge. In 1877, the Special Bridge or Subway Committee held a design competition, which more than 50 architects and engineers entered. Many bridge concepts were rejected due to insufficient headroom, so the winning design was not chosen until 1884, when civil engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry (1836-1918) proposed a bascule bridge. Working alongside the designer Sir Horace Jones (1819-87), Barry developed the plans to include two Gothic-style towers, joined together by two horizontal walkways around 60 metres above the surface of the water.
Construction of Tower Bridge began in 1886, and officially opened in 1894. The construction cost £1,184,000, equivalent to over £143 million today. During the Second World War, Tower Bridge became a target for enemy action because it was a major transport link across the Thames. In 1940, the high-level walkways took a direct hit, putting the bridge out of action for some time. Another bomb caused damage to the towers and engine room, which contained the hydraulic machinery to power the bascules. Fortunately, by the end of the war, Tower Bridge remained standing but needed significant repairs.
Since 1982, the two towers and high-level walkways have been open to the public as part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition. Simeon did not have time to investigate on this occasion but has heard about the great views across London from the top. After reaching the opposite bank of the Thames, Simeon hurried off to search for more clues in the historic riverside street, Shad Thames. Known now for restaurants and luxurious apartments, Shad Thames once contained the largest warehouse complex in London. In Victorian times, the warehouses stored tea, coffee, and many spices, such as vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, anise and coriander.
Shad Thames has featured in many films and television shows, including Oliver! (1968), Doctor Who (1984), A Fish Called Wanda (1988), Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Run Fat Boy Run (2007), and Cruella (2021). Simeon did not see any camera crews, but he made sure to be on his best behaviour just in case.
In Horselydown Square, just off Shad Thames, Simeon discovered an impressive water feature by the British painter and sculptor Antony Donaldson (b. 1938). Created in 1991, Waterfall features a copper cistern from which water flows over the edge. Six life-size, bronze female figures in various poses cling to the cistern, while a seventh reclines on the surrounding wall.
Averting his eyes from the unclothed figures, Simeon took great interest in other bronze objects around the fountain wall. Simeon found a camera, wallet, watch, sunglasses, shoes, and a pile of books, all presumably belonging to the women playing in the water.
Simeon’s next set of clues took him to Potters Field Park between Tower Bridge and City Hall. The name originates from the many potters working in the area during the 17th and 18th century, such as Pickleherring Pottery, established in 1618 by Christian Wilhelm. Between 1618 and 1710, 124 potters operated in the area, which decreased to 68 between 1710 and 1733. Since 1772, pottery making has disappeared from the area, but their memory lives on in the name of the park, which opened in 1988.
Further along the Thames is Hay’s Galleria, where Simeon looked for some of his final clues. Originally a warehouse known as Hay’s Wharf, the galleria gets its name from Alexander Hay, who owned a brewery on the site in 1651. When John Humphrey acquired the property in the 1840s, he commissioned the English engineering contractor and future Lord Mayor William Cubitt (1791-1863) to convert it into a wharf. Hay’s Wharf became one of the chief delivery points for tea in London, and at its height, received around 80% of the dry produce imported to London, earning it the nickname ‘the Larder of London’.
Hay’s Wharf remained in use until the Second World War when it suffered severe bomb damage. Attempts to rebuild the wharf were thwarted by modern shipping techniques, such as containerisation, and Hay’s Wharf officially closed in 1970. The majority of the old dockland areas were purchased by St Martin’s Property Corporation, and Hay’s Wharf was converted into Hay’s Galleria. Hay’s Galleria housed a year-round market and became a popular tourist attraction. Permanent traders sold souvenirs and jewellery from stalls until 2010 when they were removed and replaced with more traditional shop formats. Hay’s Galleria also features restaurants, flats and offices.
Finally, Simeon reached the location of his final clue and discovered the whereabouts of the mysterious Island of Bridges. After reporting back to Treasure Trails, Simeon received his well-deserved certificate. Treasure Trails provide adventure, mystery and spy trails all across Great Britain. Whilst Simeon always has fun solving the clues, he also enjoys learning about the area, as do his human companions.
To purchase A Tale of Two Bridges from Treasure Trails, click here.
Dear Secret Agent Simeon, Special forces in London have learnt that aliens are planning an attack on the Earth. Their primary method of control will be to transmit supersonic radio waves using the spikes of the O2 dome in North Greenwich as a broadcast relay. The code to jam the signal is out there somewhere! We just need you to follow the Trail and work it out! Regards, Treasure Trails
Yet again, Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), is called in to save the world. After receiving instructions from Treasure Trails, Simeon rushed to North Greenwich in London to search and unscramble clues. Here, Simeon exited the London Underground onto Peninsula Square. In front of him stood the multi-purpose O2 arena (formerly the Millennium Dome), upon which twelve 100 metre yellow spikes rose high into the air. After checking that the aliens were not already transmitting radio waves from the spikes, Simeon looked around for clues.
The ground on which Simeon stood was formerly known as Greenwich Marshes. The land once belonged to the River Thames until the 16th century, when Dutch engineers drained the area to use as pasture land. During the following century, the peninsula was also used to store gunpowder, which traders delivered by boat to places across the world. Also, in the 17th century, corpses of pirates were hung in cages to deter other would-be pirates from committing crimes at sea. Fortunately, the pirates were of no concern to Simeon; he felt more worried about the potential alien attack.
During the 19th century, Greenwich Marshes grew into an industrial area with Henry Blakeley’s Ordnance Works and Henry Bessemer’s steelworks taking up residence. During the 1870s, shipbuilders, oil companies and gas companies arrived, the latter of which dominated the peninsula for the next 100 years. East Greenwich Gas Works was the last of its kind built in London and spanned 240 acres, making it the largest gas works in Europe. It eventually closed in the 1960s after the discovery of natural gas reserves in the North Sea rendered it obsolete.
Significant development work took place during the 1990s, including new roads, cycleways, homes and commercial spaces. The decade came to an end with the opening of the Millennium Dome and North Greenwich station. The year 2000 saw the construction of Greenwich Millennium Village on the site of the old gasworks. Today, there are approximately 2000 flats and houses in the urban village. Nearby, the man-made Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park reflects the nature of the original marshland and provides a green space in the ever-growing city.
Until the Blackwall Tunnel opened in 1897, the only way to reach Greenwich Peninsula was by boat and foot. The railway did not pass through the area until 1999 when North Greenwich tube station opened on the Jubilee line. Simeon was pleased he could travel by train since he did not fancy swimming across the Thames. Since 2012, another mode of transport, the Emirates Air Line, takes passengers from the peninsula to the Royal Victoria Dock on the opposite side of the river. This is where Simeon headed next to seek out more clues.
The Emirates Air Line is a 0.62-mile (1.00 km) cable car service run by Transport for London (TfL). It carries 34 cabins across the Thames at up to 90 metres (300 ft) above ground level, providing stunning views across London. On a clear day, passengers can see as far as Wembley Stadium, 13 miles away.
After years of planning, the Emirates Air Line took one year to construct. Wilkinson Eyre Architects, Expedition Engineering and Buro Happold collaborated on the design, featuring three helix towers supporting the long steel cable. Each cable car can carry up to 10 passengers, meaning 2500 people can travel every hour. This is the equivalent of 50 busloads.
Whilst keeping an eye out of aliens, Simeon admired the view and excitedly pointed out the buildings he could see. From the cable car, passengers can appreciate the unique design of the O2 Dome, which appears much smaller from such a height, despite being large enough to hold 12 football pitches. In the distance, skyscrapers such as The Shard and One Canada Square (Canary Wharf) dwarf the surrounding buildings, including the peculiar shaped 30 St Mary Axe building (the Gherkin). Other notable structures include the ArcelorMittal Orbit in Stratford, the London Eye and, on a clear day, the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, which connects Dartford in Kent with Thurrock in Essex.
Simeon’s spy documents told him to look out for the lighthouse on Trinity Buoy Wharf, which is the home of Longplayer, an installation that plays a piece of music with a total expected runtime of 1000 years. Composed by British composer and musician Jem Finer (b.1955), the music started to play at midnight on 1st January 2000. It will continue without repetition until 31st December 2999.
The lighthouse, sometimes known as Bow Creek Lighthouse, was built between 1864 and 1866 by Sir James Douglass (1826-98). There were once two lighthouses on Trinity Buoy Wharf, but the older was demolished in the 1920s. They were used by the Corporation of Trinity House to test lighting systems for lighthouses around the country. English scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867) also conducted experiments with electric lighting.
Since 2005, the University of East London uses the wharf as the location of their fine art studios. The university also uses the old Chainstore as a dance studio. The BBC used the Chainstore as the filming location for series seven of The Great British Sewing Bee in 2021. The wharf is also home to the Thames Clippers, which sail Londoners and tourists up and down the river. When not in use, they store the boats on the pier.
Simeon dismounted from the Emirates Air Line onto the Royal Victoria Dock, the largest dock in the redeveloped Docklands. The original docks opened in 1855 on the unused Plaistow Marshes. Engineer prodigy, George Parker Bidder (1806-78), designed the docks to accommodate large steam ships and use hydraulic power to operate machinery. Initially, the dock was named Victoria Dock until it was granted the “Royal” prefix in 1880.
By 1860, Victoria Dock received annual shipments of 850,000 tons, over double the other docks in London. Unfortunately, damage during the Second World War made the dock impractical, and trade gradually declined until it ceased altogether in 1981. A decade later, the dilapidated area underwent redevelopment by the London Docklands Development Corporation. Most warehouses were demolished, and in their place, the Britannia Village and the ExCeL were built. Since 2009, Royal Victoria Dock is the location of the Great London Swim, during which participants swim a mile in the River Thames.
Simeon had no desire to swim in the Thames and set about looking for clues on dry land. So that the aliens could not spot him, Simeon made use of the Peekaboo bench on the waterfront. Designed by Portia Malik, the playful bench provides privacy for swimmers to change into and out of their swimming costumes and wetsuits. It includes hooks for a towel and two peepholes so the sitter can see what is happening on the other side of the bench. Simeon had great fun watching the world go by unobserved.
After successfully unearthing clues on the Eastern Quay of the Royal Victoria Dock, Simeon needed to cross the water to the Northern Quay. With no cable cars to take him across, Simeon searched for an alternative route. Swimming across was out of the question, so Simeon was relieved when he found the entrance to the Royal Victoria Dock Bridge.
Designed and built by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands in 1998, the Royal Victoria Dock Bridge is accessible at both ends by a lift and stair towers. Simeon did not fancy climbing up the tower to a height of 15 m (50 ft) above the water level, so he took the lift instead. The bridge spans 127.5 m (418 ft) and is tall enough to allow yachts to sail underneath.
From the top of the bridge, Simeon had a good view across the dock. He particularly enjoyed seeing aeroplanes taking off from London City Airport. The airport opened in 1987 and sees hundreds of planes taking off and landing every day. It is currently under threat from the political Green Party, who believe the planes cause “untold health and environmental problems to thousands of local residents”. Nonetheless, London City Airport continues to serve over 5 million passengers a year and flies to at least 35 destinations. Whilst Simeon saw many planes, he did not see any alien spaceships. “I must crack the code and prevent the aliens from attacking,” said Simeon as he tore his eyes away from the runway.
While crossing the bridge, Simeon spotted the derelict Millennium Mills, which the Evening Standard describes as a “decaying industrial anachronism standing defiant and alone in the surrounding subtopia.” The building closed along with the Royal Docks in 1981 and, as yet, has not been demolished or restored. Plans were made to redevelop the building with the rest of the Royal Victoria Dock, yet the Millennium Mills remain untouched.
The urban thrill seeker Christian Koch describes the Millennium Mills as a booby-trapped House of Horrors. “Danger awaits their every step in Millennium Mills. The rotten floors are comparable to thick slices of Emmenthal riddled with pigeon faeces and yawning holes that drop eight or nine storeys in some places.” The unused building has been a setting in several television series and films, including Ashes to Ashes (2008), The Man From U.N.C.L.E (2013), Paddington 2 (2017), and Alex Rider (2020).
At the other end of the bridge, Simeon took the lift down to ground level and emerged by the ExCeL (Exhibition Centre London). The convention centre opened on the Royal Victoria Dock in 2000. It has hosted several events over the past two decades, including the British International Motor Show, MCM London Comic Con, and the 2009 G-20 London Summit. In 2012, the London Olympics held several events at the ExCeL, such as boxing, fencing, judo, taekwondo, table tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling. At the outbreak of COVID-19, the NHS transformed the ExCeL into a temporary hospital, which they named NHS Nightingale. Since the hospital closed, the site has become a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre.
Simeon did not need to visit the ExCeL to solve the remainder of his clues and work out the code to stop the aliens from attacking the Earth. Instead, he explored the northern quay, where he came across an interesting sculpture. Erected in 2009, Landed is a bronze sculpture by Australian fine artist Les Johnson. It was funded by the Royal Docks Trust, the ExCeL and the Queen Mother as a tribute to those who worked in the Royal Docks between 1855 and 1981. Landed depicts three larger-than-life dockworkers going about their daily work. One man unchains a delivery of goods while another tallies the items in a notebook. The third man stands by with a two-wheel hand trolley, ready to transport the items to the warehouse.
Johnson based the three men on real dockworkers. One is Johnny Ringwood, a former seaman who had sailed the world before working on the docks. At the age of 81, Ringwood, now living in Hornchurch, published his biography Cargoes & Capers: The life and times of a London Docklands man (2017), which describes his experiences at sea and on land. The tally clerk is modelled on Patrick Holland, who worked as a stevedore for twenty years. At the unveiling of the statue, his wife Patricia explained, “stevedore is a Portuguese name, this was a skilled job, and these men were in the hold of the ship all day unloading or loading.” The third man is Mark Tibbs, a boxer from Canning Town.
Finally, Simeon reached the end of his trail, worked out the code and jammed the alien’s signal. “Mission accomplished!” cheered Simeon. Compared with other missions from Treasure Trails, the Cable Car Mission was particularly difficult, but nothing can defeat a determined gibbon. As well as solving clues, Simeon learned a lot about the Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Victoria Dock. He particularly enjoyed travelling in the cable car, even if it did momentarily stop, leaving him dangling over the Thames!
As a reward, Simeon treated himself to a chicken burger at Top 1 Forever, a restaurant based in the redeveloped section of Royal Victoria Dock. Well deserved!
Ahoy there, Simeon! The Cutty Sark restoration team have come across a strange document wedged in behind the ship’s figurehead. A map of an island and set of directions allude to “The Green Witch Treasure”. But which witch? Do they mean Greenwich? And what treasure? Can you follow the trail for a spell and see where it leads – and maybe you’ll earn some bounty in return?
After receiving a copy of the map and directions from Treasure Trails, Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) wasted no time in getting himself to Greenwich to discover the mystery of “The Green Witch Treasure”. (Naturally this included a trip on the Emirates Airline and the Thames Clipper; after all, he is a very adventurous gibbon.) From the Cutty Sark to the Royal Observatory, Simeon raked over the ground, climbed up steep hills (he was carried) and investigated several buildings. He studied the Meridian line, appreciated the architectural beauty of the Queen’s House, Naval College, and the Maritime Museum, and resisted the temptation to jump into the River Thames (it was a hot day). Eventually, Simeon unearthed the location of the treasure but, along the way, he found and learnt about the hidden treasures of Greenwich.
Greenwich, located 5.5 miles from the heart of London, is notable for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Merdian (0° longitude) and Greenwich Mean Time. It was the birthplace of many of the Tudor Royals, who once spent time at the Palace of Placentia. During the reign of Charles II (1630-85), the palace was demolished and a new building erected, now used by the University of Greenwich.
With reference to a place named Gronewic in a Saxon charter of 918 AD, it is believed the area of Greenwich has been populated for over 1000 years. It is recorded as Grenviz in the Domesday Book of 1086, and later as Grenewych in the Taxatio Ecclesiastica of 1291.
As Simeon discovered at the top of Greenwich Park after a long uphill walk, the ground is full of huge mounds and craters, making it appear as though they were the foundations of an old house. Further research reveals these are tumuli, also known as barrows or burial mounds. These are thought to be early Bronze Age barrows (3000 BC), which were later appropriated by the Saxons in the 6th century AD.
During the reign of Æthelred II (the Unready; 966-1016), a Danish fleet (i.e. Viking) anchored on the River Thames and camped on the hill in Greenwich for three years. During this time, they attacked the county of Kent and took the Archbishop of Canterbury as their prisoner. This was Archbishop Alphege (or Ælfheah; 935-1012), who was kept prisoner for seven months until he was stoned to death for his refusal to allow his ransom of 3,000 pieces of silver to be paid.
Shortly into Simeon’s treasure trail, he entered St. Alfege Passage and came across a church bearing the sign “open”. Being the lazy little gibbon that he is, Simeon decided it was a great opportunity for a rest but what he found inside was so interesting that he barely sat down at all! The church is built on the site where Saint Alfege was allegedly killed and a memorial stone marks the spot inscribed with the words “He who dies for justice, dies for Christ.”
The current building, which is undergoing restoration work, was not the first church on the site. No one knows when the first was built but records state the second building was built during the 13th century. It is highly likely that Henry VIII (1491-1547) and other Tudor royals were baptised in this church and one of the stained glass windows depicts this event.
Another stained glass window depicts Thomas Tallis (1505-85), the “father of English church music”. He was the organist at St. Alfege Church during the reigns of four Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Edward VI (1537-53), Mary I (1516-55) and Elizabeth I (1533-1603). On display is an old organ that may date to Tallis’ time. This was replaced after the Second World War, however, the current organ was transferred to the church from Eton College in the year 2000.
The second church building was destroyed in 1710 when a gale caused the medieval roof to collapse. A new church was proposed and Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736), a pupil of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), was chosen to be the architect. The building was completed by 1714, however, on 19th March 1941, an incendiary bomb hit the roof of the church and destroyed a lot of the architecture. In 1946, rebuilding began but many of the original features had to be replaced.
Fortunately, much of the altar survived the bombing during the Second World War. The iron rails were designed by Jean Tijou, a French Huguenot ironworker who also produced screens for Hampton Court and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The original trompe l’œil painting around the alter by James Thornhill, famed for his work in the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, had to be carefully restored.
There were many things that caught Simeon’s eye around the church, including a Coventry Cross made from the medieval nails of Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed during World War II. Simeon enjoyed seeing the stained glass depicting Thomas Tallis and Henry VIII’s baptism. There were also windows commemorating the marriage of Princess Mary (1496- 1533), the fourth child of Henry VII (1457-1509), to the Earl of Suffolk, and General Charles George Gordon (1833-85), who was baptised there in 1833.
At the back of the church is a memorial to General James Wolfe (1727-59), who is also remembered with a statue at the top of Greenwich Park. General Wolfe was 32 when he died after leading his troops to victory at the siege of Quebec in 1759. Wolfe, who had moved to Greenwich in 1738, worshipped at St. Alfege Church and is subsequently buried in a vault in the crypt. Thomas Tallis is also buried in the crypt, as is Sir John Julius Angerstein (1735-1823), the “father of Lloyds of London”, and Samuel Enderby (1719-97), the founder of Samuel Enderby & Sons. Other famous worshippers at St. Alfege’s include Reverend John Flamsteed (1646-1719), the first Astronomer Royal; MP for Canterbury Sir James Creed (1695-1762), for whom the steep street Simeon climbed is named; and Sir John Lethieullier (1633-1719), a sheriff of London. In Charles Dicken’s (1812-70) novel Our Mutual Friend, a wedding takes place in St. Alfege Church.
Up near the statue of General Wolfe in Greenwich Park is Charles II’s Royal Observatory. Initially, this was the site of a tower erected by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1390-1447), the half-brother of Henry V (1386-1422). It was at this observatory that the Greenwich Meridian was determined. A prime meridian and its antimeridian create a full circle that divides the planet into two sections: the Eastern Hemisphere and the Western Hemisphere. The Greenwich Meridian passes through the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana and Antarctica. There is an opportunity to stand on the spot that the (invisible) line passes through, however, Simeon was in too much of a hurry to find his buried treasure to stop and join the crowds of people awaiting their turn.
From the highest point in Greenwich Park, the only hill overlooking the Thames on the eastern approach to London, there is a magnificent view over London. Simeon spotted the towers of Canary Wharf in the background, however, he was most impressed with the buildings at the bottom of the hill. One of these buildings is called the Queen’s House and was commissioned by the wife of James I (1566-1625), Queen Anne of Denmark (1574-1619). The house, designed by Inigo Jones (1573-1652), is one of the surviving buildings belonging to Greenwich Palace. Unfortunately, Anne did not live to see the final outcome and Charles I (1600-49) gave the completed house to his wife Queen Henrietta Maria (1609-69).
The Queen’s House did not remain Queen Henrietta Maria’s house for long due to the English Civil War, which began in 1641. During this time, Greenwich Palace was used as a prisoner-of-war camp as well as a biscuit factory. Later, throughout the Interregnum (1649-1660) the palace and park were seized for the Lord Protector’s use as a mansion. By the time of the Restoration, the remains of the old Palace of Placentia had been pulled down and Charles II began to oversee the construction of new buildings, including the aforementioned Royal Observatory.
Prince James (1633-1701), the Duke of York and future king, was the person to propose the idea of creating a Royal Naval Hospital in the buildings closest to the Thames, however, it was not until his daughter Mary (1662-94) was on the throne that the work began. The construction of the hospital was eventually finished in 1696.
A century later, the Queen’s House, as it is still known, was transformed into the Royal Naval Asylum, a school for children orphaned by war, by George III (1738-1820). This was later amalgamated with the Greenwich Hospital School before eventually being renamed the Royal Hospital School by Queen Victoria (1819-1901) in 1892. As well as the Queen’s House, the school inhabited the building next door, which is now the National Maritime Museum.
The National Maritime Museum was opened during the reign of George V (1865-1936). The Royal Hospital was moved to Suffolk so that the museum could inhabit the buildings in Greenwich. Forming part of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site and Royal Museums Greenwich, the museum contains some of the most important items in relation to the history of Britain at sea. The two million items include maritime art, maps, naval manuscripts and navigational instruments. Two of Britain’s greatest seamen are also celebrated in the museum: Admiral Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) and Captain James Cook (1728-79). Although the museum is free to enter, Simeon passed up the opportunity in favour of finding his hidden treasure.
Despite his persistence in continuing the treasure trail, Simeon had time to give a cursory glance to the granite statue of William IV (1765-1837) at the back of the museum. The statue was made by Samuel Nixon (1804-1854) and represents the King in the uniform of a high admiral. Although this statue is impressive, another artwork had caught Simeon’s eye.
Situated on a plinth outside the new Sammy Ofer Wing of the National Maritime Museum is Yinka Shonibare MBE’s (b.1962) Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle (2010). Originally commissioned for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, this scaled-down replica of Nelson’s HMS Victory sits protected from the elements in a large, corked glass bottle. HMS Victory was the ship on which the war hero died during the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805. The impressive ship had 80 cannons and 37 sails, although they would not have been as richly decorated as the sails in the model. Shonibare chose to use a pattern inspired by Indonesian batik, which was mass-produced by Dutch traders during Nelson’s lifetime. This alludes to the negative usage of ships such as these, which enabled colonialism, industrialisation, and the misuse of cultural appropriation. Today, this model is one of the most photographed artworks in London.
At the exit of Greenwich Park near Park Row, our little friend was distracted by several enormous anchors. Each one was once used upon a British ship and they now serve as a memorial to the ships used between the 18th and 20th century. Early seafarers would have used stone, wood or lead to make their anchors, however, as seen here, they soon discovered that iron served the best purpose.
The most common shape of an anchor is known as the Admiralty-pattern and consists of a shank with a stock and ring at one end and a crown with flukes at the other. A length of cable would lower the anchor by its ring into the water and the flukes on the crown would dig into the seabed, eventually pinning the ship in place. Anchors on display include an Admiralty-pattern recovered off the coast of Sheerness in Kent dating to approximately 1750, an Admiralty-pattern from the Kathrena Anne (1805), a single-fluke anchor from 1820, and a 4-tonne anchor from the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert (1899).
The one that intrigued Simeon the most was the bright red and yellow, many-toothed cutterhead from a cutter suction dredger. Although more than heavy enough to be used as an anchor, the cutterhead’s purpose was to remove materials from the seabed in land reclamation projects in the Far East. It eventually became obsolete in 1995.
Simeon’s treasure trail eventually led him to the riverfront where Thames Clippers and other boats sail throughout the day. From Greenwich Pier, a number of riverboat services take passengers to Westminster via Canary Wharf, the Tower of London and Embankment. For those who wish to travel to the opposite bank of the Thames, a foot tunnel was designed by civil engineer Sir Alexander Binnie (1839-1917) and opened in 1902. The tunnel exits in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs, which was once home to the West India Docks. The entrance to the tunnel can be found inside a glass-domed shaft beside the famous Cutty Sark.
The Cutty Sark is a British clipper ship built in 1869 that has been preserved on dry land for the benefit of visitors and conserving British maritime history. Although a major fire destroyed a large part of the ship in 2007, a restoration team returned the Cutty Sark to her former glory.
Simeon, of course, had no time to pay the interior of the Cutty Sark a visit, however, he was content to view the impressive ship from the outside. From there, Simeon had a great view of Nannie Dee, the ship’s figurehead, which has been attributed to carver Fredrick Hellyer of Blackwall. The Cutty Sark was named after Nannie Dee, who’s nickname was Cutty-sark, a term that means “short undergarment”. Her story can be found in the poem Tam o’ Shanter (1791) by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-96).
Her cutty sark, o’ Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longitude tho’ sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie.
Ah! little kend thy reverend grannie
That sark she coft for her wee Nannie
Wi’ twa pund Scots (’twas a’ her riches)
Wad ever graced a dance of witches!
– Tam o’ Shanter
The figurehead is completely white, with hair flowing back as though moving at speed. In her outstretched left hand is a clump of long black hair from the tail of a horse. In the poem, Tam has come across a group of dancing witches and falls in love with Nannie Dee. Whilst watching them from afar, he forgets himself and calls out “Weel done, Cutty-sark!” Alerted to his presence, the witches chase him and, although he survives, Nannie Dee managed to grab hold of his horse’s tail and pull it off before he had crossed the river to safety.
“Fascinating,” thought Simeon. “But on with the trail!”
Eventually, Simeon located the position of his much sought after treasure. Completely elated, he was not concerned that he never found out who the elusive “Green Witch” was; perhaps she was Nannie Dee? On his two and a half-mile trek, Simeon enjoyed discovering the history of Greenwich and finding some hidden gems. As well as seeing all the historical buildings and taking in the view from the top of Greenwich Park, Simeon had the opportunity to have photos taken with various statues, explore the town centre and admire the Georgian houses while he was being carried up Croom’s Hill. He was also able to walk through Greenwich Market and look at (but not buy) a range of wares.
It is believed that a market has existed in Greenwich since the 14th century. The present market, however, dates back to 1700 when a charter was agreed by Lord Henry, Earl of Romney (1641-1704) that the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital could hold a market every Wednesday and Saturday. Today, the market runs daily and is surrounded by Grade 2 listed buildings. In the early 1900s, a roof was added to the market place so that sellers could have a dry place to sell their articles at all times of the year. Selling predominantly antiques, fashion and food, the market opens daily at 10am.
Treasure Trails allows people to explore areas around the United Kingdom at their own pace whilst solving clues in order to find fictional treasure or solve a murder mystery. Simeon thoroughly enjoyed the Greenwich Treasure Trail and wholly recommends it, although be aware that there is a rather steep hill. Thanks to the intricate trail, Simeon and friends discovered things about Greenwich that they would have otherwise missed. To top it all, Simeon is now the owner of yet another Treasure Trail certificate!
A royal palace for kings and queens, a zoo, a prison, and now a tourist attraction, the Tower of London has a long and colourful history. With the mighty White Tower at its centre, the fortress has seen many changes throughout its 1000 year existence. Today, the Tower is home to the Yeomen Warders, an unkindness (that’s the collective term, honest!) of ravens, and the Crown Jewels, attracting over three million visitors a year. Being the best place to visit to discover the history of British royals, it is no wonder Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London has become such a popular UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The history of the Tower of London begins with the invasion of the Normans in 1066. As nearly everyone knows, William the Conqueror (1028-1087) defeated Harold Godwinson (1022-1066) at the Battle of Hastings, crowning himself king at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day later that year. One of the first things William I did as king of England, was to order the construction of a castle on the banks of the River Thames, then withdrew to Barking Abbey “while several strongholds were made ready in the City to safeguard against the fickleness of the huge and fierce population.” (William of Poitiers)
With stone imported from Caen, France – William’s native land – an immense building of a height of 27.5 metres (90 ft) was completed by 1100, the first structure of its kind on British soil. From here on, several buildings were added, demolished, rebuilt and perfected until it resembled the impressive castle that can be seen today.
It takes more than one visit to see everything the Tower has to offer and, whilst the entry fee provides access to all public areas, it is best to plan in advance what sections to see, bearing in mind that some areas will be more popular than others. The busiest building within the grounds is, of course, the Waterloo Barracks: the home of the Crown Jewels.
In 1649, King Charles I‘s (1600-49) reign ended with his head lying separately from his body outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall. For seven years, the King and Parliament had been involved in a long and bloody civil war, with Parliament coming out on top. With Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) as Lord Protector, the late King’s possessions were sold and the Crown Jewels were destroyed with the instructions to “melt down all the gold and silver and sell the jewels to the best advantage of the Commonwealth.” The only items to survive this destruction were three 17th-century ceremonial swords and a 12th-century Coronation Spoon.
After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, a new set of jewels was created for the new king, Charles II (1630-85). Since then, the splendid collection has grown to an impressive 140 items, the most recent being made for Queen Elizabeth II’s (b.1926) coronation in 1953.
The Sovereign’s Orb, 1661
The Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, 1661
St Edward’s Crown, 1661
Until 1649, the Crown Jewels and Coronation Regalia were kept at Westminster Abbey, however, after Charles II’s coronation, his new regalia was safely stored in the Tower of London. Here, in the Martin Tower – supposedly named after a bear who was once kept there – the Crown Jewels were placed on public display for the first time in 1669. Today the jewels are kept tightly secured, yet in those days, for a fee visitors could touch and hold them.
Although new jewels have been made for all the monarchs who followed Charles II, those used during Coronation ceremonies are the same items that were produced in 1661. These include the Orb, which is placed in the monarch’s right hand, and the Sceptre, which was transformed in 1910 to include the Cullinan I diamond, also known as the First Star of Africa, which weighs an impressive 530 carats. Despite their age, they remain in near perfect condition; the orb still contains the majority of its original 17th-century gems, including most of the 365 rose-cut diamonds.
The orb, a hollow gold sphere, represents the sovereign’s power and is topped with a jewelled cross to represent the Christian world. The sceptre is also made of gold and represents the sovereign’s temporal power. Like the Orb, the sceptre is also topped with a cross representing Christ, however, during the coronation ceremony, the monarch is also presented with another sceptre, surmounted by a dove, which represents the Holy Spirit.
One of the most important items in the Crown Jewels collection is St Edward’s Crown. This is the crown that was placed upon Queen Elizabeth II’s head at her coronation. The crown was made for Charles II back in 1661, however, it was modelled on a much older crown, which has sadly been lost. It has been named St Edward’s Crown after King Edward the Confessor (1003-66), the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. It is thought that a couple of the pearls adorning the crown may once have belonged to Elizabeth I (1533-1603).
At the end of a coronation ceremony, St Edward’s crown is traditionally exchanged for the Imperial State Crown, which the current Queen still wears at every State Opening of Parliament. The crown contains 2868 diamonds (who counted them?) as well as 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 5 rubies and 273 pearls, making it a rather heavy headpiece.
“Really tired after wearing the crown for three hours … it hurt my head as it is pretty heavy.”
George V, 1911
The White Tower
St John’s Chapel
As previously mentioned, the White Tower sits in the centre of the Tower of London and remains Europe’s most complete and preserved early-medieval secular building. When it was completed in 1100, it was the tallest building in London and a complete contrast to the wooden houses nearby. Today, the White Tower showcases the Royal Armouries collections, the 350-year-old Line of Kings exhibition and an interactive room in which visitors can pretend to be soldiers from the past.
The White Tower is entered via a wooden staircase that leads to a door well above ground level. This style of entrance is a 12th-century security feature; if under attack, the stairs could be easily removed, thus preventing the enemy from entering the building. Although the current stairs were constructed in 2015, the traditional carpentry techniques echo the original Norman entry.
The original purpose of the entry hall is unclear, however, its size would have made it a great space for communal dining and entertaining. On the floor above are a suite of chambers where the kings and family may once have resided. These chambers lead on to the Chapel of St John the Evangelist, which is believed to have been the king’s private place of worship.
The White Tower was not used as a place of residence for long; by the 14th century, it had become a military storehouse and many of these items remain there today. The Line of Kings, thought to be the oldest exhibit in the world, displays the armour each monarch is thought to have worn in battle or in training. This includes armour for young princes and horses, the latter being demonstrated on life-size wooden horses.
The most famous suit of armour once belonged to the formidable Henry VIII (1491-1547), which had been specifically made for him and his wide girth in 1540. Despite the amount of metal used, it was designed so that he could move easily and, supposedly, in comfort. Unlike earlier suits of armour, which had a purely functional purpose, Henry’s was decorated with gilt borders designed by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543), emphasising his importance as the king.
As well as being a place of residence and storehouse, the White Tower served as a prison for state prisoners. The first prisoner to be held at the tower was Ranulf Flambard (1060-1128), the medieval Norman Bishop of Durham, on charges of embezzlement. He was also the first prisoner to escape from the Tower. After befriending his guards, Flambard persuaded them to bring him casks of wine, which they were welcome to drink with him. On one occasion when the guards had drunk too much, Flambard used the ropes that tied the casks together to abseil down the wall of the White Tower.
Whilst the legend of Flambard’s escape is amusing, there are darker stories regarding the prisoners in the White Tower. Within the basement, it is believed some prisoners were tortured, including the famous Guido Fawkes (1570-1606) who was discovered trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Under torture, Fawkes revealed some of the other Catholic Gunpowder Plot conspirators, including the leader of the group, Robert Catesby (1572-1605). After this confession, Fawkes was scheduled to be hung, drawn and quartered, however, he died on route to his execution.
The Bloody Tower
The Wakefield Tower
The Beauchamp Tower
Those interested in the huge amount of prisoners and executions that took place at the Tower of London are drawn towards the so-called Bloody Tower. Originally named the Garden Tower, this was the prison or “secure home” where Sir Walter Ralegh (1552-1618) stayed on and off for many years until he was executed on the orders of James I (1566-1625). During his stay, he wrote most of his book History of the World and conducted scientific experiments in the gardens next to the tower.
The most famous legend regarding the Bloody Tower, for which it earned its name, is the incarceration and death of the “Princes in the Tower”. Historical records state that the soon to be Richard III (1452-1485) locked his nephews – the 12-year old King Edward V (1470-c.1483) and the 9-year old Richard, Duke of York (1473-c.1483) – in the tower. Depending on whose account you read, this was either for the boys’ protection or to remove them from Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s pathway to the throne. What happened to the boys afterwards remains a mystery, however, mostly due to Shakespeare‘s (1564-1616) historical play Richard III, it is believed that the boys were murdered.
In 1674, two skeletons were discovered under the staircase leading to the Chapel of St John. Charles II, the monarch at the time, believed them to be the bodies of the murdered king and prince and reburied the bones in Westminster Abbey. Later, in 1933, the bones were forensically examined and confirmed to belong to boys of roughly 10 and 12 years old, thus the murder case was concluded. Yet, there is still not one hundred per cent proof that these bones are the remains of Edward and Richard, however, George V (1865-1936) forbade anyone from reexamining the boys.
So, the mystery of the Princes in the Tower will never be resolved, however, the legend creates a good story. Discovering that the bodies are not who they are believed to be would put a damper on the Bloody Tower’s notoriety. After all, their Uncle Richard was discovered under a car park in Leicester, thus debunking the tradition that his remains had been thrown into the river.
Other buildings that make up the Tower of London are also associated with prisoners and executions. The Wakefield Tower, which now contains the history of torture methods, once held 200 prisoners of war after the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. The Beauchamp Tower in the inner defensive wall takes its name from Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick (1313-69), who was imprisoned there at the end of the 14th century. As well as Thomas, the Beauchamp Tower held many prisoners throughout the years, which is evidenced by the graffiti that remains scratched into the walls.
The final prisoners at the tower were the notorious London gangsters Ronald (1933-95) and Reginald Kray (1933-2000) who were held in 1952 for failing to report for National Service. Whilst this is an interesting fact, it tends to be the terrible Tudors that draw the biggest crowd.
During the reign of the Tudors, which began in 1485 up until 1603, countless prisoners were imprisoned within the walls of the Tower. Even Elizabeth I was imprisoned during the reign of her sister Mary I (1516-1558). Many of these prisoners ended up on Tower Hill where they lost their head (if they were noble) or hanged (if they were “ordinary”). In total, an estimated 440 people were executed on that site.
Within the Tower’s grounds is an Execution Site Memorial sculpture that recalls the deaths of the comparatively few executions that took place on Tower Green (an area of grass rather than a physical tower – something which confuses foreigners). On this site, ten people were executed including three English queens. These were Henry VIII’s second and fifth wives, Anne Boleyn (1507-36) and Catherine Howard (1523-42), who had been accused of adultery; and Lady Jane Grey (1537-54), a 16-year old who had been queen for only nine days before Mary I took the throne from her.
Despite the Tudor’s ill-fame, very little evidence remains of their lives at the Tower. Many buildings that the Tudor’s erected or refurbished have now been demolished, including the Great Hall and palace that Henry VIII modernised in order to celebrate the coronation of his new wife, Anne Boleyn. By 1660, the palace had fallen out of disuse and plans were made to demolish it and build new storehouses and offices.
Upper Wakefield Chapel
Edward I’s bedchamber
Remains of the older, medieval palace still exist as the towers that make up parts of the Tower’s battlements. These are St Thomas’s Tower, the Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorn Tower, which Henry III (1207-72) and his son Edward I (1239-1307) built during the 13th century. At this time, monarchs did not stay at the Tower for long, for instance, it is recorded that Edward I only stayed for 53 days of his lengthy reign, however, the palace was still fit for royalty.
The room believed to be Edward I’s bedchamber has been reconstructed using details discovered in inventories, accounts and artworks. The four-poster bed is positioned close to a fireplace, the only source of warmth in the palace at that time. From his bed, the king would have been able to look out of the window, which was directly over the river Thames – the outer wall had not yet been built.
The Wakefield Tower was used as Henry III’s private lodgings between the years 1220 and 1240. The throne room has been reconstructed but lacks furnishings, which at that time would have often been dismantled and transported wherever the king went throughout the country.
On the upper floor of the Wakefield Tower is a small chapel complete with stained glass windows. A plaque on the floor states that King Henry VI (1421-71) died in that very place, where he was being held as a prisoner during the War of the Roses. The circumstances of his death are disputed, however, in his honour, the Ceremony of the Lilies and Roses has been held here every year since 1923 on the evening of his passing, 21st May. This ceremony is attended by representatives from Eton College and King’s College Cambridge, both of which had been founded by Henry VI.
View from the Battlements
Visitors are able to walk along the mighty Battlements between the Towers, which provides stunning views across the River Thames and a clear sighting of Tower Bridge. By peering over the edge of the wall, a steep drop can be seen, ending in a grassy area, which would have been filled with dirty water, once upon a time. In roughly 1285, Edward I reclaimed some land from the Thames and built an Outer Ward. Between this wall and the existing buildings, he developed a moat to strengthen the Tower’s defences.
Throughout the Tower’s history, it only ever “fell” once. In June 1381, a poorly-armed bunch of peasants infiltrated the fortress walls, attacked Archbishop Simon Sudbury (1316-81) and beheaded him on Tower Hill. Whilst it seems unlikely that a group of poor people could successfully attack a castle, it helped that someone had left the gates open!
The Peasant’s Revolt was sparked by an increase of compulsory taxes, which many people could not afford to pay. King Richard II (1367-1400), who was only fourteen at the time, had fled to safety with his royal household, however, the rebels were not angry with the king and, in fact, remained loyal to him. Their target was the aforementioned Archbishop of Canterbury who also acted as the King’s Chancellor and tax collector, thus responsible for the peasant’s anger.
Since this event, the defences and security measures have been increased and no one has been able to breach the walls. The only way the enemy could enter the Tower was via Traitor’s gate on their way to prison and, inevitably, their death. The gate and archway were erected by Henry VIII’s Master Carpenter James Nedeham (d.1544) in 1532 as part of the king’s refurbishments in honour of his new queen, Anne Boleyn. Ironically, Anne was later brought through this gate on the way to her imprisonment. The gate may once have been used for merchants to deliver produce to the tower, however, with the number of prisoners arriving by boat, the traders’ gate quickly became known as Traitor’s Gate.
Those traitors who were deemed important enough to have a private execution on Tower Green came through Traitor’s Gate like everyone else, however, they spent their remaining days in relative comfort. After their deaths, they were buried in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, the Tower’s parish church, which already existed when William the Conqueror first proposed the construction. Prisoners such as Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Thomas Moore (1779-1852) and Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540), are all buried in the church, however, until the reign of Queen Victoria (1819-1901), their graves were unmarked.
Billy the Warder, in action
Whilst visitors are allowed to enter the Chapel of St Peter, they can only do this as part of the Yeoman Warder Tours. Tours begin at regular intervals by the entrance and last roughly an hour, ending in the chapel. The Yeoman Warders provide an entertaining version of events that occurred at the Tower and can answer any questions visitors may have.
Yeoman Warders are recognised by their navy blue and red tunics, breeches and Tudor bonnets, which is their “undress” uniform when they are on duty. To become a Yeoman Warder, they must have at least 22 years of military service experience, reached the rank of Warrant Officer and received the Long Service and Good Conduct Award. They must also be between the ages of 40 and 55 years old on their appointment at the Tower.
“Halt, who comes there?”
Not only do the Warders assist the day-to-day running of the Tower of London and the thousands of visitors, but they also retain the traditions that have been a part of Tower life for hundreds of years. Every night, at precisely 9:53pm the Yeoman Warder’s perform the Ceremony of the Keys. Taking it in turns, one warder is given the task of returning the Tower’s keys to the monarch’s representative – the Resident Governor. On hearing footsteps, a sentry cries, “Halt, who comes there?” to which the Yeoman Warder replies, “The keys.” This is followed by the phrases “Whose keys?”, “Queen Elizabeth’s keys,” and “Pass then, all’s well.”
The Tower of London is so steeped in history, it is impossible to take in everything in one visit. As well as the various towers and Crown Jewels, there’s the Mint and Records Office and Fusilier Museum still to explore. Also, look out for wire sculptures by Kendra Haste (b.1971) that represent some of the animals that once lived at the Tower. Animals were given as gifts from other countries, such as a polar bear from the king of Norway in 1252 and an elephant from the king of France in 1255.
Sadly, the animals did not survive for long due to their unsatisfactory living conditions, however, the menagerie continued to grow. It was not until 1826 that the animals were finally dispatched to what would become today’s London Zoo. The only creatures that remain are seven ravens, although Charles II did try to get rid of them once.
“These ravens must go!” Charles said.
“But, Sire, it is very unlucky to kill a raven,” replied Flamstead, “If you do that the Tower will fall and you will lose your kingdom, having only just got it back!”
Legend says, so long as six ravens remain at the Tower, it will not fall. So, look out for the seven ravens (one spare) who receive honours in the form of 170 grams of raw meat per day, and the occasional crisp left by messy visitors.
The Tower of London is open until 16:30 every day and tickets can be bought on site or online, the latter being cheaper (£22.70 for adults). Bearing in mind the number of things to do at the Tower, it is recommended that you arrive during the morning to give yourself time to see the highlights.
The story of the artists who fled to Britain to escape the war in France.
On 19th July 1870, Napoleon III (1808-73), the first president of the Republic of France, declared war on Prussia resulting in a six-month battle that became known as the Franco-Prussian War. Otto von Bismarck (1815-98), the Prussian chancellor, had essentially provoked France into conflict and was prepared for the attack. With no hope of winning from the outset, France was officially defeated on 28th January the following year.
Although the war with Prussia was over, France was not at peace. The French Empire had collapsed following the deposition of Napoleon III in September 1870, leaving the country in the hands of a provisional government of national defence. From this moment, until the end of the war, Paris was surrounded by their enemies resulting in a punishing siege that left the city in ruins and its inhabitants starving from famine.
After the war ended, the radical working-class of Paris rose up against the government. This group was known as the Paris Commune and their uprising caused a brief but brutal revolt that was not suppressed until the end of La Semaine sanglante or “The Bloody Week”, which began on 21st May 1871.
Naturally, many citizens tried to escape from Paris during these turbulent times and took advantage of the British Isles and its welcoming attitude toward refugees. Amongst these émigrés were a handful of French painters who became known as the Impressionists. The Tate Britain in London is currently holding The Ey Exhibition: Impressionists in Britain in celebration of these artist’s work, their stories and the network they developed during their time in Britain, whilst also looking into the ways these foreigners perceived London, evidenced through their artworks.
“The horror and terror are still everywhere … Paris is empty and will become emptier … Anyone would think there never were any painters and artists in Paris” – Théodore Duret (1838-1927), May 1871
Thousands of French citizens fled to London, and it is not surprising why given the state of Paris as shown in the first room of the exhibition. The paintings and photographs exhibited here are mostly produced in France during the war and resulting uprising. They are not works of Impressionist art that the exhibition title promises, however, they visually reveal the state the French capital was in at the beginning of the 1870s. Food shortages forced people to resort to eating their pets or zoo animals in order to survive and the streets were not safe places to frequent due to the violence of war. Many monuments and buildings were destroyed, and it is estimated that around 20,000 people died during this period.
Gustave Doré, Sister of Charity saving a child, an incident during the Siege of Paris
James Tissot, The Wounded Soldier, 1870
The exhibition includes a number of artists who moved to London as a result of the hostilities in Europe. Many of these were Impressionist painters, a movement that had only begun within a decade before the Franco-Prussian war. Like all movements, the artists involved were breaking away from the conventions of a higher authority, in this instance, the rules taught in art schools. Impressionists rejected the large formal, highly finished paintings in preference to works that expressed the personality of the artist. Traditionally, historical and mythological scenes were the accepted themes of paintings, however, these 19th-century French artists began producing landscapes and pictures of everyday life, including mundane things such as cooking, sleeping and bathing.
Impressionist artists aimed to depict their surroundings with spontaneity and freshness, recording what the eye sees in that instant, rather than a detailed record of appearance. As a result of wanting to capture the moment as it happened, artists had to work on the spot rather than in a studio and use thick paint with quick, messy brushstrokes. Similarly to the adjustment in subject matter, this method of painting was an outright change from the flatter, neater artworks where the brushstrokes could not be detected.
“Work at the same time on sky, water, branches, ground, keeping everything going on an equal basis … Don’t be afraid of putting on colour … Paint generously and unhesitatingly, for it is best not to lose the first impression.” – Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
Landscapes became the archetypal subject of the Impressionists and introduced the idea of painting en plein air, often with no regard to the weather. The paintings often include bright colours and sketchy brushwork to emphasise the way the sunlight reflects off various surfaces. The constant changing of the sunlight was the main reason why artists had to keep up a rapid pace when producing their work.
Although regarded as a key movement in the art world, Impressionism was never established as a formal group with clearly defined principles. It was a loose association of artists who were linked together by the community they found themselves in, for instance, the French refugees in London. In fact, the group was so indeterminate that their name almost came about by accident. The artists struggled to get their work exhibited because they were generally rejected by art critics, however, Claude Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise (1872) was latched onto and attacked in an essay by Louis Leroy (1812–85) called Exposition des Impressionistes (25th April 1874), and thus the name Impressionism was coined.
Claude Monet (1840-1926) is one of the most representative Impressionist artists. Initially, he began as a caricaturist, however, a tutor inspired him to turn to landscape painting. From here, Monet started studying at the Académie Suisse in 1859, where he met Camille Pissarro and later, in 1862, entered the studio of Gleyre in Paris where he encountered Alfred Sisley (1839-99), an Anglo-French Impressionist – both feature in this exhibition alongside Monet.
Monet, impoverished and only 29-years old, crossed the Channel with Pissarro to avoid being conscripted into the Franco-Prussian war. With nothing but his painting skills to use in an attempt to earn money, Monet spent time beside the Thames and in the London parks, painting the scenery. Whilst here, Monet encountered the landscape artist Charles-François Daubigny (1817-78), the earliest exponent of en plein air painting who had also sought refuge in London. It is thanks to his connection with the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922), another refugee, that Monet and the other French Impressionists began to find their feet.
Meditation, Madame Monet Sitting on a Sofa, 1870 – 1871 – Claude Monet
Leicester Square, 1901, Claude Monet
Comparing an early painting by Monet displayed at the beginning of the exhibition with a later painting in the final rooms shows the difference between the style of painting that was generally accepted during the 19th-century compared to the types of impressionist painting the artist eventually turned to. It is without a doubt when looking at Meditation, Mrs Monet Sitting on a Sofa (1871), that Monet was a talented painter, however, his later works, such as Leicester Square (1901), could arguably suggest that the artist is incompetent.
These two paintings by Monet are two extremes and the majority of Impressionist paintings fall somewhere in between. Many French artists focused on painting their impressions of the city they found themselves in, rather than produce something bordering on Abstract Expressionism.
In comparison to the devastating landscape they left behind, the Impressionists were drawn to the open spaces around London. Here, they became fascinated with British customs and culture which was significantly different to their own. The French were enthusiastic about the British sports played throughout the year, particularly regattas and rowing events to which spectators wore a range of costumes.
More importantly, the Impressionists were awed by the teeming crowds and forbidding buildings that made up the cityscape. Coming from a country where monuments and important buildings had been destroyed by armies and rebels, the towering facades were a marvel to the refugee artists. It was during this period that the Palace of Westminster was rebuilt on the north bank of the River Thames, which became a central focal point for a vast amount of paintings.
“Monet and I were very enthusiastic over the London landscapes” – Camille Pissarro
Charing Cross Bridge, 1890, Camille Pissarro
Westminster Bridge, 1878, Giuseppe de Nittis. (1846 – 1884)
The London fog was also a fascination for the artists, particularly Monet who, around his 60th birthday, returned to London in 1900 to paint the Thames’ atmospheric effects. During this time, he produced multiples of oil paintings showing the same scene but experimenting with the effects the sunlight, or lack of light, affected the ambience of the location.
“I find London lovelier to paint each day,” Monet told his wife Alice in one of the many letters he wrote whilst he completed this project in the British capital. He wrote about his fascination with the mist and sunsets as well as the varying colours of the sky. He notes the difficulties he had in creating his impression of the cityscape in front of him before the sky changed once again. A few of these paintings are on show in one of the final rooms of the exhibition.
Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament 1903, oil paint on canvas
Claude Monet, London, Houses of Parliament. The Sun Shining through the Fog 1904
Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog) 1903–4
Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament, Sunset 1904
Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament c.1900–1
Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament, Sunlight Effect 1903
Despite titling the exhibition Impressionists in London, the Tate Britain displays more paintings by other artists than the promised examples of Impressionism. The subtitle French Artists in Exile 1870-1904 is a much more accurate representation of the included artworks. Although many artists who sought refuge in London were Impressionist painters, there were others who were not. One of the major artists in the exhibition is James Tissot (1836-1902) whose paintings were a complete contrast to the spontaneous landscapes.
Unlike Monet who fled France to avoid becoming part of the war, Tissot was a supporter of the Paris Commune. He was already an established artist in France but the Franco-Prussian war, and probably his association with the Commune limited his prospects, prompting him to seek shelter on the other side of the Channel.
Tissot received support from the editor of Vanity Fair, Thomas Gibson Bowles (1841-1922), who introduced him to British high society – a complete contrast to the communities Monet and his friends found themselves in. This allowed him to concentrate on scenes he loved best, contemporary life and women wearing intricate costumes.
Tissot’s parents were in the clothing business, which may have influenced his passion for painting the full-length complex dresses that women amongst the middle and upper classes wore. He was also skilled in observing and portraying nuances of social interaction, particularly of a romantic or sexual nature.
Summer (“Portrait”), 1876, James Tissot
Hush! (The Concert), c.1875 – James Tissot
Tissot did not restrict himself to London and painted other areas of Britain, for instance, Portsmouth. However, his themes were the same: the fashionable Victorian life. Some critics believed Tissot was mocking British customs and not painting a realistic version of society, but it was more likely that Tissot was focusing on things he found interesting and reflected his early life in France. On the other hand, some critics admired Tissot’s work, referring to its “fashion-plate elegance” and “chocolate-box charm”.
Portsmouth Dockyard, 1877, James Tissot
London Visitors, 1873, James Tissot
On the Thames, James Tissot
As well as Tissot, other artists that do not fall under the Impressionist blanket are also featured in this exhibition. These include two sculptors, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-75) and Jules Dalou (1838-1902), the latter exiled in London as a result of supporting the Paris Commune. For such a popular and crowded exhibition, the rooms containing the sculptures are almost deserted, implying that these were not what people had come to see. Granted, people would not expect to see James Tissot in an exhibition about Impressionism, however, they would be prepared for paintings.
Nonetheless, there are enough examples of Impressionist paintings for the exhibition to be worthy of the title Impressionists in London. The addition of other painters such as Tissot provides a contrast which emphasises the traits and nature of Impressionism. The use of brushstrokes and colour are brought to attention in juxtaposition with the smoothness of other paintings. It is also interesting to observe the differences between the Impressionist artists, each employing a different method.
To conclude the exhibition, the Tate Britain provides yet another contrast, this time being completely unrelated to French exiles. The final room is titled Derain and the Thames: Homage and Challenge and contains three paintings by the French painter André Derain (1880-1954). Although mostly associated with Fauvism and Cubism, Derain was interested in Monet’s Views of the Thames which he saw in an exhibition at Paul Durand-Ruel’s gallery.
“In spite of everything, I adore him. Wasn’t he right to render with his fugitive and durable colour, the natural impression which is no more than an impression, without lasting power, and did he not increase the character of this painting? As for myself, I’m looking for something different, something in nature which, on the contrary, is fixed, eternal, complex.” – André Derain
Charing Cross Bridge, 1906-7, André Derain
These final paintings were part of thirty canvases that art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) sent Derain to London to paint in 1906. In an attempt to imitate Monet’s Views of the Thames, Derain focused on similar landscapes including Charing Cross Bridge and other buildings seen from the Thames. These, however, look in no way similar to the Impressionist’s version, being full of unnatural colour and bold lines – not unlike a child’s drawing.
Although not much to look at, Derain’s work goes to show the changes in the style of art that sparked from the development of Impressionism. For years, art had remained relatively the same, but after Impressionism, the 20th-century saw the most changes within art in history.
Impressionists in London is a huge exhibition that successfully introduces the Impressionist artists that were, in some way, affected by the Franco-Prussian war. For those less interested in the relaxed, impromptu works, the paintings by Tissot and a few others are there to satisfy different tastes.
Despite the designation of “exhibition”, the Tate Britain is doing far more than showing a few paintings. Detailed information is provided about the majority of the artists, but more importantly, the experiences of the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune is expertly expressed. This is a period of history that is usually left out of British education, preferring to focus on events that affected Britain directly. Seeing the paintings that came about as a result of the war, even though they do not necessarily show the incidents, makes the whole account more real, distressing and important.
Often, artists who do not paint realistic images are ridiculed by those who do not understand the art movement or scenario that led to the artwork. As a result, some may deem Impressionists artists who do not know how to draw or paint, however, after coming away from this exhibition, those thoughts will have been challenged and, hopefully, visitors will feel more enlightened and knowledgeable.