Friday, 6 February 2015

Boat Trip Down The Thames

Tuesday 5 December 1995. We had climbed down the steps to Westminster Embankment and got onto one of the boats heading east towards The Tower of London. This was an included trip on our 24-hour tour bus pass.

Our boat had a very mixed bag of passengers: Japanese, Dutch, Spanish and just the two of us representing England!

The first photo today shows the memorial to Royal Air Force, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps personnel of all ranks who gave their lives in service during the First World War. Raised in 1923, further inscriptions are dedicated to World War II. The memorial to The Battle of Britain is situated nearby.

Cleopatra's Needle has only tenuous links to Queen Cleopatra. It was already over 1000 years old when she came to rule and even she is getting on a bit by now... It was presented to Britain by Muhammad Ali, the ruler of Egypt and the Sudan in 1819 to commemorate the victories at the Battle of Alexandria and the Battle of the Nile. The British government of the time said "Thanks awfully old chap - er, could you deliver... we couldn't possibly collect..."

The response was, "Well we would but our ship's run out of wind...". The obelisk stayed where it was for 60 years until a philanthropist donated 10,000 pounds, a very considerable fortune, to bring it to England. It was floated on a pontoon with a crew of six, to be towed by ship. All went well until they reached the Bay of Biscay which threw a storm at them. The pontoon was in great danger and the ship, the Olga, sent six men in a boat to rescue the crew of the pontoon. Sadly the boat capsized and all her six men were lost. The Olga managed to get alongside the pontoon saving the pontoon crew but the pontoon itself became detached and was then lost to the ship.

It was found drifting by Spanish trawlers and was rescued by the Scottish steamer Fitzmaurice, which towed it to Spain to be repaired. What do they say of those canny Scots? The master of the Fitzmaurice claimed £5000 salvage and settled for £2000. The pontoon was then towed by a paddle tug, arriving in the Thames estuary in 1878.

The tenuous link to Queen Cleo is that the obelisk had been moved along with its twin, now in New York, from Heliopolis to Alexandria to the temple she had built for either Mark Anthony or Julius Caesar (she was a bit fickle) in 12 BC. It was toppled a bit later and resting in the ground is what preserved the hieroglyphics in the excellent state they are in now.

Blackfriars Bridge. The original black friars were the Dominican Order of monks who had a priory nearby. They wore black robes, hence the name. "Friars" is a corruption of the french word "frères", meaning "brothers". Henry VIII's divorce hearing from Catherine of Aragon was held in the priory.

The bridge opened in 1869, the successor to a once toll bridge that had stood, but only just, for a mere 100 years. In 1982 the Italian banker, Roberto Calvi, was found hanging from the bridge with pockets full of bricks and a small fortune in money. The Mafia were suspected, though a trial in Rome folded through lack of evidence.

A bit further along the river we came to the clearest view of St Paul's Cathedral. This view is spoiled somewhat for river users now because of the Millennium Pedestrian Footbridge which runs from this spot over the river to the Globe Theatre. At the time of our visit, the reconstruction of Shakespeare's theatre was still ongoing. The theatre opened two years later in 1997.

One of the iconic images of today's London, Tower Bridge seen as we approach from upriver. The boat, in order to dock at the Tower of London, actually goes under the bridge to turn and then comes back under to moor at the dock before the Tower of London.

And thus our river trip comes to an end as we reach the Tower of London. If it's a bit awe inspiring now, then think of how it would appear to those early Londoners in the 11th century. It was a symbol of Norman power. William I declaring that he was, indeed, a Conqueror. We'll have a closer look at it in the next entry.

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