Home » Hidden London » Hidden London : The York Water Gate in the Victoria Embankment Gardens

Hidden London : The York Water Gate in the Victoria Embankment Gardens

Near to the river, close to Embankment Station is the attractive Victoria Embankment Gardens, in one corner looking strangely out of place is a small classical building that is often ignored by the many people who walk past.

The story of the structure is a fascinating one and takes us back to the early 17th century and to one of Britain’s greatest scientists and a notorious favourite of King James I.

The York Water Gate in the Victoria Embankment Gardens is now almost the sole surviving relic of the great houses which in the medieval and Renaissance periods were built along the Strand.

York House, to which the York Water Gate formed the river approach, was originally the site of the town house of the Bishops of Norwich from the 13th century, in the early 16th century it was acquired by King Henry VIII and was then granted to the Archbishop of York in 1556 when the residence was named York House. Sir Francis Bacon moved into York House in the early 17th century before he was charged with corruption.

York Water Gate 1795

In 1622, the house became the property of King’s favourite, George, Duke of Buckingham who began repairs to the house until he run out of money. Despite being in debt, Buckingham built up a large and prestigious collection of art treasures. In 1628, George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham was murdered and the house passed to his family.

The York Water Gate was built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1626, it was built to form an approach to a new residence which Buckingham planned to erect on the site, after serving for many years as a water approach to the houses on the Buckingham estate, it is now over 150 yards from the river within the Embankment Gardens due to the construction of the Thames Embankment in 1860s.

York Water Gate and the Adelphi from the River by Moonlight, by Henry Pether, circa 1850

The York Water Gate is made of Portland stone, and is one of the few surviving reminders in London of the Italianate court style of Charles I. Its design has been attributed to Sir Balthazar Gerbier, Inigo Jones and sculptor and master-mason Nicholas Stone. The structure comprises of three bays and is divided by Doric columns. The central portion, bears the arms of the Villiers family.

In London, there are many buildings and structures that have a fascinating history and the York Water Gate connects us to interesting historical characters and insight into an area which has changed beyond recognition in the last two centuries.

Video review available here

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