Tower Hill Memorial

The Tower Hill Memorial is a rare oasis of calm in the hustle and bustle of the City. It is located on Tower Hill, directly opposite the Tower of London and is a regular haunt of office workers at lunchtime.

The memorial commemorates the sacrifice of merchant seamen and the fishing fleet during both wars as well as those that fell in the Falklands campaign of 1982. It consist of a sunken garden a vaulted corridor and a smaller memorial of an anchor on a circular plinth.

The first World War memorial is the vaulted corridor that faces on to the pavement and has the names of twelve thousand men who drowned inscribed on twelve large bronze plaques

The memorial for World War Two is the sunken garden. The garden is semi-circular and is surrounded by more bronze plaques which have the names of twenty-four thousand British and fifty Australian seaman written on them. This is situated behind the vaulted corridor and off the road, allowing it some peace from the traffic.

The Falklands memorial is to one side of the garden and is on a small patch of land by itself. This was opened on 4th of September 2005 and  commemorates those who died in the Falklands campaign of 1982.

London Bridge

When a bridge was first built over the Thames in the early part of the first century AD, it was a wooden structure designed to allow the Romans to cross the river at its lowest point, where the land allowed for a structure to be built.

A wooden bridge would span the river for the next thousand years give or take a few Viking raids where the bridge was inevitably torn down as the raiders dealt with the Saxon defenders using it as a defensive rampart. (You would think they would have taken the hint after the first drenching and rebuilt the bridge out of stone but no wood it was and no wood it would stay. I guess this also explains why they ended up with a king who was stupid enough to look up as the arrows came down at Hastings).

The stone bridge made famous in the paintings and drawings of Abraham Hondius and Giovanni Canaletto and the etchings of Claes van Visscher had its first foundations laid in 1176. when it was completed in 1209. It was around 900 feet long, 20 feet wide and had nineteen arches of varying width. These were supported by piers called Starlings.

The bridges arches became a bottleneck which channelled water through at an increased rate. This meant that anybody travelling up or down the river had to trust in luck or the skill of the ferryman (usually luck) to get them through the arches safely. This became known as shooting the starlings.

In the centre of the bridge stood the chapel of St. Thomas, dedicated to Saint Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury murdered in 1170. The chapel jutted out sixty feet over the east side of the Thames and was supported by a pier thirty five feet wide.

The bridge also acted as one of the entrances to London, which was during the middle ages a walled city. As such it had heavily fortified gates at both the north and south ends of the bridge as well as a drawbridge in the middle.

The houses and shops the old London Bridge was famous for appeared pretty much from day one. With its trades always vying for business, London Bridge was as much a market place and social hub as it was a thoroughfare. This was great if you were a shopkeeper but probably not so much fun for medieval commuters was they struggled to traverse the Thames (it was to be the only bridge on the Thames for several hundred years, so there was no option but to brave the chaos every time you wanted to travel over the river unless you had the money for a weary in which case you could pay someone to row you across. Of course this is of limited use of you have a cart or cattle).

Frost Fairs

One of the unexpected consequences of the bridges design was the advent of the frost fair. This happened when a winter was cold enough for large chunks of ice to form in the Thames. They would get caught up in the narrow arches, restricting movement and causing the flow of the river to decrease. This would mean that the water would inevitably turn to ice and the river became one long ribbon of wintery fun. In the winter of 1683 industrious Londoners took advantage of this by placing tents, stalls and shops across the Thames from temple to Southwark. Coaches and sleds transported people, including King Charles the second, around the makeshift market until the weather turned and the weather started to defrost. This was the point when people left the Thames for fear of becoming a sudden, permanent part of it.


One of the greatest fears of Londoners in general but for residents of London Bridge in particular was fire.

Whilst the bridge was made of stone all the buildings on it, with the exception of the chapel of St Thomas, were wooden. As such fire was always a constant hazard. There were basic forms of fire fighting at hand but, essentially, if a fire started you were screwed.

Residents worst fears were realised in 1638 when a fire tore through forty three houses, decimating the northern third of the bridge. Some of the buildings were replaced in 1651 but a large section of the bridge was left empty. This was to prove a blessing in disguise as this gap provided a firewall in the Great Fire of 1666 that stopped the bridge from being completely decimated.

A New Bridge For A New Time

As the centuries passed it became clear that the old bridge was no longer fit for purpose (to use a modern phrase), so in 1800 a committee was set up to examine plans for a new bridge. Designs were submitted by the top architects of the day but no decision was made.

In 1822 a new committee was set up (presumably without members of the old committee who would probably have been paid very well the first time for not doing an awful lot). A design by John Rennie, who had previously built Waterloo and Southwark Bridges was settled on and work started on the new bridge on June 15 1825 and was completed in 1831. Tragically John Rennie died before his bridge was completed but his sone, John Rennie junior, saw it to completion.

Needless to say as soon as it was open it was filled with traffic. This would not have been so bad except that the Railway had found its way to London and had decided to place a terminus at the southwark end of the bridge. within four years nearly eleven million passengers were using the bridge to enter London. So much for forward planning.

At the start of the Twentieth Century the bridge was widened to accommodate the extra levels of traffic but this was only a stop gap measure. Over the years various observations were made showing the bridge was slowly deteriorating. By 1962 it was obvious cracks were beginning to appear (so much for Victorian engineering) and, in 1967, The London Bridge act gave the Corporation of London the powers it needed to demolish the bridge and build a new one.

Here and Now

The current London Bridge was started in 1968 and was a tricky endeavour as it required the simultaneous construction of the new bridge whilst taking the old bridge down brick by brick. This was successfully completed and on March 16 1973 Queen Elizabeth the second opened what we see today crossing the River Thames.

What happened to Rennie’s Bridge?

Working on the premise of waste-not-want-not, Rennie’s bridge was sold to Robert P McCulloch, an American businessman, for £1,025,000 ($2,460,000).

The bridge was taken to Arizona and reconstructed over Lake Havasu, where it can be seen today.

The rumour that Robert P McCulloch bought this bridge thinking he was buying Tower Bridge are scandalous and completely untrue. Probably.

Saint Olaves Church (the sanctuary)

According to surviving records, there has been a church on the corner of Hart Street and Seething Lane since the thirteenth century. There is, however, a good chance its presence goes back a lot further than that (the church is named after Ling Olaf the second of Norway who fought alongside Aethelred the Unready against the Danes at the battle of London Bridge in 1014.It’s safe to say a church was probably erected in this era if it bears his name.

The connection to Norway continues to this day with King Haaken the second of Norway worshipping there during his Second World War exile. Unfortunately, during this period, it was effectively destroyed in a Luftwaffe raid. Ironic considering this was one of the few churches to have survived the Great Fire of 1666. In 1954 King Haaken returned for the rededication ceremony and laid a stone from Trondheim Cathedral in the church.

The Entrance

The entrance of St Olaves is famous for its grinning skulls (something Charles Dickens described as the Ghastly Grim) and is at odds with the rest of the church, which is a traditional rectangular, three bay, brick design apart from the tower which was built out of brick and stone in 1732.

Famous Dead People

The church has some notable people buried under it. Anthony Bacon, an Elizabethan spy, was buried here in 1601 (no I’ve never heard of him either but I guess he was famous in his day).

Samuel Pepys, the London diarist, was buried here in 1703, having been a regular worshipper here since his days working in the Admiralty building across the road from the church.

Also buried there are Mary Ramsey, though to have brought the Black Death to London (buried in a very, very deep grave I’m guessing and Mother Goose (seriously, I’m not making this up, her burial is registered in 1586.)

Newgate Gaol

Today, on the site of Newgate Gaol, is the the Old Bailey otherwise known as the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales.

Prior to the 1904 opening of the court, there had been a prison on the site for over seven hundred years. It had been used to incarcerate anybody from debtors to thieves and murderers. Many who weren’t awaiting execution were awaiting deportation (you could make a strong argument to say that those waiting to hang had a better deal).

If being jailed wasn’t bad enough, it got worse when you realised that the prison was built below the waterline of the River Thames and flooded whenever the Thames had a exceptional high tide (hence Father Eamon’s comments to Emma that she did not want to be in the gaol when the Thames flooded). On top of this those doing the jailing were private contractors who paid for the privilege, knowing they could charge inmates for anything from food, to women, to the act of unshackling them when they were to leave the gaol. (They even charged them an entrance fee after the courts sent them down, talk about adding insult to injury!).

The prison was destroyed and rebuilt on a number of occasions with the last prison going up in the late eighteenth century to a design by George Dance, the architect who had unsuccessfully put in designs for the rebuilding of London Bridge. His design was for a severe and oppressive building with bricked up windows and chains carved above the main entrance, all designed to deter lawbreaking in all those who saw it (unless of course the first time you saw it was on your way in, in which case all that design was something of a wasted effort). There were however improvements made during this period, particularly for women and the children they had with them, thanks to the efforts of social campaigner Elizabeth Fry.

From 1783, executions were moved from Tyburn to Newgate, where the condemned stayed in small, dimly lit cells before being brought out on to a high gantry on the west side of the gaol. On top of this gantry was a set of gallows where the men were publicly hung in front of a large crowd. Public executions were stopped in 1868 (much to the chagrin of the pickpockets who made a small fortune at these events) and moved inside the prison.

After 1066

William the Conqueror granted London a charter in 1067 confirming the status that the city had held under the previous Saxon administration. Over time several castles were built along the Thames to ensure the protection of the city against Viking raids. The Tower of London was one of these as was Baynard’s and Monfichet’s Castle, both of which have long since disappeared but would have been in the region of what is now Ludgate Hill.

In the latter part of the 11th century the royal family took up residence in Westminster for the first time, building Westminster Hall and setting in motion the first of the Norman abbeys that would rise around the City of London, such as St Bartholomew-The-Great, the chancel of which can still be seen in West Smithfield.

Also in this period, London Bridge was completely rebuilt, until it became the medieval structure so famous from the Great Fire of 1666. It would remain the only crossing on the River Thames until 1739.

London has not always been the capital city. This was dictated by the location of the royal family at any given time and for many years this was Winchester in the South of England. After 1200, though, London became the capital after government located more permanently to Westminster. This meant that there became two distinct districts in Westminster and the City. One was used to the implementation of rules and laws, whilst the other was concerned primarily with trade and commerce. This is still the case today.

Over the course of the next few centuries, the City’s influence grew along with its population and the traders created guilds that became a ruling cadre. They are still around today along with the Corporation of London, which provides the lord Mayor of London, a ceremonial role.


The Great Fire

The Great Fire changed everything when it destroyed huge chunks of the City along with the northern section of London Bridge. Charles II had plans, along with Sir Christopher Wren, to use these new open spaces to create long boulevards and new districts. Unfortunately the local residents who had lost everything didn’t see things this way and wanted everything back to the way it was. Apparently the small matter of a catastrophic fire destroying their closely packed wooden buildings wasn’t enough to put them off.

One concession that was forced through, however, was that any new building had to be flat fronted. This was because the houses before the fire had floors that jutted out, allowing flames to jump more easily between buildings. It also meant that you were less likely to be covered in something nasty when people threw their waste out of top windows.


The Blitz

For a period of eight months in 1940 and 1941, London came under a sustained bombing campaign by the Nazi Luftwaffe. The result was around 43,00 dead Londoners, 100,00 plus wounded, a brutalised city and a highly hacked off Fuhrer who had been promised the capitulation of London by Hermann Göring, the head of the Luftwaffe.

It’s safe to say Herman was probably not flavour of the month after this.

It took London decades to recover with many bomb sites lasting into the 1970’s or later (we’re still finding unexploded bombs on a fairly regular basis during building and excavation work.)


Modern Day

The city today is a district covered in sky towers of glass and metal. After the big bang of 1986, American banks took up residence in the city, creating one of the world’s leading financial hubs. Today it has to compete with Canary wharf in the east of the city for business but it’s still going strong and showing no signs of slowing down after a millennia of growth.

The Anglo-Saxon Period

For the next four hundred years London fell in to disrepair (mostly, it has to be said, because of the Vikings). That was until it was occupied by Alfred the Great in 886 (much to the Vikings annoyance). Alfred redesigned the street plan and restored the quays before handing it over to his son-in-law Earl Aethelred of Mercia. This period also foreshadows the establishment of the kingdom of England.

Over the next two hundred years the Saxon kings ruled over England first from London then Winchester. All through this time London grew steadily richer as trade and moneylending flourished. That was until William of Normandy decided he wanted in on the action.

Alfred the Great: Better at fighting than he was at cooking.

The Roman City

The City was established in around 47AD by merchants who realised they had a captive audience of Romans crossing the newly built London Bridge and promptly started selling them food and clothing at vastly inflated prices. This is a tradition still in force today as can be seen on any station concourse in London.

The City was also a target many times over this period. In around 60AD Boudicca, the leader of the Iceni tribe from east Anglia laid waste to the City in revenge for the violation of her daughters. Apparently no one thought to build a wall to keep out raiders, a pretty serious oversight all things considered.

This was, however, corrected when the City was rebuilt as a planned settlement shortly after and elements of the old Roman wall can still be seen dotted around the city. From this point the City went from strength to strength. That was until the Romans left the British isles in 410AD. For the hundred years or so before that, the City had been under attack by Saxons, Picts and Scots, all of whom were less than happy with Roman rule and as time went by started to scent blood. After the romans left, the writing was on the wall for London and ultimately it fell to the raiders.

The story is interspersed with chapters from Emma’s past, telling what happened to her sister Lucy on a disastrous night ten years earlier, when Emma grudgingly takes her out for her fifteenth birthday. There is an argument, followed by a car crash and Lucy is killed whilst Taryn is also injured. This is the event that causes Emma to arrive at the twilight world after her death.

The City of London

For the first fifteen hundred years of its existence, the City of London was London. Since then London has expanded so that the City became a small area that still holds city status in its own right.

The city’s southern boundary was always the Southwark end of London Bridge (which was the point at which the fun started for most Londoners as this was where you were allowed to drink, go to theatres such as the Globe, the Swan and the Rose and generally make merry, all things banned by the Corporation of London within the City), hence Emma having to pass over to her old world prior to her arriving at that point.