Ok, it’s time for another “then and now” blog post, examining famous London locations at different times in history, just as I did with New York. I’m going to compare images of various parts of that great city to try and understand how they developed over the years, hopefully also giving us a better understanding of how the city grew. So allow me to crank up the Delorean……..
Above are images looking from Trafalgar Square down towards Parliament at Westminster. The first is from 1839, and is believed to be the very first picture taken of London. One can see what looks like carriages and what I presume are gaslights on the right hand side of the street. Around the statue of Charles I on horseback, there are more gaslights and a railing. In 1649, Charles was executed on the very street he is looking down. Overall, it’s an incredible image freezing a moment in time almost two centuries ago. In the present day, the beautiful lights are gone, along with the railing, but the statue still remains, along with bigger and more ornate buildings, in a much busier street scene.
Above we have a series of images of Tower Bridge, built between 1886 and 1894, with the first two showing it under construction. In the third picture, a crazy person named Frank McClean decided to fly through Tower Bridge in 1912…….only NINE years after the Wright brothers had actually achieved flight!!! He continued on down the river and flew under every bridge all the way to Westminster. McClean (no relation to James) got overconfident on the return flight however and ended up in the river back at Tower Bridge….he survived thankfully. The final picture shows the location today, still one of the most recognisable images of London.
Above are a number of images of Parliament Square at Westminster in London. Over a century ago the area is busy with horses and carriages aplenty, and much traffic on Westminster Bridge. Fast forward to the 1970s, and the area is as busy as ever…..though the modes of transport have changed. The final couple of images are from the present day, and the area actually seems calmer….maybe everyone’s on public transport? In a sign of the times however, the statue of Winston Churchill has been put behind a protective covering, because those who love to take offence on behalf of others have decided Old Winnie was a big racist, and by tearing him from his pedestal the slate of history will be wiped clean and we can all live happily ever after in a land of puppies and rainbows. Maybe those most upset are unaware of the fact that they would probably be speaking German if it hadn’t been for him (always good to have another language though). Human beings can have bad and good in them….who knew!! “We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history.” – Boris Johnson (2020). Thank you for making me agree with Boris….I feel dirty.
Piccadilly Circus is a famous road junction and major tourist attraction in the West End, built in 1819 to connect Regent Street with the thoroughfare of Piccadilly. Above are four images showing how it changed over the years. In the first, circa 1895, transport is all horse powered, and the famous advertising signs have not yet begun to appear. By 1918, the motor vehicle has become king, and there’s a solitary sign advertising Schweppes Ginger Ale. In the 1960s, the legendary London red bus is prominent, advertising takes up a huge part of the area, and most importantly a large clock informs passers by of when Guinness time is……..(it’s all the time). Modern day, the area remains a vital traffic hub in the great metropolis, the signage has gone digital, and individuals still gather at the statue of Eros.
The final set of images examines Christopher Wren’s iconic St Paul’s Cathedral in the old City of London from Ludgate Hill. The first is a beautiful painting from 1887, and the street scene is busy and again horse powered. In the second, an undated postcard probably from the beginning of the 20th century, once again motorised contraptions have in the main replaced animals, and the scene is even more chaotic. The raised railway bridge is still prominent in the foreground. In the final image, a level of order has been imposed on the chaos, and the buildings are bigger, though less attractive. It’s something I noticed on the New York blog posts also, that as our cities get “more advanced”, the architecture is often less aesthetically pleasing (based on my vast knowledge of the subject).
So in the next blog post I’ll finish the history of London (took you long enough). Then I might take a break from cities and examine some of the fascinating stories of Irish people who got themselves involved in the independence struggles of South American countries……there’s actually quite a few!!