Cavell

It’s International Women’s Day, so we’re celebrating by remembering two heroic women immortalised in statues in central London. Above is Edith Cavell, a British nurse who was trapped in Brussels by advancing German armies in 1914 and then subsequently arrested for aiding French and British soldiers to escape before being executed by firing squad on 12th October, 1915 – an event widely condemned around the world. The marble statue, located in St Martin’s Place at the intersection of Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane, is by George Frampton and was erected in 1920. Below, meanwhile, is a bust of Violette Szabo which tops a memorial to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Szabo, who was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre after she was captured and eventually executed by the German Army in early 1945, was among 117 SOE agents who did not return from their missions to France. Located on Albert Embankment, the statue – which is the work of Karen Newman – was unveiled in 2009.
Szabo

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LambethThe origins of the Thames-side district Lambeth’s name are not as obscure as it might at first seem.

First recorded in the 11th century, the second part of the name – which apparently is related to/a derivative of the word ‘hithe’ or ‘hythe’ – means a riverside landing place while the first part of the name is exactly what it seems – ‘lamb’. Hence, Lambeth was a riverside landing or shipping place for lambs and cattle.

There has apparently been a suggestion in the past that the word ‘lamb’ actually derived from an Old English word meaning muddy place, hence the meaning was ‘muddy landing place’. That theory, however, is now generally discounted.

Lambeth these days is still somewhat in the shadow of the much more famous Westminster river bank opposite but among its attractions is the Imperial War Museum (located in the former Bethlem Hospital, see our earlier post here), Lambeth Palace (pictured above) – London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and, of course, the promenade of Albert Embankment (sitting opposite Victoria Embankment).

The headquarters of MI6 is also located here in a 1994 building designed by Terry Farrell (among its claims to fame is its appearance in the opening scenes of the James Bond film, The World Is Not Enough).

Lambeth – the name is also that of the borough in which the district is located – was formerly home to the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens which closed in the mid 19th century (see our earlier post here).

SOE-bigTucked away on Albert Embankment just to the north of Lambeth Bridge, this moving memorial was only unveiled in 2009 and formally honours the under-cover agents who worked for the Allies behind enemy lines during World War II.

The plinth is topped with a larger-than-life bust of Londoner Violette Szabo, sculpted by London artist Karen Newman. Szabo, who here gazes out across the Thames, was tortured and executed after being captured by the Germans while on a mission behind enemy lines following the D-Day landings.

SOEThe daughter of a French mother and English father, Szabo grew up in South London and, when World War II broke out in 1939, volunteered to work as an undercover operative in France as member of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

She had successfully completed one mission and had returned to France for a second when she was discovered and sent to a prison camp where she was unsuccessfully tortured for information.

Posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre, a plaque on the memorial says she was among the 117 SOE agents who did not survive their missions to France. As many as 407 SOE agents were sent on “sabotage missions” to occupied France to fight with the French resistance.

Surprisingly, this SOE Memorial was apparently the first public memorial to honour the work of the unit. Formed on the orders of PM Sir Winston Churchill, it consisted of agents from various countries who were devoted to the Allied cause. Its feats included a raid which destroyed a factory in the Telemark region of Norway where the Germans were trying to produce heavy water which is used in the creation of atomic bombs – an operation which receives a special mention on the memorial.

The memorial was officially unveiled by the Duke of Wellington on 4th October, 2009. One of the plaques on it states that the monument “is in honour of all the courageous S.O.E. Agents: those who did survive and those who did not survive their perilous missions”. “Their services were beyond the call of duty. In the pages of history their names are carved with pride.” Enough said.

For more on the history of women serving in the SOE, see Squadron Leader Beryl E Escott’s book The Heroines of SOE: F Section: Britain’s Secret Women in France.

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.

Albert-EmbankmentAs 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.