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Life's a beach

I recently came across an article on the BBC website regarding the photographer and artist Julia Fullerton-Batten. Julia recently won a gold prize in the Association of Photographers Photography Awards project category for her series Old Father Thames, which reimagines scenes from the river's storied past. It's a great collection of very atmospheric imaginings based around historic events and locations on the Thames.

One that particularly caught my eye was called Tower Beach

A great picture, slightly bizarre you may think, but a little research showed that it actually did exist.

The man behind the idea was the Rev. PTB ""Tubby" Clayton, vicar of All Hallows by the Tower from 1922 to 1962. He had served as an army chaplain in France during the First World War and later set op the Christian Society Toc H. Tubby's parish was that of Tower Hill, which back in the 1920s was a rather down at heel and deprived area. In 1933 Clayton and a Dr Leftwich publish Pageant of Tower Hill which outlined schemes to improve the area, this led to the establishment later the same year of the Tower Hill Improvement Trust, which still exists today.

One of the Trust's earliest actions was to create an artificial beach at Tower Hill. Trips anywhere, let alone to the seaside were a luxury for East End families and the creation of the artificial beach was an instant success.

More than 1,500 barge-loads of sand were brought in to create a beach between the Tower Wharf and the Thames. The beach was opened to the public by the Lieutenant Governor of the Tower, General Sir Harry Hugh Sidney Knox on 23 July 1934, George V decreeing that the beach was to be used by the children of London who should have "free access forever". The beach had the usual accoutrements, deck chairs, Ice Creams and also rowing boat hire. The authorities seemed to under estimate the popularity of the project, as shown in the following newspaper article.

First, and to most people, most interesting, is the new “lido” on the Thames by Tower Hill. The strip of foreshore, which is uncovered to some width at low tide, has had its shingly surface improved by the addition of sand. A boatman is posted on duty to see that venturesome children do not get themselves into danger, and thousands of boys and girls whose homes are in drab grey buildings clustered at the south of Tower Bridge and London Bridge, are spending happy holiday hours at play there. Even the authorities have been taken by surprise at the new Lido’s popularity. When it was opened a few weeks ago they expected that 500 children a day would visit it. But there were 5,000 a day from the beginning, and considerably more since the summer holidays started.

The beach was always closed at high tide and was also closed for the duration of the Second World War as it was feared that it would be a good jumping off point for German troops should they navigate that far up the Thames. The beach re-opened in 1946 and remained popular up until the 1960s, however the rising levels of pollution in the river deterred only the most hardy souls from using it and it finally closed in 1971.

Today, access is not possible and I wonder if the crowds queuing for the Thames clippers on Millennium Pier or walking along the walls of the Tower realise that for many this was the holiday destination of choice in the 1930s

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