Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Streets of Old Lambeth: The Thames Path to St Thomas's Hospital

A visitor to London, exploring the Borough of Lambeth, and having viewed the site of the Festival of Britain, can follow the Thames Path southwards, towards Westminster Bridge, passing the London Eye. We are walking, here, along an embankment created by the Victorian engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette (of whom more in a later post), which, by making this stretch of the tidal Thames narrower and deeper, did much to alleviate the problems of flooding that once marred the lives of residents of Southwark and Lambeth, as well as those of the City and Westminster.

The large building on the left is the old County Hall, which served as the headquarters, first of the London County Council, and subsequently of the Greater London Council, before the latter was abolished by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1986. Designed by the architect, Ralph Knott, it was opened by King George V in 1922, and now houses hotels, restaurants, and an aquarium.

County Hall, London. Photo: Arpingstone (image is in the Public Domain).

Westminster Bridge lies just beyond. The original Westminster Bridge was built by the Swiss engineer, Charles Labelye, between 1739 and 1750, in the face of opposition from the Thames Watermen and the Corporation of London, who stood to lose revenue from ferrying passengers across the river. It connected the rapidly expanding residential districts of Lambeth to Whitehall and the West End.

Westminster Bridge in 1789 by Joseph Farrington. Image: Stephencdickson (licensed under CCA).

This was the bridge that William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, crossed, on 31st July, 1802, on their way to visit William's illegitimate daughter and her mother in France. His "Lines composed on Westminster Bridge" were supposedly written on that summer morning:

"Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!"

In fact, the poem seems to have been written a year later ("emotion recollected in tranquility"), and to have been based, at least in part, on the impressions recorded by Dorothy, in her journal:

" ... we left London on Saturday morning at half past 5 or 6, the 31st July ... we mounted the Dover Coach at Charing Cross. It was a beautiful morning. The City, St Paul's, with the River and a multitude of little Boats, made a most beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge. The houses were not overhung by their cloud of smoke and they were spread out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly with such a pure light that there was even something like the purity of one of nature's own grand Spectacles."

Westminster Hall and Bridge in 1810 (image is in the Public Domain).

The current Westminster Bridge is not the one crossed by the Wordsworths, but a later one, of cast iron, opened in 1862, with details designed by Sir Charles Barry, who had also worked with Augustus Pugin on the design of the new Palace of Westminster, following a disastrous fire in 1834 (this building is now undergoing major renovation works).

The fire of 1834, by J.W.M. Turner, Philadelphia Museum of Art (image is in the Public Domain).

Westminster Bridge. Photo: Martin Durst (licensed under CCA).

The Palace of Westminster. Photo: Alvesgaspar (licensed under GNU). 

Westminster Bridge and Lambeth Bridge, 1897 Stanford's Map of London (image is in the Public Domain).

To the south of the bridge is Saint Thomas's Hospital, originally established in Southwark, in the Twelfth Century, but in its current location since 1871. It was at Saint Thomas's that Florence Nightingale established her training school for nurses in 1860, the first secular nursing school in the World, and the hospital now hosts a museum in her memory.

Florence Nightingale in c 1858 (image is in the Public Domain).

Florence Nightingale with graduates of her nursing school, 1886. Image: FormerBBC (licensed under CCA).

Florence Nightingale's "Polar Area Diagram" of causes of mortality in the Crimean War (image is in the Public Domain). Although she is known today primarily as a nurse, she was also a pioneer of medical statistics, and, in 1859, became the first woman to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society.

From here, it is just a short walk to our next stop, Lambeth Palace.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.


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