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Embankment: Blackfriars to Waterloo

In 1980 GLIAS produced this walks leaflet, compiled by David Perrett and Robert Vickers.

We have reproduced it here for historical interest. Links to entries in the GLIAS Database are given.

This easy walk covers about 2 miles and should take some 90 minutes.

The Great Stink of summer 1858, when the stench from the open sewer of the Thames invaded the newly opened Houses of Parliament, led directly to the building of Joseph Bazalgette's largely unknown engineering masterpiece, the London sewer system. The Victoria Embankment is in reality only the covering over the lower of his intercepter sewers although the design also incorporated the new underground railway, the whole being covered by a new road. Started in 1864 this 13-mile long 100ft-wide embankment involved the difficult task of reclaiming 37 acres from the river. The Embankment opened in July 1870 although the first Metropolitan Railway train had run six weeks earlier.

From Blackfriars Station (Tube & BR) cross the road by the subway, leaving by the exit marked Victoria Embankment N. side/New Bridge Street.

From the steps of Unilever House (1930-1, architect J Lomax Simpson) look back at the Moorish design of the original Metropolitan station and the Water Carrier statue cast at Coalbrookdale in 1869 (GTL00805).

 Water Carrier statue cast at Coalbrookdale in 1869, Blackfriars

Walk west along the Embankment

① The ornate City of London School built 1880-3 has lamp standards also by the Coalbrookdale Co, dated 1882, outside (GTL00047). This company built the famous Iron bridge in Shropshire among its many engineering firsts. Its London offices were on the site of Unilever House until 1899; explaining the presence of their products in this area.

Pass the Daily Mail building and cross at the crossing onto the riverside.

The Victoria Embankment (GTL00340) was designed by Sir Joseph William Bazalgette as part of the Metropolitan Board of Works' scheme to improve the main drainage of London. Built between 1864 and 1870 the Embankment forms the most southerly of the three northern intercepter sewers through which sewage flows under gravity to the pumping station at Abbey Mills in West Ham. On the river wall are ornate dolphin lamp standards, which show alternately the date 1870 and Vic:Reg to the front. The sides carry the monogram MBW and the City of London shield, which changes to an anchor with rope and chain after the City boundary. The lamps were cast by H Young & Co, Eccleston Iron Works, Pimlico to the design of Vulliamy.

② Moored here are the sister ships HMS President (formerly the Saxifrage built 1918) and HMS Chrysanthemum (built 1917), which together form the headquarters of the Royal Naval Reserve. Along the pavement are ornate benches with cast-iron ends in the form of kneeling camels; a design clearly influenced by Cleopatra's Needle. On the bench ends is cast Z D Berry & Son, Regent Street, Westminster. To the right; across the road, is the entrance to the Middle Temple, with working gas lamps.

Continue along the Embankment past the Submariners' Memorial.

③ From the steps forming part of a jetty can be seen in the river-wall large cast lions' heads with mooring rings in their mouths. The City boundary is marked by dragons, dated 1849 and cast by Dewer (GTL00528). They were removed from the Coal Exchange (GTL03083) on its demolition in 1962 and remounted here. On the riverwall at this point the boundary of the Duchy of Lancaster is marked by a small red plaque. Note also the change from stone to concrete paving slabs.

At the roadside are tall standards carrying hanging lamps. Although apparently identical, some are by Carron Ironworks Stirlingshire, dated 1929 with the LCC badge but most are by Macfarlane from the Saracen Foundry Glasgow (the mark is virtually indecipherable through layers of paint) dated 1900, also with the LCC badge.

④ Moored here is the Leith class sloop Wellington, the headquarters of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. She was built at Devonport in 1934 but has been moored here since 1948. At this point is Kings Reach, and a commemorative plaque dated 1935 indicates the point at which the Sovereign could disembark in London, Westminster being outside the City. There was formerly a jetty here.

HQS Wellington

The benches now have cast-iron sphinxes at the ends. Original ones are marked Z D Berry & Son Albion Works, Westminster. Others are copies by SLB Foundry Ltd Sittingbourne, Kent and were placed here in 1977. That they were made from mouldings of the older seats is shown by the poorer detail and on some there is a mixture of foundry names.

Proceed towards Somerset House; on the opposite side of the road is the memorial to the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59) (GTL03670) builder of the Great Western Railway, Great Britain steamship, etc. Somerset House, designed by Sir William Chambers to house several Government Departments, was built between 1778 and 1786. Constructed of Portland Stone it has a river frontage of 800ft but a Strand front of only 135ft. It was the first office building of its kind in the country. The arches forming the basement, now occupied by King's College were originally on the water's edge and used as stores and warehouses with direct access to barges. The distance gives some idea of the scale of Bazalgette's Embankment and how much it changed the appearance of London.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel monument

⑤ Waterloo Bridge (GTL00301) was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and built 1937-42, although it wasn't officially opened until after the war. On the observation platform below the bridge a panoramic relief panel shows John Rennie's splendid earlier bridge with its nine semi-elliptical arches of 120ft span resting on Doric columns on each pier. Named Waterloo Bridge after the battle, it was opened by the Prince Regent in 1817 and closed in 1934 for demolition. The viewing platform is actually the last remaining pier of the old bridge and still retains the bases of the four decorative columns.

Waterloo Bridge

Under the bridge on the north is a large infilled section which was the southern entrance to the Kingsway Tram Tunnel (GTL00484). This tunnel was built to link LCC lines on both sides of the river. It was opened from the north end to Aldwych tram station on 24 February 1906, and through to the Embankment on 10 April 1908. Originally built for single-deck vehicles it was modified during 1930 to allow double-deck vehicles through. The tunnel was 3,500 ft in length and closed in October 1950 although part is now used for the Aldwych underpass.

Kingsway Tram Tunnel

Immediately after passing under the bridge cross the road at the crossing and walk along Savoy Place.

A plaque on the wall of the Institution of Electrical Engineers records that from 1923-32 the building was the original offices and studios of the BBC.

Institution of Electrical Engineers

Turn right into Carting Lane.

⑥ The unusual, rather fat gas lamp (GTL00911) a little way up Carting Lane is the last survivor in central London, and one of only a few dozen in the whole country, of Webb's Patent Sewer Gaslamp. In 1895 J E Webb introduced a combined gas lamp and sewer vent; the constantly burning gas lamp (town gas) draws the foul air from the sewer up the column where it is partially burnt and discharged.

Sewer-Gas Lamp, Carting Lane © Robert Mason 2016 Sewer-Gas Lamp, Carting Lane © Robert Mason 2016

Return to Savoy Place, walk directly across the gardens and back onto the Embankment.

Cleopatra's Needle, which originally stood in front of the temple of Heliopolis, was erected on this site in 1878. Under the foundations are a Bible, newspapers and coins of that date. The bronze sphinxes on either side were cast by Young & Co art founders, London.

Cleopatra's Needle Charing Cross (Hungerford) bridge

From here is a good view of Charing Cross (Hungerford) railway footbridge (GTL03175). The two brick piers are the remains of the suspension footbridge designed by I K Brunel between 1841-45. When the railway engineer (Sir) John Hawkshaw rebuilt the bridge for rail traffic in 1861-64, he arranged for the chains of the suspension bridge to be used to complete Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. The railway bridge is a plain lattice girder structure of total length 1,224ft, which because of the earlier bridge still carries a public footpath. Both brick piers used to be out in the river like the one on the southside, but the Embankment was built between the original river bank and the north pier. Riverboats used to load and unload passengers from these piers and here in August 1847 the boat Cricket exploded, killing most of its 140 passengers.

Pass under the bridge.

⑦ On the Embankment wall can be seen the memorial (GTL00801) to Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, 1812-91, who as Chief Engineer to the Metropolitan Board of Works, forerunner of the GLC, changed the face of London more than anyone else. Not only did he construct the Embankment but roads such as Southwark Street and bridges like Hammersmith. The ornamental surround includes surveying and engineering implements.

Sir Joseph William Bazalgette

The PS Tattershall Castle, now a floating art gallery that can be visited, was built in 1934 by W Gray & Co of West Hartlepool for the London & North Eastern Railway. Her engines are diagonal triple expansion steam engines. She served 38 years as a Humber ferry before being withdrawn in 1972 and moving to this site.

Continue along towards the Houses of Parliament but when the road starts to rise remain on the path nearest the river.

⑧ Just at the foot of the steps note the small metal-clad octagonal hut perched on the riverwall. This is a tide gauge for determining the height of the Thames. The instruments can be seen by looking through the small window.

Go up the steps and turn left onto the bridge.

Westminster Bridge (GTL00521) formed the second crossing of the river in London. The first bridge of 1738-50 was demolished in 1861 and the present bridge, designed by Thomas Page, opened in 1862. It consists of seven low arches with a total span of 1,160ft supported on granite piers. On the bridge, look for the V&A monogram in the lamps and the Bridge bye-laws dated 1914.

Westminster Bridge Westminster Bridge

Cross to the south side of the bridge.

⑨ The South Bank Lion (GTL00153) originally surmounted the Lion Brewery, which stood nearby. It was cast in 1837 at Coade's Artifical Stone Manufactory. From 1769 to 1838 Eleanor Coade's Lambeth works manufactured from a secret recipe a wide variety of architectural ornamentation of which the lion is the best survivor. The quality of the 'stone' and its ability to withstand London's corrosive air are well demonstrated.

South Bank Lion

Turn left onto the walkway in front of County Hall; from here walk onto the South Bank Gardens. The walk can be finished either by proceeding to Waterloo Station (BR and Tube) or by returning to the north bank and the Embankment (Tube) via the Hungerford footbridge. The more energetic could even follow walk No 1 through Southwark.

© GLIAS, 1980