Guardian

Marking the boundary of the City of London on Victoria Embankment is this large statue of a dragon holding a shield bearing the City’s coat-of-arms. One of a pair, these two statues were originally mounted above the entrance to the Coal Exchange in Lower Thames Street and were moved here in 1963 following the building’s demolition. They’re just two of numerous dragons which guard the City’s outer edges.

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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).

Last Saturday saw the running of the Lord Mayor’s Show in London – the 799th year the event has been held. So we thought it was a good time to take a look at the office perhaps most famously associated with the annual running of the show (with the exception of the new Lord Mayor, of course) – the Pageantmaster.

The office dates back to at least the mid 16th century – some sources record Richard Baker of the Painter-Stainers Company as being the first to be given the role in 1566. It involves organising the annual grand three-and-a-half mile long procession of the new Lord Mayor (in this case Alan Yarrow) from Mansion House via St Paul’s Cathedral to the Royal Courts of Justice at Temple Bar (and then back again along Victoria Embankment).

The current Pageantmaster, Dominic Reid, took on the role in 1992 following the death of his father John who had carried out the role for the 20 years previously. Pageantmaster Court in the city was named for the role in the early 1990s (it had formerly been known as Ludgate Court). Mr Reid, an architect and soldier, is now the longest serving Pageantmaster in history – his father had held that title before him and before that the record had apparently been held by one Thomas Jourdan who managed 14 shows between 1671-85.

Mr Reid, who like his father before him has been awarded an OBE for his work on the Show, said at a Gresham College lecture in 2011 that as Pageantmaster, he is “responsible for all aspects of the design, organisation and production of the Lord Mayor’s Show. In this role I am the agent of the Senior Alderman below the Chair, and I am employed as a consultant to Lord Mayor’s Show Ltd the not for profit company limited by guarantee that puts on the show.”

The role is now so big – involving more than 7,000 participants, 20 bands, 150 horses and hundreds of vehicles – that it now reportedly takes the Pageantmaster a good nine months to organise all the details.

The Pageantmaster himself takes part each year in the procession and while he has apparently previously ridden a horse, he can now be seen standing on the back of a ceremonial City of London vehicle.

For more of the history of the Lord Mayor’s Show, see our previous entries on Gog and Magog and the State Coach or the official website www.lordmayorsshow.london.

RAF-Memorial
Aerial combat probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the fighting in World War I but, as the Royal Air Force Memorial on Victoria Embankment records, air crew played a vital role.

The memorial features a bronze eagle perched on an orb girded with a belt depicting the signs of the zodiac which sits atop a Portland stone pylon. It was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield with the eagle, inspired by the RAF’s badge, sculpted by William Reid Dick. Along with the dedication, it carries an inscription from the Bible (Exodus 19:4) –  “I bare you on eagles wings and brought you unto myself” (sic).

Various other sites were apparently considered for the memorial before the location – amid a string of other memorials between Westminster and Hungerford Bridge – was settled upon (as were other designers including the renowned Edwin Lutyens).

Unveiled on 13th July, 1923, by the Prince of Wales, the memorial was dedicated to the memory of all those who gave their lives in the ranks of the Royal Flying Corps, the Royal Naval Air Service  and the Royal Air Force  (formed through the amalgamation of the RFC and RNAS at a hotel in Strand in 1918) during World War I, along with those who had died while serving in air forces from across the British Empire.

A further dedication was later unveiled in 1946 on Battle of Britain Sunday remembering the men and women of air forces from across the Commonwealth and Empire who died during World War II.

A simple, yet still evocative, memorial.

Camel-Corps2

A reminder that it’s not just humans involved in war, the small but distinctive Imperial Camel Corps monument commemorates the role dromedaries played in the Middle East during World War I.

Camel-CorpsRaised in December, 1916, the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade fought in the Sinai and Palestine during the war and its four battalions were eventually comprised of British, Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops. It was disbanded at the end of the war.

The Grade II-listed monument, located in Victoria Embankment Gardens, was designed by Scottish sculptor Cecil Brown, himself a World War I veteran, and features a bronze soldier mounted on a camel set on a Portland stone pedestal.

It was unveiled on 22nd July, 1921, and, on bronze plaques on the side of the plinth can be found the names of those soldiers who died in battle as well as a list of all the battles and engagements fought by the corps.

For more on the history of the corps, see the Australian War Memorial’s page.

Shakespeare

This week (and next week) as part of our look at Shakespeare’s London, we’re taking a look at a few of the many memorials to William Shakespeare located around London…

• Westminster Abbey: Perhaps the most famous of London’s memorials to Shakespeare can be found in Poet’s Corner, an area of the abbey which has become noted as a burial place and memorial site for writers, playwrights and poets. Designed by William Kent, the memorial statue of Shakespeare was placed here in January, 1741 (there had apparently been some earlier talk of bringing his bones from Stratford-upon-Avon but that idea was squashed). The life-size statue in white marble, sculpted by Peter Scheemakers, was erected by Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, Dr Richard Mead, Alexander Pope and Tom Martin. The memorial also features the heads of Queen Elizabeth I, King Henry V and King Richard III on the base of a pedestal and shows Shakespeare pointing to a scroll on which are painted a variation of lines taken from The Tempest. A Latin inscription records the date the memorial was created and an English translation of this was added in 1977. For more on the abbey, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

• Guildhall Art Gallery (pictured above): Facing into Guildhall Yard from niches under the loggia of the Guildhall Art Gallery are four larger-than-life busts of historical figures connected with the City of London. As well as one of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, architect Christopher Wren, and diarist Samuel Pepys (along with a full-length statue of Dick Whittington and his famous cat) is a bust depicting Shakespeare. Carved out of Portland stone by sculptor Tim Crawley, the busts were installed in 1999. Much attention was apparently paid to creating a bust which resembled pictures of Shakespeare. Follow this link for more on the gallery.

Former City of London School: This Thames-side building, dating from the 1880s, features a full length statue of Shakespeare who gazes out over the river. He’s not alone – poet John Milton, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Thomas More and Sir Francis Bacon stand nearby, selected, apparently, to represent various disciplines taught at the school. The statues were the work of John Daymond who depicted Shakespeare flanked by representations of classics and poetry and drawing and music. The school vacated the building on Victoria Embankment  in the 1980s and it’s now occupied by JP Morgan.

We’ll be looking at some more works depicting Shakespeare next week…

The honour of being London’s oldest winebar goes to Gordon’s Wine Bar at 47 Villiers Street in the West End (just up from Embankment Tube Station or down from Charing Cross Station, whichever you prefer).

Gordon's-Wine-BarThe venerable establishment – still a favoured place to stop for a drink for many Londoners – opened its doors in the 1890s and still conveys a powerful sense of old world charm with the decor pretty much unchanged (there’s been no fancy makeover here) and the wine still served from wooden casks behind the bar.

The site on which the bar is located was once occupied by York House (home to, among others during its centuries of life, Robert Devereaux – 2nd Earl of Essex and favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Bacon – Lord Chancellor during the reign of King James I) and then, later on, by a large house lived in by diarist Samuel Pepys in the late 1600s before, thanks to its position close to the river, a building was built upon it in the 1790s which served as a warehouse.

The usefulness of the warehouse came to an end when Victoria Embankment was built and the river pushed back and the building was subsequently used for accommodation. Writer Rudyard Kipling was among tenants who lived here (from 1889-1891 during which wrote The Light that Failed – in fact, the building was renamed after him, Kipling House, in 1950.

It was Angus Gordon, a “free vintner” meaning he didn’t have to apply for a licence thanks to the largesse of King Edward III in 1364, who established the premises in the vaults here in the 1890s (interestingly the current owners are also Gordons, but not related). Among the other uses of the building, of which Gordon’s only occupies a part, was apparently as a brothel in the 1920s.

For more on Gordon’s head to www.gordonswinebar.com.

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.

Precipitated at last by the so-called ‘Great Stink’ of 1858, Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s subterranean sewer system was a remarkable feat of engineering and made radical new inroads in improving the health on Londoners during the Victorian age.

Joseph-BazalgetteThe state of the River Thames – basically an open sewer – and the city’s water supplies had become a growing cause for concern as the population of the city – and the amount of waste they produced – increased.

Not surprisingly in the mid-1800s this led to outbreaks of cholera which killed tens of thousands (the outbreaks were generally attributed to a miasma in the air until the work of Dr John Snow eventually proved otherwise – see our earlier entry on the Dr John Snow pub here for more). But it wasn’t until the hot summer of 1858 that – unable to escape the stink of the river under their noses at Westminster – politicians decided something had to be done.

Bazalgette (depicted right in a monument at Victoria Embankment) was chief engineer at the newly formed Metropolitan Board of Works (he was appointed in 1856) when legislation was passed which paved the way for the board to create a sewer system underneath London’s streets to serve the growing metropolis. He designed an ingenious system in which the flow from existing sewers and underground rivers was intercepted before it could reach the river and diverted along new low level sewers to treatment works.

All up, the £4.2 million project involved the construction of 1,100 miles of street sewers and five major brick-walled sewer tunnels which ran for some 82 miles along the banks of the Thames and were large enough to cope with the rising demand as the city grew. It also meant the creation of several massive embankments along the river, narrowing the Thames as land was reclaimed from the river.

The work proceeded apace and much of the system was completed by 1866 (it was officially declared open by Edward, the Prince of Wales in 1865). The Victoria and Albert Embankments – located on the northern and southern banks of the Thames respectively – were both open by 1870 and the Chelsea Embankment further upriver was completed in the mid-1870s. Bazalgette was knighted for his efforts in 1875.

The system, which also featured a series of ornately decorated pumping houses, has since been considerably extended and upgraded but at its heart is still that which was created by Sir Joseph and his team.

For more on the creation of Bazalgette’s sewer system, try Stephen Halliday’s The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis. For a mystery set against the backdrop of London in the mid-1800s, check out Clare Clark’s novel The Great Stink.

Where is it?…#49

November 9, 2012

The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Sunday was Remembrance Day, so we thought it appropriate to have a war memorial as last week’s Where is it? This memorial, located at Victoria Embankment on the north bank of the Thames, is the Anglo-Belgian War Memorial, given in 1920 as a gift to Britain by the people of Belgium as a thank you for their help in providing a refuge in England during World War I. The work of celebrated Belgian sculptor Victor Rosseau, it features three bronze figures – a Belgian mother, a boy and a girl, the latter two carrying garlands – and although you can’t see it in this picture, there’s two figures behind them on the Portland stone surround representing ‘honour’ and ‘liberty’.

What’s in a name?…Strand

October 10, 2011

Now one of the major thoroughfares of the West End, the origins of the roadway known as the Strand go back to the Roman times leading west out of the city.

Later part of Saxon Lundenwic which occupied what is now the West End, it ran right along the northern shore of the Thames and so became known as the Strand (the word comes from the Saxon word for the foreshore of a river). During the following centuries the river was pushed back as buildings were constructed between the road and the river, leaving it now, excuse the pun, ‘stranded’ some distance from where the Thames flows.

Sitting on the route between the City of London and Westminster, seat of the government, the street proved a popular with the wealthy and influential and during the Middle Ages, a succession of grand homes or palaces was built along its length, in particular along the southern side.

All are now gone but for Somerset House – originally the home of the Dukes of Somerset, it was built in the 16th century but rebuilt in the 18th century after which it served a variety of roles including housing the Navy Office, before taking on its current role as an arts centre. Others now recalled in the names of streets coming off the Strand include the Savoy Palace, former residence of John of Gaunt which was destroyed in the Peasant’s Revolt, and York House, once home of the Bishops of Norwich and later that of George Villiers, favorite of King James I (see our earlier Lost London entry on York Watergate for more).

After the aristocracy decamped further west during the 17th and 18th centuries, the road and surrounding area fell into decline but was resurrected with a concerted building effort in the early 19th century (this included the creation of the Victoria Embankment which pushed the Thames even further away) which saw it become a favorite of the those who patronised the arts, including the opening of numerous theatres. Among those which still stand on the Strand today are the Adelphi and Savoy Theatres (this was apparently the first in London to be fitted with electric lights and sits on a site once occupied by the Savoy Palace).

Among the other landmarks along the Strand are the churches of St Mary-le-Strand (the present building which sits on what amounts to a traffic island) dates from 1717 and was designed by James Gibbs, and St Clement Danes, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1682 (it is now the Central Church of the Royal Air Force). The Strand is also home to the Victorian-era Royal Courts of Justice (it boasts more than 1,000 rooms), Australia House (home of the oldest Australian diplomatic mission), the Strand Palace Hotel (opened in 1907) and Charing Cross Railway Station.