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On the north side of the Thames between Waterloo Bridge and Hungerford Bridge are the Victoria Embankment Gardens, one of London's many leafy green spaces. With a café, bandstand, green gym, kids play park, fish pond and grassy places to just sit, it still manages to pack in a wealth of monuments and statues - even for London this area is particularly monument heavy.

Free to visit and with plenty for all ages to do, it is a lovely place to chill out while absorbing some culture in the sunshine.

Victoria Embankment Park in London

It was Christopher Wren who first suggested a river embankment after the Great Fire of 1666, although due to political infighting and the protests of river users, work didn't begin until 1864. It was created to house a main sewer, to stop sewage flowing directly into the River Thames, as well as to ease traffic congestion and improve the look of the river. In total, about 22 acres of marshy land were reclaimed from the river. The grand buildings and town houses which had once been waterfront properties now found themselves without any river access at all.

York Watergate

The only remaining victim of this land reclamation is the York Watergate, a Grade I listed gate which once gave the Duke of Buckingham a parking place for his boat. It now sits well over 100 metres away from the river in a corner of the Embankment Gardens, looking rather sorry for itself.

The gateway was built in 1626 by George Stone, the master craftsman for the Duke, and was the watergate to his home, York House, which was later demolished in 1675. Nearly 400 years old, it is one of the few remaining parts of London built in the Italianate style of Charles I. It must have had some amazing visitors in its prime as the Duke flew high in society for many years and was the lover of James I, before being assassinated in 1628 due to his political machinations.

The gate was due to be demolished when the embankment was built, but somehow it managed to survive and now sits fenced off, isolated amongst the modern buildings which surround it, looking rather pockmarked and the worse for wear.

Robert Burns Statue

Robert Burns statue in Victoria Embankment

Unveiled in 1884 and commissioned by fellow countryman John Gordon Crawford, the statue shows Burns sitting on a broken plough with a quill pen in one hand and a scroll at his feet with the rather nonsensical words:

'O Sweet to stray, and pensive ponder, A heart-felt sang',

words from his poem To William Simpson Of Ochiltree, written in 1785.

An inscription on the side reads:

"The Poetic Genius of my Country found me at the Plough – and threw her inspiring mantle over me. She bade me sing the loves, the joys, the rural scenes and rural pleasures of my native soil, in my native tongue; I tuned my wild, artless notes as she inspired."

The statue was unveiled by Lord Rosebery, who pointed out that Burns had never actually visited London (probably much to the relief of the women of the city) , which was just as well as 'if in the comparatively quiet atmosphere of Edinburgh Burns was liable to be seduced and overbalanced, they might feel that in the smoke and wealth and din of this imperial city he might have been lost and submerged altogether' before referencing his premature death at the age of 37, joining other such notables as Byron and Raphael, clearly a Victorian forerunner of the 27 Club. (From the Belfast News-Letter - Monday 28 July 1884).

The statue did come in for some justifiable mockery at the time, in this poem from English poet John Gray, written at the time of the unveiling:

The asphalt burns. The garrulous sparrows perch on metal Burns. Sing! Sing! they say, and flutter with their wings. He does not sing, he only wonders why he is sitting there. The sparrows sing.

The Cheylesmore Memorial

This Grade II listed memorial was designed by Lutyens and commemorates British Army officer Herbert Eaton, the 3rd Baron Cheylesmore. He was chairman of London County Council, Chairman of the National Rifle Association, Commandant of a school of Musketry during World War I and a peer. His only real distinction seems to be that he was the first ever peer to die in a car accident, at the age of 77 in 1925.

The Cheylesmore memorial on a sunny day

Still, the memorial is a nice one made from Portland Stone and the pond and water troughs are filled with koi carp and a fountain, making it a pleasant place to hang out on a hot summer's day.

Robert Raikes Statue

The robert Reikes Statue

Robert Raikes is no longer a familiar name, but he was a philanthropist and the first person to promote Sunday Schools, against some strong opposition.

His aim was to educate the masses, to keep them out of prisons and set them on the right path, and his schools are seen as the forerunner of the modern British education system.

From his one school in 1780, which he financed himself, his movement had expanded to teaching 25% of the population less than 100 years later. This statue was erected on the 100 year anniversary of his first school by payments from teachers and scholars of the Sunday School Union.

Henry Fawcett Fountain

This memorial fountain was installed in 1886 and was erected in his memory 'by his grateful countrywomen'. Fawcett had been an early advocate of women's rights, and was married to Millicent Garrett Fawcett, a prominent campaigner for women's suffrage. Henry Fawcett was an MP who pushed for women to have the right to vote, as well as for them to have the right for an equal education and employment.

Henry had been blinded in a shooting accident when he was visiting his parents in Salisbury, yet continued his work until the day he died, becoming Postmaster General and introducing many of the postal systems we use to this day.

You can read more about his life and walk the Henry Fawcett Trail in his native Salisbury >>

Imperial Camel Corps Statue

Sculpted by a member of the Camel Corps, this small bronze statue shows a man riding a camel, and lists the names of all the 346 men who died while serving in the Camel Corps. The Imperial Camel Corps Brigade was formed of British, Australian and New Zealand troops and at its peak had over 4,000 camels. Formed in 1916, the Brigade saw action in Sinai and Palestine, but was disbanded in 1918.

To the Glorious and Immortal

Memory of the Officers, N.C.O.s and Men

of the Imperial Camel Corps – British,

Australian, New Zealand, Indian – who fell in action or died of wounds

and disease in Egypt, Sinai, and Palestine, 1916, 1917, 1918

The camels were notoriously difficult in terms of temperament and comfort, but had unique survival skills for desert life and could access places and distances that vehicles and horses could not.

To My Camel You’re an ugly smellful creature; You’re a blot upon the plain; I have seen Mohamed beat you, And it gave me little pain.

You’re spiteful and you’re lazy, You’d send a white man crazy, But I reckon you’re a daisy When the Turks come out again.

Your head is most unsightly, And so is your humpy back; I hear you roaring nightly, When you’re loading for the track. You’re bow-legged and you’re bandy, But in this desert sandy It’s as well to have you handy: You’re a mighty useful hack.

You shake me something cruel When you try to do a trot; I’ve got to take my gruel, But you make it very hot: I’ve somehow got a notion That your humpty-dumpty motion Is worse than on the ocean, It’s a nasty way you’ve got.

It’s a sun-scorched land, the East is. So we need you when we trek. My old prad a better beast is, But he’d soon become a wreck. You thirst a week unblinking, And when I see you drinking, You always get me thinking: Lord, I wish I had your neck.

Major Oliver Hogue, Imperial Camel Corps - died 1919 and buried in Brookwood Cemetary

Arthur Sullivan Statue