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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Merchant Navy Memorial and Tower Bridge

 "Three hundred years ago a prisoner condemned to the Tower of London carved on the walls of his cell this sentiment to keep up his spirits during his long imprisonment: 'It is not adversity which kills, but the impatience with which we bear the adversity.'" ~Father James Keller, American Priest

   After wandering about Seething Lane, Les and I wandered through nearby Trinity Square Gardens and visited the Memorial to the Merchant Navy and those lost at Sea in WWI and II. It is a very touching monument, with Father Thames above it, on the side of the Port of London Authority Building, pointing the way to the River and out to sea. The engraved words convey the loss and loneliness of those whom these thousands of drowned souls left behind.
"The twenty four thousand of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets whose names are honoured on the wall of this garden gave their lives for their country and have no grave but the sea."
   In a sober mood we crossed the street to Tower Hill and read the information boards regarding The Tower of London. Begun by William the Conqueror to subdue the Anglo-Saxons and Celts, this once magnificent and formidable palace fortress was added to by several other monarchs over the centuries; once it was a palace from where every Monarch's coronation route began. Now it is a well kept tourist attraction, dwarfed by 21st century buildings. I wouldn't mind taking the night tour of the tower but for now, walking around and considering its long history was enough for me to take in. We ate fish and chips while people watching. 
  I love these two pictures above and below because one cannot tell if it the year 1314, 1514, or 2014.
 
The infamous Traitor's Gate at the Tower: This gate leads to the grandest of all the river stairs. It was built by King Edward 1 (1272-1307) as a royal entrance. Later many prisoners accused of treason were brought to the Tower through this gate, including Sir Thomas More, Queen Anne Boleyn, and her daughter Elizabeth.
   The gate at St. Thomas' Tower as it was originally known opened straight into the river, but the wharf was eventually extended across its front in later centuries. The entrance gate and a portcullis guarded the water filled basin beneath, which was deep enough for boats to dock. 
   In March 1554 during a thwarted rebellion against the unpopular Queen Mary 1 (Henry and his first wife Katharine's daughter raised as a devout Catholic), she had her younger half sister Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower and questioned as to her part--if any--played in the rebellion. Elizabeth is said to have said as she rose from the rocking boat and stepped out at Traitor's gate, "Here stands as a true a subject, being prisoner, as ever landed at these stairs."
   Mary's councilors recognized her reign would never be secure as long as her Protestant half sister was still alive. Some of the councilors were working to bring the twenty one year old Elizabeth to trial for treason to the crown. 
   Fortunately the young princess had supporters of her own amongst the government and they convinced Queen Mary to spare her sister's life. After three tense and dismal months Elizabeth was removed from the Tower and held under house arrest in the gatehouse of Woodstock Manor for over a year. 

The Queens' Stairs: Elizabeth and her mother are the only two queens to have used both the stairs at Traitor's Gate and these stairs. One can well imagine the many times Gloriana--The Virgin Queen--both names by which Elizabeth was known, gave a pause to consider that very poignant thought. 
I can close my eyes and hear the night time sounds of ancient London floating across the Thames; the lap of oars and the whisper of voices as a regal woman's laughter crosses the water ahead of her. Elizabeth is returning from an evening at the Globe theatre and one of Master Shakespeare's plays...
A menagerie was also kept at The Tower--animals given as gifts to the Sovereign. These incredible lions stand guard on one of the old walkways. They remind me of my friend Artist Rhea Giffin's papier mache pieces. I don't know how the artist created them but they are magnificent. Hard to believe they are created out of chicken wire!
   As the afternoon advanced we walked over to Tower Bridge and took the tour. The feat of engineering which produced such an amazingly beautiful and functional bridge led me to tell Les that now I can understand how the British built the Suez canal. One look at the marvels of this bridge and it is easy to think, "A canal across the Isthmus of Egypt?  No worries mate."
   Of course the views up and down the Thames are amazing. There was also an exhibition titled The Sixties with large photos of 26 cultural icons. Les commented at one point that we were looking at his youth on the walls! The music was fabulous--early rock and roll, and the exhibit was wonderful. Les will write a post with further details about it soon.
Looking up the Thames, from left to right: The HMS Belfast moored of the South bank, St. Paul's dome in the distance of the North bank; London bridge directly upstream.
The upper deck of the tower is enclosed in two linear sections. The far side displayed an exhibition of great bridges of the world. The near side in the picture above held the 1960's exhibit.
It's a spectacular view no matter how overcast the weather!
   Brits have given the modern architecture nicknames. The large building sticking up directly at left, above, has been christened the "Walkie-Talkie." Directly on its right is the "Cheese Grater," and to its right is the Gherkin thrusting upwards. Sadly these modern architectural marvels dwarf the Tower and other magnificent older pieces of architectural history such as the London Monument which is lost in the maze of skyline above. It commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666.
The Pickle...
   Treated to amazing views of the London skyline I enjoyed my own private joke: I've nicknamed two famous buildings: London City Hall is the "Olive," and 30 St. Mary Axe in the heart of the financial district which Brits call the "Gherkin," I call the "Pickle!" It's an American thing. 
 













   We walked on across the bridge to the south side of the river and sat drinking very good Italian lattes and enjoying the ground view of the "Olive," which actually slants away from the Thames in the back like a wonky growth straight out of Alice in Wonderland.

...and London City Hall--or the "Olive", from the North side of the river in front of The Tower.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jaq .. Wonderful wonderful pictures with great commentary. Clearly you two love this part of your adventerous life across the pond. Really increases my feeling for London ...grey as it was that day.
Pullman, WA Karen

Carol Ives said...

We used to have a university campus close by there. One day a guy, with a very upper class English accent, asked me directions from the station to the campus. I asked him to turn his back to the station entrance and then tell me what he could see, he told me a 'rather large stately home type building' I found it hilarious, surely everyone recognises the Tower of London? He told me he hadn't been there before, I told him I had never been to America, but I'd know what the White house looked like!!! LOL

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs