With the wedding of the century nearly upon us, all attention has turned to the royal motherland we left behind three centuries ago. Beyond just Beefeaters and blood pudding, England has a rich culture based largely on their historical architecture.
In the 19th century, quarries, especially those in Aberdeen, produced huge amounts of granite which were used domestically as well as shipped across Europe, America and Australia. A wide variety of colors found in British granite were the result of distinctive geological compositions unique to that region. While many of London’s main attractions, including Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey were constructed using traditional limestone, local and imported granite pieces can be seen across the royal city.
Straddling the Thames in London’s East End, the Tower Bridge, commonly mistaken for the London Bridge, spans more than 800 feet. After 70,000 tons of concrete were poured to form the bridge’s two piers, Cornish granite and Portland stone were used to reinforce the structure while providing a distinguished final look. The bridge officially opened in June of 1894 and has become one of London’s most recognizable landmarks, earning a feature role in movies like Sherlock Holmes.
Farther down the Thames, the less extravagant London Bridge was constructed in 1176. This iteration of the bridge served to replace a wooden crossing over the river which was destroyed by fire in 1136. The doomed bridge was destroyed once again in 1756, this time by an Act of Parliament so a wider bridge could be built to accommodate swelling traffic. The “New” London Bridge emerged in 1824, touting Haytor granite pillars for optimum strength. As fate would have it, the bridge lasted only a hundred years before officials realized it was sinking into the Thames and decided to put it up for sale. It now spans the Bridgewater Channel in Arizona.
Flanked by faux-Egyptian sphinxes, Cleopatra’s Needle sits along the Victoria Embankment of the Thames. One of three ancient Egyptian obelisks now dispersed around the globe, the London version is made of red granite mined from quarries near the Nile. At nearly three times the height of Cleopatra’s Needle, Nelson’s Column reaches a height of almost 170 feet from its pedestal in Trafalgar Square. Built to commemorate Admiral Nelson, the monument boasts a Corinthian column made of Dartmoor granite.
In the southwest corner of London’s Hyde Park, 545 individual pieces of Cornish granite were assembled to create the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. Constructed in 2003, the fountain features a granite oval streambed through which water flows. Another memorial, this one commemorating Prince Albert features internal and external mosaics made of granite. Queen Victoria demanded that a grand memorial be constructed after Albert, her husband, died in 1861, despite recommendations from the government to instead establish a university or scholarship in his honor.
Also drawing huge annual crowds is the ubiquitous Harrods. A granite ceiling overlooks the visitors as they shop through one million square feet of displays. On peak days the store’s five thousand employees will host as many as 300,000 shoppers.