Friday, October 23, 2009

Embankment, London

Water gate revelation

I used to work in Covent Garden and sometimes, especially in summer, there was a strong temptation to cross the Strand and make for the refreshment provided by Gordon’s Wine Bar in Villiers Street. After a glass or two one could walk back via an architectural detour, through the remains of the Adelphi perhaps, or across the Embankment Gardens, past this monumental gateway, a reminder of a London long gone.

Before the Victoria Embankment was built in 1862, the gateway stood on the river bank. It was built in 1626 as the water gate to York House, home of George Villiers 1st Duke of Buckingham (whose name and title are commemorated in the street names hereabouts). The builder was the appropriately named Nicholas Stone, Buckingham’s master mason and an associate of Inigo Jones, the man who had introduced Palladian architecture to England a few years earlier.

Stone’s water gate is a vigorous, almost restless, design with its banded columns, its big keystones, and its busy cornice jutting in and out. Less restrained than most of Inigo Jones’s rather severe surviving buildings, it seems to look forward to the more baroque style of the late-17th century. And stranded in its garden it looks even odder than it must have done in the 1620s. One up to the London County Council (also long gone) for preserving it.


Peter Ashley said...

I love all the scallop shells and nauticalia on it.

Neil said...

It's the kind of thing one walks past - has walked past - endlessly without ever really considering what on earth it is/was. Thanks so much for drawing attention to structures like this.

Chris Partridge said...

Wasn't Gordons wonderful? I loved the fact that it had no licence - Luis Gordon was a Free Vintner and could tell the Licensing Justices where to put their paperwork. And I also loved the way the black-jacketed and aproned waiters would take your order for a sandwich, and nip round to the sandwich bar next door to get it made.

martin said...

To echo what Neil said:I must have walked past this many times,and just assumed that it was an extraordinarily ornate original entrance to Embankment Gardens.
It never once struck me that it would have stood at the rivers edge.
I might be wrong,but I think there's a similar arrangement at the back of Somerset House.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Chris: Yes, Gordon's was, and is, a fine place. Next time I pass it I'll have to take a photograph and do a post about it, as the building has an interesting history.

Martin: You're right: Somerset House has a big arch that was once its water gate.

Chris Partridge said...

Somerset House was indeed originally built with the huge arches opening directly onto the Thames so goods could be delivered by barge. The Adelphi was similar.

Thud said...

Not a success I fear.