Our stroll was along the latter sections of the Thames Path, and in fact not on the path itself. We began at The Bank where we emerged from the underground, and my eye was immediately caught by a grasshopper. You couldn’t really miss it at a metre in length! It is one of the ancient signs of Lombard Street, and is first associated with a merchant Sir Thomas Gresham. Sir Gresham’s working life began in the wool trade, before coming a goldsmith. He later established the Royal Exchange in the City of London, and his business premises – 68 Lombard Street – was located where the Grasshopper still resides today. The history of the Grasshopper becomes, at least to me, a little confused from this point. A bank in Liverpool – Martins – traded as the Grasshopper and their Head Office had a Grasshopper on it! When they decided to open a London office they took over the premises of one of their London based partnerships – 68 Lombard Street! Sir Gresham no longer operated from here as he had long since died, however goldsmiths did still operate out of the premises and all had used the Grasshopper sign. So which came first the London Grasshopper or the Liverpool one?! And was the sign behind the decision for Martins to use 68 Lombard Street rather than the premises of one of their other partners?! Who knows, but I am so pleased the sign still exists and that it was not lost when Martins Bank was taken over by Barclays in 1969. There are other wonderful signs, (but not that Regus one!) on Lombard Street but we were meant to be heading for the Thames, so I’ll have to return with you another day.
I dragged myself away from the gold Grasshopper and we meandered our way down hill towards the Thames. But before we got there I was distracted again, this time by The Monument. The Monument is a 202ft column, built in the 1670s to commemorate the Great Fire of London and to celebrate the rebuilding of the City. It is the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, which destroyed over 13,000 houses and nearly 90 parish churches. The number of deaths is unknown, official records at the time said only 6 people died but that seems extraordinary given the fires ferocity. Modern historians believe that far more people died, but because they were from poor backgrounds their deaths simply were not recorded or their bodies never found. The temperature in places reached over 1250 centigrade so there would have been nothing left of anyone caught in it. The Monument can be found at the corner of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill, and if it was laid on its side its top would rest at the exact point the fire started. I was a little girl the last time I climbed the 311 steps, and I do want to climb it again but not today. Today I must remain focused and take you to the Thames! But before I go here’s another look at the Monument frieze.
Nearly 500 words later but very few steps we make it to The Thames. I think there are going to be many parts to this walk! Before I take you a little way down the Thames let me tell you a bit about The Thames Path. It is 184 miles in length just 30miles short of the entire length of the River Thames, the second longest river in the United Kingdom. It is one of 16 National Trails in the UK, and begins near Kemble in Gloucestershire and finishes at the Thames Barrier, which is about 5 or 10miles from the centre of London depending whether you walk along the north or south bank!
We didn’t even make it to the Thames Barrier from where we joined the river at St Magnus the Martyr Church by London Bridge. There was simply too much to see from Old Billingsgate, to the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St Katharine’s Docks, Wapping High Street and of course the river itself. There were also pubs to investigate including The Captain Kidd and The Prospect of Whitby. We did though get as far as the Limehouse Basin before heading to meet family for a late lunch. Today I’m not sure we are even going to get as far as the Tower of London but let’s see how we go! The first thing that catches your eye when you emerge onto the Thames Path from St Magnus the Martyr Church is the Shard. Not surprising as it is the tallest building in the United Kingdom, but at just over 1000ft high only the 105th tallest building in the world. Even the window cleaners on it didn’t keep our attention for long though as I spotted an enormous ‘yacht’ by Tower Bridge.
Simply humongous, and at 303ft longer than The Monument. Once the 6th largest superyacht it is now about the 25th largest, hence its Russian owner deciding to sell it and purchase a new one. This one, named ‘A’ cost £225 million to build so goodness knows what the next one will cost!
Behind us was something much older, much more in keeping with the width of the Thames and much more beautiful was Old Billingsgate. Now and events venue it was once London’s fish market. The stunning market hall was built in 1875 and was in use as a fish market until the early 1980s. The cormorant waiting on a pier opposite looked hopeful fish might still arrive!
The next building to catch my eye was the entrance to the second oldest tunnel across the Thames. Tower Subway took 18 years to build and is only 7ft in diameter. Initially it began life as a cable car tunnel, passengers taking 7 seconds to travel across the Thames. Within three months though the company had gone bankrupt. It reopened the following a year as a pedestrian tunnel and apparently over 20,000 per week used it. However it soon closed again as Tower bridge opened the following year and that was free to cross whereas the claustrophobic tunnel cost halfpenny each way. It was then sold to the London Hydraulic Power Company for hydraulic tubes and water mains, hence the wording on the 1920s replacement entrance. These days the tunnel carries telecommunication cables and unsurprisingly is not opened to the public. Most people don’t even notice this engineering marvel despite it being located next door to the ticket office to the Tower of London. Apart from that is the Birthday boy and his photographer!
Yes we’ve made it to Tower Bridge and I think I’ll stop there for now and return next Monday for part two of our stroll beside the Thames in London. If you though fancy a longer walk why not pop across and say hi to Jo with her wonderful Monday Walks. But before I go let’s look back to see how far we have walked!