On this day in history….10th September 1973

On this day in history : 10th September 1973 – London fashion store Biba opens its iconic department store in West London’s Kensington High Street….

Fair use

Biba had been started by Polish-born Barbara Hulanicki, aided by her husband Stephen Kitz-Simon, primarily as a mail order business…. Their first shop opened on Abingdon Road, Kensington in September 1954…. It was nearly ten years later, in the May of 1964, that they ran a promotional advert in the Daily Mirror for a dress similar to one worn by Brigette Bardot…. Biba were inundated with orders….selling 4,000 overnight…. The business then began to snowball….

Barbara Hulanicki – Image credit : AVESSA – source : High Gloss 2018 : The Art of Fashion. Trendencias with Carlos Marrero CC BY 3.0

In 1971 Biba purchased the seven storey building that had been occupied by London department store Derry and Toms…. The store, famous for its roof garden, had originally opened in 1938…. Biba spent £1m refurbishing the Art Deco store – and with the backing of Dorothy Perkins and property development and investment firm The British Land Company – ‘Big Biba’ opened in September 1973…. Not only did the new department store sell Biba’s own collection of clothes and accessories but it also stocked household goods, cosmetics, sports equipment and children’s clothing…. It had a children’s toy department, a food hall and a restaurant….

The Art Deco interior had a touch of the Golden Age of Hollywood and quickly attracted a million visitors a week – bringing a welcome boost to the rest of Kensington High Street at a time when the UK was suffering a recession…. However, the problem was that most of Biba’s visitors were tourists – and not customers – there to see the sights but not to buy…. Within two years Biba itself had become a victim of the recession – the store closed its doors in 1975….

The former ‘Big Biba’ building circa 2006 – Image : Thomas Blomberg (assumed) CC BY-SA 2.5

On this day in history….20th August 1989

On this day in history : 20th August 1989 – A pleasure cruiser, ‘The Marchioness’ and a dredger, ‘The Bowbelle’, collide on the River Thames in London…. 51 people lose their lives….

The Marchioness, after she had been raised from the River Thames – Fair use

The accident happened during the early hours of the morning…. The Marchioness had been hired for a birthday party and most of the 126 party goers onboard were in their 20s…. Also onboard were 4 crew and bar staff…. Both the pleasure cruiser and the dredger were heading downstream, against the tide towards Southwark Bridge – with the larger vessel, The Bowbelle travelling the faster of the two….

Bowbelle – Fair use

It was a clear night, three days after a full moon and so the visibility was good…. The Bowbelle, at just under 80m long and weighing nearly 2,000 tons had left its berth at Nine Elms Pier near to Battersea Power Station at 1.12am…. The 26m, 90 ton Marchioness had been due to leave Embankment Pier at 1.00am but a delay meant departure was set back to 1.25am…. Its captain, Stephen Faldo, remained in the wheelhouse for the whole time until the collision…. His crew mate, Andrew McGowan, was also his business partner…. The pair ran Top Bar Enterprises, providing the bar and staff for onboard disco parties…. On this particular night there were two bar staff….

Just before Blackfriars Brisge the Marchioness passed her sister ship, ‘The Hurlingham’, which was also hosting a party…. The Bowbelle was fast catching up with them….

Around 1.46am the Marchioness had just passed under Southwark Bridge when it was suddenly hit twice to the stern by the bow of the Bowbelle…. The first blow caused the smaller vessel to turn to the port and the second turned it on its side…. The upper structure of the pleasure cruiser was torn off by the Bowbelle’s anchor; the dredger then ploughed over the Marchioness, pushing it under the water so that it sank…. It happened so quickly that it was impossible to use the life rafts or even life jackets….

Port side of Marchioness – Fair use

The Bowbelle’s captain, Douglas Henderson, was acquitted after a trial in 1991…. Families of the victims campaigned for ten years for a public inquiry, which finally began in 2000…. A report published in 2001 criticised Henderson for not setting up a proper lookout watch but he was allowed to keep his Master’s Certificate…. One of the report’s recommendations was that a River Thames life boat rescue service be established…. This first came into operation in 2002….

Tower Lifeboat Station – Image credit : SchroCat – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

On this day in history….1st August 1831

On this day in history : 1st August 1831 – King William IV opens the New London Bridge…. In 1968 it was sold, dismantled and then rebuilt in Arizona, USA….

London Bridge at Lake Havasu, Arizona – Image credit : LongLiveRock CC BY-SA 2.0

The Americans purchased the bridge for £1.78m…. Popular belief at the time was that the Americans thought they were buying the iconic Tower Bridge – though this has always been ardently denied by all those involved….

In 1799 a competition was held to design a replacement for the old medieval London Bridge…. Entrants included Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford, who proposed a single iron arch span…. However, a more conventional design, of five stone arches, by another Scottish civil engineer, John Rennie, was chosen instead….

The new bridge was built 100ft upstream of the old one, by Jolliffe and Banks, of Mertsham, Surrey…. The foundation stone was laid on the 15th of June 1825…. The old bridge was demolished after the opening of New London Bridge in 1831 by King William IV and Queen Adelaide – which involved a banquet laid on in a pavilion especially erected on the bridge…. The bridge, at 928ft (282m) long and 49ft (15m) wide had been constructed from Haytor granite….

Demolition of the Old London Bridge – Image credit : Stephencdickson – own work CC BY-SA 4.0

By 1896 it was the busiest point in London, with some 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles per hour…. By the 1960s it was beginning to become deserved of the nursery rhyme that its predecessor had inspired : ‘London Bridge is falling down, falling down….London Bridge is falling down, my fair Lady’…. because it too was becoming very dilapidated….

Circa 1900 – Public domain

In 1967 the Council of the City of London decided it was time to replace the bridge…. Ordinarily such a project would involve simply demolishing the defunct structure once a replacement was in situ…. However, the Council happened to have a particularly resourceful PR man in their midst – in the form of Ivan Luckin…. He suggested the bridge could be sold to America as a tourist attraction…. The idea was pooh-poohed at first – but eventually the Council agreed to put the bridge on the open market….

Luckin flew to New York to promote the idea and on the 18th of April 1968 Robert P. McCulloch, an entrepreneurial oil company owner, formally bought the bridge for $2,460,000 at London’s Guildhall….

At a cost of $7m the bridge was transported to the United States – each granite block numbered so it could be rebuilt at a resort that McCulloch owned on the shore of Lake Havasu in Arizona…. It is now the biggest tourist attraction in Arizona after the Grand Canyon….and McCulloch soon more than made his money back…. He knew exactly what he was doing….

London Bridge in 1973 – Image credit : Uli Elch CC BY-SA 4.0

On this day in history….21st July 1897

On this day in history : 21st July 1897 – The grand opening of the Tate Gallery, in the City of Westminster, London – by the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII)….

The gallery was built on the former site of Millbank Prison, which had been the departure point of convicts being transported to Australia…. It had been demolished in 1890….

The architect for the new gallery was Sidney R.J. Smith and construction began in 1893…. The building we see today is still very much like it was when it was first built….with its grand entrance, central dome and statue of Britannia with a lion and a unicorn….

Image credit : Tony Hisgett CC BY 2.0

The gallery was officially opened as the National Gallery of British Art – but from the onset people referred to it as the Tate Gallery, after its founder and benefactor, Sir Henry Tate…. The sugar magnate had also donated 65 paintings and 2 sculptures, forming the founding collection of the gallery…. In 1932 it became officially known as the Tate Gallery….

On this day in history….3rd July 1966

On this day in history : 3rd July 1966 – Over 30 protesters are arrested outside the US Embassy in London as a demonstration against the Vietnam War turns violent….

The US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London

Throughout the Vietnam War protest marches, often led by students, were organised in cities across America and Europe…. Eventually, as public opinion increased more and more against the war, the US government was forced to reconsider its intervention in Southeast Asia….

One such demonstration was held outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, by a crowd of some 4,000 protesters – 2,000 of which were members of the newly formed ‘Youth for Peace in Vietnam Movement’…. The YPVM had earlier marched to Downing Street, chanting….“Victory to the Vietcong”…. before handing in a letter for Prime Minister Harold Wilson demanding that the United Kingdom disassociate itself from the US policy in Vietnam…. The YPVM then joined the rest of the demonstrators at Trafalgar Square ready for the march to the US Embassy….

When the protesters arrived at Grosvenor Square 200 police officers had already cordoned it off…. Things became ugly when John Gollan, General Secretary of the Communist Party, urged them to disperse…. At one point a policeman was knocked from his motorcycle and as fuel leaked from it a lit match was thrown upon it….

Accompanied by chants of….“hands off Vietnam”….a delegation of 5 handed over a resolution to Embassy officials, calling for an end to the US bombings and a withdrawal of its troops….

Protests across the world intensified towards the end of the 1960s as casualties in Vietnam continued to rise…. The demonstrations eventually declined when President Nixon began to withdraw US troops in 1971….

Image credit : Manhhai via Flickr