Monday 5 June 2017

The River Thames

Alex Colville's The River Thames, circa 1974, features a woman in a fur trimmed coat and umbrella gazing over the bridge at the River Thames.  The scene, with the calm water, the buildings reflected in its surface, is utterly tranquil.  It does not betray the river's past or future.

The River Thames has been at the centre of much of London's history.  It was in 1858 that pedestrians crossed over its waters, handkerchiefs over their noses, to block out The Great Stink, the sewage emanating from the river's depths.  Workers at the House of Commons, on the banks of the Thames, soaked the curtains in lime.  Londoners who imbibed the drinking water were dropping dead due to cholera, a water borne disease.  The problem was not resolved until Joseph Bazalgette introduced his sewer system in 1866.

It was in 1940 that pedestrians standing on the London Bridge over the Thames watched the sky light up as Hitlers bombs reigned down on the city.  While many Brits retreated to the Underground to seek refuge from the Blitz, 43,000 civilians still perished, about half of which were Londoners.  The River Thames' docks in the East End were a common target for the Luftwaffe.  While bombs peppered the city during a 57-consecutive night Blitz, the London Bridge remained intact, almost personifying Britain's fierce leader, who proclaimed:  "We shall never surrender!"

In 1945, the smoke cleared and London returned to peacetime.  However, the city lived for many years in the shadow of the Second World War.  It was a long time before tourists once again strolled across the London Bridge and watched as Londoners slowly rebuilt their city.  By the time the city was back on its feet in 1965, its fearless leader was laid to rest amid much pomp and circumstance. The 1960's also saw a rise in immigration and London, more than ever before, became a multicultural centre.

London's peacetime was not shattered until 2005 when terrorists targetted London's Underground, killing 56 people and injuring almost 800.  The date was referred to as 7/7 in the wake of 9/11.  Earlier this year, the London Bridge became the location for another terrorist attack when a vehicle ran over many pedestrians.  This past weekend, Londoners once again heard gunshots and bomb blasts as terrorists laid siege to London Bridge and Borough Market.

It seems fitting, today, that I blog about Alex Colville's 1974 painting The River Thames which hearkens back to a more innocent time.  I pray for peace for London.


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