Hidden Gherkin: Skyscraper To Vanish From Thames Views

By M@ Last edited 28 months ago

Last Updated 21 January 2022

Hidden Gherkin: Skyscraper To Vanish From Thames Views
Lots of skyscrapers and buildings, with a cartoonified Gherkin building climbing out

The Gherkin has been erased from London's skyline.

We've commented before on how this distinctive landmark has been crowded out by its taller successors. But we didn't realise just how marginalised it had become until we took a walk along the riverside.

The domed apex of the Gherkin can only be fully glimpsed at TWO very narrow locations along the river between Waterloo and Tower Bridges. And soon both of those views could be gone as well.

If that happens, the Gherkin will no longer be visible from anywhere along the river, west of Tower Bridge. Quite the downfall for a tower that once dominated the skyline.

Had you stood under Blackfriars rail bridge 10 years ago, the Gherkin would have been very prominent. The sloped Leadenhall Building (Cheesegrater) now blocks it from this angle.

Hunt the Gherkin: From Waterloo to Tower

The view from Waterloo Bridge is often cited as one of the best in London. On a bend in the river, it's the only place you can get a good eyeful of both Westminster and the City at the same time.

Looking towards the City from Waterloo Bridge in 2020. The Gherkin was prominent in this view until the Leadenhall Building (Cheesegrater) was completed in 2013, but was still visible until the even taller 22 Bishopsgate appeared a few years later.

The City view has changed radically in the past decade. The Heron, Cheesegrater and the enormous 22 Bishopsgate now form a solid wall of 'scrapers around the west side of the Gherkin, and the under-construction 8 Bishopsgate has now sealed off any potential peep gap.

Our tower is utterly invisible from the bridge. In fact, it's so well shielded that it cannot be seen from anywhere along the South Bank proper. Look at the chain of "No" labels in the graphic below. Each was once a place from which you could see the Gherkin.

Places from which the Gherkin can be seen. "Bit" means we can see one edge of the building, but not the full dome-top. The "Sort-of-almost" view is close, but also a bit rubbish (see photo below). Map adapted from OpenStreetMap, (c) OpenStreetMap Contributors

We need to head east as far as Bankside to get a first glimpse. The edge of the Gherkin finally comes into view as we pass under the Millennium Bridge. Walk still further, under Southwark Bridge, close to the Anchor pub to access a view of the full cupola, just peeking out over foreground mid-rises.

Two brick towers of Cannon Street station are in the foreground, with a rail bridge beside. Towers rise in the background, one of which (rejoice!) is the Gherkin
This, believe it or not, is the best view of the Gherkin anywhere between Waterloo and Cannon Street Bridge. It will disappear under current building plans.

The best view, and the only one on this stretch to show a good portion of the tower, comes from the bit of land alongside the Golden Hinde. Sadly, the area was roped off on our visit, so we couldn't properly enjoy (or photograph) the almost unique sight of the Gherkin from south of the river. Walk a few paces east to the viewing area in front of Southwark Cathedral, and the Gherkin has retreated once again.

After London Bridge, the Gherkin remains hidden — this time by the recently built Scalpel building, which is 10 metres taller. It gradually re-emerges as we walk past Hay's Galleria, and we can do this direct comparison with a shot we took in 2009. You may just be able to spot the Gherkin in the modern photo.

A comparison of the London skyline in 2009 and 2022. Needless to say, the later one is more crowded. The Thames and boats are in the foreground
Lurkin' gherkin

We get one final full-on glimpse of our quarry a hundred metres on. Here's the fellow (below), peeking out between the Scalpel and the under-construction 40 Leadenhall. The fact that this newcomer is nicknamed Gotham City hints at its bulky future profile, which will further mask the Gherkin from the south. Curiously, this photo was taken from alongside HMS Belfast; the two surviving views of the Gherkin's dome are both next to ships.

A view looking between funnels of a ship (HMS Belfast). In the background are an assortment of towers, one of which is the Gherkin

After this, the walk to Tower Bridge does include partial views of the Gherkin, but the work on 40 Leadenhall is inexorably closing up the sight lines. Soon, the Golden Hinde will be the only place along this bank where you can properly see the tower's top.

Soon to vanish completely?

It's easy to forget just how prominent the Gherkin once was on the skyline. At 180 metres, the thrusting pickle, designed by Norman Foster's practice, was the City of London's second tallest building, and just a floor shorter than Tower 42 (former NatWest Tower). This view from 2005 shows how its profile once dominated the skyline.

The London city skyline back in 2005, with just Tower 42 and the Gherkin rising high. The Thames is in the foreground. A bare tree betokens a winter scene

Londoners quickly took the tower to their hearts. Here was something a bit different, curvy, graceful, dildonic. It became an icon of the city and you can still see it in the Londonist logo up top. Now, it's all but vanished from the river, and the completion of 40 Leadenhall and planned construction of the massive 1 Undershaft would block off the limited views that still remain.

This shot, taken from St Paul's, is looking directly towards the Gherkin, but can you see it? 10 years ago, you couldn't have missed it.

All is not quite lost. The Gherkin can still be glimpsed — just about — from the peaks of Primrose and Parliament Hills. Whitechapel Road points directly towards the tower, and the Gherkin's full profile is still dominant from that approach (if marred by the taller Leadenhall Building behind). For now, at least, it still stands proud when viewed from Tower Bridge or parts of the Bermondsey river front.

But the dear old Gherkin is now a stranger to the rest of the central Thames, and all who walk along its banks. Once an icon of London, the Gherkin is now little more than a humbled pickle, sandwiched between whoppers.