See London—Atop a Double-Decker Bus
By “Awake!” correspondent in the British Isles
“THE way to see London is from the top of a bus—the top of a bus, gentlemen.” That was the advice that William Ewart Gladstone, prime minister of England, gave to some American visitors during the 19th century. Today we do not have horse-drawn buses clip-clopping around London. Instead, their bright-red, diesel-engined “grandchildren” await us. Shall we go upstairs and join the millions who have taken Gladstone’s advice? Come on! See London—atop a double-decker bus!
The London Transport Executive provides this daily service that affords visitors a fine two-hour sight-seeing trip. At regular intervals, commencing at 10 a.m., you can get your ticket and board a bus at Marble Arch, Victoria Station or Piccadilly.
Marble Arch to Lambeth Bridge
Since we are starting from Marble Arch, our first point of interest is this triple arch with its wrought-iron gates. Patterned after the Arch of Constantine in Rome, Italy, it now stands near Tyburn, the site of public executions until the end of the 18th century.
Ah, we’re moving off! Turning along Bayswater Road, we retrace London’s first public tramway, laid down by that enterprising American, George Train. The green 360 acres (146 hectares) of Hyde Park have provided fresh air and water for Londoners since the 11th century, when King Edward the Confessor granted the land and its springs to Westminster Abbey. Today a forum for public speakers at famed Speakers’ Corner, it has seen in the past military reviews, exhibitions and even a reenacting of the Battle of Trafalgar on the Serpentine Lake.
Passing through Kensington, we arrive at the Royal Albert Hall. Elliptical in plan and styled after a Roman circus, this is one of London’s famous auditoriums. Still mentioned is a public address given here in 1920 by the Watch Tower Society’s second president, J. F. Rutherford. Its title? “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” Speaking in this hall six years later, the same speaker drew world attention to the fact that the League of Nations did not have divine approval. How history has established his Bible-based words!
Just to the right of the Royal Albert Hall is Exhibition Road, at the far end of which you will find four popular museums featuring science, geology, natural history and industrial art. A day in London can profitably be spent there. Our bus takes us on into Knightsbridge, passing a number of London Squares, gardens belonging to neighboring residences and adding a welcome dash of color.
Ahead of us are the gardens of Buckingham Palace, residence of the British sovereign. Along we go, through Pimlico, to link up with Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea. Reportedly, the hospital for pensioned soldiers was suggested to King Charles II by actress Nell Gwynne. Be that as it may, its occupants with scarlet coats and glinting medals of old campaigns brighten the London scene.
But what is that ahead of us, glistening in the sun? Why, it is our first glimpse of “Old Father Thames”! Chelsea Embankment follows that world-renowned river, and it is relaxing to drive through this tree-lined avenue to Millbank. There, to our left, is the Tate Gallery, one of London’s finest art museums.
Lambeth Bridge to St. Paul’s
We now cross the Thames, riding over Lambeth Bridge. Before us is Lambeth Palace, official London residence of the archbishop of Canterbury. Attention may be focused on its Lollards’ Tower. Why is it so called? Well, it was named after the Lollards, followers of the 14th-century Bible translator John Wycliffe. Equipped with handwritten English translations of parts of the Bible, they spread across the countryside preaching to all who would listen. Vehemently opposed by the established church, often they were arrested and imprisoned—some say in this very tower.
Looking across the Thames, we see the stately Gothic facade of the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament. This building is just over 120 years old, but the Abbey standing behind it dates back to the 11th century.
Passing Westminster Bridge and the County Hall, general offices of the Greater London Council, we cross Waterloo Bridge, skirting the Royal Festival Hall and other South Bank concert halls. Across the Thames once more, we reach Aldwych, which is the Anglo-Saxon term for “old village.” It reminds us of the humble origins of this great metropolis.
At the middle of this graceful crescent, do you notice Kingsway? Along there used to be the old London Opera House, erected by Oscar Hammerstein at the beginning of the century. Incidentally, it was there, in October 1914, that the Photo-Drama of Creation was shown. That film and slide production taking four evenings to present made use of motion pictures synchronized with phonograph recordings. Produced by witnesses of Jehovah, the Photo-Drama covered Bible history from creation to the righting of earth’s affairs by God’s kingdom. Just think! The first successful “talkie” back in 1914, at least 10 years before its commercial counterparts!
After Aldwych, we face the church of the nursery rhyme—well known to many children and entitled “Oranges and Lemons.” It is said that in this area a toll was levied on fruit importers when the fruit-laden barges unloaded their cargoes nearby. The receipts then were divided among the district’s tenants.
There is a change from traditions to stern legal realities as the Royal Courts of Justice come into view. Over three miles (5 kilometers) of corridors link the 25 courts and associated rooms. One day’s proceedings in these courts are said to produce some 35,000 words. Fleet Street now draws our attention. This is a district of words if there ever was one! Today printer’s ink virtually flows in a tide of words where the Fleet River ran 200 years ago. In this area are the editorial offices and printing works that produce London’s newspapers. Tucked away in Gough Square you will find the well-preserved house of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the famed lexicographer of the English language.
Now we ascend one of the city’s few hills, Ludgate Hill. Centuries ago, an arched gateway called “Ludgate” would have halted our progress. Ludgate was one of the seven principal entrances into the old city. Continuing up the hill, we face Sir Christopher Wren’s architectural masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Uncertainty shrouds the history of earlier buildings on this site, but the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed the previous cathedral that had fallen into disrepair and disrepute. A few days before the fire broke out, Wren had been inspecting the building with a view to its restoration. Ironically, it was tax on coal brought up the Thames that mainly financed Wren’s 365-foot- (111-meter-) high edifice for new London.
St. Paul’s to Tower Bridge
Proceeding up New Change, we see beyond the dome of St. Paul’s the smaller dome of the Central Criminal Courts, better known as the Old Bailey. It is topped by a golden representation of Justice. This was the site of Newgate, another of walled London’s noted gates. As we come into Aldgate, site of the third entryway into old London, we are told that on foot it is possible to trace the well-excavated Roman wall that encircled ancient Londinium.
Along Moorgate, position of yet another entry, we reach the financial center crowded with banks, as well as insurance and investment companies. On the left is the Bank of England, founded in 1694 by William Patterson. Twice rebuilt, it has operated from here since 1734. Just past the Bank, we see the eight Corinthian columns of the Royal Exchange where, in 1567, Thomas Gresham erected a building used by London’s merchants for the transaction of business. The London Stock Exchange is just a city block to the rear.
The colonnade to the right fronts Mansion House, since 1753 the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London and now more famous for its stately banquets. Our next obvious landmark is the memorial of the Great Fire. Two hundred and two feet (62 meters) high and crowned with its shining golden urn of sculptured flames, The Monument recalls London’s devastating blaze of 300 years ago. Property then destroyed included 13,200 houses, 89 churches and 400 streets. Yet, only three people are said to have died in the holocaust.
Ahead of us is the substantial descendant of the nursery rhyme topic—London Bridge. Reportedly, a bridge was standing here in 43 C.E. But it was the fifth bridge constructed here that is remembered in the words, “London Bridge is broken down!” You see, the severe winter of 1281 brought great chunks of ice down the Thames, causing five of the arches to give way. Until 1738 this was London’s only bridge, but Parliament then consented to the building of a second bridge, at Westminster.
Turning up Tooley Street, we pass through a compact area of warehouses and emerge at Tower Bridge, a truly grand sight. Opened in 1894, this half-mile- (.8-kilometer-) long structure has two hinged bascules, each weighing 1,000 tons. To allow passage of ships, these are raised in just one and a half minutes. Crossing the bridge, to the left we see one of Britain’s oldest and most celebrated fortresses, the Tower of London. During its checkered 900-year history, the White Tower, marked by the four turrets, has at different times been a palace, a prison, the Royal Mint and even a zoo. What stories it could tell! Today the Tower of London simply safeguards the sovereign’s crown jewels, which are on public display.
Entering Eastcheap, we are reminded of the Anglo-Saxon ceap (meaning to barter or purchase), as this was the site of earlier meat and provision markets. Going on, we come to Cannon Street. No, it has nothing to do with medieval armaments. Instead, a document of 1311 mentions ‘Kandelwickstrate,’ because candles and their wicks were made here. The Londoner’s habitual shortening of names soon reduced it to “Cannon Street.”
Queen Victoria Street leads us back to the Thames again. To your right are the Temple Gardens, land that once belonged to the Knights Templars. They were a 12th-century religio-military order whose original interest was guarding the roads and protecting pilgrims journeying to the “holy places” in Jerusalem. The order was dissolved in 1312 and the property went to a body of lawyers. On this land were built the schools of law: the Inner Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and others. Barristers and lawyers still have their “chambers” here.
The ships moored alongside the Embankment have attracted your attention. Most picturesque is the vessel last in line, the three-masted bark-rigged whaler that is now a floating museum. This is the famous “Discovery” commanded by Captain Robert Falcon Scott on his 1901 expedition to the South Pole.
Passing beneath Waterloo Bridge, watch for the slender granite obelisk known as Cleopatra’s Needle. Like a nut in a metal shell, it was floated from Egypt just over 100 years ago. In 1450 B.C.E. this pillar stood outside the Temple of the Sun at Heliopolis, having only the most remote connection with Cleopatra.
What is that? The rich boom of the hour being struck was sure to make you look around! Well, look up 316 feet (96 meters). Yes, that is Big Ben. This giant clock was named after Benjamin Hall, the Commissioner of Works at the time of its construction.
Big Ben to Hyde Park
Rounding Parliament Square, we enter Parliament Street and are confronted by the Cenotaph, that solemn memorial commemorating the tragedy of the two world wars. As its name in Greek implies, nobody is buried here, for kenos means “empty” and taphos means “tomb.” A quick look to the left and we see Number 10 Downing Street, London home of prime ministers since Robert Walpole in 1735.
The Horse Guards now come into view. A number of mounted regiments assigned to be Life Guards to the sovereign can be seen on duty here, seated on magnificent black horses. Every morning at 11 o’clock, with precision of movement, a colorful ceremony takes place—the changing of the Guard.
Continuing up Whitehall, we change from Army to Navy as there looms before us the 185-foot- (56-meter-) high monument to the naval victor of the battle of Trafalgar, Lord Nelson. Behind it you can see another of London’s splendid art galleries, the imposing National Gallery.
From Trafalgar Square, we make a detour to Piccadilly Circus, the center of London’s West End. Here we see the much-photographed statue of Eros. This nine-foot (3-meter) aluminum figure does not represent the god of erotic love, but, rather, ‘Charity flying as quick as an arrow to help’—a symbol to commemorate Lord Shaftesbury’s work in aiding the poor. Back down Haymarket, we rejoin Pall Mall. Such an odd name! Some 300 years ago, you would have observed a French ball game—pallemaille—being played here, and therein lies the name’s origin. The red-brick clock tower next claiming our attention is all that remains of the original structure of St. James’ Palace, built at the command of King Henry VIII.
Riding alongside Green Park, we are now in Piccadilly itself. Webster’s Dictionary of 1858 tells us that a piccadilly was “a high collar or kind of ruff.” What is the connection with modern London? Well, a 17th-century reference work says that a retired tailor who sold such collars lived here in a house known as Piccadilla Hall.
But look there, ahead of us! Yes, that is Hyde Park once again. Our bus-top tour of London is over. Up here we have had a front-row seat in viewing the stage as 19 centuries of history have passed in review. Why not plan for such a trip when you come to London for the “Victorious Faith” International Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses this year? Gladstone was right. The way to see London is from the top of a double-decker bus!
[Map on page 21]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
ROYAL ALBERT HALL
CHELSEA ROYAL HOSPITAL
St. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL
BANK of ENGLAND
TOWER of LONDON
HOUSES of PARLIAMENT
[Picture on page 21]
Royal Albert Hall
[Picture on page 22]
St. Paul’s Cathedral
[Picture on page 23]
[Picture on page 23]
Tower of London