diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 12, 2013

CIRCLE: The Victoria Embankment
As traffic rattles along the Victoria Embankment, so the Circle line rumbles underneath. This artificial wedge of land was opened in 1870, reclaimed from the Thames, and curves through ninety degrees from Westminster to Blackfriars. Previously the closest street to the river had been the Strand (there's a clue in the name), now suddenly North London was fifty metres wider. That so much of the Embankment remains green space is thanks to newsagent magnate WH Smith. He fought a sterling battle in the Houses of Parliament to maintain public access to what had been the foreshore, defeating the Prime Minister's plan to build acres of offices instead. Hurrah for his stubborn diligence. And today my journey reaches the central section of this Victorian masterpiece, between Embankment and Temple stations.


Golden Jubilee Bridges: Barely ten years old, these twin walkways have revolutionised pedestrian access to South Bank. Mind the buskers and pause midway for a contented stare along the sweeping curl of the Embankment.
Embankment station: The renaming of this station, and adjacent stations, is probably the most over-referenced fact on this blog, so I'll not delve into the story again. Above ground the architecture has classical pretensions, although this illusion is ruined somewhat if you look down at the building's drab roof from the footbridge. In case you've not heard, Bakerloo and Northern line trains won't be stopping here for most of 2014, starting on January 8th, so that four ancient escalators can be refurbished. Thankfully Charing Cross station is barely any distance away, and a swift walk down Villiers Street should sort it.

Victoria Embankment Gardens (west): This splendid recreational haven dates back to 1874, and tucks into the former riverbank at the embankment's widest point. The gardens are also firmly fenced, and a proper municipal parkkeeper-type goes round at dusk jangling keys and shooing everyone out. At the west end is a large bandstand, still used in the summer, beside a lush lawn usually overplanted with flowers. I would show you photos but the area's currently covered by a temporary hospitality village delivering corporate Christmas parties and the like, which won't be clearing off until next week. At more normal times go stand by the cafe, near a suspicious looking grating, and you can easily hear trains passing beneath into Embankment station.
York River Gate: A wonderful relic of Stuart London, this Italianate stone gateway was once the Thames-side exit from the London home of the Archbishop of York. That's long gone, as have all the grand homes along this section of the riverbank, but the gate was deliberately retained as a reminder of the great transformation wrought by the Embankment. If you're ever showing visitors round town bring them here, and point out how the Thames now runs 150 yards away, and watch them gasp.

Victoria Embankment Gardens (central): As the gardens narrow to the east, so a central footpath bends through past a motley collection of memorials. A Coronation Oak, a statue of Robert Burns, a pond presented by a council leader called Alfred, a nod to the 7/7 Book of Remembrance, the bust of a blind Liberal statesman, that sort of thing. It's almost like whenever Westminster Council needs to commemorate something they bung it here. One large circular pool (dotted with sculpted storks) sits in front of a particularly massive memorial to Major General Lord Cheylesmore of the Grenadier Guards. Only if you exit the gardens does the Belgian War Memorial on the opposite side become apparent, and the scale makes sense.
Adelphi: Once the site of a grand palace overlooking the Thames, London's first neo-classical building was erected here in the late 18th century. They knocked that down in the 1930s, the philistines, and built a splendid white Art Deco block in its place, so that's maybe good. And good luck trying to follow the maze of stairwells and hidden roadways underneath.
Shell Mex House: Another 30s office monster, this replacing the Hotel Cecil, and with London's largest clockface beaming down from on high. Situated bang on a bend in the river, the views from the 10th floor balcony are exceptional.
Carting Lane: At the foot of this steep hill, formerly the riverbank, is the answer to a classic pub quiz question. Where is London's last remaining functional gas lamp? It's here, once powered by sewer gas, now a little more natural.
The Savoy: You're probably more used to viewing this ├╝ber-premier hotel from the front, on Savoy Court (that other classic pub quiz answer, the only street in London where traffic drives on the right). But many a top-level guest arrives here, beneath the glass canopy round the back (and the occasional member of staff nips out for a fag too, when the footman isn't looking).
Savoy Street: Along with parallel Savoy Hill, this road is another convincing slice of evidence that the Thames once flowed here, at the foot of the slope.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the road...

Cleopatra's Needle: We have one, New York has one and Paris has one. They're genuine obelisks, floated by sea from Egypt, but none of them actually date from the time of Cleopatra. The hieroglyphics carved in the granite are from Ramesses II and are well over 3000 years old. Buried beneath London's needle is a time capsule from 1878, containing (amongst other things) a box of hairpins, a rupee, a portrait of Queen Victoria, a Bradshaw's Railway Guide and copies of 10 daily newspapers. Due to a Victorian oversight the two bronze sphinxes on either side are looking the wrong way, facing inwards rather than guarding the monument. Neither are originals, merely window dressing. Beneath each sphinx is a set of steep slippery steps leading into the Thames, or down to a muddy beach if it's low tide. When the Embankment was built it was envisaged that this would be an embarkation point for riverboat traffic, but passenger usage never really took off.
Queen Mary: You're too late, she's sailed, to make way for this...
Savoy Pier: Luxury pontoon with midriver events venue and departure point for private yacht charters, opens 2014. You won't be going.
Waterloo Bridge: The second bridge on this site, opened during World War 2 and (it's said) constructed mainly by women. It was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott (see also Battersea Power Station) and features cantilevered concrete beams creating mock arches across the river. Watch out for the huge red doors underneath the bridge which used to be the exit for trams departing the Kingsway Tram Subway. The twin staircases up from Embankment level often have an unfortunate air of urine about them, but the view from the bridge is about as good as London gets.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the road...

Somerset House: It's one of the 18th century's greatest neoclassical buildings, originally home to the Admiralty, later the Royal Academy, and now lots of arty fountainy icerink stuff. But take a fresh look at Somerset House the next time you pass along the Embankment. That run of stone arches along the pavement used to dip into the Thames, which lapped alongside. Meanwhile the low central archway - today's Embankment entrance - was flooded with water to allow barges to drop off passengers beneath the terrace. While most of the other grand buildings along the waterfront were demolished to make way for the Victoria Embankment, how fortunate we are that Sir Joseph Bazalgette spared Somerset House.



(and we'll stop there for today, just before we arrive at Temple station)


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream