London is blessed with so many well known parks and gardens that it’s easy to overlook some of the less obvious ones, even in the centre of the city.
In Westminster, next to the Houses of Parliament, are the Victoria Tower Gardens, and as the name suggests, are located at the Victoria Tower end of the building.
I think the word ‘gardens’ is a bit misleading because it has a large open grassy area more reminiscent of a park, but whatever you think this open space should be called, it’s a welcome respite from the area around Parliament Square with all its hustle and bustle.
The gardens were created during the 1870s, but not officially opened until 1914.
Apart from the fact that it has a great riverside location, there are some interesting monuments here as well.
Just inside the entrance gate is a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragette leader. It was unveiled in 1930 and is a timely reminder that 2018 is the centenary of the ‘Representation of the People Act’ which granted votes to all women over the age of thirty and all men over the age of twenty one. (The difference in ages was supposed to ensure that men didn’t become minority voters after the huge loss of life during WWI).
Emmeline Pankhurst died on 14th June 1928, just weeks before the Representation of the People Act (1928) which also allowed women over the age of twenty one to vote.
Standing centre stage, so to speak, are the ‘Burghers of Calais’.
The original famous Rodin sculpture still stands outside Calais Town Hall, but if you haven’t seen it then it’s worth checking out this replica. There are a total of twelve copies in various locations around the world, this one being among the first four casts that Rodin made, and with a recent overhaul, it’s looking as good as ever.
It depicts the siege of Calais in 1347 when the town was surrounded by troops of the English King, Edward III.
The six most important citizens of the town (The Burghers) offered up their lives to the King in exchange for the rest of the town’s inhabitants. When the King’s wife heard of their sacrifice she pleaded with her husband to save them all. He agreed, and everyone was allowed to leave the town without harm.
The other feature that you really shouldn’t miss is the Buxton Memorial Fountain. It was built to commemorate the abolition of slavery in 1833 and named after Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, one of the abolitionists, who once said “With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable” – wise words indeed.
It was originally installed in Parliament Square in 1865, but during the course of improvements in the 1950s, a debate ensued whereby some people wanted it to stay where it was, others wanted it to be moved, and there were some who thought it was just an eyesore and didn’t want it to appear anywhere. In the end it was transported to Victoria Tower Gardens, where it was put out to grass so to speak.
At least it’s had a quieter life here, and that’s what I like about this oasis of calm. No matter how hectic it is around Parliament Square, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey, it always seems so much more peaceful here, and whether I’ve just been lucky or not I don’t know, but I’ve never found it difficult to find a bench to sit on and look out over the river and just sit and watch the world go by – and there aren’t too many places around here that you can do that.