diamond geezer

 Friday, December 13, 2013

CIRCLE: The Victoria Embankment
Construction of the Victoria Embankment was a mammoth achievement, incorporating sewer pipes and a railway beneath a new road within what was previously the Thames. The roadway was added last of all, five metres above the rail tracks, supported by cast iron girders and brick arches. It was finished in 1870, and rushed to completion because Queen Victoria wanted to open it a fortnight earlier than originally scheduled. Alas on the day itself she was indisposed so the Prince of Wales stood in, naming the new structure after his mother, and then the traffic flowed. Nearly 150 years later the Victoria Embankment is still delivering Circle line passengers, drivers and sewage along the former foreshore. Let's complete my three day odyssey by walking from Temple to Blackfriars.

My Embankment gallery
» There are 90 photographs altogether (another 30+ today) [slideshow]
» All about the construction of the Victoria Embankment

Brunel statue: Another statue with massive sideburns, civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel stands atop a scrolling plinth facing Somerset House.
Temple station: This is a dead simple station, just a couple of facing platforms within the body of the Embankment. Everyone loves the pre-Beck tube map outside the entrance, beside the tiny cafe wittily called Temple Bar, and opposite the newsagent stall run by the chirpy kindly lady. Unusually it's possible to walk up onto the station roof, or rather the roof of the Walkabout bar, where there's a large elevated paved space with a few benches and a sort-of view of the river. But maybe not for long...
Garden Bridge: You'll have heard of this, the proposed green bridge across the Thames planted with flowers and shrubs and trees. It'd be a Heatherwick creation, for ambling pedestrians, with two central oases joined by a bikini-like span. But you may not have realised it'll touch down precisely here, on the roof of Temple station. A cascade of steps will flow from the bridge deck to the station roof to Temple Place, which may be closed or part-closed as a response. A lift and a long ramp will provide step free access, but only to street level, and not to the Circle line platforms below. That'll wake up the area somewhat. The plans also propose the opening up of the scrappy garden behind Brunel's statue and the removal of a couple of trees. If further details interest you, TfL are running a consultation which closes on "Wednesday 20 December 2013", a date which doesn't actually exist. Nip over and tell them what you think, and you might be walking through Eden to the South Bank by 2017.
Victoria Embankment Gardens (east): One final segment of these riverside gardens remains to explore, not especially large, but enough for a lawn surrounded by benches and a smattering of statues. Education pioneer William Forster and temperance campaigner Lady Mary Somerset are tucked between the palms, with John Stuart Mill up the far end where the joggers' Fitness Route terminates. Look out for the low brick structure in the undergrowth, surrounding a vent from the era when steam trains ran underneath, and yes you can still hear every Circle line service as it passes.

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

HQS Wellington: Those might sound like unusual letters for a boat, but HQS stands for Head Quarters Ship. The Wellington was a Merchant Navy vessel, a Grimsby Class sloop built in the 1930s to patrol the seas around New Zealand. During WW2 she was conscripted to convoy duty, escorting bigger ships across the Atlantic, and now she's a museum boat anchored off the Victoria Embankment. She belongs to the Honourable Company of Master Mariners to serve as their Livery Hall, and they hold meetings in the converted boiler room. An exhibition about her epic wartime history has been open since May, on Sundays and Mondays only, and ends this weekend. It's well worth a look aboard, but maybe dress up a little.
City Dragons: The Embankment's passing from Westminster to the Square Mile is marked by two heraldic beasts, one on either side of the road. Both were relocated from the Coal Exchange in 1963, and all the others you see around the City are merely half-size copies.

King's Reach: They renamed this section of the river on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935. The name's not used much these days, but a mighty grand arch commemorates the occasion.
National Submarine War Memorial: I bet you didn't know we had one of these. Wreaths are laid on the wall every November, on the Sunday before Remembrance Sunday.
Police Box: It's too small, and too thin, and too light blue to be a Tardis, and there's no phone inside any more, but just spotting it beside the Embankment will make you smile.
Benches: None of your ordinary benches here, these are a bit Egyptian and have cast-iron camels on each end. Back at the start of the Embankment it was cast-iron sphinxes instead, if you noticed.
HMS President: The final water-borne entertainment venue along the Victoria Embankment is a Flower-class anti-submarine Q-Ship. Only three of the Royal Navy's WW1 warships survives, and this is one of them. If you want to host a Standing Reception with Canap├ęs and Bowl Food for 100 guests and have ten thousand pounds to spare, do drop in.

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

Temple Gardens: London's legal district used to run down to the Thames, and now runs down to the Embankment. The only road to make it all the way through is Middle Temple Lane, a narrow cobbled thoroughfare of chambers with massive hourly rates. At the foot of the slope this emerges through an arch into some lavish gardens, fenced and gated to prevent untimely public access. Middle Temple Gardens are smaller, Inner Temple Gardens rather larger, and both are currently being tidied up after tree damage during October's St Jude's Day storm. The trees are magnificent along this stretch, perhaps all the better in the winter as a long line of leafless branches.
Bus Stop Q: No daytime buses serve the Embankment, only the N550 nightbus (and a heck of a lot of commuter coaches).
City of London School: The Victoria Embankment draws to a close beside this ornate ex-education establishment, now home to American bankers JP Morgan, who reputedly maintain London's largest gold reserve in a vault in the basement. The iron lamp standards outside the front door were made by the Coalbrookdale Company, who used to have their HQ nextdoor, on the site of what is now Unilever House. Glorious.

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

Blackfriars Millennium Pier: More functional than gorgeous, this, and with a less than brilliant river service (only one boat an hour off peak, and none at all at weekends). Having said that, the upper pier provides the best view (at low tide) of the Fleet Sewer's exit into the Thames beneath Blackfriars Bridge. Both the River Fleet and the Victoria Embankment terminate here.
Blackfriars Underpass: An obvious sign that the Circle line no longer follows the riverbank is the sight of road traffic dipping down into a dual carriageway tunnel. Instead the underground curves inland just before Unilever House to reach Blackfriars station (whose platforms aren't on the banks of the Thames) and then to follow Queen Victoria Street. No pedestrians are allowed through the underpass, they're shunted onto a much narrower path, and riverside walking becomes a little more intermittent further on. But for the last mile and a half the Victoria Embankment has been accessible, attractive, historic and deeply fascinating. Next time you're riding the Circle line through Bazalgette's cofferdam, why not get out and walk the Embankment instead for a much better view?

» Day 1: Westminster → Embankment  [photos]
» Day 2: Embankment → Temple  [photos]
» Day 3: Temple → Blackfriars  [photos]

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