Category Archives: Modernizing London & the Thames

Seth Llano on the Real London Bridge

London Bridge, or where London Bridge used to be, spans the Thames connecting the city of London and Southwark. The current London Bridge was opened for public use in 1973; it replaced the previous bridge, which was 600 years old. The old bridge was moved to Lake Havasu, Arizona. The original London Bridge was built between 1176 and 1209.  It constructed unevenly and needed repairs frequently over the six hundred years that it crossed the Thames. For a period between 1306 and 1660 the southern end of the bridge was used to display the severed and tarred heads of traitors and criminals of the state. During the 1800s it was realized that the original bridge was not built to allow large boats to pass under it and a new bridge was constructed. This bridge also had its problems because it was not built to withstand the weight of cars passing over it, and it soon started to sink into the ground. In 1967 the London Bridge went up for sale and was bought for 2.4 million dollars and shipped to America. The current London Bridge was built between 1967 and 1972, and is 928 feet long. It was built in the exact place as the previous London Bridge and still stands today.

Tower Bridge was opened on April 22, 1886 and took eight years to construct. Its famous towers are 213 feet high, and the bridge is a combined suspension and bascule bridge. It is often referred to as the London Bridge, but this is not its correct name. It is sometimes referred to as the London Bridge because it appears on many posters and post cards of London, and because of its flashy appearance. The bridge gets its name from the proximity to the Tower of London. It is easy to confuse the two because the London Bridge is the next bridge up stream and is not nearly as tall or as magnificent as the Tower Bridge.[1] The bridge is currently painted red, white, and blue, and was painted for Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee. Originally it was painted a green-blue color. At one point it was even thought that the buyer of the London Bridge thought he was buying the tower bridge because people are constantly confusing the two, but this myth was later put down because the buyer of the London Bridge said that this was not true and was backed up by the seller who said that he knew what bridge he was buying.

The Thames is a very important part of London, and so are the bridges that cross it. Both London Bridge and Tower Bridge are very prominent and many people use them each day. Though the bridges get confused they are both important in their own ways as landmarks. The original London bridge which is in Arizona and the one in London are both important, like the Tower Bridge, as major icons of London.



Coral Rodgriguez on London & the Thames

The Thames River is an essential geographical feature of London stretching 215 miles and defines London through the success and pleasure it enables. The Thames plays a central role in seemingly all aspects of the capital; economic, political, cultural and social. It has been described as “liquid history” since it is such a key part of the history of London.[i] The river provides a physical frame for London, making it an integral aspect of the city and arguably the reason for London’s existence and successes.

The Thames is more than simply a river, it is a symbol of London. Without the Thames, the city arguably would not have existed. London, or Londinium as it was called at the time was a small settlement by the river which the Romans developed in 43 AD to capitalize on the trade and travel the river enabled at this location. The river, then referred to as “Tamesis,” was a source of drinking water, food, transportation and trade. This led to the city becoming a thriving trading location. The iconic London Bridge was first built using oak in 50 AD and was one of the first fixed crossings. Similarly, many common London buildings and structures are based on the Romans initial plans such as using “weirs” to use water to power mills. Without the existence of the river it is easy to assume the Romans would have made a settlement elsewhere, leading one to believe that the river is the reason for the grand city.[ii]

To this day, the Thames brings fame and fortune to London. It has been a popular subject for artists such as Monet, Whistler and Turner and continues to be and inspiration for many more.[iii] The Thames also continues to be a source of food and water, along with a commercial waterway that brings international trade to London. This proves that regardless of the time, the Thames is an essential aspect of the city and of England itself.

The river is an aspect of London that suggests a very strong and dynamic city. It enables a strong cultural sense for the community but also keeps the foggy city vibrant with the idea of fresh water flowing down the center. Similar to how the Statue of Liberty symbolizes New York and the United States of America, the Thames achieves the same standing as a strong sense of hope and a symbol for London and England.

[i] “Liquid History: Excavating London’s Great River, The Thames.” Current Archaeology. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.

[ii] Sinclair, Mick. The Thames: A Cultural History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

[iii] “Thames Discovery Programme – Art and the Thames.” Thames Discovery Programme – Art and the Thames. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.

Matt Nehl on The Thames and its Landmarks, Past & Present

Throughout London’s intricate history, the river Thames has been a crucial aspect of London life. As a major source of protection, transportation, and beauty, the river is a central part of city life and, consequently, one of the world’s most renowned rivers. As time goes on, a wide variety of changes can be seen on the banks of the Thames, from the medieval Tower of London, to the gothic façade of Westminster Palace and the ultra–modern London Eye.  These landmarks are a few of the most beloved and well-renowned structures on the Thames. They have all have come to represent London, in their own unique way, almost as much as the river itself.

The Thames from Above. Getty Images Ltd. From 100 Places to Go Before They Disappear. New York: Abrams, 2011. Web.

The Thames from Above. Getty Images Ltd. From 100 Places to Go Before They Disappear. New York: Abrams, 2011.

The Tower of London is an imposing representation of the old London, which has served to inspired awe and fear throughout the last millennium. The structure has a long and bloody[i] history with construction on the original tower beginning in 1070 at the request of William the Conqueror. When The Tower was completed 30 years later, it was the dominant element on the skyline.. By 1350 it was the most impenetrable and imposing structure in all of England, serving as a fortress-stronghold for numerous generations of English monarchs. Finally in the mid 1500’s, Henry VIII moved the royal family out of the tower, which was then transformed into a notorious prison and government office space.

The Tower of London along Tower Bridge.

The Tower of London along Tower Bridge.

Many high profile executions took place in the infamous prison, including those of Sir Thomas Moore and Lady Jane Grey, with executions continuing to take place all the way into World War II. After the war, efforts were made to restore the tower to its original medieval glory. By 1950 the government’s efforts were largely a success with The Tower becoming a major tourist destination for millions of visitors each year. The Tower of London’s ability to alter and remake itself as times change is a symbol of how all of London is able to change and adapt over the centuries. Today the Tower of London stands as a symbol of London’s long and tumultuous past, serving as a reminder of the power of imperial monarchs and the bloodshed that has stained London throughout its long history.[1]

Westminster Palace on a winter evening.

Westminster Palace on a winter evening.

Farther along the Thames rests an even more famous symbol of London in modern times: Westminster Palace. The palace is currently one of the epicenters of the United Kingdom’s government, hosting both the House of Commons and the House of Lords which, combined, make up the British Parliament. The building itself has a long history, with the original Westminster hall completed around the same time as the Tower of London in 1100. The palace served as a residence for English kings until it was ravaged by a devastating conflagration in 1512, after which it finally became the official home of parliament. Westminster Hall was again devoured by fire in 1834 that completely destroyed most of the rebuilt structures, which resulted in prominent architect Charles Barry’s present day gothic form. The iconic Houses of Parliament serve as a traditional representation of London as a great imperial power of the past. The current Westminster Palace along with its accompanying Elizabeth Clock tower (lovingly referred to as Big Ben) also represent modern day London as a center of democracy and hope throughout the world.[ii]

Across the river from the fabled government palace resides the ultra modern London Eye, the new face of 21st century London. After World War II, London was in  decline economically and in global significance. By building the London eye, the city proved that once again it is a spectacle worth seeing and a modern day cultural power. The Eye, when it was completed in 1999, was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world and currently remains the tallest in Europe. At the top of the wheel one can see 40 kilometers in all directions. This allows for a view of the entire city, which illuminates how vast and developed London has become in recent times. Originally The Eye was supposed to be a temporary festival piece with a life span of only a few years, but thanks to its immense popularity and its sheer iconic value, the London eye now remains a permanent fixture on the bank of the Thames. The Eye is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the city with over 3.5 million visitors each year. With a host of events from business meetings to weddings, the London eye stands a symbol of a new changing London with its gaze toward the future.[iii]

View from the top of the London Eye.

View from the top of the London Eye.

The city of London is host to some of the world’s most famous and iconic buildings. The full range of London’s history is nestled along the Thames, from the medieval Tower flanking the east end of the river, to the towering Eye in the center of the city. From ideals of freedom and justice or aspirations to soar to new heights, London’s greatest landmarks represent some of humankind’s greatest creations are powerful symbols of one of the world’s greatest cities.

London & Europe from space. NASA/AP.

London & Europe from space. NASA/AP.

[i] “London Eye Timeline.” The London Eye. EDF Energy London Eye 2011, n.d. Web. 04 Dec.


[ii] “Further Reading.” Historic Royal Palaces Home Tower of London History and Stories

   A Building History. Historic Royal Palaces, 2004. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.

[iii] “The Palace of Westminster.” – UK Parliament. Parliament, n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.

Catherine Roehre on Hogarth’s “The Polling”

London native William Hogarth painted a series of political canvases from 1754 to 1755 named Election. The Polling was the third of four paintings in the series, which depicts a dubious polling center, full of trickery and deceit. The work (101.5 X 127 centimeters ) was inspired by politics in England during 1754, and Hogarth chose to reveal the corrupt election through his signature satirical style.

William Hogarth, "The Polling" (1754).

William Hogarth, “The Polling” (1754).

1754 was the year of the General Election, but British eyes were drawn in particular to Oxfordshire, where the election campaign was becoming notoriously fixed. The Whig and Tory candidates spent large amounts of money on hosting extravagant dinners to bribe local voters with lavish food and drink. Hogarth’s first painting of Election was released in May, just days before the election. The entire series occurs in a fictional town, Hogarth later announced. [1] Hogarth used his popularity and talent to reveal the corruption of the General Election in Oxfordshire.

William Hogarth, "The Polling," 1754.

William Hogarth, “The Polling,” 1754.

     The Polling depicts voting day, and how both candidates are bringing out any eligible male voter. The voters in line involve a limb-less soldier, a mentally disabled man, a manacled prisoner, who appears to be ordering the disabled whom to vote for, a dying gentleman, a blind man, and lastly, a cripple. A few voters are wearing colored ribbons to identify which party they are a member of – blue for Tories and orange for Whigs. In the far background a woman’s coach is collapsing, and her coachmen are too intrigued in a game of cards to notice. The woman perhaps symbolizes future Britain, and the coachmen are the fraudulent politicians who are running the country straight towards disaster. Both politicians appear worried; however, the Whig candidate looks disapprovingly towards the Tory, who is wiping his brow nervously. The painting is so full of life that they viewer can practically hear the ruckus of the scene – the coach breaking, lawyers arguing, and the prisoner doling out advice. [2]

     The Polling incorporates  a great deal of detail, and the lines, colors, and shadows all give life to the painting. The people in the crowd have different shapes and heights, giving the work a sense of chaos. The polling structure involves perfect, vertical lines, making the booth feel unnatural, with a sense of unease. On the other hand however, the structure appears sound and sturdy, unlike the rowdy crowd below. Hogarth also made an engraving of the piece, perhaps to show in better detail his use of shadows. For example, the tree in the lower right corner is dramatically enticing with what appears to be a wailing, human-like face, but this important detail is easily overlooked in the painting. The engraving contributes yet also takes away from the original work; because it is in black and white the color of the political party flags and the ribbons of the voters become illegible. The overall color use in the painting gives a foreboding aura, as if a storm is quickly approaching.

William Hogarth predicted Britain’s impending fate due to the fraudulent politics of his time. His deliberate use of lines, shadows, and colors gave The Polling a unique, meaningful, and inspiring ambiance. Hogarth took it upon himself to stand up to an injustice of his era – appallingly corrupt political practices.

Works Cited

Hallett, Mark, and Christine Riding. Hogarth: The Artist and the City. London: Tate, 2006. Print.

[1] Information gathered from Hogarth:The Artist and the City  by Mark Hallett and Christine Riding(London: Tate, 2006), pp. 228 to 231.

[2] Summarized from The Polling essay by Catherine Roehre, September 25, 2012.