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Nighttime boat ride to Westminster in 1930

This marvellous description of a boat journey along the River Thames was written by the MP and author Sir Alan Herbert. It was included in the anthology 'Journey into Night' compiled by H J Deverson. The excerpt is taken from the book 'No Boats on the River' published in 1932. The book is not in print. I have juxtaposed Sir Alan Herbert's description with some of my photographs of the River Thames at dusk, taken around 2004-2006.

AND IN the evening, a little after sunset, you may enjoy what I judge to be the most lovely experience in London - the journey through the dusk from Wapping to Westminster. There are not many lights in the Pool; the warehouses are dark, become dignified and mysterious; palaces, fortresses, or temples. The starboard light of a steamer coming up on the flood round the bend astern of you is a brilliant emerald, the eye of some pursuing monster; she sends her final hoot of warning to the Tower Bridge, the thrilling announcement that another ship has come home; the Tower Bridge is a colourless outline, a children's toy, against the faint rose of the western sky, and St Paul's dome, beyond, is only the ghost of a dome. Lighted buses are congregated on the bridge, waiting reverently for the ship to pass, and suddenly the road divides, the great arms of the bridge rise up and pronounce a blessing on you while your impudent craft scuttles through ahead of the steamer, as if the bascules had been lifted for you.


There are more lights now: London Bridge wears a moving frieze of light, and we have come back to the roar of traffic. The bridges come thick and fast - Cannon Street and Southwark, and St Paul's and Blackfriars. It is dark and alarming under the cavernous arches where the tide rushes fiercely round the piers, gleaming like swift snakes in the dim light. But in all the dark arches are framed a wide space of shining water ahead and the increasing lights of London. And you come out through Blackfriars Bridge at last into a fairyland of light and shadow, water tumbling and sparkling, water ebony and smooth. Round the great curve go the lamps and the lighted trees and the lighted, lumbering trams; and at the end the calm clock of Westminster hangs in the sky.


From NO BOATS IN THE RIVER, by Sir Alan Herbert

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