Here I am at Charing Cross station, home to Southeastern Railways serving routes to the South East through London and into Kent and Sussex. The day didn’t start well as after making my way to the station’s reception, I was refused permission to take photos in the station and along the platforms. Despite my discussing Network Rail’s policy with the station manager, he maintained his stance that it was at his discretion, and he was not going to be persuaded otherwise.
Somewhat deflated, I resolved to continue to explore the surroundings; just disappointed that I couldn’t showcase inside the station as I have elsewhere. I did raise the matter separately with Network Rail, who apologised and agreed the outcome was contrary to their expected approach. I was reassured that if I were to return, I would be given access. Maybe for another day.
I did find one colourful and interesting angle of the station, via the station’s side entrance in Villiers Street. Clearly the station has made some effort to encourage station visitors to access its premises in a ‘socially distanced’ manner. And whilst I was waiting to capture the right composition I did notice everyone adhering to the script.
And a little further down the street is the delightful ‘Arches’. Believed once to have been wine cellars, the individual cellars now house a collection of independent shops and clubs, such as the Comedy Club and the Charing Cross Theatre. The area is normally a hive of activity, but in these unusual times, the shop owners look on hopefully for their next customer.
The Eleanor Crosses
There’s much written about how Charing Cross got its name and why the impressive sculpture sits outside the station. This account from Historic UK goes into the detail, but here’s the summary.
Eleanor of Castile was married to King Edward I (Longshanks) in 1254. She died in 1290 en route to meet her husband in Scotland. Learning of his wife’s death, Edward recovered her body and returned to Westminster, stopping 12 times during her journey. He subsequently erected a memorial cross at each of those stopping points.
The one we see today is in fact a Victorian replica, the original having stood at the entrance to Whitehall where there’s now a statue of Charles Ist on his horse. This spot in Whitehall is deemed to be the very centre of London and where distances are measured from.
As with most of the London hub stations built at the height of the Victorian ‘age of steam’, development included an exclusive hotel too, and Charing Cross was no exception. It was built by Edward Middleton Barry and opened in 1865 with a distinctive French Renaissance style exterior which now defines today’s view of the station.
The hotel’s success was partly attributed to the station becoming an international gateway with boat train services running from the station to Dover. And consequently an extension to the hotel was opened in 1878 on the other side of Villiers Street.
For those who have walked up and down Villiers Street heading to/from the Embankment underground station, you’ll have looked up and seen the connecting bridge and probably wondered what it is. This helpful article by Laura Reynolds from Londonist takes an interesting peek inside the footbridge. Thanks Laura.
As is my want, I don’t pre-plan my walking route before getting to the station as I like to explore with an air of serendipity, not knowing what I’m going to find and see. But as I was exploring Villiers Street, I thought I’d walk to the South Bank over the Golden Jubilee Bridge east of the main Hungerford Railway bridge. And then return over the western arm of the bridge; but alas, the western arm was closed for bridge works. Nevertheless, the following collection is a brief glimpse into the images I’ve captured whilst out and about:
Snog and Beany: two food outlets captured in one shot at the foot of the Golden Jubilee Bridge which made for a very colourful combination. The only thing missing are their patrons on this damp, grey Covid struck mid week afternoon. Beany is part of the Daisy Green chain of Australian themed eateries across London who I’ve met before along the Grand Union Canal by Paddington Station. Snog, reusing a brightly painted fluorescent pink double decker bus, is a frozen yogurt retailer. I do hope both businesses survive after the pandemic as their unique style is partly what makes the city of London so vibrant.
Jubilee Oracle by Alexander – The Queen’s Walk: an interesting piece of modern bronze sculpture in the middle of the embankment promenade which naturally draws people to it. I was standing behind the piece and lining people up through the gap. Most who walked up were oblivious to my presence and focussed their attention on the statue’s description on the other side. For those who did notice me, I followed their gaze through the camera to get their expression. The focus here is of a couple who have been photobombed by another observer interested in what I’m doing.
‘The River Sweats Oil and Tar: The barges drift with the turning tide, Red sails wide to leeward, swing on the heavy spar, the barges wash , drifting logs down Greenwich Reach past the isle of Dogs’. This is an extract from T. S. Elliot’s The WasteLand which is engraved in a pavement slab along the Queen’s Walkway which this couple I’ve captured here were headed towards.
Rainbow Umbrella: this woman was walking away from me but I noticed the underside of her umbrella had a splash of red, and now and again when I caught a glimpse of it, it seemed to complement the red life ring holder on the side of the Golden Jubilee Bridge. The only challenge was that she was walking away from me so for each shot I took , I was extending the focal length until I reached the zoom lens’ 200mm extent. I was also positioning myself to hide an oncoming pedestrian which I almost managed to achieve, although look closely and you can just see her foot in shot.
Samaritans: ‘One more day, talk to someone, maybe them (arrow to the Samaritans), then wait another day. One day at a time my love’…’Stay for yourself, stay for me. I promise we can make it better. You will be loved if not already. Call them (arrow to the phone number). It’s the start of your new life. I love you’…Two heartfelt handwritten messages on separate Samaritans notices on the bridge. Sentiments that made me emotional reading them, thinking about the person who wrote them and the effect they may have on others reading them. Imagine if it made someone think twice…then a worthwhile addition I believe.
Tent Living: Despite the Mayor of London’s attempts to end homelessness across the city, some remain elusive; either by choice, design or by accident. Regardless of the reason, it’s sad to see such sights as this one under the Hungerford railway bridge on the Embankment. It seems this array of six tents isn’t just a casual pop-up happening, as the ‘residents’ appear to have created a settlement around themselves. Passers by hardly bat an eyelid as if acknowledging this is now acceptable in the 21st century.
Big Ben: no matter how many times I visit London, the iconic view of the world famous clock tower never fails to impress. This one in particular offers a different perspective, and one that’s been with Londoners for a while, and will remain like this for some time to come as the tower and the Parliament buildings undergo serious and significant restoration. I particularly like this one because of the degree of detail I’ve captured, despite this being taken from some distance away – a nod really to my camera and lens quality. Oh ok, I may have had something to do with it as well…
I’m very familiar with the area immediately east of Villiers Street as I worked in John Adam Street for a number of years when the Department for Work and Pensions had one of its London headquarters there. The Adelphi building gets its name from the area known as Adelphi which has a very well documented history. The Adelphi building is now a modern office space occupied by many well known organisations, such as Spotify.
The building was once a hive of central government policy making, and it’s here I learnt that my career was not in policy making. It was however an interesting experience which saw me one day sitting in the ‘corridors of power’ directly behind the government benches in the House of Commons. Later in my career, I returned to The Adelphi, heading up the department’s London IT infrastructure team. I’d brief senior managers on performance and strategic planning, and frequently use a room at the corner of the ground floor where there is now a Smith and Woolensky steakhouse. How bizarre!
I made my way down to the Victoria Embankment Gardens through York Buildings, and just before entering the walkway, I noticed a new plaque on Watergate House, the last building on the left hand side. Now the home of BGF, an investment group, the plaque was erected in 2019 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of GCHQ, and where the first home of the UK’s Intelligence, Security and Intelligence Agency was located.
Into Watergate Walk, a cut through to Villiers Street and one that provides access into the gardens. Both sides of the Walk are covered with green awnings under which visitors to Gordon’s Wine Bar, London’s oldest wine bar, will sit and enjoy their glass (and/or bottle) of wine. There are a few hardened and maybe seasoned patrons cowering for shelter under the rain soaked awnings whilst the sommeliers dodge the rain hopping from table to table.
I make a short detour around York Watergate where I capture today’s Picture of the Day, so read on below.
Picture of the Day – Golden Leaf
This is only a fraction of the memorial plaque besides the York Watergate. I was reading the inscription (see below), when this leaf fell on the plaque. I was just about to move it but realised if I close-cropped the shot, it created a dazzling example of the autumnal colours with a brief reference to the Villiers family offering a glimpse into the past. I’ve highlighted the yellow in post production to highlight the contrast with the grey slate. But this has also brought out the inscription’s lettering.
‘This gateway marks the position of the north bank of the river Thames before the construction of the Victoria Embankment Gardens in 1862: It was built in 1626 by Nicholas Stone, Master mason for George Villiers 1st Duke of Buckinghamshire, to serve as the watergate to York House which the Duke had acquired from the Archbishop of York in 1624. The arms on the riverfront and the motto Fidei coticula crux (the cross is the touchstone of truth) on the landside are those of the Villliers family. York House was demolished in 1675 and streets were laid out on the site. In 1893, the gate having fallen into decay, the London County Council obtained parliamentary powers to acquire and preserve it as an object of public interest.’
- Location: York Watergate, Victoria Embankment Gardens
- Date/Time: Tuesday 13th October 2020 2:40 pm
- Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ8; Shutter Speed – 1/160; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO1600
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