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Then and now: Tower Bridge area
London in General
Member Name: jammaker49
London in General
Date: 10/11/01, updated on 11/11/01 (78 review reads)
Advantages: Easy to get to
Disadvantages: Walking on cobblestones!
As a child growing up in the 1950’s, one of my fondest memories is going with my family, on our regular Sunday walks. We lived in flats in Tooley Street, eight floors up, and every Sunday, after a roast dinner, we would take the short walk from our flats over Tower Bridge, to meander along the side of the River Thames. It did not matter how often we strolled that route, there was always something new to see and do. We never got tired of it.
Our first stop would be where the two halves of the lifting part of the bridge joined. There, with one foot on either side of the gap, we would wait until a bus or heavy lorry thundered over, making our legs wobble with the movement of the two sides, and we would shout with laughter.
We always spent some time on the Bridge, looking over at the activity taking place on the river. There were always barges, moving rapidly up and down. The passenger boats from Tower Pier also chugged along, and I remember many a trip in one of these small vessels, down to the South Bank, where we would play in the children’s playground before catching the boat back to the pier.
Another great sight was Tower Bridge going up to let the “Daffodil” through on it’s journey to Southend. Bedecked in yellow and red, and filled with happy day trippers, it would pass under the bridge, whilst we waved to the people on board. It always amazed me how slowly the two halves of the bridge raised and lowered, and how one side always seemed to finish lowering first. Why didn’t they lower at the same speed and finish at the same time?
Continuing over the bridge, we would descend to the cobbles below, and cross under the bridge to Tower Gardens. This was the highlight of the afternoon. If the tide was out, we would be able to go down the iron steps to the ‘sand’ below, and play there, watching the boats wend their way to who knows where.
On returning to the walkway, we would clamber over the old cannon that were situated at regular intervals along the side of the river. We would insist on climbing over every one of them - how could we possibly leave any out? Each one was different - some were thinner, some were longer - we knew every one of them.
On re-visiting the area recently, I was saddened to see that today’s young people cannot experience that simple pleasure any more, because the cannon are now all out of public reach.
We would then walk past the green where the guns were sounded for Royal events. This was of particular interest to my sister who shares a birthday with Prince Phillip, and until the age of ten insisted that the guns were fired because it was her birthday!
Then we would go round to the right where the guardsman always stood, stock still and silent. If we were really lucky and there at the right time, we would see him marching up and down in his huge boots, making a wonderful noise as he stamped his feet three times at the end of every turn.
Outside the gates was the man with his ice-cream cart. Oh, the wonderful ice-cream he used to sell! I can just taste it now! It didn’t occur to me at the time, but just how did he keep it frozen? It appeared to be just a cart with buckets containing the ice cream, yet it was never half thawed. He must have had some way of keeping it like that, even in the warmest weather.
Some weeks, from here, we would return through the Tower Gardens across the cobbles. I always think of these walks when I watch the people taking part in the London Marathon running across this bit. It was awkward walking on them, let alone running on them, but we always insisted on it, we would never walk on the paved bits.
At other times we would continue along, past the old Billingsgate Fish Market, wrinkling our noses at the smell. After stopping at the Monum
ent for a while, we would continue over London Bridge, and down Tooley Street until we got home.
After moving from the area in 1968, it was some years before I got the opportunity to return. Yes, you can still walk alongside the river, but gone are the old wharves, and many of the old barges that gave the river it’s character. The old cannon are no longer accessible, and to me, that is the biggest loss of all.
The Bridge itself is much more spruced up than I remember it. But you can still stand with one foot either side of the gap in the middle - I know, because I tried it! And it is still great fun to do that! The cobbles are still there, although I have to admit they no longer seem to hold the same attraction for walking on as they did when I was a child!
There also seem to be far more tourists and tourist attractions than I remember, or maybe I just didn’t notice them back then. But where have the families gone, the ones we would see every week on a Sunday afternoon stroll through what was effectively our front garden?
That was around 40-50 years ago. Recently I have been visiting the area frequently, and although much has changed, there is still a great deal to see in the area. The Bridge is still there, and you can still get a great thrill from standing in the middle, waiting for that big lorry to come along.
You can still experience the walk alongside the river, still on the cobblestones, although no longer able to climb on the cannon. Once on the Northern side of the river, a walk along St Catherine's Dock and along through Wapping proves to be quite an experience. From here, the view of the Bridge is totally different, and I also got to view the area where I used to live from the "other side". This was not possible years ago, due to the riverside being lined with docks and wharves. Now, these have been replaced with luxury flats and shopping compl
exes for the most part, but it has certainly given a new lease of life to the district.
Of course, the old fish market is no longer where it was, having been moved further east, but the walk to the Monument is still there. But I don't think I'll be climbing the steps to the top again! The legs wouldn't manage it these days! However, I spent an hour just reading the inscriptions at the base of the monument, which as a child would have bored me to tears!
So although maybe the Halcyon days of childhood are long past, there is always something new to discover. And I for one shall certainly return to the area I grew up in, and view it with new eyes.
It's well worth a visit.