Lambeth Bridge

Lambeth BridgeIn 1879, King Edward, then Prince of Wales, opened Lambeth Suspension Bridge; and on July 19th, 1932, his son, King George V, declared open its £936,000 successor. A great throng watched the barriers lift at the Royal touch, and to the sounds of sirens and cheering, the King and Queen, escorted by Life Guards and outriders, passed ceremoniously across. The graceful steel structure, carried on granite piers, is ornamented at either end with pylons each topped by a gilded pineapple.

Heavy traffic was slow to make use of Sir Reginald Blomfield’s fine new bridge, but in July, 1934, 10,222 vehicles were recorded within twelve hours.
Cigarette card caption, W.D. & H.O. Wills. 1935.

Thousands of Londoners have yet to receive the surprise of a first walk over Lambeth Bridge. It has the great merit of blotting out the bridge at Charing Cross as we look eastwards down the Thames.

London has nothing to show more majestic than the sight from this bridge. We see the towers of Westminster clustering together as one great group, with over 1000 feet of the noble facade of the Houses of Parliament joining up with the walls of the Abbey, picking up its incomparable eastern windows as we walk to bring them into view. We see three great cathedral churches, two palaces, two domes, and upstream and downstream are ancient towers and new facades, the familiar scene of yesterday and the new scene coming on.
‘London’, Arthur Mee, Hodder and Stoughton. 1937.

From a postcard.

The towers of Westminster.


In his own words

From the diary of King George V.

June 22nd, 1911
It was overcast and cloudy with some showers and a strongish cool breeze, but better for the people than great heat. Today was indeed a great and memorable day in our lives and one we can never forget, but it brought back to me many sad memories of 9 years ago, when the beloved Parents were crowned.

CoronationMay and I left B.P. [Buckingham Palace] in the Coronation coach at 10.30 with 8 cream-coloured horses. There were over 50,000 troops lining the streets under the command of Lord Kitchener. There were hundreds of thousands of people who gave us a magnificent reception. The Service in the Abbey was most beautiful, but it was a terrible ordeal. It was grand, yet simple and most dignified and went without a hitch. I nearly broke down when dear David* came to do homage to me, as it reminded me so much when I did the same thing to beloved Papa, he did it so well. Darling May looked lovely and it was indeed a comfort to me to have her by my side, as she has been ever to me during these last eighteen years.

We left Westminster Abbey at 2.15 (having arrived there before 11.0) with our crowns on and sceptres in our hands. This time we drove by the Mall, St. James’ Street and Piccadilly, crowds enormous and decorations very pretty. On reaching B.P. just before 3.0 May and I went out on the balcony to show ourselves to the people. Downey photographed us in our robes with Crowns on.

Image from the National Portrait Gallery.

Had some lunch with our guests here. Worked all the afternoon with Bigge and others answering telegrams and letters of which I have had hundreds. Such a large crowd collected in front of the Palace that I went out on the balcony again. Our guests dined with us at 8.30. May and I showed ourselves again to the people. Wrote and read. Rather tired. Bed at 11.45. Beautiful illuminations everywhere.
‘King George the Fifth, His Life and Reign’, Harold Nicolson. Constable, 1952.
Quoted in ‘They Saw it Happen 1897 – 1940’, compiled by Asa Briggs. Basil Blackwell, 1960.

* David was one of a list of names for eldest son Edward, later to abdicate in 1936 as Edward VIII, and was the one used by his family.

Downey’s photograph “with Crowns on” from the National Portrait Gallery.

Travelling in style

All the media of the Western World seem to be obsessed with British royalty at the moment, thanks to a recent addition to the family and a “fairytale” wedding this weekend. Well Pastimpressions isn’t too proud to jump on that bandwagon while the wheels are rolling – so welcome to Royal Week.

Royal trains.
For ordinary journeys royal personages often travel in a saloon attached to one of the regular trains, but for all important journeys, special measures are taken.

Several railways have constructed special trains for the King [George V] and Queen [Mary], and these are really palaces on wheels. They include sleeping cars – with proper bedrooms, not sleeping berths; dining-cars, in which meals are served just as in a royal palace; saloons; and compartments for servants, attendants and others. The trains used by the West Coast and East Coast Railways are like this, and will carry a hundred or more people on some journeys.

R_King's bedroom_GNR

The king’s bedroom in a carriage of the Great Northern Railway.

The King's Day Saloon on the Royal Train (King George V).

The king’s day saloon.

Image from a 1935 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills.At the starting and destination stations the platforms are covered with crimson carpet, and frequently they will be decorated. As a rule the chief officials and the Chairman of the railway will be there to receive the King or Queen, and some of them travel with the train. The engines and drivers are carefully selected, and generally the locomotives are decorated.

In many cases a pilot engine is sent in advance of the royal train. This engine travels by itself, about ten minutes in front, and after it has gone by all trains which are passed must stop, and no shunting work may be done or points moved until the royal train has gone by.

Each signalman has to see that everything is done properly, and to signal the royal train by a green flag in addition to the ordinary signals. Every level-crossing gate must be locked as soon as the “pilot” comes along, and men are placed at the principal points, and along the line wherever thought desirable. As a rule, a policeman is stationed on every bridge crossing the railway; and the stationmaster has to be on every platform passed.


A Royal engine at Portsmouth on the return of the King and Queen from their Coronation Tour in India [1912]. The ship in the background is P&O’s Medina which acted as the Royal Yacht for the tour.

Some people think that when the King travels he does not pay his fare. No doubt most of our railways would be very pleased to convey him on those terms; but in actual practice the usual rates for special trains and the fares of all on board are paid.
‘The Wonder Book of Railways’, Ward, Lock & Co., Ltd., c.1924.