Ever since my childhood, I’ve had a fascination with London. I earned a humanities degree in college, and I loved learning about the customs, culture, arts, and history of Great Britain. Between British history, literature, and pop culture courses, I thought I knew a lot about London. My family just returned from England, and there are a lot of things that I learned about the city and it’s historical sites.
The River Thames – The winding waterway that wends its way through central London is the River Thames. There are many notable sites that are just off the banks of the River Thames, including the Tower of London, The Savoy Hotel, The London Eye, and Houses of Parliament.
For centuries, the river’s strategic position has been the center of many events and fashions in British history, earning it a description of “Liquid History.”
Pro tip: it’s pronounced “Tems” not “Thaymes.”
Big Ben – One of the most iconic sights in the world is the clock tower known as “Big Ben.” But did you know that the tower itself is not actually called Big Ben? The belltower is part of the Palace of Westminster, and the official name is Elizabeth Tower. Big Ben is the giant bell within the tower, and part of the Great Clock of Westminster. You can’t actually see the bell, but the nickname has stuck.
Big Ben is officially known as the Great Bell. The original 16 ton bell was cast in 1856, but it cracked beyond repair while being tested. The new bell was 13.5 tons, 7 feet 6 inches tall, and 9 feet in diameter. Along with the Great Bell, four quarter bells chime a rotating tune on the quarter hours. At the base of the clock dial, DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM is inscribed, which means “O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First.”
Shakespeare’s Globe Theater – The original Globe Theater was built in 1599, made from timber from another theater that was dismantled beam-by-beam. It burned down in 1613 when a theatrical cannon misfired and its thatched roof caught on fire. A second Globe Theater was built on the same site in 1614, but closed in 1642.
In 1997, a modern reconstruction of the Globe was rebuilt by architect Sam Wanamaker. The theater houses approximately 3000 spectators, and is approximately 750 feet from the site of the original Globe, to avoid the flooding it often encountered at it’s first home. Sadly, Wanamaker died before the completion of Shakepeare’s Globe, and there is a plaque on the building, dedicating the building in his honor.
Westminster Abbey – Located just steps from Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey is the beautiful gothic church that is officially known as The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster. It’s the traditional place for coronation and burial of British monarchs and beloved countrymen. The abbey briefly held the status of a cathedral for 10 years in the 16th Century.
I walked into the building thinking it would just be a pretty church, not expecting the breathtaking beauty nor the breadth and depth of historical majesty. The origins of the abbey are from the 960’s AD by a community of Benedictine monks, and the building includes monuments and tributes to men and women to present day. Tombs, monuments, plaques, statuary, and stained glass depict the history of the past 13 centuries. There is so much beauty and majesty within Westminster Abbey that I suggest planning on several hours to do the tour. I felt like I barely scratched the surface with only 2 hours.
The London Bridge – Eight bridges span the Thames in the London area, but which one is most famous? Most children grow up singing “London Bridge is Falling Down,” but the bridge that is being sung about may not be the bridge you are thinking of. The Tower Bridge, which is pictured on the header of this post, is not the one in the song. The London Bridge is it exists today is quite plain, other than the bright neon lights illuminating it.
The current bridge was built in 1973, and was constructed from concrete and steel. It was made as a replication of the previous bridge, which was a stone arch bridge from the 19th century. This superseded several other bridges that had been built since medieval times. In 1967, the Common Council of the City of London placed the bridge on the market for sale. The bridge was sold to an american entrepreneur named Robert McCulloch, who relocated the bridge to the desert in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Decades later, this is still a sore point for the Brits’ pride.