Along the Albert Embankment wall of St Thomas’ Hospital, directly over the Thames to the Houses of Parliament is an incredible piece of public guerrilla art.
Hand painted on the wall are thousands upon thousands of red and pink hearts, each one representing a victim of the Covid pandemic. Some have the names of individuals written in, there are other hearts drawn by family members, messages have been appended.
A short piece I did for Essential Surrey on Putney’s history, and some of the famous people associated with the area.
Now a thriving, popular and leafy suburb of London, Putney is recorded – as ‘Putenhie’ or ‘Putelei’ – in the Domesday Book as a ferry and a fishery, and for much of its history was a small village well outside the orbit of the capital. Despite this, it has produced or been the home of a number of people who had a significant impact on the country.
This includes Thomas Cromwell, the ‘enforcer’ to Henry VIII who rose from being the son of a Putney blacksmith to the King’s Chief Minister. It was Cromwell who pushed through the break with the Catholic Church and the dissolution of the monasteries, and Cromwell who was the moving force behind the executions of Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More. He met the same fate himself in 1540, when Henry had him beheaded on Tower Hill, after Cromwell had arranged Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves, and Anne proved to be less attractive than her portrait (Henry is said to have called her ‘The Flanders Mare’.)
Cromwell is the anti-hero of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ (the third in the trilogy is due out this year), and Mantel unveiled the Putney Society’s plaque to Cromwell at Brewhouse Lane in 2013. However, all the historical evidence indicates that the home of his father was almost a mile away, on the fringes of Putney Heath, possibly on the present site of the Green Man pub, so why the Society chose the spot it did is something of a mystery.
Over on Kickstarter, the Thames Baths Project is within a whisker of getting its first stage of funding together to build a swimming pool on the Thames. The pool would be a floating pontoon on the river and take water from the river, so one could swim in the Thames right in the middle of Central London. This £125,000 round of funding would help the team behind it apply for planning permission and make the case for it to be built (although that case seems self-evident to me).
Back in the 1930s one could actually swim in the river by Tower Bridge as that was the site of the Tower Foreshore, a beach created as a free amenity for the children of the East End. 1500 barge loads of sand were dumped on the north bank between St Katherine’s steps and the Tower with the beach being officially declared open on 23 July 1934. King George V decreed that it was to be used by the children of London, and that they should be given “free access forever”. Continue reading “Swimming in the Thames”