H.M.S. President

Coming along the [Thames] Embankment from Westminster, we notice the change on the lamps, which now bear the City arms, and there is a medallion of Queen Victoria where the famous Square Mile begins. On the right we come to the training ship President, which rises and falls with the tide so that sometimes, walking down Temple Avenue, we see it rising up in front of us and at other times hardly see it at all.

HMS President 2

At times we may see an Admiral’s flag flying from this training ship, for every Admiral appointed to the Admiralty for any special work is officially appointed to H M S President, the nearest ship available.
‘London’, Arthur Mee. Hodder and Stoughton, 1937.

HMS President 1

You won’t see the President at all now, at any stage of the tide. This WWI submarine hunter, launched in 1918, was sold out of the Royal Navy in 1988 and after several years in private ownership was moved to Chatham dockyard two years ago. Since then a preservation society has been trying to save her from the breakers but, checking their website, it looks like their battle may have been lost and this historic ship will be reduced to scrap. Recent news is hard to find. The society’s last message on their Twitter account was posted in September.

Photos © Mike Warman, 1970.

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.

The Hotel Cecil

I thought I would share this old postcard of London’s Embankment featuring the Hotel Cecil because, as you may be aware, the Royal Air Force had its first headquarters there when it was formed, by combining the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, on 1st April 1918.

Image from a 1920s postcard of the Embankment with Hotel Cecil and the Savoy.

The Hotel Cecil (left) in the 1920s. The Savoy is next door.

Why did the Air Force set up shop in a hotel? Because the building had been requisitioned by the government who needed office space for all the extra administrators required to organise a world war.

The Hotel Cecil was one of those late-Victorian buildings associated with the Liberator Building Society scandal and the fraudster Jabez Balfour, but that subject is literally a book in itself. If you want to know more, I suggest you follow the link and read a review.

Searching for the hotel’s subsequent history can lead to confusion. Various sources will tell you it was built between the Embankment and The Strand in 1886 – or (majority opinion) from 1890-1896. It was one of the biggest and most luxurious hotels in the world at the time with 600, “more than 800”, or 1000 rooms. The Liberator Society built it as a hotel – or as offices, and another company finished it as a hotel when Liberator collapsed. Facts and “alternative facts”. You choose.

The Shell-Mex oil consortium bought the building in 1930, demolished the river frontage and replaced it with Shell-Mex House, a structure from the monolithic school of Art Deco architecture. The Strand entrance was retained even though it was completely at odds with the new block.

Embankment_Shell

The Embankment in the 1930s.

In 1937, Arthur Mee wrote, “This remarkable block of offices has a noble entrance from the Strand, and its courtyard is one of the sights of London by night. It has ten floors with a total floor space of 380,000 square feet, and any one of its 16 lifts runs up to the roof, from which are splendid views of South London to the Kent and Surrey hills, North London to Harrow and Hampshire, and the panorama of the East”.

Modern specifications say Mee was two floors short (at least). These were added after WWII when height restrictions were relaxed. Mee’s “noble entrance from the Strand” is “not of special interest” to Historic England today but Shell-Mex House gets a Grade II listing. And just to add more confusion, the entire complex is now commonly known as 80 The Strand.

Embankment_SM

A Busy Day at Boulters Lock

Edwardian scene at Boulters Lock on the river Thames, England.

From a vintage postcard mailed in 1907

This chaotic scene at Boulters Lock on the river Thames near Maidenhead, England, may have been photographed on Ascot Sunday, when this popular part of the river was at its busiest in the late 19th/early 20th century. You can see moving pictures, filmed in 1926, at this British Pathe site.

The first lock was built here in 1772.