Then & Now

Evergreen - - Contents - Henry Spencer

What a con­trast! This is Tothill Street near West­min­ster Abbey in Lon­don, and the late- Vic­to­rian photo is com­pletely de­void of peo­ple ex­cept, per­haps, for a cab­bie atop a han­som cab on the far left, although it is hard to tell, even with a mag­ni­fy­ing glass.

The huge build­ing on the right is the Royal Aquar­ium and Win­ter Gar­dens which at the time was ad­ver­tis­ing an ice rink, pre­sum­ably in the large St. Stephen’s Hall men­tioned on the front. Built in 1876 and de­scribed as a place of amuse­ment, it also in­cluded the Aquar­ium Theatre which was re­named the Im­pe­rial three years later ( left). Its nick­name was “The Tank” but the 13 large bowls in the ac­tual aquar­ium never housed any fish be­cause of water sup­ply prob­lems from the four large cis­terns un­der­neath. Early high­brow ex­pec­ta­tions were never ful­filled, pos­si­bly be­cause of com­pe­ti­tion from ri­vals such as the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum which opened six years later. New en­ter­tain­ments were in­tro­duced, such as mu­sic hall and cir­cus acts, in­clud­ing a hu­man can­non­ball stunt but they

pro­voked com­plaints from what we would now call health and safety. Other amuse­ments were many and var­ied but some were per­ceived as risqué and the en­ter­prise closed for de­mo­li­tion in 1903. The at­tached Im­pe­rial Theatre was knocked down in 1907 although the in­te­rior was re­con­structed as the Im­pe­rial Palace, Can­ning Town.

The site was ac­quired by the Methodist Church who, in 1911, opened their Cen­tral Hall with its fa­mous dome ( above). Many ma­jor events and con­certs have since taken place here and it re­mains as ac­tive as ever. The re­main­ing Vic­to­rian build­ings in the older picture have all been re­placed by mod­ern con­crete of­fices.

The statue of St. Ge­orge and the dragon on the left was the work of Sir Ge­orge Gil­bert Scott and com­mem­o­rates the fallen from nearby West­min­ster School dur­ing the Crimean and In­dian Wars of 1854- 1859. The “Scrum To­gether” ad­vert on the bluish- grey Lon­don bus dates the im­age to 2015 when Eng­land hosted the Rugby Union World Cup. White vans, taxis and a tra­di­tional red Lon­don bus com­plete the con­trast of mod­ern bus­tle with that of ear­lier peace and tran­quil­lity, pos­si­bly be­cause the older photo was taken early morn­ing or, more likely, on a Sun­day, long be­fore tourists trans­formed Cen­tral Lon­don at week­ends.

Both pic­tures come from Lon­don, Then and Now, Pav­il­ion, 400pp, hard­back, £ 9.99.

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