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A Favourite Thing - Lunchtime in London
Victoria Embankment Gardens
Member Name: lynn_bex
Victoria Embankment Gardens
Date: 08/08/02, updated on 07/01/05 (833 review reads)
Advantages: Free, Fun, Top up your tan in good weather
Disadvantages: Open air not so good if it rains, Workers seldom catch the whole show
On the other hand, if the weather is fine and office workers are out enjoying London's open spaces, keep an eye out for a middle-aged fool with a sandwich in her hand and contented smile on her face....
That could be me. - A “Lady Who Munches” – playing lunchtime hooky from work whilst taking in the sun and enjoying some of those free lunchtime treats that Central London has to offer…
Lately, you might have spotted me in the audience enjoying a show at the Bandstand in Victoria Embankment Gardens, where free shows are on offer most days…
Sir Christopher Wren first had the idea of embanking the Thames during the re-building of London following the Great Fire of London in 1666, but it was not until 1862 that a Bill was brought before Parliament and such a scheme was approved.
Work on Victoria Embankment commenced in 1864 and the walkway between Westminster Bridge and the Temple was opened on 30 July 1868, although the roadway beside the Thames was not completed until 1870.
Victoria Embankment is in three sections:
(1) Whitehall/Westminster to Northumberland Avenue/Embankment Underground Station;
(2) Embankment Underground Station/Villiers Street to Waterloo Bridge; and
(3) Waterloo Bridge to the Temple.
In all, it is approximately one-and-a-third miles in length and 100 feet wide and by this narrowing of the Thames, approximately 37 acres of low-tide mud banks and waste-ground were reclaimed from th
e river. The retaining wall is carried down to 32
.5 feet below the high water mark and 14 feet below low water mark and is built from bricks faced with granite and founded in concrete and Portland cement.
The main part of Victoria Embankment Gardens is the middle section, running from Embankment Station and Villiers Street to Waterloo Bridge, and it is here that the Bandstand is to be found. Built on what was previously part of the gardens and flower beds, the Bandstand was opened in 1953 and has long been a provider of free entertainment with seating by way of deck chairs.
Before making yourself comfortable in one of the deck chairs, you might enjoy a stroll through the Embankment Gardens themselves, where you will find some interesting statues and sculptures, a couple of small ponds and, of particular note, the original Buckingham Gate, which marks the position of the former north bank of the river (and never ceases to amaze me when I view its current position in relation to the “embanked Thames” now so far distant, courtesy of those clever Victorians.)
From reading the various plaques and inscriptions, it seems that philanthropists and do-gooders were especially attracted to the gardens. There is a small lily pond that slightly puzzles me, having been donated in 1915 by Alfred Buxton, later to become Chairman of the London County Council from 1916 to 1917. [Donating a lily pond in 1915 seems a strange thing to have done during the First World War. Perhaps it was donated in memory of somebody, but it doesn’t say so.]
One inscription that makes me smile is on an old fashioned drinking fountain, donated in memory of Henry Fawcett, “By his grateful country women.” - Oh, it was a gentler world back then; the Victorians wouldn’t have sniggered!
There is a strange little sculpture close to the bandstand, of a soldier mounted on a camel. The plinth is about twice the size of t
he sculpture and the inscription thereon tells us that this is a memorial to the Imperial Camel Corps – a part of the armed forces with which I am unfamiliar!
Also close to the bandstand is a café, open for breakfasts and throughout the day. As a rough guide to the prices, a cup of tea costs 75p; coffee 95p; breakfasts from £1.95; toasted sandwiches from £1.95; burger in a bun £1.75; main meals seem to be in the region of £5.45 to £6.45; ordinary cakes and sandwiches vary in price according to their content.
Should you be visiting London during the summer of 2002, you will have the fun of spotting the CowParade cows. Sculpted by Pascal Knapp, from Switzerland, the individual cows have been decorated by individual artists and can be spotted grazing around London (as similar herds have grazed in other cities, including New York and Tokyo). There will be a charity auction of the London cows in the autumn…
Six of these cows can be found in Victoria Embankment Gardens; “Punk Moo-zik” made me laugh out loud when I first spotted it, with its colourful Mohican hair style and chains strung between it’s piercings! - I was also rather taken with “Cowmooflage” which is covered in artificial grass and is standing, (would you have guessed?) on a lawned area! (There are two more members of the CowParade just outside the Gardens, one on either side of Cleopatra’s Needle beside the Thames.)
Back at the Bandstand, you will find weekday lunchtime shows generally run from 12.30 until 2.00pm and they are always free. The performances can be anything from poetry to mime, jazz to classical music, puppetry to circus, song and dance to – well, practically any other form of performing art you care to name.
[There are longer shows at the weekends, often featuring foreign performers or British performers demonstrating the arts of other cultures, and these tend to commence at 2.00pm.
Again, they are completely free of charge.]
Unfortunately, for someone on her weekday lunch break (me, for example!) it is quite difficult to put names to the performers as the show is usually in progress when I arrive, then I need to leave before the end to get back to my office. – There is usually a notice pinned up, detailing forthcoming events, and if you are lucky a leaflet will be available from the containers on the gates, but unfortunately performances are “Subject to Change” so I cannot be sure that I actually saw, for example, “Billy Jenkins Blues Collective” on 9th July or Davide Mantovani Quintet on 23rd July.
I DO know that I saw the “Stripes and Whites (Good Time Music)” on 2nd August – because, not only were they wearing striped waistcoats, but they were most certainly playing good time music!
Comprising Guitar, Drums, Double-Bass and Trumpet, the Stripes & Whites were playing “I Ain’t Got Nobody” with the guitarist on vocals, as I arrived carrying my obligatory Benjy’s bag containing a Chicken Salad Baguette (£1.95) and can of Coke (45p) and made myself comfortable in a deck chair in front of the Bandstand.
[Benjy’s is a chain offering some of the cheapest snacks in London and my family tell me that I must look like a saddo, wandering about with my lunch in a Benjy’s bag, but I don’t care. I feel like a happy-o when I get to the bandstand!]
Munching, and foot-tapping I spent about half-an-hour enjoying the music of the Stripes & Whites, which went through “My Blue Heaven,” “Sweet Lorraine” and many more. Just before 2.00pm, the band launched into what was likely to be their last number, “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and I realised that I would have to make my way back to the office…
This I did, singing quietly to myself as I made my way up Villiers Street i
n brilliant sunshine, “Grab your coat and get your hat/Leave your worries on the doorstep…”
“Hum, hum… …Just direct your feet...."
(across the Strand and up through Covent Garden,)
“…I used to walk in the shade… Hum, hum.”
(“Oh, I’m nearly dancing… Hum, hum… …Diddle-dum… Oops, I am dancing…” )
“Now I’m not afraid/This rover, crossed over…”
(Across Long Acre, nearly back to work)
“Dum, dum, dum, diddle-dum…. Life can be so sweet/On the sunny side…”
“Jill Murphy asked me to write about one of my favourite things to help her celebrate her fourth anniversary of cancer-free living and to remind ourselves of all the nice things in the world. It takes more muscles to make a frown than a smile you know. If you’d like to join in, whether you’ve only just joined dooyoo, or you’ve been here ages, you’re more than welcome. Just write about one of YOUR favourite things, make your title “A Favourite Thing: [your choice]” and include this paragraph at the foot of your opinion. And post before Friday, 9th August.”
“ …If I never make a cent/I’ll be rich as Rockefeller/There’ll be gold dust at my feet/On the sunny side of the street…”
How to get to the Bandstand, Victoria Embankment Gardens:
Nearest Tube: Embankment
Main Line Station: Charing Cross
Bus: Numbers 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 23, 24, 29, 77A, 91, or 176 – all of which serve Trafalgar Square and/or Charing Cross Station
If you enter the Gardens from Villiers Street, which leads down to the Embankm
ent from Charing Cross Station, you will be right beside the Bandstan
ALL TOGETHER NOW:-
“Can't you hear the pitter-pat
And that happy tune is your step
Life can be complete
On the sunny side of the
br>(“Sunny Side of the Street” by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh)
PS November 2002. The cows have gone... I miss them...