Albert_Bridge, London - Photo by DAVID ILIFF
Albert_Bridge, London Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

London Calling – September 2023

This month, London Calling is delighted to include a contribution by our celebrity friend, RICHARD COLES. Richard is a writer, BBC radio presenter and Church of England clergyman. In the 1980s, he shot to fame as the musician partner of Jimmy Sommerville in The Communards who had a string of number one hits. Richard has written about the Albert Bridge in Chelsea which he describes as perhaps “the worst bridge in London”.

Bridge over troubled water

It is the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Albert Bridge, perhaps the worst bridge in London.

It was built by Rowland Mason Ordish using the Ordish-Le Feuvre system, a cable-stayed method (same as his Franz Joseph Bridge at Prague), and opened on August 23, 1873, at three times the original cost.

Almost immediately there were problems. Troops from Chelsea barracks were ordered to break step when marching over it because the vibrations were so bad it was known as the Trembling Lady.

Sir Joseph Bazalgette added a suspension system in 1884 to strengthen it, but this was not entirely successful either.

It coped very badly with motor traffic and, in 1926, it was recommended for demolition. This was scheduled for 1957, but John Betjeman led a successful campaign to preserve it. In 1964, they introduced a one-way system – traffic running south-north in the morning and north-south in the evening, but this was not sufficient either.

The GLC added concrete piers in 1973, creating a hybrid – a cable-stayed-suspension-beam bridge.

In that same year, Betjeman and Sybil Thorndyke led a campaign with the Architectural Review to pedestrianise the bridge, but the RAC enlisted the support of Diana Dors to keep it open to motor traffic. They were successful, but the rise of the Chelsea tractor once again raised concerns about its structural integrity and there were measures in place to restrict the size of vehicles using it.

It was zhooshed up in 1992 and fitted with twinkling lights, but this was really to reduce the risk of river traffic colliding with it.

It was last closed in 2010 for refurbishment, a project that overran by four months. It was re-opened on December 2, 2011, by two dogs, Prince and Albert, from the nearby Battersea Dogs Home.

Pearly Kings and Queens

Every September, Pearly Kings and Queens from across London assemble in Guildhall Yard in the City of London.

Mayors from various London boroughs, dignitaries, celebrities, politicians and Chelsea pensioners join in this colourful gathering. Many dress up specially for the day and the assembled crowds sing old favourites like Knees Up Mother Brown and The Lambeth Walk.

A church service takes place at nearby St Mary-le-Bow and the pearlies generously donate harvest good to various charities.

The Pearly King of Woolwich, Clive Bennett, says: “This event is a testament to the enduring spirit of our city and the diverse communities that make London so vibrant. We invite everyone to join us for a day of entertainment, cultural heritage and unity.”

This year, the event takes place on September 24 at 1.30pm and it is free to attend. Places in the church are limited as this is always a very popular and colourful event.

Richard Coles (right) in The Communards
Richard Coles (right) in The Communards

A very different double-decker

London is famous for its double-decker buses, of course, but have you seen the double-decker phone box?

The location of this strange structure in Maida Vale, West London, forms part of the famous test – The Knowledge – for prospective new black cab drivers.

It always raises a slightly puzzled look from passers-by as it looks exactly the same as a normal K6 phone box from 1935 – just twice as high!

It is, in fact, a piece of artwork by famous French designer Philippe Starck. Two original phone boxes were welded together and fully restored. The interior is carefully created to look exactly as it would have originally, including a Bakelite telephone and original coin box.

The location, outside the Maida Vale Telephone Exchange, adds to the deception and, of course, it is a favourite place for a tourist picture in London – with a difference!

Summer in the city

Well, it was a long time coming this year, but it does seem that summer has arrived in the UK capital – just a few months late!

London had dismal weather mostly throughout August, with heavy grey skies, cool temperatures and plenty of rain. Then along came September and things really took a turn for the better.

On September 9, the UK’s highest temperature of the year (33.2 degrees Celsius), was recorded at Kew Gardens, West London, breaking their own record of just a few days previously.

Interestingly, though London has a reputation for always raining, this is, in some ways, more fiction than fact. It is actually one of the driest cities in the UK and not even in the list of the 10 wettest capitals of Europe (though, perversely, it is top of the list for ‘rainy days’!).

The warm weather is forecast to continue until the end of the month, though it is likely that the peak in temperatures has passed.

In fashion

This December, The Fashion Awards return to the Royal Albert Hall with a South London model, Kai Isaiah Jamal, nominated as model of the year.

Famous for attracting an A-list audience, this event draws famous people from around the world. Previous guests include Rihanna, Kylie Minogue, Dua Lipa and the Duchess of Sussex.

The model, Jamal, known for their Louis Vuitton and Burberry catwalks as well as poetry and trans activism, is the only British contender among the six shortlisted by the British Fashion Council.

Others on the list are Americans, Paloma Elesser and Anok Yai, as is ‘the world’s only male supermodel’, Alton Mason, who played Little Richard in Baz Luhrmann’s biopic Elvis last year.

A glamorous evening beckons at this beautiful venue, and, for the first time, the public will be able to vote in some categories.

Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, said: “It is imperative the awards are reflective of our incredibly multifaceted industry and its brands and creatives.”

By Richard Lamberth

Richard leads parallel lives with homes and business interests in London and Portugal. He provides consultancy services to leading businesses in insurance and financial services, property and media sectors. He has four sons, two dogs and enjoys a busy family life. He likes swimming, keeping fit and an outdoor life.
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