Day 67 – Lambeth Bridge -Smith Square – Victoria Station

I know I’ve been guilty of false promises in the past but this genuinely is a short one, essentially just filling in the odd shaped gap between the area we covered last time and the south western limits of our original target zone. We’re starting out across Lambeth Bridge, heading up into the shadow of the Houses of Parliament then winding our way west as far as Victoria Rail Station. However, despite the relative brevity of today’s walk it’s not short on places of interest from the political to religious to theatrical.

To get to Lambeth Bridge we walk from Waterloo Station along the South Bank and the Albert Embankment.

The latter provides evidence that the yoof of London have been resorting to some old skool outdoor pursuits to keep them occupied during lockdown.

Also on the Embankment is a monument to The Special Operations Executive, secretly formed during WW2 to recruit agents to fight for freedom by performing acts of sabotage in countries occupied by the Axis powers. The bus on the plinth depicts Violette Szabo (1921 – 45), who was among the 117 SOE agents who did not survive their missions to France and was posthumously awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre.

Lambeth Bridge is one of the more prosaic of Thames crossings in the capital. The current structure is a five-span steel arch, designed by engineer Sir George Humphreys and architects Sir Reginald Blomfield and G. Topham Forrest which opened in 1932. The only notable features are the pairs of obelisks at either end of the bridge topped with stone pinecones (though there is a popular urban legend that they are pineapples, as a tribute to Lambeth resident John Tradescant the younger, who is said to have grown the first pineapple in Britain).

Having crossed the bridge we make our way north through Victoria Tower Gardens towards the HoP. A short way in we pass the Buxton Memorial Fountain which was commissioned by Charles Buxton MP to commemorate the 1834 act of abolition of slavery in the British Empire. It was originally erected in Parliament Square in 1866 (to coincide with the ending of slavery in the USA) from whence it was removed in 1949 and only reinstated in its current location eight years later. At the outset there were eight bronze decorative figures of British rulers on it, ranging from the Ancient Briton Caractacus to Queen Victoria, but four were stolen in 1960 and four in 1971. They were replaced by fibreglass figures in 1980 but by 2005 these too had gone missing and the fountain was no longer working. Restoration work was carried out and the restored fountain was unveiled on 27 March 2007 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the Empire. Though, as you will note if you were paying attention, colonialist landowners were able to keep the slaves they already had for another 27 years.  

At the northern end of the gardens is a statue by Auguste Rodin (1840 -1917) entitled The Burghers of Calais. This is one of twelve casts of the work and was made in 1908 then installed here in 1914. The first cast. done in 1895, is in Calais itself. The sculpture represents an act of heroic self-sacrifice that was recorded as having taken place during the Hundred Years’ War. In 1346, King Edward III of England, after victory in the Battle of Crécy, laid siege to the port of Calais.  Philip VI of France ordered the city to hold out at all costs but starvation eventually forced the residents to parley for surrender. According to contemporary chronicler Jean Froissart, Edward offered to spare the people of the city if six of its leaders would surrender themselves to him, walking out wearing nooses around their necks, and carrying the keys to the city and castle. One of the wealthiest of the town leaders, Eustache de Saint Pierre, volunteered first, and five other burghers joined with him. They expected to be walking to their deaths, but their lives were spared by the intervention of Edward’s queen, Philippa of Hainault, who persuaded her husband to exercise mercy by claiming that their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child.

Leaving the gardens we head west on Great Peter Street and then follow Lord North Street south to Smith Square (which is actually circular). Smith Square has long had an association with government departments and political parties (not really surprising given its location). Nobel House at no.17 was built in 1928, for the newly-formed Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI). ICI leased it to the government in 1987, and it is currently headquarters for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. On the south side is Transport House which from 1928 to 1980 was Labour Party HQ before being taken on by the TGWU until the 1990s. It is now the headquarters of the Local Government Association. №s 32-34 served as Conservative Central Office between 1958 and 2003. It stood empty until 2007 when it was sold to developers. Irony of ironies, it’s now called “Europe House” and is home to the UK office of the European Parliament.

In the centre of Smith Square stands the imposing Grade I listed St John’s Church. Designed by Thomas Archer and completed in 1728, as one of the so-called Fifty New Churches, it is regarded as one of the finest works of English Baroque architecture. It is often referred to as ‘Queen Anne’s Footstool’ because legend has it that when Archer was designing the church he asked the Queen what she wanted it to look like. She kicked over her footstool and said ‘Like that!’, giving rise to the building’s four corner towers. In fact the towers were added to stabilise the building against subsidence. The church was hit by an incendiary bomb in 1941 and stood as a ruin for 20 years until a charitable trust took it on and restored it for use as a concert hall.

The eastern, southern and western approaches to the square are named Dean Stanley Street, Dean Bradley Street and Dean Trench Street. Not sure how Lord North Street fits into that sequence (incidentally Harold Wilson was once a resident). Or Gayfere Street which also leads north away from the square.

Resuming in a westward direction, on the corner of Great Peter Street and Tufton Street stands Mary Sumner House. This is the headquarters of the Mothers’ Union which was founded by the eponymous Mrs Sumner in 1876. The MU was, and still is, an Anglican Church-led organisation which aims to bring mothers of all social classes together to provide mutual support and to be trained in motherhood, from a vocationary perspective. Today the vast majority of its 3.6m members are to be found in India and Africa.

Halfway down Tufton Street we cut through Bennett’s Yard to Marsham Street then continue southward to Romney Street which takes us back to Tufton Street from where we drop down onto the Horseferry Road. We turn back up Marsham Street then take a left onto Medway Street and run down the side of the Home Office building to Monck Street. Opposite the northern end of Monk Street, on Great Peter Street, is the Indonesian Embassy.

Continuing west the next turning south off Great Peter Street is Chadwick Street which doglegs west itself past the Channel 4 building. Back on Horseferry Road I double back to loop round another stretch of Medway Street and on the way pass Michael Portillo who’s talking away on his mobile. (I’m almost 100% certain it’s him despite the absence of vivid pastel coloured trousers that would’ve clinched it – to be clear, he is wearing trousers just bog-standard navy blue ones). Return up Horseferry Road to the roundabout junction with Great Peter Street then complete a northerly circuit of Strutton Ground and St Matthew’s Street before resuming a westerly trajectory past The Grey Coat Hospital which confusingly is actually a C of E secondary school. The school was first established back in 1698 and moved into this building on Greycoat Place three years later. It was restored and extended, with the addition of wings in 1955.

Originally it was intended as an educational facility of 40 boys of charitable or orphaned status. Today that same number of boys have places in the sixth form with all other pupils being girls. Apparently, Ho Chi Minh worked as a labourer here in 1913 whilst a student in England

Next up is Greencoat Place home to the GreenCoat Boy pub which dates back to 1851. I called in here for a drink after one of the anti-Brexit demos only to find it occupied by a bunch of geezers in “Free Tommy” t-shirts. One of the quicker pints I’ve drunk.

From here we work our way up to Victoria Street via Greencoat Row, Francis Street and Howick Place round the back of the House of Fraser store, which I’m somewhat surprised to see still operating. Back when I worked in this area (late 1980’s) it was still called the Army & Navy Store. Army & Navy Stores originated as a co-operative society for military officers and their families during the nineteenth century. The society became a limited liability company in the 1930s and purchased a number of independent department stores during the 1950s and 1960s. Although the flagship store on Victoria Street was acquired along with the rest of the estate by HoF in 1973 it wasn’t until 2005 that it was refurbished and re-branded under the House of Fraser nameplate. We bypass the next section of Victoria Street on Wilcox Place and another stretch of Howick Place and on regaining it walk the 100 metres or so to the station.

Just outside the station, at the intersection of Vauxhall Bridge Road and Victoria Street, stands Little Ben, a cast iron miniature replica of Big Ben.This was manufactured by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, and was erected in 1892. It was removed from the site in 1964, and restored and re-erected in 1981 by Westminster City Council with sponsorship from Elf Aquitaine Ltd “offered as a gesture of Franco-British friendship”.

Turn around 180 degrees and you’re facing the Victoria Palace Theatre which absent the pandemic would be continuing its run of the deservedly successful Hamilton. The theatre was built in 1911 on the site of the former Royal Standard music hall and was designed by the pre-eminent theatre architect of the era, Frank Matcham (1854 – 1920). Up until WW2 the theatre hosted a mix of plays, variety shows and revues, including a record-breaking (at the time) 1,046 performances of Me And My Girl. After the war, in 1947, the theatre became the home of The Crazy Gang (not Wimbledon F.C – the comedy sextet including Flanagan and Allen) for the next 15 years. After that the egregious Black and White Minstrel Show ran until 1970. In more recent times as the focus switched to narrative musicals the biggest hits have been Buddy and Billy Elliot. Most of Matcham’s original theatre remains but when Delfont MacIntosh Theatres added it to their stable in 2014 it underwent a major two year refurbishment which was completed in time for the opening of Hamilton in November 2017.

London Victoria station was originally built as two separate termini to serve mainline routes to Brighton and Chatham. The Brighton station opened in 1860 with the Chatham station following two years later and construction involved building the Grosvenor Bridge over the Thames. It became well known for luxury Pullman train services and continental boat train trips and as a departure point for soldiers heading to the continent during WWI. In 1898 work began to demolish the Brighton line station and replace it with an enlarged red-brick Renaissance-style building, designed by Charles Langbridge Morgan. At the same time the Chatham line station was extensively reconstructed and enlarged. All of this took until 1908 to be fully concluded. In 1923 the two stations came under the ownership of the newly formed Southern Railway and in 1948, following nationalisation, British Rail assumed control. In the 1980’s the station was redeveloped internally, with the addition of shops within the concourse, and above the western platforms (the “Victoria Plaza” shopping centre) and 220,000 square feet of office space. In a previous post I praised the fact that this was the first London mainline station to do away with the 30p entrance charge to its toilets. This time I am happy to report that, following refurbishment and Covid-related alterations, these are some of the finest public washroom facilities in the capital.

So after that masked visit to the station we complete the loop of Terminus Place, where the buses hang out in front of the station, then circumnavigate another temporarily “dark” place of entertainment, The Apollo Victoria Theatre, via Wilton Place and Wilton Road before heading south on Vauxhall Bridge Road. A rather different aesthetic proposition from the Victoria Palace, the Apollo was originally built in 1930 as a Super Cinema, with stage facilities for Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, who were part of Gaumont British. I think it’s fair to say, judging by the exterior, that it’s not that high up in the pantheon of 1930’s Art Deco cinema buildings though it is Grade II listed. However, the interior was described at the time as being like “a fairy palace under the sea” or “a mermaid’s dream of heaven”. After sympathetic restoration in recent years this alone is apparently worth the price of a ticket for Wicked. Despite being named the New Victoria Theatre when it opened it was soon being used exclusively for cinema releases. Saved from demolition in the 1950’s the New Victoria was spruced up in 1958 and began playing host to ballet and live shows, as well as film presentations. It was later operated by the Rank Organisation, who eventually closed it in 1975. After five years it was taken on by the Apollo Leisure Group and reopened as the Apollo Victoria. Initially playing host to a series of concerts by the likes of Shirley Bassey, Cliff Richard and Dean Martin, the Apollo began its successful espousal of full-scale West End musicals with The Sound of Music in 1981. In 1984 Starlight Express began a run that lasted for 18 years and now Wicked has clocked up 13 years and just prior to lockdown reportedly welcomed its 10 millionth visitor. I haven’t seen either of them.

Continue down VBR for about 200 metres then take a left and head back in the opposite direction up Kings Scholars Passage. Do another about face and take Carlisle Place south down to Francis Street before switching direction again to follow Morpeth Terrace and Ashley Place round to the front entrance to Westminster Cathedral. Carlisle Place and Morpeth Terrace are both lined with the style of redbrick mansion blocks that were so prevalent when we visited the Marylebone to St John’s Wood area some months back. This is the first time I’ve come across them this far south.

Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with the Anglican Westminster Abbey of course) is the largest Roman Catholic church in England and was designed in the Early Christian Byzantine style by the Victorian architect John Francis Bentley. The foundation stone was laid in 1895 and the fabric of the building was completed eight years later, a year after Bentley had died. For reasons of economy, the decoration of the interior had hardly been started by then and much of it remains incomplete to this day though it does contain some fine marble-work and mosaics. The fourteen Stations of the Cross alongside the outer aisles are by the controversial sculptor Eric Gill (though perhaps not so inappropriate given the Catholic Church’s recent travails). The Cathedral is currently only open for Mass (four times daily) and, to a limited extent, for private prayer between 2pm and 4pm. Since I didn’t want to visit under false pretences I decided not to wait around for the next opportunity. (So the interior shots below are again not my own).

On the east side of the Cathedral we head south yet again on Ambrosden Avenue and then go up and down Thirleby Road before crossing over Francis Street into Emery Hill Street. This takes us back down onto Greencoat Place from where we venture west again, calling in at Windsor Place and Coburg Place, before turning north up Stillington Street. Final photo-op of the day here – the Victoria Telephone Exchange building – about which I can tell you precisely nothing. Nice to end on a note of mystery.

Well almost, we just have to negotiate one last street, Willow Place, before we finish today’s excursion back on Vauxhall Bridge Road with a pint and a fish finger sandwich waiting at the White Swan.

Day 53 – Waterloo Station – Westminster Bridge – Queen’s Walk

Something of a milestone reached today as, for the first time, we’ve ventured south of the river. First time for this blog that is; Waterloo Station, where today’s journey starts, has been my point of entry to central London for the best part of three decades.

We begin our excursion by heading round the southern end of the station and beyond Lambeth North tube station before cutting down towards the river through Archbishop’s Park. Having circumnavigated St Thomas’ Hospital, partly by way of a stroll along the Albert Embankment, we loop back under the railway arches and then cross over Westminster Bridge. Turning east on the other side, Victoria Embankment takes us along the river to Hungerford Bridge where we cross back over and fight our way along Queen’s Walk through the tourist hordes and past the London Eye and County Hall. After that there’s a full circuit of Waterloo Station and we’re done.

I should also mention that this took place on the day of the England v Croatia semi-final so the (very hot) air was filled with expectation and trepidation – though not in the vicinity of those aforementioned hordes.

Day 53 Route

So we start off by exiting the station onto Waterloo Road and turning right, then at the crossroads by the Old Vic we turn right again and follow Baylis Road all the way down to Lambeth North tube. At the top of Kennington Road stands the Lincoln Tower, built in 1876 (the centenary of American independence) in the Gothic revival style as a memorial to Abraham Lincoln. The construction cost of the tower was partly met from funds raised in America by Christopher Newman Hall, the pastor of Surrey Chapel, an independent Methodist and Congregational church based on Blackfriars Road, which had acquired the site in the mid 19th century.

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We continue south west on Kennington Road as far as Cosser Street which runs alongside the William Blake (public housing) Estate. At the end of Cosser Street we turn right on Hercules Road for just a few yards before continuing north, underneath the rail tracks, on Virgil Street. When Virgil Street ends at Carlisle Lane the entrance to Archbishop’s Park is immediately opposite. This was originally part of the grounds of nearby Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, but from 1869 onward was set aside as a play area for children and for ball games and in 1900 was turned into a public park. Ownership remains in the hands of the Church Commissioners. Nowadays the park is also home to Zip Now London (allegedly the world’s longest and fastest city centre zip wire). I would guess it doesn’t take much more than 30 seconds to cover the 225m distance which would make the cheapest ticket equivalent to about 67p per second (about 50% more than Ronaldo earns in the same time).

After a circuit of the park, not including a go on the zipline (it wasn’t yet open), we exit onto Lambeth Palace Road opposite the south side of St Thomas’ Hospital, more of which later.

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We follow Lambeth Palace Road eastward as it converges towards parallel proximity with the river then drop onto the Albert Embankment and head down river towards Westminster Bridge. This is where you’ll get the best views of the Houses of Parliament (see previous post) and it’s also considerably less busy than, say, the South Bank if you’re after a riverside stroll.  Albert Embankment was created by the engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette for the Metropolitan Board of Works between 1866 and 1869 and included land reclaimed from the river and various small timber and boat-building yards. It was intended to protect low-lying areas of Lambeth from flooding while also providing a new highway to bypass local congested streets. As with its counterpart, the Victoria Embankment, on the north side the street furniture of the Albert Embankment was the creation of George Vulliamy (1817 – 1886). But whereas the sturgeon (or dolphin) lamp posts are common to both sides, the 15 benches on the Albert side have a swan motif in their cast iron arms and panels rather than the sphinxes and camels of the more numerous resting spots on the Victoria side.

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The river-facing wing of St Thomas’ Hospital,  dates back to 1871 when the hospital moved to this location from Southwark and is now Grade II listed. The hospital, in its original Southwark incarnation, is believed to have been founded towards the end of the 12th century, run by a mixed order of Augustine monks and nuns and dedicated to St Thomas à Becket. When the monastery was dissolved in 1539 during the Reformation the hospital closed but reopened 12 years later when it was rededicated to Thomas the Apostle. In the late 20th century the name was changed from St Thomas’s to St Thomas’ which was undoubtedly due to modern a predilection for simplification but has been  justified on the basis that the hospital is associated with two separate men called Thomas. (Though, as the grammar police and I will tell you, this means it should be known as St Thomases’ Hospital).

Once we reach Westminster Bridge and turn right onto Westminster Bridge Road we find ourselves at the main entrance to the modern building, the North Wing, which was completed in 1975. It met with widespread public disaffection at the time, particularly from MPs who felt it ruined their view from the Palace of Westminster. Between the walkway up to the entrance and the embankment a garden area has been created above the car park.  At the entrance to this garden stands a memorial to Mary Seacole (1805 – 1881), the British-Jamaican businesswoman and nurse who travelled independently to the Crimea and set up the so-called “British Hotel” behind the battle lines in order to treat wounded servicemen. The statue was unveiled, not without controversy, in 2016. (Inside the hospital buildings is a museum dedicated to Florence Nightingale, that much better known Crimean War “angel of mercy”). Despite the question marks about the efficacy of Mary’s treatments and the  claims of her being a medical pioneer she is undoubtedly someone who deserves to be celebrated for what she managed to achieve in the face of twin obstacles of race and gender. The centre of the garden features Naum Gabo’s fountain sculpture Revolving Torsion and just ahead of the main entrance is sculptor Rick Kirby’s work Crossing The Divide from the year 2000. That’s the same year that a statue of Edward VI, originally erected in 1739, was moved to its position directly outside the North Wing. It was Edward VI who granted the hospital a royal charter that facilitated its re-establishment post-Reformation.

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Following the perimeter of the hospital we return to Lambeth Palace Road and then take a left up Royal Street. This is dominated by the Canterbury House block of social housing flats, built c.1960, which is remarkable in that from the rear it looks like the epitome of a run-down sixties’ estate and yet the front could be mistaken for a 3-star hotel on the Costa Brava.

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Next we weave in and out through the tunnels underneath the railtracks out of Waterloo courtesy of Upper Marsh, Carlisle Lane and Centaur Street before ending up back on Hercules Road.

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William Blake (1757 – 1827) lived in a building on Hercules Road during the last decade of the 18th century, hence the nearby housing estate named after him and the series of mosaics in the railway tunnels inspired by him. On the way back towards Lambeth North Tube, Newham Terrace offers up one of those historic industrial signage remnants that I’m so fond of.

From the tube station we head back towards the river, starting on Westminster Bridge again and then looping round Addington Street and cutting through (the absurdly named) Forum Magnum Square onto Belvedere Street which runs along the back of the old County Hall.

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The main central building of County Hall was built between 1911 and 1922 in an Edwardian Baroque style to the design of architect, Ralph Knott, as the new home of the London County Council (LCC). The LCC was created in 1889 as part of the previous year’s Local Government Act, becoming the first elected authority with responsibility for the whole of London. It’s predecessor, the Metropolitan Board of Works, had government appointed leaders and a more limited set of powers. The north and south blocks of County Hall were added between 1936 and 1939. In 1965 the LCC was superseded by the Greater London Council (GLC) on the back of the 1963 Local Government Act which saw the creation of 32 new boroughs comprising the new metropolis of Greater London, extending into areas such as Croydon and West Ham that were formerly part of Surrey and Essex respectively. It also signalled the effective demise of Middlesex as a separate administrative area. The GLC ran London for 21 years until in 1986, under the aegis of Ken Livingstone, its Labour controlled administration became in embroiled in a death-match with the Conservative government and Margaret Thatcher duly abolished it. Parts of County Hall still remain empty to this day but in now houses two hotels (at opposite ends of the spectrum), a Marriott and a Premier Inn and a number of Merlin Entertainments attractions, which we’ll deal with later.

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Next we finally cross over the river via the packed to the seams Westminster Bridge. At the north end of the bridge stands the statue to Queen Boudicca and her daughters created by Victorian sculptor, Thomas Thornycroft (1815 – 1885). The statue was commissioned in the 1850’s by Prince Albert and was originally intended to sit atop the central arch of the entrance to Hyde Park. Albert died in 1861 before it was completed and the project then ran into all-too familiar funding issues. Thornycroft managed to complete a full-size model of the work before his own death in 1885 but it wasn’t until 1902 that it was installed here by Westminster Pier thanks to the efforts of his son and the support of the LCC. Which makes it all the more shameful that it’s plinth is currently obscured by a stall hawking tourist tat.

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Moving swiftly on we proceed eastward along the Victoria Embankment passing, firstly, the Battle of Britain Memorial unveiled in 2005 to coincide with the 65th anniversary and then the Royal Air Force Memorial of 1923 with its Golden Eagle sculpted by William Reid Dick. In the background beyond the memorial you can see the PS Tattershall Castle, a floating pub that served as a passenger ferry across the Humber Estuary from 1934 to 1973.

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We cross back over the river using the western element of the two new footbridges built alongside the Hungerford Railway Bridge in 2002. Officially these are called the Golden Jubilee Bridges in honour of QEII’s fiftieth anniversary on the throne but in reality everyone still refers to them, collectively, as the Hungerford Footbridge. Which is surprising in a way since the original Hungerford Footbridge (on the east side) was notorious for being both unsightly and dangerous and was the scene of horrific murder in 1999 (just a couple of years after the decision to knock down the bridge had already been taken). The railway bridge dates back to 1864 and was designed by Sir John Hawkshaw. It replaced a suspension footbridge of 1845 created by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (the original brick buttresses of which are still in use). The name derives from Hungerford Market, a produce market on the north bank which existed on the site of what is now Charing Cross Station from the late 17th century until, er, they knocked it down to build the station.

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View west from Hungerford Bridge

On the other side of the bridge we descend the steps down to Queen’s Walk and head back west towards County Hall. En route we pass the site of the Underbelly Festival which runs throughout the summer months beside Jubilee Gardens featuring comedy, circus and cabaret performances in its Spiegeltent and providing al-fresco drinking and dining.

And so we reach the London Eye which is now apparently the most popular paid tourist attraction in the UK with 3.75 million visitors annually. Quite when it took over the top spot from Madame Tussauds I’m not sure but, ironically, the Tussauds Group were one of the original owners along with British Airways and Marks Barfield (the architects who created it) when it opened in 2000 as part of the Millennium celebrations. At the time it was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world at 135m though that record is now held by the High Roller in Las Vegas at 167.6m. It has also lost out on being the highest public viewing point in London since the Shard was built. It is now owned by Merlin Entertainments who took over Tussauds Group in 2007. BA ended its brand association in 2008 and Coca-Cola became sponsors from the start of 2015.

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Merlin Entertainments run a number of other attractions that are based inside the County Hall building: The London Dungeon (relocated here from its original home near London Bridge); Shrek’s Adventure and Sea Life. On a more edifying note I’ll just make mention here of some of the sculptures that adorn the exterior of County Hall. (I should also belatedly namecheck the Ornamental Passions blog which has been an invaluable source of information on this topic). The sculptures on the Jubilee Gardens façade are the work of Alfred Hardiman and are intended to represent Open Spaces and Child Education. Those on the riverside façade are by Ernest Cole (1890 – 1979), who was only 24 when awarded the commission and whose work on the figures was interrupted by First World War in which he was co-opted into the Intelligence Corps.  Cole was also responsible for the works on the Westminster Bridge Road side including World Beyond which shows the world resting on the shoulders of three grotesque representatives of the human race with two more contorted figures standing astride it. Not surprisingly, Cole’s work caused something of an uproar when it was unveiled and this led to him being replaced by Hardiman for the later commissions. At the outbreak of WWII, Cole and his wife, Laurie Manly, were briefly imprisoned on suspicion of being fascist sympathisers on account of their subscription to Il Popolo d’Italia the newspaper founded by Mussolini.

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I strongly suspect that Cole and Hardiman’s efforts go completely unnoticed by the crowds thronging round the London Eye and along the rest of Queen’s Walk. Having battled through them twice I make my escape, heading up the side of Jubilee Gardens and down Chicheley Street into York Road. Here I head back to the front entrance to Waterloo Station. The station first opened in 1848 so it’s celebrating its 170th anniversary this year. That original station was built by the London and South Western Railway but wasn’t intended to be a terminus, just a stopping point on the way to the City of London. That further extension never materialised however and by the turn of the 20th century the railway company had accepted the fact and recognized that Waterloo needed to be completely rebuilt to function as a proper terminus for the increasing volume of train traffic from the south west. The rebuilt station was formally opened on 21 March 1922 by Queen Mary. The main pedestrian entrance, the Victory Arch (known as Exit 5), was designed by James Robb Scott and is a memorial to company staff who were killed during WWI. It is flanked by two sculptures featuring Roman goddesses; “1914” with Bellona in armour with a sword and torch, and “1918” showing Pax, the goddess of Peace sitting on Earth. Waterloo is now the busiest railway station in the UK, the largest in terms of floor space and with the greatest number of platforms.

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Just across from the main entrance, on Mepham Street, is the Hole In The Wall Pub which I visited several times in the late seventies and early eighties. I still recall the horror of using the toilet facilities there so I was more than a little amused to see this recent addition to the local street furniture.

Mepham Street leads out onto Waterloo Road from where we circle past the station for a second time and on this occasion fork right up Spur Road onto Station Approach Road / Cab Road which the taxis use to add an extra few hundred metres to their journeys (just kidding guys). A left turn takes us down to Leake Street which is basically a foot tunnel under the railway. It’s home to The Vaults an immersive theatre and alternative arts venue that occupies a maze of previously disused arches underneath Waterloo Station. From late January to late March for the last few years the Vault Festival has been held here; and with over 350 shows across 16 venues it’s fast becoming a serious rival to the Edinburgh Fringe for showcasing new and experimental comedy and theatre.

The Leake Street tunnel is also an officially sanctioned open canvas for graffiti art. Not sure what the protocol is for how long each work is allowed to stay up before being over-sprayed but I suspect this one has already gone (unfortunately).

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We retrace our steps up Leake Street and leave via an alternative exit onto Lower Marsh. This always used to be one of my favourite streets in London with a number of idiosyncratic shops selling vintage clothes, jazz books and records, pre-1970’s memorabilia and cut-price designer menswear. Latterly it’s sadly succumbed to the twin curses of redevelopment and rate hikes so almost all of those independent retailers have now gone (apart from the fetish gear suppliers). The shops have of course mostly been replaced by coffee-shops, a couple of which, to their credit, have a decent sense of style. Not quite a pub of the day but I’ll give a shout out to the Scooter Bar where I had a Mexican lager I’ve never heard of before and they let me bring in a take-out of Pad Thai Noodles from one of the several food stalls out on the street.

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Ok so we just finish things off with the streets running off Lower Marsh to the south namely Grindal Street, Frazier Street, Murphy Street, Joanna Street and Tanswell Street and then return to the station. For once my timing has clicked as the Band of The Royal Coldstream Guards are belting out a few popular tunes on the concourse and just as I decide to hang around for one more they launch into, what else but, Three Lions. Naturally this brings the house down though unfortunately there is no self-fulfilling prophecy here. Nonetheless these boys in red done good as did the ones over in Russia. Bring on Euro 2020 !

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Day 52 – Houses of Parliament – Westminster Abbey – Parliament Square

A pretty meaty one this to the say the least; with two of inarguably the three most iconic and important buildings in London to cover off (the third being St Pauls’ Cathedral – sorry, Buckingham Palace). So most of today’s excursion is taken up with visits to the Houses of Parliament (or, more precisely, the Palace of Westminster) and Westminster Abbey, though we did manage to fit in a few actual streets to the south and west of those behemoths before circling back to Parliament Square.

Day 52 Route

Starting out from Westminster tube station we cross Bridge Street and head along the south side of Parliament Square to the public entrance of the Houses of Parliament at Cromwell Green. After an inspection of my ticket – I’ve booked the audio guide tour – I make my way down the ramp at the bottom of which the airport-style security check awaits. En route we pass the statue of Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658), one of only two in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster. The statue was erected in 1899 in the face of fierce opposition from the Irish National Party owing to Cromwell’s ravages against the Catholic population of Ireland. In the end Parliament only approved the statue because an anonymous benefactor, later revealed to be ex-Prime Minister Lord Roseberry, agreed to fund it. After his death Cromwell was originally buried, with great ceremony, in Westminster Abbey. However, following the restoration of Charles II, his body was exhumed and subjected to a posthumous execution and his severed head displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall (for twenty-four years).

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Given the scaffolding in evidence in the picture above, including the complete coverage of Big Ben, this is perhaps the time to note that, after series of protracted debates, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords voted in early 2018 in favour of a temporary decampment from the PoW to allow a long overdue so-called Restoration and Renewal programme to take place.  They won’t be vacating the premises until 2025 however so you’ve still got plenty of time to visit before it’s closed down for six years (at least).

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First port of call, and where you pick up the audio guide, is Westminster Hall (on the right above minus Cromwell’s severed head). This is the oldest part of the PoW and has, miraculously, survived intact since it was built by William II (aka William Rufus) son of William the Conqueror in 1097. The magnificent oak hammer-beam roof, commissioned in 1393 by Richard II, is the largest medieval timber roof in Northern Europe measuring 68ft by 240ft. In addition to the new roof, Richard also installed statues of every king of England from Edward the Confessor to himself in niches in the walls (only 6 now remain). Ironically, the first event to take place in the hall after Richard’s redevelopments was his own deposition by Henry IV in 1399. On 16 October 1834 a fire broke out in the Palace when two underfloor stoves that were injudiciously being used to destroy the Exchequer’s stockpile of tally sticks ignited panelling in the Lords Chamber. The two Houses were both completely destroyed but Westminster Hall was saved, partly by its thick Medieval walls  and partly because the PM, Lord Melbourne, directed the fire fighters to focus their efforts on dousing the Hall’s timber roof.

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There are a number of brass plaques embedded in the floor of the Hall commemorating events of historic significance that have taken place there, including the passing of the death sentence on Sir Thomas More in 1535. The stairs at southern end of the Hall were created by architect Charles Barry in 1850 along with a new arch window as part of his post-fire renovations. Turning left at the top of these stairs brings us to the entrance to St Stephen’s Hall above which can be seen the light sculpture New Dawn created by, artist-in-residence, Mary Branson, in commemoration of the campaign for women’s suffrage and unveiled in 2016.

St Stephen’s Hall started life as St Stephen’s Chapel in 1292 and was the in-house place of worship for the reigning Kings of England up to Henry VIII. In 1550, two years after the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry’s son Edward IV gave the chapel over to the House of Commons for use as their debating chamber. The chapel was destroyed by the fire of 1834 and was reconstituted as St Stephen’s Hall as part of Charles Barry’s restoration work. Following the destruction wrought during WWII the hall once again became the venue for sessions of the Commons from 1945 to 1950 while the Commons Chamber was being rebuilt.

On either side of the Hall are statues of famous parliamentarians including John Hampden, Robert Walpole, William Pitt and Charles James Fox and on either side of the doorways are statues of early Kings and Queens of England. The paintings on the walls depict various important events in British history, while the ten stained-glass windows, five on either side, depict the arms of various parliamentary cities and boroughs; these were damaged in air raids during the Second Word War and since restored.

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St Stephen’s Hall represents the last opportunity to take photographs inside the Palace of Westminster; beyond here it’s strictly verboten. As a consequence I won’t dwell too long on the rest of the tour which takes us into the Central Lobby where we turn right to pass through the Peers Lobby, the Lords Chamber, the Royal Gallery and the Robing Room and back again. Traversing the Central Lobby for a second time gains access to the Members Lobby and the Commons Chamber. Now on the day of my visit neither of the Houses was sitting so it was possible to get right in among the green and red benches (though of course you’re not allowed to sit on them). When either of the Chambers are in session visitors can, of course, view the debates from the respective public galleries – no tickets required except for PMQs. The visitor’s gallery in the Commons is formally known as the Strangers’ Gallery. Back in the 1930’s according to my guidebook “any Foreigners desirous of listening to a debate” needed to apply to their Ambassadors”. There was also a separate Ladies’ Gallery back then though persons of the female persuasion had recently also been granted access to the main viewing gallery. The grilles referred to below were installed over the windows in the Ladies’ Gallery (earning it the nickname “the Cage”) so the women could see out but men could not see in, and therefore not be distracted by the women watching them. They were removed in 1917 following a petition from the London Society for Women’s Suffrage and just a couple of months after the passing of the bill giving the vote to women over the age of 30.

Galleries

Once the tour is over we leave the HoP and head across to the South-West corner of Parliament Square and follow Broad Sanctuary down to the entrance to Westminster Abbey.  As ever my timing is the complete opposite of impeccable since if I’d just waited a couple more weeks then the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries would have been open. Reached via the newly-built Weston Tower, the first major addition to the abbey since 1745, these apparently offer stunning views down into the nave of the church as well as housing 300 treasures from the Abbey’s collection selected to reflect it’s thousand-year history. Still, I expect the queues are going to be absolutely horrendous. It’s busy enough on the day of my visit though having pre-booked a ticket online I get in pretty quickly. At £20 a time (£22 if you buy on the day) the revenue from visitors to the Abbey is probably sufficient to keep the Church of England solvent all on its own. Despite the crowds it’s not that unpleasant shuffling round; I suspect it’s the free audio guides rather than piety that keeps the noise to a minimum and the no-photography rule is universally adhered to.

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Westminster Abbey can trace its origins back to the middle of the eleventh century when Edward the Confessor built a new stone church dedicated to St Peter alongside an existing Benedictine monastery founded around a hundred years earlier. This church became known as the “west minster” to distinguish it from St Paul’s Cathedral (the east minster) in the City of London. Unfortunately, when the new church was consecrated on 28 December 1065 the King was too ill to attend and died a few days later, his mortal remains being entombed in front of the High Altar. This set something of a trend since when King Henry III (1207 – 1272) had the Abbey rebuilt in the new Gothic style he died before the nave could be completed. Henry did however have time to transfer the body of Edward the Confessor (by then sanctified as Saint Edward) into a more magnificent tomb behind the High Altar in the new church. This shrine survives and around it are buried a cluster of medieval kings and their consorts including Henry III himself, Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Richard II and Anne of Bohemia and Henry V. Westminster Abbey is of course irrevocably linked with the history of the English/British monarchy. Every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned in the Abbey, with the exception of Edward V and Edward VIII (abdicated) who were never crowned. The ancient Coronation Chair can still be seen in the church. Elizabeth I was buried in the vault of her grandfather, Henry VII, in the so-called Lady Chapel which he had constructed in 1516. Her successor, James I, didn’t attend her funeral service but he later had a white marble monument erected in her memory in a chapel adjacent to the Lady Chapel. Although a few years after that he had a taller and grander memorial installed for his mother, Mary Queen of Scots.

But it’s not just royalty that’s buried and/or commemorated in the Abbey of course. When Geoffrey Chaucer was buried here in 1400 it was because he was Clerk of The King’s Works not for his literary achievements. However, nearly 200 years later, when Edmund Spenser (of Faerie Queene fame) asked to be buried next to Chaucer the concept of Poet’s Corner was born and continues to this day. Deciding which dead writers merit the honour of being immortalised in Poet’s Corner is the prerogative of the Deans of Westminster.  Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Handel and Laurence Olivier are among those whose actual remains lie here while Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Lord Byron and a host of others are memorialised in brass or stone. The most recent additions to the pantheon include Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and David Frost.

As I noted already there’s no photography allowed inside the abbey so the next selection of photographs are all of or from within the College Garden and the Little Cloister Garden. Before we get to that those though I just wanted to record one personal highlight of the tour which is the murals in the Chapter House. These were painted in the late 14th century at the instigation of one of the monks of Westminster, John of Northampton, and depict scenes from the New Testament’s Revelation of St John the Divine (otherwise known as the Apocalypse). Only fragments of the paintings remain and many of those that do are extremely faint but this ghost-like appearance only adds to their macabre impact.

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We exit the Abbey on its west side opposite the Crimea and Indian Mutiny memorial which sits inside a triangular island created by Victoria Street and The Sanctuary. Turning south we pass through the gatehouse of the octagonal turreted building  known as The Sanctuary built to the design of Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1853-54. Nowadays this accommodates the Deanery of the Abbey and also the Attorney Generals’ Office.

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On the other side of the gatehouse is Dean’s Yard which comprises most of the remaining precincts of the former monastery of Westminster, not occupied by the Abbey buildings. The East side consists of buildings occupied by Westminster School, the South by Church House, the headquarters of the Church of England and the West by Westminster Abbey Choir School.
Historically the Abbey was one of the last ecclesiastical sanctuaries to surrender its ancient rights, with the result that the precincts were largely occupied by the most undesirable and dangerous of inhabitants. They were held in check by the Abbot’s own penal jurisdiction, and by the knowledge that the Abbot could instantly expel them to their fate at the hands of the Common Law. Westminster School displays a royal pardon of Charles II for the King’s Scholars who murdered a bailiff harassing the mistress of one of the scholars in Dean’s Yard, allegedly in outrage at the breach of traditional sanctuary although it had been legally abolished by then.

After a circuit of Dean’s Yard we leave the same way we came in, head back up to Victoria Street and after a few steps to the left turn south down Great Smith Street. Take a right next into Abbey Orchard Street past the Department of Education building and down to the end where it forks in two by Companies House. This unprepossessing building is just the London office and information centre; the actual Registrar of Companies (for England & Wales) is down in Cardiff.

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Taking the left fork we drop down onto Old Pye Street and continue west. On reaching Strutton Ground we turn south as far as Great Peter Street where we head back eastward. On the corner with Perkin’s Rents we have today’s pub of the day (the first in a long while), The Speaker. Aptly-named given its location of course and though it doesn’t look much from the outside the interior is salubrious enough and they do a damn fine bacon, brie and onion chutney bagel to go with a decent selection of beers. Used by male House of Commons researchers as a venue for mansplaining to their female colleagues (on the evidence of this one visit).

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In Victorian times, the area round here was a notorious slum known as the Devil’s Acre.  The houses were mostly occupied by what a contemporary described as “mendicants, hawkers, costermongers, lodging house keepers, thieves and abandoned females of irregular and intemperate habits” and it wasn’t unusual for 10 to 12 people to share a room. The slum was cleared from 1877 onward and the Peabody Trust built one of their estates to replace a large part of it.

We pass through the middle of the estate up Perkin’s Rents back to Old Pye Street then follow that east to its junction with St Ann’s Street and turn south back down to Great Peter Street. Here we turn east as far as Great Smith Street and head north towards the Abbey again. On the west side of the street is the Westminster Library which when it was built in 1891 incorporated a public baths and wash house. The baths themselves were removed in 1990 when that part of the building was turned into the Westminster Archive Centre but if you look in the top left corner of the picture below you can see the original sculpted panels of swimmers created by Henry Poole (1873 – 1928).
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We turn right opposite into Little Smith Street which runs through to Tufton Street. At no.11 resides J. Wippell & Company, suppliers of clerical vestments and church furnishings. The Wippell family set up in business in the West Country in 1789 but this London shop was established just over a hundred years later.

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Proceeding north up Tufton Street brings us to Great College Street where we turn right briefly, past the southern end of Westminster School, before diverting into Barton Street. Barton Street and Cowley Street, which comes off it at a right angle, are fertile ground for blue plaque hunters. No.14 Barton Street is the one-time home of T.E Lawrence (1888 – 1935) better known of course as Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence lived here while writing Seven Pillars of Wisdom and account of his experiences working for British Military Intelligence in the near east during WW1.

Round the corner at no.6 Cowley Street Lord Reith (1889 – 1971), the first Director-General of the BBC, lived from 1924 – 1930. Despite having no broadcasting experience (though it’s hard to see where he would have got any at that time) he got the job as general manager of the newly formed BBC in 1922 and stayed in the lead role until 1938. He is memorialised by the BBC’s annual series of Reith Lectures which began in 1948.

Across the road no.16 was the home of legendary luvvie Sir John Gielgud (1904 -2000) from 1945 to 1976. Gielgud’s career spanned almost 80 years, ranging from leading roles in Hamlet and King Lear on the stage to playing the butler to Dudley Moore’s Arthur for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Nothing to do with these famous ghosts but if I could have my pick of somewhere to live in London then Barton Street / Cowley Street would be very high up on the list.

There’s a small second section of Cowley Street, perpendicular to the main stretch, which emerges back out on Great Peter Street. Then the next northward turning is Little College Street which takes us back to Great College Street from where it’s a short hop east to Abingdon Street, on the other side of which are the Victoria Tower Gardens. At the entrance to the gardens stands the memorial to the mother and daughter leading lights of the Suffragette movement, Emmeline (1858 – 1928) and Christabel (1880 – 1958) Pankhurst. The main feature of the memorial is a bronze statue of Emmeline by Arthur George Walker which was unveiled in 1930. Shortly after Christabel’s death the statue was moved to its present location and bronze reliefs commemorating her achievements were added.

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On the river embankment wall is a green plaque in memory of Sir Thomas Pierson Frank (1881 – 1951) who as Chief Engineer for the London County Council during WW2  directed repair operations to public infrastructure including the Thames wall such that although this was hit at least 121 times during the war years the city never flooded.

Above left is a shot of the southern end of the Palace of Westminster showing the Victoria Tower after which the gardens are named. I mentioned earlier that there were just two statues in the grounds of the PoW and we pass the second of those as we return towards the Palace via Abingdon Street and through Old Palace Yard. The equestrian statue of Richard I (popularly known as Lionheart or Coeur de Lion) was created by Baron Carlo Marochetti (who collaborated with Landseer on the Trafalgar Square lions if you remember). The statue was originally produced in clay for the Great Exhibition of 1851 then funds were raised to enable it to be cast in bronze and it was installed in Old Palace Yard in 1860.

Having arrived back at the HoP we cross the road again and set off on an clockwise circuit of Parliament Square. Plans for the Parliament Square Garden were included in Charles Barry’s design for the new Houses of Parliament following the 1834 fire but the gardens weren’t laid out until 1868.  The first batch of statues were erected between 1874 and 1883 as monuments to the nineteenth century Prime Ministers; the Earl of Derby, Viscount Palmerston, Robert Peel and Benjamin Disraeli. Most of the others were installed after the post-WWII redesign of the garden to commemorate both giants of 20th century British parliamentary history and iconic world statesmen. So, in the slides below, we have, respectively :

  • Nelson Mandela, sculpted by Ian Walters (2007) in the foreground with Sir Robert Peel sculpted by Matthew Noble (1876) beyond him and in the background Abraham Lincoln (1920).
  • Mahatma Ghandi sculpted by Philip Jackson (2015) in the foreground and Benjamin Disraeli sculpted by Mario Raggi (1883) behind him.
  • The most recent addition to the pantheon and the first woman to be granted the honour – Dame Millicent Fawcett (1847 – 1929) sculpted by Gillian Wearing (2018). The statue was erected to coincide with the centenary of women being granted the vote. Millicent Fawcett was a leader of the suffragist arm of the campaign for votes for women who were less militant than the suffragettes though unlike the suffragettes they didn’t call a halt to their campaigning during the First World War.  The words on the banner her statue holds are from a speech she made after the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison.
  • George Canning sculpted by Sir Richard Westmacott (1832 but moved to its present location in 1949).
  • David Lloyd George sculpted by Glynn Williams (2007)
  • Winston Churchill sculpted by Ivor Robert-Jones (1973)

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Final port of call for today is the Supreme Court Building which stands on Little George Street which runs parallel with the west side of the square. The building, originally known as the Middlesex Guildhall, dates from 1913 and was designed in the neo-gothic style by Scottish architect, James Gibson. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal in the UK but it has only been in existence since 2009; prior to that the House of Lords (or rather the Law Lords) occupied the top-tier of the British legal pyramid. It was the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 that led to the creation of the Supreme Court in order to fully separate the legislature from Parliament. The Supreme Court doesn’t conduct trials as such; it sits in order to determine whether the correct interpretation of the law has been applied in civil cases that are referred to it for appeal. The Justices of the SC, currently numbering eleven and appointed by an independent selection commission, determine which cases they will hear based on the extent to which they raise ‘points of law of general public importance’.  The same 11 justices also form The Judicial Committee of The Privy Council (JCPC) which is the court of final appeal for the UK’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies, as well as many Commonwealth countries.

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