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A Refuge for Genius
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In Monet’s Footsteps
An American in London
Lesser-known, Home-grown
Self-guided walk - Part 1
Self-guided walk - Part 2
Self-guided walk - Part 3
Self-guided walk - Part 4
Self-guided walk - Part 5
Self-guided walk - Part 6
Self-guided walk - Part 7
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SISLEY by the Thames
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Part 3 – The walk continues from Westminster Bridge to Hungerford Bridge

The walk resumes on the south side of Westminster Bridge and continues downstream along the embankment. This stretch of the south bank is dominated by Old County Hall, an example of monumental civic architecture dating from the early part of the twentieth century in what has been described Edwardian Baroque style. Once home to London County Council and then the GLC, it has now been redeveloped into a complex housing hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues, including the London Sealife Aquarium. A little further along is the London Eye which has been thrilling visitors with unparalleled views of the capital since the millennium. Like it or loath it is now an established part of the London skyline. It is at about this spot that Winslow Homer must have stood to gain the view shown in The Houses of Parliament, 1881 [11]. With County Hall behind you and with the wheel and jetty out of view to the right, the scene is practically unchanged. More recent government buildings along Millbank appear above the trees and the bulk of Portcullis House, with its factory-like chimneys, intrudes on the right.

By walking out a short distance along the jetty adjacent to the London Eye you can get to an approximate location for William Alister Macdonald’s Timber Wharf and Dust Shoot – Site of County Hall, 1906[12]. How different the scene is today with all the evidence of industrial activity swept away. Whereas much has remained the same on the north side of the river for the last century or so, with only the growth of trees and the replacement of some government buildings, the south bank is completely transformed.

Beyond Old County Hall the area was cleared to make way for the centrepiece of the Festival of Britain in 1951. Enthusiastically endorsed by the new Socialist Government, this was an ambitious project to celebrate science, technology, industrial design, architecture and the arts and was timed to coincide with the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was also a symbol of optimism for the future rising from the ruins of the Second World War. The Royal Festival Hall, a little further along the embankment, is the only remaining structure from that time, the rest was demolished when a new Conservative government came to power and replaced by the monolithic office developments that can be seen today. The space in front of the Shell Building is now an open space thronged with visitors and temporary attractions.

The walk now continues to Hungerford Bridge, sometimes known as Charing Cross Bridge, which carries railway lines across the river. The bridge was first opened in 1845 as a suspension footbridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel but this was replaced by the present structure in 1864, using the original brick buttresses. The chains from the original bridge were reused in Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. There was always a pedestrian way running alongside the railway lines but that has now been replaced by elegant modern footbridges on either side of the main structure, which were opened in 2002. These are officially known as the Golden Jubilee Bridges in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s fifty years on the throne.

Take the downstream (east) bridge and walk to about the middle where John Crowther must have stood (on a previous bridge) to gain the view shown in Waterloo Bridge: Ebb Tide Taken from Charing Cross Railway Bridge, 1888[13]. The first thing to notice is that the stone-built Waterloo Bridge shown in the picture has now been replaced an elegant concrete stucture of five arches. The original bridge was completed in 1817 and was known as the Strand Bridge and its opening is celebrated in John Constable’s The Opening of the Waterloo Bridge from Whitehall Stairs, which can be seen at Tate Britain. The state of the bridge, particularly its supporting piers, deteriorated progressively and by the 1920’s it had to be closed for extensive repairs. The new bridge was opened during the Second World War and is often referred to as the ‘ladies bridge’ because the workforce was largely female. The classical facade of Somerset House is still to be seen on the extreme left of the picture but then the scene is dominated by buildings of a more recent vintage including the high-rise residential development at the Barbican. St. Paul’s Cathedral is still the most dominant landmark inspite of being a close neighbour with many a loftier edifice. Loftier in scale that is, not in the ethos behind their construction. The tower on the extreme right of the picture is a building which features in many paintings of the period by artists such as Turner, Monet and Derain and is in fact the Shot Tower at Lambeth Lead Works. This was built in 1834 and was used in the manufacture of lead shot. The structure survived until the 1960’s when it was demolished to make way for the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert venue. Whatever the merits of some of the newer buildings on the skyline, this remains an impressive view of the city with the river providing a foreground busy with the comings and goings of passenger vessels.

Continue across the bridge and descend onto Victoria Embankment. It is at this point that the walk can be broken if preferred. Also it is only a short walk from here to Trafalgar Square where the National Gallery is to be found. This is home to masterpieces of western art from across the centuries, including many Impressionist works and among those is Monet’s The Thames Below Westminster, the painting with which this walk started.

By clicking on most of the images you will be taken directly to the appropriate website to view the image at a better resolution.