We’ve already mentioned these two riverside embankments as part of our previous piece on Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s revolutionary sewer system. But so important are they to the shape of central London today – not to mention a great place to take a stroll – that we thought they’re also worth a mention in their own right.
As mentioned, the Victoria and Albert Embankments (the latter is pictured right) – named, of course, for Queen Victoria and her by then late consort, Prince Albert, who had died in 1861 (see our previous post What’s in a name?…Victoria Embankment) – were located on opposite sides of the River Thames and involved reclaiming a considerable amount of the river so new sewers could be laid.
Construction of Victoria Embankment – which was also seen as a way to relieve traffic congestion in the central London area – started in the mid 1860s and was complete by 1870. Running along the north and western banks of the Thames between Westminster and Blackfriars bridges, its creation involved the demolition of many riverside buildings as a new walk and roadway were constructed behind a wall.
Numerous monuments have since been located along this promenade – they include the Battle of Britain Monument, RAF Memorial and the mis-named Cleopatra’s Needle (see our earlier post to find out why) – as well as a number of permanently berthed ships including the HQS Wellington – the base of the Honorable Company of Master Mariners – and the HMS President.
The walkway also features original decorative lamps – interestingly, Victoria Embankment was the first roadway in London to be permanently lit by electric-powered lighting (from 1878).
The parks, collectively known as Victoria Embankment Gardens, contain numerous statues and monuments (including one to Bazalgette himself – it’s located close to the intersection with Northumberland Avenue) as well as a bandstand. They also contain the remains of York Watergate – once fronting on to the river, it shows how much land was reclaimed for the project (you can also visit the riverside entrance to Somerset House to gain a feel for where the river once was – look through the glass floor and you’ll see the old riverbank below).
Albert Embankment, meanwhile, runs between Vauxhall and Westminster Bridges on the eastern side of the river. Constructed around the same time as Victoria Embankment, it was designed to prevent flooding of the low-lying areas of Vauxhall and Kennington and to help in Bazalgette’s sewage system plan (although it apparently doesn’t have the same large sewers as can be found on the other side of the river).
Sadly, the demolition did see the centre of what was once the village of Lambeth removed to make way for the new promenade and roadway. But like Victoria Embankment, Albert Embankment features delightfully decorative lamps along the riverfront promenade and is a great place for a walk in any weather.
While England and Australia played their first test match as far back as 1877 (at the Melbourne Cricket Ground), the origins of The Ashes go back to a game played at The Oval (now officially known as The KIA Oval) in Kennington in 1882.
Playing their only test of that tour, the Australians only made 63 runs in their first innings, giving England a 38 run lead with a total of 101. Australia followed this up with 122 leaving England just 85 runs to win. They were stopped just eight runs short of victory.
The English team were berated in the press for the loss and on 2nd September that year, a mock obituary for English cricket appeared in The Sporting Times stating that, having died at The Oval on 29th August, 1882, it will be “deeply lamented”. There was a note at the bottom of the obituary (picture right) which said that the body would be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. And so the name, the Ashes, was born.
English captain Ivo Bligh subsequently promised that he would regain the ashes during the 1882-83 English cricket team’s tour of Australia while the Australian captain WL Murdoch vowed to defend them. It was during a social match played at Rupertswood Estate outside the city of Melbourne that Bligh was presented with the tiny terracotta ashes urn (today on display at the MCC Museum at Lord’s – see our earlier post for more).
The history of The Oval goes back to the mid-1840s when, following the establishment of the Surrey Cricket Club, it was granted a lease for the land from the Duchy of Cornwall (who still own it). The Ashes aside, memorable moments there have included the playing of the first match in the Australian Aboriginal team’s tour of England in 1868 (the first tour of England by a foreign side) and the first England v Australia test match to be played in England (1880). The Oval was also the location for the first international football match, played between England and Scotland in 1870, and the first FA Cup Final, played here in 1872.
Interestingly, The Oval also held a particular attraction for the US billionaire philanthropist, J Paul Getty II, who built a replica of the ground at his estate at Wormsley Lodge in England’s south.
The history of Lord’s, London’s most famous cricket ground, meanwhile, goes back somewhat further. The current ground is the third to bear the name of Lord’s – the first was created on what is now Dorset Square in Marylebone at the behest of entrepreneur Thomas Lord (from whom it derives its name) and the first match staged there in 1787, the date on which the Marylebone Cricket Club was formed. Between 1811 and 1813, the ground was relocated to Marylebone Bank in Regent’s Park before moving to its current home in St John’s Wood (then the site of a duck pond).
Both grounds continue to host a range of cricketing and other events, such as the current Olympic archery competition being held at Lord’s.
WHERE: The Oval, Kennington Oval, Kennington (nearest Tube stations are Oval, Vauxhall and Kennington); WHEN: 90 minute tours of the ground are available (check website for booking details); COST: Tours cost £10 an adult/£5 under 16s/£25 a family ticket; WEBSITE: www.kiaoval.com.
WHERE: Lord’s Cricket Ground, St John’s Wood Road, St John’s Wood (nearest Tube Stations are Warwick Avenue, St John’s Wood, Marylebone and Maida Vale); WHEN: 100 minute tours of the ground (which include a visit to the MCC Museum) are available daily (check website for times – note that there are no tours during the Olympics, these resume on 21st August); COST: Tours cost £15 an adult/£9 concessions/£40 a family ticket; WEBSITE: www.lords.org.