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Obstructing views of Tower Bridge

26 June 2020

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories

The latest heritage hotspot to make the news for the wrong reasons is Tower Bridge. To cut a long story short, the UK housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, is in hot water for approving a property development in Tower Hamlets, east London, that had been rejected by the relevant planning inspector. The approval was later quashed, with Jenrick accepting that his approval had been ‘unlawful by reason of apparent bias’ – namely that he had been lobbied by Richard Desmond, the businessman behind the scheme, prior to making the decision.

Among the reasons that the planning inspector had initially rebuffed the scheme was the damage that it would do to the settings of Tower Bridge and the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich – and not least how the height of the development would compromise views along the Thames.

All this has had Rakewell pondering some of his favourite views of Tower Bridge – in many of which the bascule bridge, which was opened in 1894, is itself an obstacle or an ominous gateway that opens on to the city or sea beyond (depending on which side you’re on). That’s the way it appears in Alvin Langdon Coburn’s photograph of 1909 and at the opening of Patrick Keiller’s London (1994).

And of course Richard Desmond is not the first property developer to have put himself in the way of Tower Bridge. In 1980, in The Long Good Friday, the bridge provides the backdrop as the gangster-cum-businessman Harold Shand (played by Bob Hoskins) makes his pitch for London to ‘become Europe’s capital’ through ‘profitable progress’. How times have changed!

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