Bristol bound for Christmas / A new power base for the South Bank
Driving through an empty capital on Christmas Day was indeed a pleasure – hardly a soul about as we crossed the Thames at Tower Bridge, just a few tourists peering into an empty tideway. Then round along Lower Thames Street and even up into the Embankment and on into Trafalgar Square and the little Cockspur Street near Admiralty Arch with Lord Nelson still on guard. Here the great shipping companies once had their booking halls with absolutely splendid liner models – now all gone. A few of them are still displayed at the NMM here in Greenwich, but I bet there are many more stored away in their brand new reserve collection in Kidbrooke, well away from peering school boy eyes! The giant blue shed can be seen from the A102(M), and has no identification on it as yet!!
Back at sea: MV ‘Balmoral’ is a regular visitor in the Thames, as is also the paddle steamer ‘Waverley’ based on the Clyde which also visits London each summer. Another interesting summer visitor is the Princess Pocahontas from Gravesend, which does day trips. All three ships publish their summer programmes.
‘Balmoral’ is based in Bristol’s expansive Floating Dock, surrounded by craft and port features, and is a regular Kent attraction; for this last Boxing Day stroll, there was a welcoming, atmospheric Pump House Pub just by the lock gates which we both recommend. After splendid festivities, we chugged through the snow over the Marlborough Downs which looked spectacular. Again, almost traffic free, we headed into town via the Chelsea Embankment along the Thames to Battersea, where the great Power Station is in the midst of a significant redevelopment. A new ferry stop is planned under the giant coaling cranes (now being restored elsewhere).
At Nine Elms, the South Bank is introducing yet another landmark upstream from the giant Efra tower block with its company of apartment blocks abutting the MI5 HQ at Vauxhall. Constructed here is the extraordinary new US Embassy, overlooking the Thames and Westminster beyond, due to be opened by the President himself early in January. Here again, a strong statement of power and influence, creating yet another US-dominated neighbourhood after its 1960 HQ in Grosvenor Square. Its Mayfair presence influenced this part of town for many a year – and being relegated to Vauxhall is, indeed, a challenge: these old railway goods yards and giant cold stores were transformed by the quaint fruit, vegetable and flower market once in fashionable Covent Garden, now forced to relocate once more. The lesson given by the Normans to erect a giant, white fortification to dominate London’s unruly citizens has been taken on board yet again. This 12-storey fortified cube has its structure and façade well protected from a possible assailant. It even has a deep moat facing the Thames with defensive ditch all round to protect its Nine Elms access ‘lane’.
I remember how impressed I was when the Eero Saarinen design dominated Grosvenor Square back in 1960 included a vast, open lobby which had a series of water channels to keep the populace in order while seeking their visas. The lower exhibition areas were the basis of the new American Museum in Bath, which still displays the best of American colonial artefacts.