"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted on September 26, 2018 by Sioux under General
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Due to our limited time in London, I had prebooked a hop on hop off bus tour to enable us to get about quickly. With the weather as it was, I was glad of the bus ride! Once we had finished breakfast, we made our way to Buckingham Palace knowing that come rain or shine, there would be some sort of Changing of Guard. We didn’t have long to wait, but due to the rain it was all over quite quickly with no pomp and ceremony, and our cameras were safely stashed away.

Once on board the bus, and glad to be able to sit under cover, we settled in for the ride, Paul taking in as many of the famous sights as he could.

 

The Blewcoat was built in 1709 as a school for the poor (a Bluecoat school) and was used as a school until it closed in 1926. Originally founded around  1688 as a charity school for the education of poor boys to teach them reading, writing, religion, and trades; from 1714 to about 1876 the school also admitted girls. The interior of the building has since been refurbished and now houses designer bridal gowns, special occasion wear & evening gown collections for sale. 

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Once we had done a circuit and Paul could see where he wanted to get off for a closer look, we waited until the rain abated and then walked. It was a good thing I had warned him to bring good walking shoes with as we covered some good distances again!

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Parliament Square contains twelve statues of famous statesmen and other notable individuals. It is interesting to note that of all the statues,

four individuals had a huge influence on the course of South African history, namely Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Jan Smuts and Winston Churchill. The latest statue to be erected has been hailed as a landmark for women’s liberation, as the unveiling of the statue of Millicent Fawcett marked the centenary of women’s suffrage in Britain. 

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Walking alongside the Thames, we came across the Battle of Britain Monument, a sculpture commemorating British military personnel who took part in the Battle of Britain during WW2. It was unveiled in 2005, the 65th anniversary of the Battle in the presence of many of the surviving airmen known collectively as “The Few”.

 

The monument utilises a panelled granite structure 25m long, originally designed as a smoke outlet for underground trains when they were powered by steam engines.

 

A walkway was cut obliquely through the middle of the structure, and is lined with panels of high relief sculpture in bronze depicting scenes from the Battle of Britain. The centrepiece is an approximately life sized sculpture of airmen scrambling for their aircraft. The outside of the monument is lined with bronze plaques listing 2,936 airmen and ground crew from 14 countries who took part in the battle on the Allied side.  

It was just after lunch time when we decided to stop off at a floating restaurant, for a bite to eat and some very welcome hot chocolate!

 

We were chilled inside and out and needed warming up!

 

Once suitably defrosted, we headed   back out to a bus stop and onwards to   Trafalgar Square.

 

  From there it was walk, walk and walk      some more as I led the charge from           Trafalgar, down past St Paul’s                   Cathedral and over the Thames back to

   our hotel.

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There is so much traffic from both sides that traffic authorities take no chances in central London and warn pedestrians to keep a look out!

Anyone visiting London for the first time and walking along the

Thames Embankment may be surprised to come across an original

Egyptian obelisk. Not what you expect to see in downtown London!

 

Known as Cleopatra’s Needle, it actually has very little to do with

Cleopatra at all. Made in Egypt for a Pharaoh in 1460 BC, making it

almost 3,500 years old, it is known as Cleopatra’s Needle as it was

brought to London from Alexandria, the royal city of Cleopatra, and came to be beside the Thames because Britain wanted something big and 

noticeable to commemorate the British victory over Napoleon, sixty-three years earlier. It arrived in England in 1878 and is flanked by two large bronze Victorian versions of the traditional Egyptian original Sphinxes. The Needle arrived in England after a horrendous journey by sea in 1878. Cleopatra’s Needle stands on the Thames Embankment close to the Embankment underground station. Two large bronze Sphinxes lie on either side of the Needle. The benches on the Embankment also have winged sphinxes on either side as their supports. 

Royal Courts of Justice in Fleet Street were opened by Queen Victoria in 1882 after eleven years of construction. The building instantly became an awe-inspiring landmark in the heart of London’s Fleet Street. Also called Law Courts, it is a complex of courtrooms, halls, and offices concerned primarily with non-criminal litigation. Statues of Christ, King Solomon, King Alfred, and Moses are located above its main doors. 11 architects competed for the contract believing they were designing a Cathedral, with each submitting alternative designs with the view of possibly placing the building on the Thames Embankment. Sadly the winning architect died before completion and it is believed that the stress of the task may have contributed to his early demise, at the age of 57. 

“The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist”, is an ongoing series of sculptures, forged by an American-Iraqi artist in an intricate narrative about artefacts stolen from the National Museum of Iraq, in the aftermath of the US invasion of 2003. It attempts to recreate more than 7,000 objects which have been lost forever, some looted from the Iraq Museum, while others were destroyed at archaeological sites across the country during the Iraq War. A recreation of an ancient winged bull statue destroyed by Isis was created using 10,500 cans of date syrup manufactured in Iraq. A modern take on a mythical deity known to the ancient Assyrians as a lamassu, this is the latest sculpture to be offered a temporary home on the famous ‘Fourth Plinth’ in Trafalgar Square.

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Come rain or shine, the newspapers will be delivered!

Trafalgar Square, one of London’s most vibrant, pedestrianized spaces in the middle of the city and is surrounded by museums, galleries, cultural spaces and historic buildings; as well as being  the center of national democracy and protest. Rallies and demonstrations are frequently held at weekends on different political, religious and general issues. The current Mayor supports this democratic tradition, and gives access to the square for such causes.

 

From the14th – 17th century, most of the area now occupied by Trafalgar Square was the courtyard of the Great Mews stabling, which served Whitehall Palace and was officially named Trafalgar Square in 1830. Nelson’s Column was erected in 1843 and the fountains built in 1845.1867: In 1867 the bronze lions were placed on guard at the base of Nelson’s Column.

 

The Fourth Plinth is probably the most famous public art commission in the world. In 1994, the Evening Standard received a letter suggesting something be done with the empty plinth, which sparked a flurry of public debate. Five years later, it hosted the first artwork.Since then, the Mayor of London’s Fourth Plinth programme has invited many leading artists to make sculptures for the plinth; all of which have attracted a huge amount of public interest.

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Temple Bar was the principal ceremonial entrance to the City of London and the Temple Bar Memorial in front of the Royal Courts of Justice was designed to mark the historic royal ceremonial route from the Tower of London to the Palace of Westminster. The road east of Temple Bar is Fleet Street; and the road to the west is The Strand. The term Temple Bar strictly refers to a notional bar or barrier across the route, but is commonly used to refer to the 17th-century ornamental Baroque arched gateway which spanned the road until its removal in 1878. A memorial pedestal topped by a dragon which is the symbol of London, and containing an image of Queen Victoria was erected in 1880, to mark the bar’s location. 

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St. Bride’s church, with its unmistakeable wedding-cake shaped spire, may be one of the most ancient churches in London, with the present building being possibly the 7th to have stood on the site. By the time the Great Fire of 1666 left the church in ruins, a succession of churches had existed on the site for about a millennium. During the Blitz of central London in WW2, the church was gutted by fire-bombs. That night 1,500 fires were started leading to a fire storm, an event dubbed the Second Great Fire of London. 

One fortunate and unintended consequence was the excavation of the church’s original 6th century Saxon foundations. Where a number of ancient relics, including Roman coins and medieval stained glass were discovered. Post-war excavations also uncovered nearly 230 lead coffins with plaques dating from the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, filled with the bones of parishioners. Until the 1830’s the only legal source of bodies for doctors, surgeons and scientists to use for medical research was the public executioner. Unfortunately with juries were tending to return guilty verdicts less and less frequently, judges weren’t passing the death penalty often enough to keep the burgeoning medical profession supplied with sufficient corpses for their research. 

Thus began a body-snatching epidemic throughout the land with corpses being stolen from newly dug graves. A lucrative practice back then, with corpses “retailing” at between £8 – £14 each. The battle began to provide safety for the dead, as inventors sought to dream up more and more ingenious methods to prevent corpses being stolen from their final resting places. One solution was the iron coffin with a flange which engaged with spring clips in the lid. One such example can still be seen in the crypt of St Bride’s Church, on Fleet Street, although nowadays showing distinct signs of having been eaten away by rust. It was however deemed that since such coffins took much longer than wooden ones to disintegrate, churches could charge much higher fees for them to be buried; causing the age of the iron coffin to be short lived.  

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Westminster Abbey is a large, mainly Gothic abbey church and one of the UK’s most notable religious buildings. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and later, British monarchs. 


The building was a Benedictine Monastic church until the monastery was dissolved in 1539. Between 1540 and 1556, the abbey had the status of a cathedral, but since 1560, it is no longer an abbey or a cathedral, having instead the status of a Church of England “Royal Peculiar”— a church responsible directly to the sovereign. Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, all coronations of English and British monarchs have been in Westminster Abbey.

 

There have been at least 16 royal weddings at the abbey since 1100; and two were of reigning monarchs (Henry I and Richard II), although, before 1919, there had been none for some 430 years.  

The Big Ben bell fell silent in August 2017, for only the 2nd time since it first sounded in 1859. Due to necessary repairs, 12 bongs from the famous bell rang out for midday in front of a hushed crowd of over a thousand people assembled in Parliament Square, to mark the longest silence in its 157-year history. The iconic clock tower is expected to stay silent until 2021 with its famous chimes being heard only for major events such as Remembrance Sunday and New Year’s Eve. 

 

The 160-year-old Queen Elizabeth Tower, where the 15.1 ton bell and the clock reside, will undergo extensive restoration that will see the clock dismantled and its four dials cleaned and repaired. The bell will also be cleaned and checked for cracks. The silencing of the bell will protect workers on the site, amid fears that prolonged exposure to the 118-decibel bongs could damage their hearing.   

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By 7pm we both decided we’d had enough and headed to The Feathers Restaurant, to meet up                                                        with a friend of Paul’s from SA who now lives and works in the UK. The building the restaurant is in comes with a history and dates back to 1898, when it was designed for a brewing company. By 1865 it was known as a ‘public house’ with its own yard, coach house and stabling. We spent a couple of hours catching up and then headed back to the hotel. I had to be away early in the morning to get the train to my next assignment, and Paul still had a Thames River cruise to do as part of his birthday present, plus a few other paces he wanted to visit before heading for the airport and back home to SA. 

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Murphys law had it that on the day we both had to leave, the rain had gone and the skies were blue. It was still very chilly though. We travelled together on the train as far as I needed to go before changing stations and said our farewells. Paul carried on to the station he needed to get off at for the river cruise. 

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Selfies on the river cruise 

Hitching a ride on the Thames river cruise boat, under the shadow of the London eye.

A combined bascule and suspension bridge, Tower Bridge was opened 123 years ago, and has become an iconic symbol of London. It is sometimes confused with London Bridge, situated some 0.80km upstream; and often featured incorrectly as the bridge in the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down”. The bridge consists of two bridge towers tied together at the upper level by two horizontal walkways; and is 244m long x 65m high. The bascules are raised around 3 times a day and 24 hours’ notice is needed from a ship that needs to pass.

The one and only day it does not open is on the day of the London marathon.   

Tower Bridge as viewed from the boat. 

View of the Tower of London from the River Thames. 

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The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name,

was built in 1078 and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 (Ranulf Flambard) until 1952 (Kray twins), although that was not its primary purpose.

 

A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence. The Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. Though there were several phases of expansion in the 12th and 13th centuries, the general layout established by the late 13th century remains. 

 

Although Tower Green inside the Tower of London is synonymous with beheadings, only seven people, including Anne Boleyn, were ever executed there. Far more executions took place outside the Tower’s walls at nearby Tower Hill. 

Whilst alighting from the Thames cruise boat, Paul noted the “wall of algae”, which depicts the rise and fall of the tide on the Thames,

which is a 4.3m difference between

neap and spring tides. 

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A plaque on the external wall of the ‘Hung Drawn and Quartered’ pub quotes a passage from the famous diarist Samuel Pepys after he witnessed an execution in Charing Cross on 13th October, 1660:

 

“I went to see Major General Harrison. Hung drawn and quartered. He was looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition”. 

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Once the cruise was over, Paul went walkabout, specifically to find the Temple Church, which was closed by the time we got to it the previous day.

 

Built in the late 12th-century church, it was built by the Knights Templar as their English headquarters. Famous for being a round church, which is a common design feature for Knights Templar churches, it is also well known for its 13th and 14th century stone effigies. The building was heavily damaged by German bombing during WW2, the building has since been greatly restored and rebuilt.

One of the four surviving copies of the signed Magna Carta is on display at the Temple church.

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A view into the dome of Temple Church.

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From Temple Church he continued his walkabout before meeting up with his Saffer friend for lunch and then headed to the airport. A short, but fabulous visit to my side of the world. 

The dragon boundary marks are cast iron statues of dragons on metal or stone plinths that mark the boundaries of the City of London. Painted silver, with details of their wings and tongue picked out in red, the dragon stands on one rear leg, the other lifted against a shield, with the right foreleg raised and the left foreleg holding a shield which bears the City of London’s coat of arms. This stance is the equivalent of the rampant heraldic attitude of the supporters of the City’s arms. 

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One of the two original statues dating back to 1849

 

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