The Sights of London.
London's new Tallest Building
Peter Buchanan is an architecture critic and spearheads the AR’s campaign The Big Rethink
At moments, from a few vantage points, the Shard looks marvellous. On late afternoons on Primrose Hill it is sometimes a spectral silvery-white presence, barely there, as if sketched in by CGI. The Shard then lives up to Renzo Piano's dream of unassertive evanescence. But from other angles and closer to, it is a bloated brute; Piano’s initial design was better proportioned, although more outrageously excessive in height. Slapdash in conception and unresolved, the irregular plan tapers upwards to peel open like a banana. Worse is the base and what surrounds it: the dinky, hideously fussy canopies (due to jarring disjunctions in scale of supporting members) set far too high, the drab station concourse extension and inelegantly fiddly bus shelters − all stuff Piano can do well.
The enlarged bus station is a boon, as are public facilities in the tower, although the entrance fee is too much for many Londoners. But the Shard is much too big, as is Piano’s building rising beside it, and completely out of character with the surrounding area − the evocation of spires and sails is fatuous. Bermondsey is gritty, fine-grained and very varied, the only central area in London that gives a sense of how parts of London were. The impact of the money and tastes of the rich Shardites will inevitably sweep this away.
The Shard and its stubby brother are indictments of Britain’s negotiated planning system, prone to steamrollering by the combination of starchitects and big bucks, aided by and resulting in the dismal architectural legacy of Mayor Ken Livingstone, his advisor Richard Rogers (ex-partner of Piano) and CABE. After the successive exposés about this era of supercharged greed, perhaps we will realise again that there is more to life than making and pandering to money, and that the advocacy and cherishing of civic values, of the character and continuity of urban fabric that seems to shelter and relate to us, is not nostalgia but the essence of civilised life.
The Tower of London
The White Tower is one of the most important historic buildings in the world. It's an iconic symbol of London and Britain, and one of the world's premier tourist attractions. Execution inside the Tower was a privilege for those of high rank. Tower Green contains the memorial to the people who died here. The Tower is home to the famous crown jewels. Be dazzled by the 23,578 gems including the world's most famous diamonds. There are some famous ravens at the tower. Legend has it that the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the six ravens ever leave the Tower. The ravens have become one of the Tower's most famous sights.
The Tower of London has seen service as royal palace, prison, armoury and even a zoo. The ancient stones reverberate with dark secrets, priceless jewels glint in fortified vaults and pampered ravens strut the grounds. Constructed over 900 years ago by William the Conqueror, the Tower of London is steeped in a rich history. This fortress was expanded by many medieval kings and is a grand structure used by Royals through the years as a refuge and powerbase. The Tower is still home to her majesty's Crown Jewels, on display for visitors to see, and the infamous Beefeaters tasked with the job of guarding them as well as showing visitors some of the attraction's highlights. The White Tower is the huge and beautiful stone building in the middle of the sight. Currently it hosts the exhibition of Tudor, Stuart, Hanoverian and Windsor arms and armour Fit for a King. This vast collection begins by exploring armour created for both the battle and sports fields with an unmissable chance to see Henry VIII's and Charles I's spectacular armour. Situated in central London just a stones throw from the River Thames, the Tower of London is the one of the city's premier attractions. With so much on offer it's no wonder it's popular with visitors.
The Thames Barrier
London is quite vulnerable to flooding. A storm surge generated by low pressure in the Atlantic Ocean sometimes tracks eastwards past the north of Scotland and may then be driven into the shallow waters of the North Sea. The storm surge is funnelled down the North Sea which narrows towards the English Channel and the Thames Estuary. If the storm surge coincides with a spring tide then dangerously high water levels can occur in the Thames Estuary. This situation combined with downstream flows in the Thames provides the triggers for Flood defence operations.
According to Gilbert & Horner on 7th December 1663 Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary "There was last night the greatest tide that ever was remembered in England to have been in this river all Whitehall having been drowned". In 1236 the river is reported as overflowing "and in the great palace of Westminster men did row with wherries in the midst of the hall". (Gilbert & Horner - 1984). Fourteen people died in the 1928 Thames flood, and after 307 people died in the UK in the North Sea Flood of 1953 this once again became a major issue.
The threat has increased over time due to the slow but continuous rise in high water level over the centuries (20 cm / 100 years) and the slow "tilting" of Britain (up in the north and down in the south) caused by post-glacial rebound.
Early proposals for a flood control system were stymied by the need for a large opening in the barrier to allow for vessels from London Docks to pass through. When containerisation came in and a new port was opened at Tilbury, a smaller barrier became feasible with each of the four main navigation spans being the same width as the opening of Tower Bridge.
An incident which had the potential to be catastrophic for London occurred on 27 October 1997. The dredger, MV Sand Kite, sailing in thick fog, collided with one of the Thames Barrier's piers. As the ship started to sink she dumped her 3,300 tonne load of aggregate, finally sinking by the bow on top of one of the barrier's gates where she lay for several days. Initially the gate could not be closed as it was covered in a thick layer of gravel. A longer term problem was the premature loss of paint on the flat side of the gate caused by abrasion. One estimate of the cost of flooding damage, had it occurred, was around 13 billion. The vessel was refloated in mid-November 1997.
The barrier was closed twice on 9 November 2007 after a storm surge in the North Sea which was compared to the one in 1953. The main danger of flooding from the surge was on the coast above the Thames Barrier, where evacuations took place, but the winds abated a little and, at the Thames Barrier, the 9th November 2007 storm surge did not completely coincide with high tide.
A Thames river cruise is without doubt one of the best ways to see London, weaving through the heart of the city and past so many of its most famous attractions. See and experience the sights and splendour of this great city from the relaxed comfort of a City Cruises modern, all-weather boats with open upper decks and spacious lower saloons with panoramic windows. Highlights of a Thames river cruise include the site of the Cutty Sark, Canary Wharf, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the retired battle-cruiser - HMS Belfast; St Paul's Cathedral, Shakespeare's Globe and the Tate Modern. From the boat you get a closer view at Millennium Footbridge, controversially built for the turn of the new century; and of course Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, both recognised worldwide as iconic buildings of London.
Just a short walk from the Thames, Westminster Abbey is a must-see and significant structure in British history. This beautiful Gothic church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site popular with many visitors to London. Kings, Queens, statesmen, aristocrats, poets, priests, heroes and villains are all part of the church's fascinating history. Many of whom were buried at the Abbey including Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, Dr. Samuel Johnson and Charles Darwin. There is a special Scientists corner at the church which is home to a memorial for Isaac Newton. Since the crowning of William the Conqueror in 1066, Westminster Abbey has been the nation's Coronation church. Many Kings and Queens, including the current reigning Queen Elizabeth II, have been crowned on King Edward's Chair. The Abbey has also seen many Royal Weddings and Funerals through the years.
On top of all this rich history, Westminster Abbey London is a truly stunning building and the exterior offers visitors plenty of photo opportunities. Highlights of this grand building include a statue of the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus, the Nave with the grave of the unknown warrior and the Little Cloister leading the College Gardens.
LONDON BRIDGE EXPERIENCE
The London Bridge Experience is a two-part tourist attraction situated within the arches of London Bridge. For the 2nd year running, it has won "Best Year Round Scare Attraction" at the Screamie awards!
Firstly enjoy a fascinating trip back in time as the London Bridge Experience delves through the history of the bridge, from Druids through to Victorians, meeting Vikings, Romans, and some creepy medieval characters along the way. Featuring real life actors, stunning special effects and animations, this is unique interactive adventure really does takes you back in time. Then, if you re brave enough head into the second attraction The London Tombs. It's a terrifying encounter with the un-dead and a blood-curdling adventure you will never forget. Can you handle it?
The new 2010 show introduces a newly refurbished set design and the latest in digital animatronics.
Also available are the Guardian Angel Tours for younger visitors (under 11's). Special guides will accompany younger, timid visitors around the Tombs to protect them from anything too frightening.
You can visit the London Bridge Experience and The London Tombs for Free with a London Pass that's a fantastic saving of over £21.
Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, and it's the official residence of her majesty the Queen. Built over 900 years ago the castle's floor covers a massive 480,000 square feet.
The castle is surrounded by some beautiful gardens and the picturesque English countryside. St George's Chapel, inside the grounds, is a fine example of Gothic architecture and features the tomb of Henry VIII.
Visitors can explore the magnificent State Apartments which are lavishly furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection, including masterpieces by Rubens, Holbein, Brueghel and Van Dyck. Ticket holders get a free self guided audio tour that lasts around 2 hours and is full of all the information you need to know about this royal residence.
Situated on the outskirts of London, visitors can get to Windsor Castle from London Paddington Train Station in around 30 minutes.
- How will the London Pass help at Windsor Castle London?
St Paul's Cathedral
Come and experience the glory of St. Paul s Cathedral and see how it's iconic dome dominates the London skyline. Built between 1675 and 1710, the catherdral has gone through a £40 million programme of cleaning and repair work for its 300th anniversary and the work has transformed the exterior and interior of the building.
There is so much to discover throughout this vast cathedral including The Aspe, an American Memorial Chapel dedicated to servicemen and women who died during World War II. Also there is The Quire, where the choir and priest sit during services and is home to the cathedrals grand Organ and High Altar.
The highlight of St Paul's Cathedral is the remarkable Whispering Gallery, situated 30 metres above the cathedral floor and is famous for its acoustics. Another 55 metres above the Whispering Gallery is the Golden Gallery which offers breathtaking panoramic views of central London for those with the energy to climb the 530 steps.
Below the cathedral in the elegant and spacious crypt, are the tombs and memorials of such historical luminaries as Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke Of Wellington.
SHAKESPEARS GLOBE THEATRE
London sightseeing visitors can enjoy a trip back in time with a visit to the spectacular Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Situated on London's Bankside, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre reconstruction the original building that housed Shakespeare's theatre in London, an open-air playhouse where the playwright penned many of his greatest plays.
This modern building is a faithful reconstruction of the Globe, first built in 1599, and perfectly evokes the atmosphere of Elizabethan London. Resident storytellers on the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre Tour and Exhibition introduce visitors to all aspects of the Globe, historical and contemporary, including Sam Wannamaker's epic struggle to recreate the theatre.
With a London Pass you can experience this stunning recreation completely free, saving you over £10. On top of the free entry you will also receive a 10% discount on all of your souvenirs in Globe's shop.
The London Pass allows you to experience the best of London with free entry to over 55 top sights and attractions saving you loads on tickets and gate fees. With the option to include a Travelcard and loads of special offer and discounts the London Pass is everything you will need for a fantastic sightseeing trip.
Learn about the history of the Bridge and how it was built. Interactive displays and videos provide an entertaining and informative guide to Tower Bridge in London and its place in the history of the River Thames.
London Pass holders can also descend into the Victorian Engine Rooms, home of the original steam engines. Exciting hands-on mechanisms and information panels explain about the ingenious technology used over the years to keep the bridge in motion.
At the Tower Bridge Exhibition you can enjoy the breathtaking views from the high-level walkways. There is a wealth of museums and historic buildings close to the Tower Bridge including the Britain At War Experience, HMS Belfast and the Tower Of London.
All Free for London Pass holders without the Pass you would have to pay over ??40, but sightseeing with a six-day London Pass doesn't cost you more than £15 per day.
Hampton Court Palace is the former home of the flamboyant King Henry VIII, he extended and developed this grand palace after acquiring it in the 1520's. Its many royal occupants have ensured the palace has fabulous furnishings, tapestries and paintings. Set in 60 acres of formal gardens, which include the famous maze and Great Vine, this palace is well worth a visit.
The re-presented Tudor palace plays host every day to a wedding not just any wedding but that of Henry VIII to his sixth wife, Kateryn Parr!
King Henry continues to hold court daily at Hampton Court Palace where visitors can enter a living Tudor world and participate in life at the palace from special Tudor cookery weekends to everyday court life. Visitors might also get to meet one of Henry's six wives in a series of Henry's Women weekends. You can see Katherine of Aragon 2-5 April, 1-3 May, 18-19 June, 3-4 July, 7-8 and 28-30 August, 4-5 September, 2-3 October, 6-7 November and 4-5 December.
London Pass holders can visit Hampton Court Palace for free - a saving of 14. As well as a 20% discount in the Tiltyard Caf and Privy Kitchen.
CHURCHILL WAR ROOMS
The Churchill War Rooms are dedicated to the life of the "Greatest Briton", Sir Winston Churchill, and the secret underground headquarters that were the nerve centre of Britain's war effort.
The first London museum of its kind, the Churchill War Rooms covers all ninety years of Winston Churchill's life, divided into five chapters: his early years as British Prime Minister starting May 1940; his later years; his childhood; his early political career and the period famously known as the "Gathering Storm".
The Churchill War Rooms uses cutting edge technology and unique media displays to chart the life of Winston Churchill, including a fifteen metre long "Lifeline", which visitors can touch to access a digital "filing cabinet" of Churchill's life, categorised by time.
The clock tower looks spectacular at night when the four clock faces are illuminated.
- Each dial is 23 feet square (49.15 square metres)
- Big Ben's minute hands are 14 feet long (4.26 metres)
- The figures on the face of Big Ben are two feet high (0.6 metres)
A special light above the clock faces is also illuminated, letting the public know when parliament is in session.
Big Ben's timekeeping is strictly regulated by a stack of coins placed on the huge pendulum. Big Ben has rarely stopped. Even after a bomb destroyed the Commons chamber during the Second World War, the clock tower survived and Big Ben continued to strike the hours.
The chimes of Big Ben were first broadcast by the BBC on 31 December 1923, a tradition that continues to this day.
The History of Big Ben
The Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire in 1834. In 1844, it was decided the new buildings for the Houses of Parliament should include a tower and a clock. The bell was refashioned in Whitechapel in 1858 and the clock first rang across Westminster on 31 May 1859.
Just two months later, Big Ben cracked. A lighter hammer was fitted and the bell rotated to present an undamaged section to the hammer. This is the bell as we hear it today.
London's Famous Landmark
Why is it called Big Ben? The origin of the name Big Ben is not known, although two different theories exist.
- The first is that is was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, the first commissioner of works, a large man who was known affectionately in the house as "Big Ben".
- The second theory is that it was named after a heavyweight boxing champion at that time, Benjamin Caunt. Also known as "Big Ben", this nickname was commonly bestowed in society to anything that was the heaviest in its class.
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Visiting Big Ben in London
If you are a resident in the UK then you can write to your Member of Parliament and arrange a visit to the clock tower, which is not generally open to the public.