There’s no prizes for guessing that this Westminster road, which runs from Greycoat Place to Millbank and Lambeth Bridge, in pre-bridge days led down to a horse ferry across the Thames.

The ferry was, in fact, the only licensed horse ferry along the river and did quite a trade in conveying horses and their riders as well as carriages across the river. Mentions of the ferry date back to medieval times but it’s suggested there may have been a ford here back as far as the Roman era.

The income from the ferry went to the Archbishop of Canterbury (his official London residence lay across the river at Lambeth). So lucrative were the ferry rights that when Westminster Bridge was built in the mid 18th-century, the archbishop was paid £3,000 in compensation.

There are a number of famous figures associated with the ferry – Princess Augusta, later the mother of King George III, reportedly used it on the way to her wedding in 1736, and almost 50 years before that, the ferry pier is said to have been the starting point for King James II’s flight from England in 1689.

There are also a couple of high profile disasters associated with the horse ferry – Archbishop Laud’s belongings apparently sank to the bottom when the ferry overturned in 1633 and  Oliver Cromwell’s coach was apparently lost during a similar incident in 1656 – both events were apparently seen as bad omens (not to mention expensive).

Horseferry Road, meanwhile, is these days home to government buildings including Horseferry House and the City of Westminster Magistrate’s Court, as well as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and, since the mid 1990s, Channel 4’s HQ.

Horseferry Road was also the location of the Australian Imperial Force’s administrative HQ during World War I and it was in this thoroughfare that Phyllis Pearsall was living when she conceived the London A to Z.

PICTURE: Top – Lambeth Bridge, site of the horse ferry which gives Horseferry Road its name/Right – Horseferry Road (Tagishsimon, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

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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.

A-Ship's-OperaThe Mayor’s Thames Festival kicks off tomorrow and runs for 10 days until 15th September. This year’s highlight’s include the day long A Ship’s Opera which culminates in a sound and light “spectacular” at Tower Bridge, large-scale artworks placed on boards along the river, an exhibition of more than 50 artworks inspired by the Diamond Jubilee Pageant along the Thames, a film celebrating the people who live and work on the river which will be shown for free on an outdoor screen, riverside choral performances, boat races – including the world’s slowest river race and the longest race on the Thames – and the Source to Sea River Relay in which a bottle of Thames water, filled at the Thames’ source, will be relayed by walkers, swimmers, rower and sailors for the entire length of the river. Most activities will be focused on the stretch of river between Lambeth Bridge and St Katharine Docks. For a full program of all events, check out www.thamesfestival.org.

Last year’s Olympics and Paralympics will be celebrated again in events taking place this weekend. On Saturday – a year since the Paralympic Games closed – disabled athletes and performers will descend on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for a day of celebration to mark National Paralympic Day. Part of the Mayor’s Liberty Festival, an annual showcase of deaf and disabled artists, highlights will include an aerial and sway performance – ‘The Limbless Knight’ – and the ‘Miracoco Luminarium’, an interactive light sculpture. The free day runs from noon to 8pm. For more information, see queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk/events/2013/6/disability-sport (note that registration is required to watch paralympians in action in the newly reopened venue, the Copper Box). Meanwhile on Sunday, Hampstead Heath will host the annual Give it a Go! Olympic legacy festival. Kids will have the chance to take part in everything from penalty shootouts and street dance, boxing and fancy dress and circus workshops as well as martial arts and rugby sessions, and free tennis lessons. The day runs from 1pm to 5.45pm. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/hampsteadheath.

• Victorian revivalism is under examination in a new exhibition at the City of London’s Guildhall Art Gallery. The multi-media, multi-sensory show Victoriana: The Art of Revival explores the work of contemporary artists inspired by the 19th century – including Yinka Shonibare, Grayson Perry and Paula Rego – and features graphic design, film, photography, ceramics, taxidermy, furniture, textiles and fine art. More than 70 works are included – among them is a piece created specially for the show, Paul St George’s ‘Geistlich Tube’ – and they’re grouped under four themes – the Neo-Victorian Identity, Time Travel, The Cute and the Curious, and The Reimagined Parlour. The exhibition opens on Saturday and runs until 8th December. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/victoriana.