I am passionate about painting but I am also a keen amateur photographer. I took the plunge and purchased a ‘grown up’ camera approximately 15 years ago but then realised I had no idea how to use it! I joined an amateur photography group in Essex which was run by a chap called Peter Park who in the years to come became a good friend of mine.
Peter became interested in photography when he was a young boy at school, then in 1980 he joined his local camera club. He enjoys all aspects of photography but his favourite subjects are landscapes and historical buildings. From an early age Peter always had a camera with him, but his hobby became more serious when he traveled the country on behalf of a plastics company, he reminisced, “I needed something to think about other than plastic! I enjoyed developing my own black and white films and prints, I also did a bit of colour but preferred black and white.”
Peter is now retired and lives in Devon with his wife Alison, spending most of his time working on photography projects. He is currently finalising a book of photographs of all bridges across the River Thames. There are over 200 bridges along the Thames which are a mixture of the large (and sometimes ornate) London bridges and smaller wooden bridges. I asked Peter if he had photographed them all and he said “I have photographed most of them apart from 4 or 5, which were at a farm that was so muddy I would have sunk! I may go back so that I can call the project complete. I have a full list including the proposed Garden Bridge which was cancelled.”
I asked Peter what made him want to undertake such a huge project? He enthusiastically declared, “I choose a project to photograph then I use those photos to produce books. Most books are one-off using Blurb and to date I have produced around 30 of them on a mixture of subjects including a book about the castles in Wales. The bridges project appealed to me and has taken many years of travelling along the length of the river… by car, walking, boating, and in a helicopter!” Peter wanted to photograph and research information from the start of the Thames going into the sea.
Whilst Peter was working on the bridges project we flew in a helicopter over the Thames - it was fantastic and an experience I will never forget! We flew from Redhill, Surrey which brought back fond memories for Peter as he was born in the area. I am frightened of heights but my excitement helped me overcome my fear… that was until I sat in the front and realised they had removed the side door! I was asked to wear a safety harness and initially found it hard to look out of the window or let go of the dashboard (white knuckle syndrome!), but when I saw the wondrous view below my fear evaporated. I ended up leaning so far out of the door that my harness ‘string’ was stretched like a long piece of chewing gum!
The Canon 5d mk III was Peter’s camera of choice for the bridges project. He took multiple photos of each bridge from different angles and said, “I picked the best that I felt suited what I was trying to do with the book”. I asked what his favourite bridge is and he said “obviously the big London bridges are very appealing, I guess my favourite would have to be London Bridge, with nearly 2000 years of history attached to it, you can spend days researching it!”
I can tell Peter is passionate about this project, his face lights up when he talks about it! He said, “I did a lot of research into the bridges and a lot of general facts about the river, some of the pubs along the river, the river police, accidents regarding shipping on the river, one little fact, although difficult to prove, is a drop of water at the source passes through 7 bodies before it reaches the sea.”
London Bridge was sold to an American oil tycoon called Robert P McCulloch for $2,460,000 51 years ago. The bridge was dismantled and shipped to Lake Havasu in Arizona where it was reassembled and still stands today. Peter said, “when we sold London Bridge to the Americans we kept the southernmost part of the bridge which includes Nancy’s steps (from the Dickens novel Oliver Twist). I contacted a camera group in Phoenix, USA and a guy took some photos of the bridge in place in America for me”.
Waterloo Bridge was rebuilt in 1942 but was not fully completed until 1945 and is the only Thames bridge to have been damaged by German bombers during WWII. Some stones from the bridge were sent around the Commonwealth with some being used to build a monument in Wellington New Zealand. The monument was built in 1945 and is on Queens Wharf, opposite the Museum of Wellington City & Sea, it includes a bronze likeness of Paddy the Wanderer (a dog who roamed the wharves from 1928 to 1939 and was befriended by seamen, harbour workers and taxi drivers) and a drinking fountain with drinking bowls for dogs. A chap Peter contacted online kindly sent him photographs of the fountain for inclusion in this project.
Peter’s friend Reg Edmondson painted a few pictures of bridges for him, the first being Letchlade bridge. Peter said he “drove to Letchlade, got some photos and drove back, a round trip of 250 miles for just a few working photos”. Reg also painted the old medieval London Bridge and a Frost Fair on the Thames.
Whilst photographing the M4 road bridge Peter fell down a bank and rolled to within a foot of the river’s edge, nearly falling in! He picked himself up, climbed back up the bank and then noticed that his car keys were on the edge of the river bank, he said, “needless to say I moved up-river a bit to take my photos!.”
There is a road in Ashton Keynes with about 20 little bridges over the Thames which leads to houses and Peter has photographed them all, he said “the locals have to walk or drive across the river to get home every day, it doesn’t flood as the flow is controlled further up the river.”
On the southern end of London Bridge is Number 1 London Bridge and Peter thinks this is one of the most important addresses in London! He said, “I would buy the building, knock it down and put a little cottage in its place, I just need to win the Euro Lottery!”.
Peter hopes to publish this book as he believes there would be a lot of interest in this project. I have seen a pdf of the book and enthusiastically agree with him, it is joy to see his glorious photographs and find out the stories behind the bridges that span the length of the working River Thames.