Albert Bridge: “A temporary gangway flung across the river”

One of my all time great London moments was a late summer evening about 30 years ago when I was walking home from a meeting in Chelsea. Although Albert Bridge was closed to traffic, and although pedestrians could cross I was the only person on it. At the middle I paused to look downriver and at that very moment all the 4,000 lights that illuminate the bridge came on. Magical; it felt like this was being done just for me.

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An American Patriot?: Benedict Arnold in London

benedict arnold

Americans are genuinely surprised by how little the Brits know or, indeed, care about what they call the Revolutionary War and what we call the American War of Independence.

Of course we’ve heard of George Washington, but I bet not one Brit in a thousand reading this could name any other general of the Continental Army. We sort of know that George III was involved (“the last king of America” as I like to call him to US visitors), but the British generals? Checking the list on the wikipedia page the names Cornwallis and Burgoyne rang very distant bells, but the rest I never knew and have now forgotten.

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Book review: Up in Smoke by Peter Watts


I have a terrible confession to make, one that will see me shunned by London society, if not drummed out of the city altogether: I don’t actually like Battersea power station.

Giles Gilbert Scott’s brooding brick behemoth by Chelsea Bridge has always been too squat, too square for my tastes. His Bankside power station (now the home of the Tate Modern) is wonderfully proportioned, its single chimney in tasteful contrast to the bloated glass towers on the other side of the river.

And if it were not for its chimneys, would anyone give a stuff about Battersea? Their elegant flutes are (for me) the sole redeeming feature of Scott’s earlier building.

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Hilda Hewlett – Pioneer Aviator

CguYvg9XEAEjDC9Men outnumber women on London’s Blue Plaques by over seven to one, so it was good to stumble across this in Vardens Road, just off St John’s Hill.

It was unveiled in September 2015 to commemorate the first woman to gain a pilot’s licence (in 1911, when she was 47) and – in association with French engineer Gustav Blondeau – the manufacturer of numerous aeroplanes.

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Edwin Evans and Battersea Rise

clapham sect plaque

The closing of a small estate agent’s office in South West London is hardly big news (some might even raise a cheer), but the closure of the Edwin Evans office on Lavender Hill marks a break with a significant piece of Battersea history. Because it was the original (Sir) Edwin Evans who bought, demolished and developed Battersea Rise House and its 22 acres of land on the north west corner of Clapham Common. His consortium paid £51,000 for the whole plot and parcelled off lots for development, with 475 houses being built on the land between 1908 and 1915.

Battersea Rise House dated from the early 18th century, but it came to prominence from 1792 when Henry Thornton, a wealthy banker, bought it and moved in with his cousin William Wilberforce. Two of Thornton’s brothers owned villas on Clapham Common Southside and Thornton’s aim in buying Battersea Rise House and the land surrounding it was to create a community of like-minded (and high-minded) friends. Two substantial houses, Glenelg and Broomfield were built in the grounds, with Wilberforce moving into Broomfield House when he married in 1797.

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