By Mark McConville
INCREDIBLE images have been released to commemorate the 84th anniversary of the opening of the forgotten beach that once lay right in the middle of London – along the banks of the River Thames.
The stunning shots show the famous Windmill Theatre running along the beach during a brief break between shows, women relaxing on deck chairs as their children play in the sand and people paddling in the river.
Other remarkable pictures show the Tower Bridge in the background, the beach packed to capacity and the Governor of the Tower, Colonel E.H. Carkeet-James at the opening ceremony in 1946 after the war finished.
The black and white photographs showcase a forgotten time in history when London had its very own beach.
In 1934 the Tower Hill Improvement Trust in decided to create a beach on the banks of the Thames close to Tower Bridge in London. Realising that a trip to the seaside was financially out of reach for most east end children they located a stretch of shingly, muddy foreshore, uncovered at low tide and brought in 1,500 tons of sand in barges to cover it.
The beach was officially opened on 23 July 1934 by the Lieutenant of the Tower of London. King George V decreed that the beach was to be used by the children of London and that they should be given “free access forever”.
The King’s blessing was necessary as a proclamation by King Edward III forbade swimming here “on pain of death”. It was just like a proper beach with deckchairs for hire, ice cream carts, sandcastle building and the chance to paddle.
A newspaper reported “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.” It was estimated that between 1934 and 1939 over half a million people used the beach.
In 1939 with the start of WWII and the evacuation of many of London’s children the beach closed. It reopened again in 1946. It remained popular until 1971 when it was closed due to concerns over pollution.
Ironically pollution levels were probably falling by this time, in 1937 Hansard reported that “335,000,000 gallons of only partly treated sewage is ejected into the river every day”. Sewage treatment and the decline in commercial river traffic reduced pollution levels.