Friday, 22 August 2014

Upstream London

This is the view along the river Thames that tourists from around the world turn their back on as they photograph the very recognisable shapes of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Beyond the boats moored before Lambeth Bridge lie the tower blocks of Vauxhall, and further still, the cranes of Nine Elms, a rapidly developing part of the city that will house the new American Embassy, among much else.

This stretch of the Thames looks undistinguished but it's stuffed with history, of course. Handel's Water Music was played here for the first time in 1717. King George I, heading upstream on the royal barge, liked it so much he made the floating orchestra play it four times, an hour each performance. Lambeth Palace, hidden to the left of the bridge, has been the London home of the Archbishops of Canterbury since the 13th century.

Turning your back on a city's great sights to draw what is behind you has always interested me. They are sights that say much more about the place than the scenes you see on postcards. I'm not convinced that the average Londoner is so emotionally attached to the great buildings of state, or Buckingham Palace, or the tourist attractions. London is a city of villages that have become congealed, and the local always has a strong pull. I'm more attached to Hackney Town Hall, the scene of happy, family events, than St James's Palace or Admiralty Arch, for instance.

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