Visiting the bridge and looking at the outside is of course free, but visiting The Tower Bridge Exhibition within has a small fee. Visitors begin by going up into the top of the north tower where there is a short introductory video with a screen that blends into the Victorian era props around it. Afterwards you get to move into the tower and enjoy the historical and artistic exhibits on the East and West Walkways. I can’t say that the walkway exhibits were the highlight, but there was some interesting information about the history of bridge construction for “how does it work?” types. (You should go to their website for more info on what exhibits are currently on view.)
They recently installed glass floors on the West Walkway, but this was shortly after my visit in September 2014 so I didn’t get a chance to experience this aspect of the bridge. I can only imagine the incredible view onto the bustling street below, but I can vouch for the panoramic views of the city from the top of the towers!
But for me, the best was yet to come. As part of your exhibition admission, you also get to visit the engine room that used to power the raising of the bridge. So check out The Tower Bridge Part 3: The Inner Workings next time!
Due to increased commercial activity along the Thames in the 19th century, the city of London needed to create bridges to allow access to both sides of the river without hindering the approach of tallships like the Cutty Sark (see above). To accomplish this goal, a committee was formed in 1877 to decide on a design for either a tunnel below the river or a bridge that allow traffic to cross over the water. More than 50 designs were considered before Sir Horace Jones’ hydraulic drawbridge was chosen in 1884, which took 10 years to complete. You can see some of the design submissions here.
Though the bridge has two towers built on foundations sunk deep in the river bottom, the name Tower Bridge comes from the nearby Tower of London. The bridge gets its strength from a steel skeleton, but the designers also used Portland stone across the facade to add a cosmetic touch.
The site of this market has been a trade center in London dating back to the Roman period, but its current visage was constructed in 1881. Like the Hay’s Gallery, it is enclosed by an amazing wrought iron and glass ceiling, which shelters the various shops and bars within. The Victorian redesign of the original stone marketplace was by none other than Horace Jones, the Architect and Surveyor of the City of London from 1864 to 1887. Though he is best known for the Tower Bridge, Jones was responsible for several markets around the city. Unfortunately most of them have been destroyed, damaged or moved in the century that followed.
I passed through the Leandenhall Market complex on a weekday at happy hour, and many of the city’s well-dressed businessmen were enjoying an after-work cocktail near the main intersection of this pedestrian area. I wandered around some of the side streets and also found an incredible hanging sculpture made out of books that look like they are flying around the halls. On a side note, The Leadenhall Market has appeared in several films, including as the access point for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
You should have been there. The buzz in the ballroom was happy and excited as the DIY models assembled to strut their stuff for a very appreciative audience. I had hoped to get a seat at the end of the runway, but even 10 minutes before the show started it was difficult to find any empty floor space at all, so I had to settle for sitting on the floor seat near the stage. I hope you enjoy the gallery of photos as much as I enjoyed being there, and I also got a chance to shoot a quick video of the models’ final procession right before the judges made their decision.
My original plan had been to sample at least two Ripper Tours while in London, but after running into 6 other tour groups on my maiden voyage, I decided it wasn’t necessary. The groups ranged from 12 members to more like 40, and they all (unsurprisingly) were stopping at the same places. One group was headed up by a vintage bobby, my guide was in waistcoat and hat, and others were dressed in normal street clothes.
I knew there would be at least a couple other groups around but this was nuts, especially considering there was hardly anything to see. That area of London had suffered a great deal during the London Blitz of WWII, so there weren’t really any historic buildings left standing, so the tour meant walking through a long street lined with curry restaurants and maneuvering around construction zones. By about 30 minutes in, the Mister and I were joking that we should have just stopped at the beginning for curry instead.
I was on a tour using what they called “Ripper Vision” and some large historical photographs to try to enhance the experience, but it still fell flat for me. Ripper Vision consisted of a handheld projector that the guide used to show photos of the victims and newspaper stories from the Ripper days, but he couldn’t keep the projector steady so I ended up actually feeling sea sick from all the jerking around and had to look away. The guide was well-versed in Ripper lore, but without any real sites that still looked like they did during the Victorian era, it definitely could have been a lecture in a hall and saved my feet the trouble.
If you want to learn about Jack, I’d say get a book. I’ll be writing a Jack the Ripper Steampunk Sourcebook article for my ezine which will be available around Christmas time, and will not only look at the history and mystery surrounding the murders, but also Jack’s appearances and role in Steampunk so far.
Have you ever read any Steampunk fiction or seen any good movies that featured Jack the Ripper? Do tell!
One of the biggest leaps forward in human history was when we started to use the movements of the stars, sun and moon to tell time. And as far as we know, we are the only animals that do. You may find yourself noticing a slight bend in space and time as you approach the Observatory, or perhaps it was just the long trek up the steep hill that made the minutes seem like hours!
Eventually, humans invented machines to keep track of the units in which we divided the world and some would argue that these machines now rule our lives. But no matter how you feel about clocks and schedules, you can’t deny the ingenuity and skill that has gone into inventing, improving and crafting timepieces. And if you are a steampunk fan, you probably can’t get enough of the shiny gears and complex mechanisms that had their heyday in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Royal Observatory (also called the Greenwich Observatory) is the home of the Prime Meridian line, and the site for calculating Greenwich Mean Time since the 19th Century. This means that even more than anywhere else it has been imperative that they keep accurate time, and they celebrate this history in their exhibits. After I was done at the Longitude Punk’d galleries, I took a stroll through the rest of the Observatory and I found amazing machines for seeing the stars and terrific time-keepers. I had accidentally used up a lot of my battery during the first half of the day at Longitude Punk’d and the Cutty Sark, but even with a full battery I don’t know if I would have been able to fit all of the beautiful pocket watches, nautical devices and astrolabes onto my memory card anyway!
Here’s a sampling of what there is to see in the history galleries.
In addition to the Observatory, you can also visit the Astronomy Center for free. There are lots of exhibits there for amateur astronomers, as well as London’s only planetarium.
Have you ever visited the Royal Observatory or Astronomy Center? Did you have a favorite part?
The Mister and I stumbled upon this amazing museum totally by mistake. We had just escaped the crowd on the Royal Mile after picking up our tickets for Fringe and were looking for a quieter place to look at the map. We soon found ourselves on the stone steps outside the National Museum of Scotland with a few hours to kill before our first show. A few hours wasn’t nearly enough!
The first visit was spent mostly in the ancient history section, but we went back a second day to check out the rest of the historical and industrial arts exhibits. If you are a fan of steam engines, elaborate clockwork, intricate model ships and all manner of shiny things, don’t miss this stop if you find yourself in Edinburgh. The museum recently underwent a massive renovation, but the largest gallery dates to the Victorian era and calls to mind the pictures I have seen of the Crystal Palace.
I hope you enjoy the gallery of photos below. (Click on any picture to see a them in a different view).
Have you ever visited this museum? Did you have a favorite part?
Leave a comment below!
The Durham-based company, Another Soup, has two back-to-back shows this year at the Space on Niddry St. Both are promenade musicals, meaning that the actors move in and out of the audience to give them an immersive experience. I have never seen a show like these before and I thought the approach was interesting, though better suited to Sweeny Todd and the String of Pearls than to a Picture of Dorian Gray. In Sweeny Todd, the ‘ladies of the night’ and other patrons of Mrs. Lovett’s shop wend their way through the audience going through purses and trading hats with members of the crowd, which was engaging and silly fun during a tale of gruesome murders. But the side characters in Dorian Gray were aristocrats (though similarly gin-soaked by the end) which didn’t lend itself to the same treatment, and the larger crowd made it difficult for a short person stuck in the middle of the pack (ie, me) to see most of the action.
The lighting situation was also more favorable to Sweeny Todd, and faces were never lost behind the shadows of the audience, where Dorian Gray could have benefited from even one light in Dorian’s chambers when tall patrons between the single bank of lights and the small but lovely set sometimes totally obliterated the well-executed efforts of the cast. The audience is expected to stand and move about during the shows, as well as occasionally dancing with the actors, something I wish I had known before spending the whole day at the National Museum of Scotland and then seeing the shows one after the other. By the time I got home my feet were killing me! So be prepared if you are planning to see them both. (People with health issues are welcome to sit during the performances but they will definitely miss some of the action.)
So let’s take them one at a time.
Sweeny Todd and the String of Pearls is adapted from a serialized tale called The String of Pearls: A Romance, which took place in 1785 and was first published as a serial in 1846-47. The story has been adapted for stage and screen many times over, but in case you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the short version. Sweeny Todd is a barber on Fleet Street in London. He kills his victims (sometimes through breaking their necks and sometimes giving them too close a shave with his straight-edge razor) and then disposes of the bodies by giving them to his neighbor, Mrs. Lovett, to bake into meat pies at a time when meat is very scarce in the darker corners of the city. In Another Soup’s version, the story takes place in the 1850s during the Great Stink and the Cholera epidemic of 1858 but the main plot is still the same. Depending on the adaptation, Todd and Lovett are business partners, friends or lovers, and in this version they are most decidedly the latter, sometimes carrying on their affair while the main action of the show takes place elsewhere. It is Todd’s affection for Mrs. Lovett, who commits the first two murders, that leads him to help her with the cover up and makes him her “supplier” for her meat pies. Business is booming so Lovett needs an assistant, which eventually leads to their discovery and downfall.
The music was played by a live band including an accordian that sometimes was in the thick of it with the actors. The enthusiasm of the cast was infectious and the singing was well blended and balanced. I enjoyed having the sound come from all around me when the actors were sprinkled throughout the crowd. Todd and Lovett were very well cast and did a splendid job, as did the playful smaller parts. Unfortunately, if you are right next to the band you lose a lot of the lyrics, which were in general much stronger writing than the dialog. The music is clearly the focus of the show, but when the actors don’t have mics it can be hard to follow.
For the best experience, I would suggest that you stand near the corner of the room where the two sets come together so you can get the most out the singing but still hear the music clearly. Be prepared to move during the show and come back together in a different configuration. I loved this aspect because it allowed people who had not had as good of a vantage point in the beginning to see more of the show later. So even if you start out at the back, be patient and you will get a chance to see, plus more of a chance to interact with the side characters. The crowd for this show was smaller than for Dorian Gray, and I think the group of 30 or so in the audience is the right size for the venue.
After about a 30 minute break where we rested our feet by sitting on the stone steps outside, we went back in for round 2. The Picture of Dorian Gray was the first show I found on the Ed Fringe docket to write about for Victorian and Steampunk inspiration and I was the most excited to see it. Sweeny Todd I had seen as a musical before, but never Dorian Gray and I was intrigued. The story centers on Dorian, a lovely youth seduced by the delectable debaucheries of the Victorian age, his mentor, Lord Henry Wotton, and the painter of his portrait, Basil Hallward. Upon seeing his portrait, he wishes that he could always stay as young and beautiful as it is, and in wishing makes a pact with the devil. Dorian falls in love with an actress, but later rejects her when she wants to quit the stage, which leads to her suicide. When he later looks at the portrait, it has changed and started to become ugly to reflect the decay of his soul while he remains the same.
The three main male roles were perfectly cast, though I think the strain of so many performances was starting show in their voices (and who can blame them!). The music and especially the female chorus voices were lovely (and the “sisters” steal the show), though they sometimes overpowered the male soloists who were singing very low in their ranges, which makes it harder to project in a room without very good acoustics. They were all very true to their roles and stayed in character, even when I saw one audience member start to giggle in Henry’s face during a dramatic moment in the closing number. So, well done to the cast for making the most of a less than ideal situation.
The crowd was larger, and I think on the whole taller, which meant I could not see nearly as well as during the first show. At least half of the action takes place right in front of the band, and so directly in front of a bank of stage lights which also made it harder to see. I would love to see this show again staged as a traditional musical where I could get all the action from start to finish. (I think the best place to stand for this one is near the free-standing gas lights on the near wall as you enter the space.) Because I knew the basic story already (though I haven’t read the original yet) I wasn’t surprised by the turns of events, but I didn’t feel that the dialogue did enough to move Dorian from one stage of his thinking to another. I would have liked to see him first fall in love with his painting and then become jealous rather than his first reaction to be disdainful. I also liked that the homosexual undertones were brought to the forefront, but I found the scene where Dorian and Basil kiss to feel strange and I expected to see Basil more swept up and given hope rather than saddened. But on the whole the acting was very good even if the actors made different choices than I would have.
If you only choose one Victorian Vices show to see, I would say go with Sweeny Todd for the dynamic staging and charismatic Todd and Lovett. Dorian Gray was very well done, it just didn’t work as well in the space. If you have comfy shoes, they are great to see back-to-back for a great night of entertainment. The soundtracks for both shows will be available soon, and I highly recommend them!
Both shows are running from now until the 23rd, so don’t miss your chance to taste a little vice.
Get tickets here: tickets.edfringe.com
Learn more about Another Soup at their website: www.anothersoup.co.uk