Lost London – York Watergate

January 28, 2011

There’s several places along Victoria Embankment where it’s possible to see where the River Thames bank stood before the massive mid-19th century project to reclaim land. Not the least of them is located in the downstairs foyer to Somerset House, where looking through the glass floor, you can see the pebbles of the original riverbank.

Another is York Watergate, once the river entrance to the Duke of Buckingham’s London mansion, and now stranded some distance from the water in Victoria Embankment Gardens.

The mansion, known as York House, was originally located on the southside of the Strand. Originally built in the 13th century, it was later acquired by King Henry VIII and granted to the Archbishop of York, Nicholas Heath, in 1556 (hence its name). The house became the home of George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham and somewhat sycophantic favorite of King James I, in the early 1620s.

When the duke was stabbed to death in 1628, the property passed to his son, the second Duke of Buckingham (also George), who later sold it to a land developer. It was apparently as a condition of the sale that the streets there now include the duke’s full name – hence George Court, Villiers Street, Duke Street, the slightly ludicrous Of Alley, and Buckingham Street.

The impressive Italianate watergate, which stands below the junction of Buckingham Street and Watergate Walk just a short walk into the gardens from Embankment tube station, was designed by the irrepressible Inigo Jones and built in 1626. Though weathered, it still bears the coat of arms of the Duke of Buckingham on the front.

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