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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

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
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The Discreet Charm of The Roof Gardens of Kensington

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Kensington High Street is still one of West London’s most popular shopping streets, however in the street’s glory days from the late 19th century until the mid-1970s, the street had three large department stores: Barkers of Kensington, Derry & Toms and Pontings. Eventually Barkers bought Pontings and Derry & Toms but still run all three as separate entities. In the 1930s, Derry & Toms were extensively refurbished with Europe’s largest roof garden area being created on the roof of the building.

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The gardens were the idea of Trevor Bowen, the  vice-president of Barkers, the department store  that owned the site . The gardens were laid out between 1936 and 1938 by Ralph Hancock, a landscape architect at the cost of £25,000 and were opened to the public in 1938. A shilling was charged for entry which raised £120,000 for charity over 30 year period.

The  gardens have an intriguing recent history which have included being part of the headquarters of the iconic Biba store in the 1970s, the location of the short lived Regine’s nightclub in 1980 and has been owned by Richard Branson and being part of the Virgin Empire since 1981.

When you arrive at the Roof Gardens, you are transported into almost surreal world 100 feet above Kensington High Street. The first surprise is that unlike many high rise terrace gardens with views all over London, this is a real walled garden with over 60 trees, some planted over 70 years ago.

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The second surprise considering the size,  is that it is not one garden but three. You step out into the English Woodland Garden with  thousand of plants, a stream, and a  couple of bridges.. This particularly English scene is slightly disturbed by the strutting flamingos walking around the garden.

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The Tudor Garden includes a Tudor walkway and  three courtyards which are planted with plants that would recognisable in Tudor England. This is a peaceful and relaxing place to sit and admire the pots of fruits and   hanging wisteria around  the archways.

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The final garden offers the biggest surprise of all, based on the Alhambra in Granada, The Spanish Garden offers a distinct Moorish flavour with a white campanile with bell. It offers a little piece of Spain with fountains, vine-covered walkways and Chusan palms.

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Remarkably the gardens have changed little since their 1930s heyday and will hopefully see little change in the future because the trees in the gardens have been made subject of preservation orders in 1976 and the gardens have been acknowledged as a place of ‘ Specific Historical Interest’ and were given a Grade II listing by English Heritage.

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Although the gardens surround a two storey Clubhouse which hosts private events such as conferences, parties and a private members club, the gardens are open to the public when there is not a private event taking place. Visitors can also dine in the Babylon Restaurant which overlooks part of the Roof Gardens.

It is not just the spring and summer that attracts the visitors, the Roof Gardens are open all year around and have an extensive programme of events throughout the autumn and winter. These include the Roof Gardens award-winning Live! music nights in October plus Halloween, Firework Night and New Years Eve events.

The Roof Gardens of Kensington are one of the hidden delights of London and  have been used as a location in a number of films and television programmes, Roy Orbison was filmed walking around the gardens singing one of his greatest hits, Pretty Woman in a 1964 Top of the Pops film.

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The Gardens are  free to visit, however it is worth contacting the Gardens before visiting to make sure they are open to the public on the day you would like to visit.

For more information about the Roof Gardens and events, visit the Roof Gardens of Kensington website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

 

 

 

Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice in Postman’s Park

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Location : St Martin’s Le-Grand, London EC1A

Postman’s Park is one of the largest parks in the City of London, it is the location of the famous Watts memorial, built in 1900 by Victorian painter and philanthropist G. F.  Watts. Postman’s Park opened in 1880, it was created on the site of the former churchyard and burial ground of St Botolph’s Aldersgate church and eventually incorporated the  burial grounds of St Botolph’s Aldersgate church .

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The park was close to the site of the General Post Office and the name reflected its popularity with GPO staff.

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In 1900, the park was chosen as the location for George Frederic Watts’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, a memorial to ordinary people who died while saving the lives of others. The idea for the memorial originated in a letter sent by Watts to the Times in 1887, he proposed that a park commemorating ‘heroic men and women’ who had given their lives attempting to save others would be ideal way to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year.

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Eventually it was decided that memorial tablets would be housed in a wooden gallery, The memorial was designed to accommodate panels of hand-painted ceramic tiles, Watts commissioned William De Morgan, one of the world’s leading tile designers to create the first four memorial tablets. However the costs for the tiles led to a limited progress with only 13 installed before the death of Watts in 1904, the subjects for inclusion on the tiles were selected by Watts who maintained a list of newspaper reports of heroic actions for years.

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Over the next few years, various other memorial tiles were added until there was a total of 53 tiles. In 2009, a memorial to Leigh Pitt was added to the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, the first new tablet added to the memorial since that of Herbert Maconoghu 78 years earlier.

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One of the few green spaces in the City of London, Postman’s Park situated near the Museum of London is still popular with city workers and the garden features  attractive flower beds and a fountain.  The park has also been featured in key scenes in the 2004 film Closer based on the 1997 play by Patrick Marber.

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Opening hours

7 days a week throughout the year 8am – 7pm or dusk – whichever is earlier

 London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

London’s ‘Tin Pan Ally’ – A Walk Down Denmark Street

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Denmark Street is a street on the edge of London’s West End near to Tottenham Court Road station. The street origins date from the 17th century and was named after Prince George of Denmark. Although historically it had a number of famous residents including the painter Johann Zoffany and Augustus Siebe, who pioneered the diving helmet, in the 20th century it became associated with British popular music.

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From the 1950s, the street became known as Britain’s “Tin Pan Alley” and housed a large number of music publishers’ offices. When this market declined in the 1960s it became home to music shops and recording studios. The Rolling Stones recorded at Regent Sound Studio and the Gioconda café became a well known meeting place for musicians that included David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and the Small Faces.

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In the 1970s, Malcolm McLaren and The Sex Pistols rehearsed in the street and cult comic and science-fiction bookshop, Forbidden Planet opened their first shop in 1978 . Well respected music papers, the Melody Maker and the New Musical Express began from offices in the street.

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In the 1980s and 1990s, the street declined as a hotbed for new talent and became known for its instrument shops. Recent development of the area has led to the closure of the well loved 12 Bar Club and Enterprise Studios but a number of instrument shops  are still trading.

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London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

The Remarkable Story of the Temple Bar

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Standing near to St Paul’s Cathedral, mostly ignored by visitors is an arch that has a remarkable history. The arch is known as the Temple Bar and was commissioned by King Charles II, and designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Constructed from Portland Stone between 1669 and 1672 it occupied one of the most important locations in London, separating the  City of London and the City of Westminster.

This location was the point where Fleet Street becomes the Strand, a site now near the Royal Courts of Justice, it was at this spot that a Temple Bar stood from the 13th century. Originally just a wooden structure with a chain, it possessed considerable symbolic importance. Temple Bar was the  scene of a large number of historical pageants celebrating coronations and paying homage to dead Kings and Queens, through the Temple Bar passed Henry V, Anne Boleyn, Edward VI and  Mary Tudor. Before Queen Elizabeth the first’s  coronation, Gogmagog the Albion, and Corineus the Briton, the two Guildhall giants, stood next to the Bar.

In the late Middle Ages a wooden archway stood on the spot and although it escaped damage in the Great Fire of London , it was decided  by the City to rebuild the structure.

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The Wren designed Temple Bar is constructed in two stories with  one wide central arch for the road traffic, flanked on both sides by narrower arches for pedestrians.
During the 18th century, the heads of traitors were mounted on pikes and exhibited on the roof and  upper story room was leased to the neighbouring banking-house of Child and Co for records storage.

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Temple Bar, London, 1878 by A & J Bool

In 1878 the City of London Corporation decided that the arch was becoming a bottleneck for traffic and decided to dismantle the structure. It dismantled it piece-by-piece over an 11-day period and the Corporation stored the 2,700 stones. In 1880, at the instigation of his wife, Valerie Meux, the brewer Henry Meux bought the stones and re-erected the arch as a gateway at his house, Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire. Lady Meux used it to entertain friends but after she died, it became derelict and abandoned  until 2003.

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Temple bar at Theobolds Park (Photo M Newnham 1968)

In 1984, it was purchased by the Temple Bar Trust from the Meux Trust for £1. It was carefully dismantled and returned on 500 pallets to the City of London, where it was painstakingly re-erected as an entrance to the Paternoster Square redevelopment just north of St Paul’s Cathedral. It opened to the public on the 10 November 2004.

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London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

The Remarkable Story of Cleopatra’s Needle

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Location: Victoria Embankment, London WC2 N6

One of the most unusual monuments alongside the River Thames is Cleopatra’s Needle on the Victoria Embankment. Cleopatra’s Needle is an Ancient Egyptian obelisk made during the reign of the 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Thutmose III in around 1450 BC. Cleopatra’s Needle was located in front of the great temple of the sun in Heliopolis which was known as the city of temples dedicated to the worship of the sun. The original hieroglyphs on the obelisk  were related to the exploits of the great Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III , however 300 years later Rameses II added some extra hieroglyphs to the obelisk that celebrates his reign. The obelisk was moved to Alexandria by the Romans in 12 BC, where eventually it toppled over and remained until 1877 when Sir William James Erasmus Wilson sponsored its transportation to London from Alexandria at a cost of some £10,000.

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In  many ways it was a gift that England did not want,  the needle was first offered in 1820 to commemorate Nelson’s victory on the Nile, it was offered again in 1831, 1849 and 1851. The question of transportation was the main  problem, it was too expensive to transfer by land and the British Government did not want to get involved . The solution  proposed by engineer John Dixon was to encase the obelisk in great iron cylinder, 92 feet (28 m) long and 16 feet (4.9 m) in diameter. The creation of the iron cylinder was undertaken and on the top of the cylinder was a deck house, masts and a small set of sails. The cylinder named The Cleopatra was transported to Alexandria in parts and reassembled on the beach  under the supervision of John Dixon and Captain Henry Carter who was to command the ‘ship’ whilst being towed behind a steamship.

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Eventually the obelisk was encased in the cylinder and attached to the steamship Olga for its journey to London, all went well until 14th October 1877, when a storm in the Bay of Biscay caused the cylinder to start rollling, The Olga sent out a rescue boat with six crew, but the boat capsized and all six crew were lost.  Captain Carter and the five crew members aboard the Cleopatra were eventually rescued, but the cylinder was feared to have sunk. However these fears were unfounded and the cylinder was found and was taken to Ferrol in Spain. Unfortunately this was not the end of the problem because over £2,000 salvage had to be paid before the journey could be continued. The money was eventually paid and the cylinder arrived in the Thames on the 21st January 1878.

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Prior to the final settling down of the monolith, a time capsule of  two large jars containing curious and miscellaneous assortment of articles were deposited in the cove of the pedestal and of the obelisk itself.  The items included  a standard foot and pound, presented by the Standard Department of the Board of Trade; a bronze model of the obelisk half-inch to the foot; topics of engineering printed on vellum, with plans and details of the various arrangements employed in transporting and re-erecting the obelisk, together with  its complete history ; a parchment copy of Dr  Birch’s translation of the hieroglyphics ; a piece of the obelisk stone ; a complete set of British coinage, including an Empress of India rupee ; portrait of Her Majesty the Queen Victoria ; Bible in various languages, presented by the British and Foreign Bible Society ; standard gauge to one-thousandth part of an inch, as a sample of accurate workmanship, Bradshaw’s Railway Guide, Whitaker’s Almanac, wirerope and specimen of submarine cable, Mappin’s shilling razor, case of cigars, pipes, Alexandra feeding-bottle and children’s toys, box of hair pins, and sundry articles of female adornment, map of London, copies of the daily and illustrated papers, a London directory, and last, but not least, photographs of a dozen pretty Englishwomen.

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Even this was not the end of the obelisk’s woes , When Cleopatra’s Needle was erected on the Embankment, two Egyptian sphinxes, designed by the English architect George John Vulliamy were added. However many people have speculated that these Sphinxes were installed incorrectly because they appear to be looking at the Needle rather than guarding it. The Embankment has a few other Egyptian motifs such as winged sphinxes on the armrests of benches.  More seriously in 1917, in the first air strike on London by the German airforce, it received some minor damage from shrapnel. The damage can still be seen  on the lower part of the plinth.

There are number of plaques that explain some of the events attached to the plinth, Cleopatra’s Needle is one of the most ancient objects in London and has survived Egyptian Pharaohs, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte  and the German Air force in Two World Wars.  It might have been an unwanted gift but for well over 100 years it has become on the main landmarks of London.

Video Review available here 

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here

The Story of the Monument in the City of London

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Location : Fish Street Hill, London EC3R 8AH

Although dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the City of London, The Monument to the Great Fire of London was one of its wonders of its day. The Monument stands at the junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill in the City of London, it is 202 ft (62 m) tall and 202 ft (62 m) from the spot in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire of London started on 2 September 1666. It was built between 1671 and 1677 as a permanent memorial of the Great Fire of London and to celebrate the rebuilding of the City.

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Thomas Bowles 1755

Sir Christopher Wren, Surveyor General to King Charles II and the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and his friend and colleague, Dr Robert Hooke, provided the design for a colossal Doric column. Inside the column contains a stone staircase of 311 steps leading to a viewing platform. This is surmounted by a drum and a copper urn from which flames emerged, symbolizing the Great Fire.

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As well as enabling visitors to the column to have a unique view of the City of London, Wren built a shaft to enable the Royal Society to conduct experiments into gravity and pendulum movement. The instruments in the shaft connected to an underground laboratory but ultimately the heavy traffic on Fish Hill rendered the experimental data unusable.

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The viewing platform at the top was originally open, however a mesh cage was added in the mid-19th century to prevent people jumping off, after six people had committed suicide from the structure between 1788 and 1842. There was also an occasional accident, in 1750 William Green, whilst reaching over the railing of the balcony to look at a live eagle kept there in a cage, accidentally lost his balance and fell over to his death.

The Monument was not without its controversy when inscriptions added on the east side seemed to blame Roman Catholics for the fire, these offensive words were finally chiselled out in 1830.

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In many respects, the Monument was the Shard of its day and was visited by thousands of people every year. Built from Portland Stone it managed to survive the bombing of the Second World War with minor damage.

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There may be taller structures in London but the Monument is one of the oldest and most interesting historically. It is also one of the cheapest with tickets only £4 for adults and £2 for children.

Visitor Information

Open Daily:

Summer Opening Hours: April – September 9:30am-6pm daily (last admission 5:30pm)

Winter Opening Hours: October – March 9:30am-5.30pm daily (last admission 5pm)

Admission: Adults £4; concs £2.70; children (under 16s) £2. Joint tickets with Tower Bridge cost £10.50 (adult); £7.20 concs; £4.70 children (under 16s)

NOTE: Children of 13 years or younger must be accompanied by an Adult in order to climb the Monument.

For more details , visit the Monument website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here