Thanks to Boris Johnson and TFL, we were treated to a free walk with London Walks as part of Walk4life yesterday. The walk we chose was Subterranean London, and we were told to meet at 10:30 at Embankment Station.
We arrived at 10:15 to an enormous crowd, a fair proportion taking advantage of the free offer, I would guess. Luckily, London Walks had prepared for this and there were four guides, each taking their own group separately. There were by the end of our walk 95 in our group, but as Adam, our guide, is an expert at projecting his lovely Scottish voice, this turned out not to be a problem.
One thing that stuck in my mind from the walk was York Watergate. To see it, leave Embankment Station by the Villiers Street exit, and enter Victoria Embankment Gardens on your right. What you’re looking for is the Italianate arch – it won’t be hard to find!
The construction of the Thames embankments was an immense engineering project, designed to reclaim land from the river. As a result, there are “footprints” as our guide called them, of what has gone before. The Watergate, now around 150 yards from the water, originally had steps that led down to it. It was built in 1626 and was the exit from nearby York House (since replaced by at least three different developments – such is London). The house was first owned by George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham. The arch was designed perhaps by Inigo Jones, perhaps by Sir Balthazar Gerbier.
Below is the painting “York Watergate and the Adelphi from the River by Moonlight” by Henry Pether, which is owned by the Museum of London. As you can see, there is a line of mansions along this north bank of the Thames – York House was just one of them. It gives a heavily romanticised view but also some idea of what the scene would have looked like. Long may the Watergate live, even if everything else around it changes!