Record-breaking London…in more ways than one

Old man river
Many cities are defined by the river that runs through them and nowhere is this more true than with the mighty Thames. The many bridges and meandering nature of London’s main waterway provide fantastic backdrops for millions of tourist photographs every year. This is all under threat though, according to Historic England, who are calling for action to stop the river becoming a canyon of high-rise apartment blocks and offices.

There is no doubt that the skyline along the river has changed dramatically in the last 20 years and this looks set to continue apace as developers vie with one another to build the next startlingly shaped edifice.

Historic England are calling on the government to provide statutory protection to the entire section of river and banks between Putney Bridge in south west London and Tower Bridge in the City. They say that there is a danger of London becoming a ‘generic global city’ and Duncan Wilson, chief executive, adds that the Vauxhall area, for instance, is “already blighted by piece-meal, high-rise development”.

This view is certainly shared by a lot of people. Barbara Weiss of the Skyline Campaign, which campaigns against tall buildings in the capital, claims that “as the buildings rise, the river has begun to feel much narrower”.

But is the fast flowing, tidal Thames not a metaphor for the ebb and flow of prosperity and change that London has embraced at every stage over the last 2,000 years? When you look at Canaletto’s beautiful painting of St Paul’s and the Thames in the middle of the 18th century with some 20 or so church spires piercing the sky, we see an almost Venetian capital reflecting the religious fervour of the time. Right now, St Paul’s still rises majestically in an already protected area of development but alongside are the beacons of 21st century prosperity, plus if you look very carefully, a few blots on the landscape caused by German bombs and deranged post-war architects. Quite right too!

London – #1 destination
Well, according to Trip Advisor, anyway! Jumping from sixth position in 2014 to the top spot in 2015, London has been awarded this accolade following analysis of the millions of site reviews of restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions.
The city was promised a huge windfall from the London Olympics in 2012 and this seems to have been delivered. In 2014, there were 17.4 million visitors, making it the city most visited by international travellers.

The Trip Advisor figures matter because they are based on real feedback from genuine people and, welcoming the top ranking, Mayor Boris Johnson said: “London is undoubtedly the cultural capital of the world thanks to our iconic attractions, buzzing entertainment scene and amazing museums and galleries; it has something for everyone.”

Separately, the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions has released research showing that 65 million people visited London attractions in 2015 (roughly the entire population of the UK!). The British Museum came out top with nearly seven million visitors, followed by the National Gallery with six million.

There are high hopes for a record-breaking performance again this year with the upcoming 90th birthday celebrations of the Queen, some exciting new West End stage productions and favourable foreign currency exchange rates.

And the walls came tumbling down…
There is something funny going on in the churchyards of East London. Though you might be expecting a tale of body-snatching or other dark activities, in fact, this is all about the brick walls surrounding the headstones.

Many churchyards are enclosed by walls of ‘London Stock’, yellow bricks which can date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. These beautifully weathered, mellow bricks are highly sought after and sell for around £1 a time on the black market. Police are currently investigating a spate of some 30 thefts in east London and these even include one case where a van was driven deliberately into a garden wall and the occupants scooped up as many bricks as they could before driving off!

You can’t always get what you want
As the Rolling Stones themselves found out when they wanted to play a few hits outside the Saatchi Gallery to herald the opening of their new exhibition there. The Chelsea Residents’ Association blocked the plan according to Stones’ guitarist, Keith Richards, 72. Maybe all that loud music and shouting was too much for the residents around the King’s Road!

Nevertheless, the group, who famously last month performed a first-ever free concert in Cuba, have taken over the entire gallery for a fabulous exhibition entitled…well, ‘Exhibitionism’ of course! With hundreds of unseen photographs, costumes and valuable guitars and other instruments on display, an audio tour promises to guide you through the band’s tumultuous 50-year history.

This is the band’s first ever exhibition and took years to put together. As lead singer Mick Jagger, also 72, said: “We’ve been thinking about this for quite a long time, collecting things and thinking, ‘this will be good, we’d better save this because people want to see it’.”

There was further controversy when the band failed to invite Mick Taylor to the opening even though he had replaced Brian Jones in 1969 and stayed with the group until 1974 – a period which many fans would say was their very best.
With a new album due out shortly and this exhibition running until September, there is still no moss growing on these guys!

Precious time
New figures from a leading UK estate agency show that the value of a comparable home increases by an astonishing £3,000 for every train journey minute you are closer to London! The figures are based on analysis of some 100,000 house sales recorded by the Land Registry in 2015. There are limits though – once you are looking at train journeys of over an hour – and certainly anywhere approaching two hours, price variations revert to normal considerations – like how nice the area is and availability of local schooling. It’s all about the base!

By Richard Lamberth