The Millenium Bridge :: A very personal note of London, past, present and future

Jessica Gordon Ryan/ The Entertaining House

Have you ever seen something and just stopped dead in your tracks? This happened to me in London. I can remember the moment almost down to the minute hand on my watch. It was Friday, September 20th - which also happened to be my mother's Birthday - around 2:30 in the afternoon. We had just finished our amazing architectural tour and were headed to the Tate Modern for High Tea. We got off our tour bus at St. Paul's Cathedral and proceeded the 5 or so minute walk across the Thames to the museum. As I set foot onto the bridge, with the majestic city of London all around me on both sides of the water and the museum directly ahead, my eye caught wind of a small sign, which happened to be the name of the particular bridge we were on. At that very moment I was completely overcome with emotion. I was on the Millenium Bridge. THE Millenium Bridge. Suddenly I could feel all the hairs on my body stand on edge and chills run throughout. I stood there a moment... perhaps many... practically paralyzed. Of the 27 bridges in Central London that cross the Thames I certainly had no idea I would ever find myself on this bridge. In fact, when I first learned about it, it hadn't even been built. Our high tea at the Tate Modern was also a last minute change as we were supposed to have high tea elsewhere but plans changed to accommodate timing. So really, I should never have been where I was... when I was. 

Jessica Gordon Ryan/The Entertaining House

Why was I so taken by this bridge? Well, in 1997 my grandmother entered a competition to design the bridge. She was the only non architect to be entered into the competition. Somewhere in a letter to me she told me she won third place. My mother said she got an honourable mention. The latter, even, is even so much more than many accomplished architects had received. The bridge she designed was based upon the fabulous Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy. She thought it to be the most beautiful bridge in the world. Her version had an opened grand dome over the top and was lined with plenty of little shops. (Great for tourism, no?!) Her drawing was magnificent. And of course, I thought it should have won. I am not at all biased. Not at all. 

Jessica Gordon Ryan/The Entertaining House

As you can see, the new bridge is as modern as can be - She's powerful, strong and beautiful in her own way. She stands as a perfect example of how Londoners embrace both new and old. My grandmother, didn't much care for new and shiny.  She had a love and appreciation for all things old - with a history and a story to tell. I'm not sure what she thought of this bridge. She did live to see this bridge completed. It was opened to the public on June 10th, 2000. Sadly, she passed away from Multiple Myeloma not long after.

Jessica Gordon Ryan/The Entertaining House

Jessica Gordon Ryan/The Entertaining House

Jessica Gordon Ryan/The Entertaining House

Below is my grandmother's vision of what she thought The Millenium Bridge should be. Isn't it marvelous? Wouldn't you love to cross over a bridge like that? Perhaps I should write to the Counsel of Bridges in the City of London and tell them that should they need a new bridge in the future, they ought to consider this one?

Property of Jessica Gordon Ryan/ The Entertaining House

My grandmother, with whom I was extremely close, did it all. She was my idol, my mentor. In fact, I was named after her grandmother, Jessie Moseley who came over to the states from London - with whom she was incredibly close. She seemed to have no fears. She accepted and welcomed challenges. She shied away from nothing. She was and remains my inspiration. I am still learning from her. I still have a lot to learn. I take my inspiration from her strength and determination.

She was so much more than a glamourous, socialite. She happened to be a glamourous socialite who sat in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down from Polio which she contracted when she was in her late 20s. She spent 9 months in an iron lung clinging to life. She was a fighter. When she was in her mid 40s she lost her husband, to cancer, they think. Not one to feel sorry for herself she decided to pack up her bags and move on... to Paris, of course! There, she renovated a pied-a-terre, on Ile de la Cite. Her pied a terre was noticed by Maison et Jardin and featured in several of its issues. I have many of the original copies. While living a rich and full life in Paris she met and fell in love with a dashing and handsome American film producer. And while in Paris she built a house in Cannes, in the South of France, that she designed on her own. While commuting back and forth to Cannes from Paris she would stay at the Carlton where she met and befriended American author and playwright Thornton Wilder. (She kept all his letters. I have them all.) When her house was completed she moved in with her new husband, my grandfather. This house too caught the attention of those at Maison et Jardin. I have those copies as well. Together my grandparents lived and entertained royalty, actors, authors and beauty company mavens (Estee Lauder) in their magnificent home. After 13 years there they moved to London where they briefly had a flat in Hyde Park and then settled in and old Manor House that she renovated in Great Haseley, a suburb of Oxfordshire. I think they felt most at home and comfortable here. They had so many wonderful friends in England. This house too was photographed and appeared in ElleDecor, Interiors, Country Life and others. She was described as an interior designer by the press. She loathed the term. She just loved creating beautiful and yet comfortable homes. On her 70th Birthday she bought herself an old villa in a tiny town in the Umbrian hills called Citta della Pieve. (If only we could all treat ourselves so well on our 70th Birthdays!) She restored this home lovingly, taught herself Italian - which, despite her terrible American accent, she spoke fluently. She uncovered frescos, cleared away weeds to build a tennis court and swimming pool. There was a garden that fed us well. All this from a woman of barely 5 feet who sat in a wheelchair for most of her life.

There was so much more that she accomplished as well. She embraced life and she lived it fully and well. In this blog I write about her often and refer to her as La Jolie Grandmere, a name lovingly bestowed to her, among others, by Thornton Wilder. And so, when I feel like I'm at the end of my rope and can't go on, I look to her for inspiration.

If you search La Jolie Grandmere, here on the blog you will find much more about her.

And this is why being on that bridge was so special to me...




My mother reads my blog almost daily and makes corrections when I am wrong:
The following are her corrections:  

Tho B was rooted in the traditional, her ideas definitely were "youthful" & embraced the modern. That bridge she designed is modern in many senses.  (She got honorable mention -- no prize).
As for B's bio:  she was in the hospital for 9 months but, fortunately, not the whole time in an iron lung. She was a widow at age 40. She met Larry in the south of France -- AFTER she met TW.  (She was living in Cannes -- had sold Paris -- by the time she met Larry.)  She bought the Manor house as her 60th b-day present! Yes, my father died of cancer -- there was never any question about it..  He was only 47