Following the completion of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s Victoria Embankment in 1870, a series of gardens were designed to enhance the appearance of this stretch of the riverside between Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges.
There are in fact four separate gardens, the main one being imaginatively called the ‘Main Garden’.
As you enter the Villiers St entrance next to Embankment underground station you’ll have a bandstand to your left which has a programme of events throughout the summer, and a grassy area which gets taken over by office workers during their lunch breaks.
You may well be tempted to head straight for the footpath that leads past the magnificent mixed borders through the garden, but if you would like to know where the bank of the Thames used to be before the Embankment was created then head up to the north-west corner and check out the York House Water Gate.
This gate was built in 1626 as an entrance to the Thames for the Duke of Buckingham but now stands a hundred metres away from the river, but still in its original position.
Nearby is Gordon’s Wine Bar which I can highly recommend, but if you’re anything like me, is probably best left until later.
Returning to the main path, you’ll see the Embankment Café and the monument to the Imperial Camel Corps, the first of many statues and memorials that appear throughout the gardens, some of which seem to belong here, and others that I’m not so sure about.
As you continue to walk through the garden make a note of a couple of buildings on your left. The first one is Shell Mex House. It has a huge clock, which for a while, due to its association with the oil company, was nicknamed Big Benzene. It might be a somewhat unflattering comparison, but I’ve always liked this art deco building for some reason.
When you come to a sundial you would have reached another building of note – the Savoy Hotel. The main entrance is on the Strand, but I wouldn’t mind betting that the best views are from the rooms here at the back.
The hotel was built by Richard D’Oyley Carte from proceeds he made from his Gilbert and Sullivan productions, and was the first luxury hotel to be built in the country, and probably still London’s most famous hotel.
I like these gardens, and I have to admit I prefer walking through here more than I do along the embankment itself. The gardens are ideal for wandering through on a warm day. There is plenty of shade, places to sit, and things to see – and I have a suggestion:
Walk along the embankment from Westminster Bridge to Waterloo Bridge, and then through the gardens back to Embankment Station. That way, you’ll have the best of both worlds, plus a pit stop at the end in Gordon’s Wine Bar, and the tube a few yards away to get you back to where you need to go – now what could be better than that?