the pool of london

hms belfast

This is almost it for London sketches, I promise you. But not quite yet. These were sketched down at the Pool of London – that stretch of the Thames after London Bridge, the true ancient heart of London the river city. It was an absolutely freezing cold day, bitter and icy, with snow still blasted to surfaces even here in central London, days after the massive blizzard. The scene above is of HMS Belfast, the battleship-turned-tourist spot permanently moored in the Pool of London, with the ancient Tower of London to the left and the less ancient Tower Bridge to the right. The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror in the late eleventh century as a symbol of the Normans’ military control of the capital, while Tower Bridge  was built at the end of the nineteenth century because people needed to get from one side of the Thames to the other.

I found this great spot to sketch all three, on a little covered outcrop overlooking thethe gherkin Thames, with benches and shelter from the wind. I sat down to sketch, got my moleskine and pens out, started to sketch and then within three minutes a couple of men from India came up and asked me not to sit there. They would be filming there, and needed me to move. I saw that there were some other people there with them, and one had a camera (not a film or TV camera, but just a fancy hand-held). “How long will you be?” I asked. I didn’t want to lose my opportunity to sketch this scene. They both answered at the same time, one said “ten minutes”, one said “half an hour to an hour”.

“Which is it?” I replied. “Half an hour at least,” they said. I told them I wanted to sketch here, it’s a public place.

“You can come back another time, the ship’s not going anywhere,” one said back to me.

“But I  am,” I said. “Do you have a permit to film here?”

I know that you need a permit if you’re out filming and require the public to not go into public places. Again they both answered at the same time: one said “yes, the other said “no”. I asked to see it. No response. I knew they didn’t have one. 

“Look,” I conceded, “I’ll give you fifteen minutes, and then I’m coming back and I will sketch here.” Thankfully they agreed; it was either that or call a policeman to sort out who has what rights to be where. I went off and did a quick ten-minute sketch of the Gherkin (see right), then went and warmed my hands up in a bookstore, before resuming my spot to sketch HMS Belfast. They were filming some romantic kissing scene, but they didn’t object when I came back for my turn. While I sketched, several people came along and stood in the way to take photos and look at the view, and I didn’t mind because they had every right to.  It is an amazing view.

london bridge

And this I sketched shortly before then, at London Bridge. This looks towards the heart of the City of London – you can see Tower 42 and the golden-topped column of the Monument there. That column, built by Christopher Wren to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666, would, if it fell over, reach the exact spot in Pudding Lane where the fire began. Presumably Wren kept that fact to himself, lest gangs of curious seventeenth-century scallywags attempt to push it over to find out. There has been a bridge on this spot called London Bridge since the time of the Romans, and yes, previous incarnations did sometimes fall down (or burn down, usually). This particular London Bridge dates back to the 1970s, when the previous one (which was not falling down, but sinking) was sold to a man in Arizona who needed it to sell postcards.

I however was utterly freezing. After these sketches I went and had a nice hot chicken pie.

8 thoughts on “the pool of london

  1. Rowland Jones says:

    Greta stuff: love the Mexican stand-off with the film crew: you’re right about needing a permit: the Met used to have a film unit liaison officer: the wonderfully named Constable Slaughter

    HMS Belfast always reminds me of Amateur Photographer magazine: their offices were on the opposite side of the river and all the camera test shots were of that ship. Dull but true.

    More interestingly (I hope) I once read that the man from Arizona actually thought he was buying Tower Bridge. It’s probably apocryphal but I so want it to be true !!!!

    • pete scully says:

      cheers! That’s hilarious, I think if I’d said I was going to call Constable Slaughter they’d have laughed at me.
      We always used to tell people that on the tours I used to do about Tower Bridge, saying it was always the way when you buy flat-pack bridges, you lose the instructions, it never looks like how it did on the box…

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