On this day in history : 2nd December 1697 – The opening of the new St. Paul’s Cathedral, designed by Christopher Wren following the destruction of the old St. Paul’s in the Great Fire of London….
The old St. Paul’s, which had been consecrated in 1240, had been gutted by the fire…. It could have been reconstructed but the decision was made to rebuild a new and more modern style cathedral…. Christopher Wren was appointed to design the new building on the 30th of July 1669…. In all Wren was responsible for the design of more than 50 of the city’s new churches….
He was asked to make sure that the new St. Paul’s was ‘Handsome and noble to all ends of it and to the reputation of the city and the nation”…. The design took him several years and the result was the second largest church in Britain, with its dome proclaimed the finest in the world….
The cathedral was financed by a tax on coal and took 35 years to complete – although the first service was held 22 years into its construction…. It was finally declared complete on Christmas Day 1711…. By 1716 the cost of the build had accumulated to £1,095,556 (over £165m in today’s terms)…. The new St. Paul’s was consecrated on the 2nd of December 1697, 31 years and 3 months after the Great Fire….
On this day in history : 31st October 1971 – A bomb explodes in the revolving restaurant at the top of London’s Post Office Tower….
The Tower had been open for six years and the restaurant, situated on the 34th floor and with its panoramic views across the city, proved popular with London’s fashionable diners….
According to the Manager of the restaurant around 100 hoax bomb threats had been made over the previous five years or so…. Only this time the threat was for real…. A warning had been given and the building searched – but nothing was found…. At 4.30am an explosion blasted holes in the outer walls of the restaurant and viewing galleries…. Buildings and parked cars up to 400m away were damaged and local residents were woken in their beds…. Thankfully nobody was hurt…. The police received a call shortly after from a man claiming to be from the Kilburn Battalion of the IRA…. The bombing had all the hallmarks of the IRA – although far left anarchist organisation the Angry Brigade also later claimed responsibility….
The bomb had been planted in the roof space of the men’s toilets on the lowest of the public viewing galleries…. It was thought a diner may have gained access to a restricted internal staircase in order to plant it….
The restaurant was closed to the public – and when the owner’s lease expired in 1980 it was closed permanently…. The revolving floor still remains functioning and nowadays the restaurant is used for occasional corporate entertaining….and is also used for part of the filming of the BBC’s annual Children in Need fundraising event….
On this day in history : 10th September 1973 – London fashion store Biba opens its iconic department store in West London’s Kensington High Street….
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….
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….
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 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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….