Shortly after meeting his photographer, the Monkey moved to London for a year spanning parts of 1995 and 1996. In these early photos, the Monkey documents his visits to a few of the British capital’s biggest sights.
The Monkey sits near one of the world’s most famous sights, London’s Tower Bridge. This delightful structure was built in response to rapid population growth in London’s East End in the 19th Century, and complaints from residents there that all the Thames River crossings were located far off in the western regions of the city. The peculiar design of the Tower Bridge stems from the fact that the structure had to be built so as not to disrupt riverine traffic to the port of London further up the Thames. This 1884 design by Horace Jones and John Wolfe Barry won out, and the bridge, combining steel and stone, took eight years to complete. The lower roadway is a draw-bridge that still rises almost 1,000 times a year, while these days the upper walkways are mostly for pedestrians in search of a great view over London.
The Monkey in repose on the South Bank of the Thames, across from the Houses of Parliament. With the Tower Bridge, Parliament’s 96-meter tall clock tower is the symbol of London (perhaps even the UK as a whole) par excellence. The clock tower houses the famous “Big Ben,” a bell weighing nearly 14 tons!
The Right Honourable Monkey visits the Houses of Parliament, the focal point of Westminster, the British power nexus. Parliament is the UK’s highest legislature, and technically has three constituent parts: the House of Commons (the large, elected, representative chamber of Parliament), the House of Lords (members of which are hereditarily admitted to Parliament rather than being elected) and the Crown (the King or Queen of the United Kingdom). The latter two parts yield largely symbolic power in the modern legislature. The executive-like Prime Minister is selected by the party that wins the most seats in elections to the House of Commons.
The current Houses of Parliament were built from 1834 onward on a plan by Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin. It is a stunning neo-gothic mass with innumerable spiky embellishments that replaced the Old Palace, which dated from the 11th Century and was the seat of the English kings into the early 16th Century, when fire damaged the building. In 1605, five men attempted to blow up the Old Palace. The day is commemorated each year on November 5, or Guy Fawkes Day (named for one of the conspirators). During World War II, Nazi air raids succeeded in destroying the Chamber of Commons, but it was subsequently rebuilt.
In recent years, Westminster has been devolving some power to Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast: in 1999 Scotland voted to create its own Parliament and Wales created its own National Assembly; both legislative bodies make domestic affairs decisions. In the case of Northern Ireland, the 1998 Good Friday Agreements, though on-again, off-again, allow for a semi-autonomous parliamentary structure at Stormont, in which Northern Ireland’s Republicans and Loyalists have a power-sharing agreement.
In this, er, atmospheric (or blurry) photo, the Monkey rests on a bench with the great dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral behind him. This is, in fact, the fourth St. Paul’s Cathedral on this spot: the first, built in 604, burned after 71 years. The second was erected after Viking ransacking, but later burned. Work on the third, built by the Norman French who had recently conquered Britain, began in 1087—they hoped it would be the longest church in the world. But the structural limitations of the day meant that although the church, today referred to as Old St. Paul’s, had stone walls, it needed a wooden roof. When, in 1666, the Great Fire of London ravaged the City (London’s old, walled core), Old St. Paul’s was badly damaged and had to be demolished.
This set the stage for the fourth and mightiest St. Paul’s Cathedral. In 1668, King Charles II chose architect/scientist Charles Wren, who was to have overseen the restoration of Old St. Paul’s until the fire gutted it, to design the new St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wren saw his first two designs rejected and but the third time was a charm. Construction began around 1675, and the church took only 35 years to complete. Its 112 meter-high, 34 meter-diameter dome towered over the London skyline. During World War II Nazi air raids, the church survived miraculously undamaged. It is considered one of the finest examples of English Renaissance architecture, and is something a symbol of London. Though the first St. Paul’s Cathedrals were Roman Catholic, since the 16th Century Reformation the facility has belonged to the Church of England.
On a typically gray English day, the Monkey peers over the waters of the Thames at the famed Tower of London, a 900-year-old fortress that figures prominently in British history. Construction on the Tower began around 1066 under William, the Norman conqueror of the Anglo-Saxons, who sought to bolster his control over London with a mighty castle. The fort incorporated earlier Roman walls, but its signature four-cornered White Tower began to rise in the 1070s and must have been quite an intimidating sight to the locals. Though primarily a place of military power, the Tower also served frequently as a residence for the kings and queens of England, from William the Conqueror up until Henry VIII in 1533, who dramatically increased the use of the Tower as a prison and execution site.
The Monkey gets a look into the great moat of the Tower of London from atop an old wall. In the distance is the distinctive rise of the Tower Bridge. The Tower of London’s double walls and moat were improvements called for by Henry III and Edward I in the 13th Century, and made it one of the premier military structures of medieval Europe. When the moats were drained in 1843, various human bones were discovered, probably remnants of execution victims.
During World War II, the drained moat you see in this photo was used to grow crops for hungry locals. The Tower suffered serious bomb damage, but was renovated in the postwar period. Home to the ostentatious display of the Royal jewelry collection, the Tudor-garbed Beefeaters, and the mythology of beheaded queens and other royal intrigues, the Tower has become one of London’s favored tourist attractions. Some 2.5 million people visiting it each year!
The Monkey sits at one end of the span of London Bridge. Well, the latest incarnation anyhow. This modern bridge went up in 1973, replacing the 1831 London Bridge that was disassembled, transported, and reassembled in Lake Havasu, Arizona, United States (it was bought by a U.S. oil baron after London’s government decided to sell the bridge to fund construction of a more modern version). Before that there was a medieval bridge, and earlier wooden ones dating as far back as the 10th Century. Thus, this site has been the main Thames River crossing point between North and South London for centuries. The Monkey is pleased to report that during his visit he saw no evidence to back up the oft-repeated assertion that London Bridge is falling down.
A view from the south bank of the Thames across to the Tower of London, which was under renovation when the Monkey stopped by in 1995.
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