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A pop-up with a view: The Garden Gate @ Oxo 2

The Garden Gate @ The Oxo 2 brings the outside in. © The Garden Gate

The Garden Gate @ The Oxo 2 brings the outside in.
© The Garden Gate

Admittedly I’m a bit late to the party, but for those who love eating or drinking with a view, check out The Garden Gate pop-up restaurant and bar in its last week of opening.

With the summer weather unfortunately cooling down at the moment compared to recent weeks, The Garden Gate is a great place to retreat to for a drink or bite. Located in the Oxo 2 venue on the Southbank, the pop-up offers a casual dining menu at their kitchen and bar with views over the Thames, the City of London skyline and St Paul’s Cathedral.

The venue is full of outdoor paraphernalia – such as AstroTurf and deckchairs – so you can imagine you’re outside, but without the wind from the Thames. Customers who bring a garden gnome will receive a free drink.

Who cares if the weather's bad? Enjoy the 'outdoors'... indoors © The Garden Gate

Who cares if the weather’s bad? Enjoy the ‘outdoors’… indoors
© The Garden Gate

On the menu is a host of garden-themed cocktails, such as  Orchard Mojito, Flower Show and Cucumber Fresh, with watering cans replacing pitchers for groups to share.

Among the entertainment on offer includes table tennis, Jenga and coits, or the chance to win a free ice cream by hooking a duck from the pond.

  • The Garden Gate is open from now until Sunday 24th August 2014. Opening times: Mon Wed 5pm11pm, Thur Sat 12-11.30pm, Sun 1210.30pm. The bar closes 30 minutes before. Located in the Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, SE1 9PH. Nearest station: Waterloo or Blackfriars. For more information, visit the Oxo2 website.

For a guide to what else is on in London this month, click here.

For a review of the Oxo Tower bar upstairs, click here.

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Who do you sphinx you are? The history behind the camel and sphinx benches on Victoria Embankment

The story behind these curious Egyptian benches by the Thames.

Victoria Embankment Bench © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl

Take the load off and rest your weary legs here: One of the camel benches on the Victoria Embankment

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The Egyptian-themed benches were designed to complement Cleopatra’s Needle

Anyone who has strolled along the Victoria Embankment may have noticed the ornate benches alongside the river. Dotted along the north of the Thames between Battersea and Blackfriars Bridges, the cast iron and wooden benches provide more than just a place to rest your weary bones. Unlike the pedestrian-friendly South Bank, the north bank of the Thames isn’t as pleasurable to walk along due to the busy traffic churning out fumes. As a result, all the benches face the river so you can sit with your back to the traffic and enjoy the view.

The benches are one of the many ornamental details created for the Embankment by English architect George John Vulliamy (1817-1886). As well as the benches, he is also responsible for the sphinxes and pedestal for Cleopatra’s Needle and the ‘dolphin’ lamps on both sides of the river. In the centre of London, the Thames used to be a lot wider until the 19th century, city bosses needed a new sewage system to cope with the rapidly expanding population. Sir Joseph Bazelgette (1819-1891) came up with a scheme to reclaim some 22 acres of marshland, creating a new sewage system and a new road, taking the pressure off The Strand. In the typically Victorian way, the new Embankment needed to have suitable ‘street furniture’ to give London – heart of the British Empire – a look of prestige and style.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

A Sphinx bench (left) and a Camel

Camel bench Victoria Embankment © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

I’ll support you: The camel supporting the bench is sitting down

Hired as the Superintending Architect of the Metropolitan Board of Works, Vulliamy created the ‘Dolphin’ (actually, sturgeon fish!) street lamps along the retaining river wall in 1870. Several years later, he decided to look to Egypt for inspiration when it came to designing the benches, a place he had visited in the early 1840s. Pre-empting the arrival of Cleopatra’s Needle – a gift from Egypt – in 1878, Vulliamy opted for a design which would complement the ancient monument when it eventually arrived. Near the site of the Needle itself, the benches in the City of Westminster feature armrests of Sphinxes, before camel armrests appear in the City of London section of the Victoria Embankment. The benches were made by Z.D. Berry & Son of Regent Street and placed on the Embankment in 1877 – a year before Cleopatra’s Needle was erected. Of course, weather and pollution have damaged the benches over the years, with Westminster and the City of London councils restoring and faithfully reproducing them when needed.

Camel bench Victoria Embankment © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The benches are on raised platforms so the user can see the sights along the Thames while seated


To read about the history of Cleopatra’s Needle, Click here

Or to read about the swan benches on the Albert Embankment, click here.

Or to find out the story behind Vulliamy’s Dolphin lamps, click here

To read Metro Girl’s other blog posts on London history, click here.

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Millennium Bridge: A piece of modern London, aka the wobbly bridge

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The Millennium Bridge links the Southbank to the City of London

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Gateway to a London landmark: The bridge leads to St Paul’s Cathedral

London is one of the oldest and most iconic cities in the world. While there are – admittedly very few – pieces of Roman London left, the capital is full of architecture from across the centuries – an amalgamation of old and new. When tourists visit London, they tend to head to the older parts of the city, such as the Tower of London or Buckingham Palace. When it comes to newer additions to the capital, it can take a while for us Londoners to embrace them. Even several decades later, many still hate the Brutalist architecture on the Southbank, while others have slowly grown to love it.

One of London’s newest landmarks is the Millennium Bridge – the steel suspension footbridge spanning the River Thames, linking the Tate Modern to St Paul’s Cathedral. The bridge was one of three structures built in the capital to commemorate the Millennium – along with the London Eye and Millennium Dome (best known now as the O2 Arena). Unfortunately, both the Eye and Bridge fell prey to technical issues and ended up opening later than planned, which I remember was quite embarrassing for us Londoners at the time.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The bridge links the City with London’s former entertainment hub Bankside

The bridge was the result of a competition in 1996, with Arup, Foster and Partners and Sir Anthony Caro submitting the winning design. Construction on the Millennium Bridge started in late 1998. The bridge is comprised of three sections, 4 metres wide and 325 metre long. The structure includes eight suspension cables tensioned to pull a force of 2,000 tons. The north and south part of the bridges feature slopes, rather than stairs, meaning it is accessible for everyone.

The bridge finally opened on 10 June 2000 – two months later than scheduled and £2.2million over budget, bringing the total cost to £18.2million. However, two days later it was closed after the bridge began to sway while people were crossing it. This instability lead to the public and media dubbing it the ‘wibbly wobbly bridge’ – which has stuck as a nickname for many Londoners. Finally, the bridge was re-opened on 22 February 2002 after a £5million operation to fix the structure in place. Nearly 12 years later, it appears the Millennium Bridge is very much secure and has yet to ‘wibble wobble’ again.

  • The Millennium Bridge is accessible from Bankside in front of the Tate Modern or Peter’s Hill. Nearest tube/train: Blackfriars, Mansion House and London Bridge.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Arty: The bridge leads straight to the Tate Modern


For the history of London Bridge, click here.

For a post on another Millennium landmark, read Metro Girl’s Must Do Series – Part 1: London Eye.

For a review of a cruise down the River Thames, read Just cruisin’: Sailing down the Thames.

To read about the history of the so-called ‘Christopher Wren House’ beside the Tate Modern, read Cardinal’s Wharf: A survivor of 18th century Bankside amidst two London landmarks

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Cardinal’s Wharf: A survivor of 18th century Bankside amidst two London landmarks

The Georgian terrace has a plaque claiming to be the former home of Sir Christopher Wren… but what’s the truth?

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Cardinal’s Wharf, aka No.49 Bankside, is a rare survivor of 18th century architecture in the area

Cardinal’s Wharf isn’t usually on a tourist’s checklist of things to see in London. However, inevitably a large proportion of visitors will pass by it while on the way to the Globe or Tate Modern and be attracted to the row of 18th century terraced houses juxtaposed by 20th century architecture. Standing out amongst the three buildings is the tallest – No. 49 Bankside – a three-storey cream building with red door. If you get close enough, you’ll find a cream, ceramic plaque linking it to a very important Englishman – Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). Renowned as the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and many of the City of London’s churches, Wren is an important name in the history of the capital. The plaque claims: ‘Here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral. Here also, in 1502, Catherine Infanta of Castile and Aragon, afterwards first queen of Henry VIII, took shelter on her first landing in London.’

Cardinal's Wharf © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

No.49 was built in 1710

If you stand with your back to the building, you have a lovely view of St Paul’s over the Thames. It’s easy to imagine Wren retiring with a glass of something to the first floor in the evening after a long day at work and gazing out of the window surveying the progress… however, sadly it’s not quite what happened. Wren was tasked with rebuilding a lot of the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666 and is believed to have based himself at Bankside… but at a building a few doors down from No.49, which has long been demolished.

Writer and historian Gillian Tindall uncovered the truth behind the myth of the building in her 2006 book The House By The Thames: And The People Who Lived There. It turns out No.49 was actually built in 1710 – the same year St Paul’s Cathedral was completed, so that already debunks the theory Wren was based there during the decades it took to build his masterpiece. Tindall believes the plaque stood on the actual house that Wren did live in, but a few houses east – situated where a modern block of flats stands today behind the Founders Arms pub. Her theory suggests Malcolm Munthe (1910-1995), who owned the property in 1945, retrieved the plaque when the original Wren building was demolished and placed it on No.49 to protect it from demolition (for a photo of No.49 in 1946, click here). While the act may have led many to confuse fact and fiction, the plaque’s incorrect placing has managed to save the house from destruction. Bankside was heavily bombed during World War II, before there was mass demolition and redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s, so the continued existence of these three houses in Cardinal’s Wharf is a remarkable thing. Situated next to the 1940s-built Tate Modern (formerly Bankside Power Station) and the modern reconstruction of The Globe theatre (opened 1997), Cardinal’s Wharf is a striking contrast to the modernity around it. The house used to stand a lot closer to the Thames, until the Greater London Council revised the waterline back in the 1970s, creating a larger pedestrianised area we see today. No.49 remains the oldest house on Bankside today.  Read the rest of this entry

Metro Girl’s Must Do Series – Part 1: London Eye

Welcome to part 1 of ‘Metro Girl’s Must Do’ series, a guide to my essential sights or activities to do during your visit to London. Many tourists may only spend a few days in the capital before escaping to the likes of Oxford or Bath or jumping over the English Channel to see the continent. So if time is of the essence and you’re torn between where to go, this is my opinion on London’s top attractions.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The London Eye stands on the South Bank of the Thames

1: London Eye

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At night, the London Eye is one of the illuminated landmarks

Although the London Eye has only stood in the capital since 2000, it has quickly integrated into the city’s skyline and is now an iconic piece of ‘architecture’, with its silhouette appearing on postcards and T-shirts at tourist shops. Situated in front of the former County Hall building, casting a shadow on Jubilee Gardens, the London Eye is located on the South Bank of the Thames. Although The Shard can now boast higher viewing platforms, the London Eye’s close proximity to Westminster means it is often favoured by tourists looking to see those famous London landmarks such as Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.

The Eye itself is a huge Ferris wheel of sorts – but with capsules you can move around in instead of little passenger cars. There are 32 capsules – one for each London borough – and can hold up to 25 people at a time. The 135 metre (443 foot) high wheel is generally constantly moving during operating hours, but moves alongside the boarding platform slowly enough for passengers to board. Although I have heard many friends fear being travel sick or scared of heights, it moves so slowly it shouldn’t be an issue. If you are feeling a bit nervous of the height, the bench in the middle means you can observe the views without feeling insecure standing against the floor to ceiling glass walls. The rotation pattern of the London Eye means you will see North-East (ish) first before finishing looking South West over the 30 minute journey.

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Looking over the West End, including Charing Cross station and the BT Tower

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The London Eye stands tall at 135 metres (443 foot)

The London Eye is open all year round and I myself have been on it at different times of day and different seasons. While summer is a great time to visit, it is incredibly popular so you may find you spend time queuing or have to book tickets far in advance. With this in mind, the Spring is probably the best time to go. If its heavy rain, I would say don’t bother at all, and low cloud will also diminish the views. I highly recommend timing your visit for just before sunset and watching London start to twinkle as the lights come on. You can buy guides that can help you find landmarks across the city, even Wembley Stadium or the Olympic Stadium on a really clear day. While I’ve known friends to dismiss the London Eye as ‘so touristy’, it’s a great place to start your trip to London to give you a feel for the city and how it is spread out.

After you’ve disembarked, there’s plenty of other attractions nearby, including the London Aquarium, London Dungeons or London Film Museum. Alternatively, you could walk along the South Bank to the many bars and restaurants around the Southbank Centre and beyond. During the Christmas season, there is also an open-air ice rink under the gaze of the wheel.

  • Standard tickets start from adults £19.20 (walk up) or £17.28 (online), children £12.30 (walk up) or £11.07 (online). Tickets can be bought from the Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd, SE1 7PB. Nearest station: Waterloo, Westminster or Embankment. Opening times vary depending on season. For more information, visit the London Eye website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Each of the 32 capsules holds up to 25 people


For Part 2 of Metro Girl’s Must Do series on Borough Market, click here

Or for Metro Girl’s review of the nearby London Dungeon, click here.

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Every which way: Endless Stair by the Tate Modern

A different kind of street art: Painter on Hungerford Bridge

Street art has been gaining a newfound respect in recent years thanks to the likes of Banksy and Stik. However, of course there is another kind of ‘street art’… as in someone on the street creating art. While crossing Hungerford Bridge today, I spotted an artist painting the London Eye and Southbank. I rarely see artists creating work outside these days so it was a pleasant surprise to see a painter in action. Hope he was pleased with the finished article…

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

A painter on Hungerford Bridge studying the London Eye

Greenwich summer sunset over the River Thames

The glorious hot weather we’ve had over the past few weeks have made for some stunning sunsets. Last night, I was out with a few friends enjoying some alfresco drinking in Greenwich and couldn’t resist the draw of the River Thames as the sun prepared to go to bed. I took this photo with my cameraphone, so admittedly not as good as it could have been if I remembered my camera! However, the combination of still water, clouds, the colours and silhouette of The Shard in the distance made for a stunning scene.

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Summer nights: Sunset over the River Thames at Greenwich on 26 July 2013

Hay’s Galleria: Tea, war and fire – the history behind the Larder of London

Long before it became a food and shopping destination, the Galleria was known as Hay’s Wharf.

Hays Galleria © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Hay’s Galleria is the converted Hay’s Wharf on the banks of the River Thames

Hay’s Galleria is known today as an area for eating, drinking, working and shopping. Many pass through the covered shopping centre on their way to Tower Bridge or HMS Belfast. However, by looking at the building, it’s obvious to see it wasn’t built for these purposes, and like many buildings along the banks of the River Thames, started life as a wharf

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

The wharf has been covered by a glass and steel barreled roof

Despite rumours of the contrary, wharf does not stand for ‘ware-house at river front’. The word wharf originates from the Old English ‘hwearf’, which meant bank or shore. Before the advent of cars, boats were the main form of transport in London, so there were once as many as 1,700 wharves on the bank of the River Thames.

The site was originally a brewhouse, which was bought by Alexander Hay in 1651. However, the building was severely damaged in the Great Fire Of Southwark in 1676. It remained with the Hay family until Francis Theodore Hay, Master of the Waterman’s Company and King’s Waterman to George III and George IV, died in 1838. The next owner John Humphrey Jnr acquired a lease on the property and commissioned William Cubitt to convert it into a wharf with an enclosed dock, becoming Hay’s Wharf in 1856. However, just five years later, the wharf was damaged by another fire, the Great Fire Of Tooley Street, which overall caused £2million of damage due to the contents of the warehouses destroyed. During the 19th century, Hay’s Wharf was one of the main delivery points in the capital, with an estimated of 80% of dry goods passing through the building, including the very popular tea. The sheer importance of Hay’s to London’s trade and import industry led to it being nicknamed ‘the Larder of London’. (For a photo of Hay’s Wharf in 1910, click here.)

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The Navigators, a moving bronze sculpture of a ship by David Kemp

However,  the wharf was seriously damaged again by bombing during World War II. London’s trade was severely dented following the war and over the subsequent years, more and more wharves shut down and fell into neglect. With ships getting bigger, Hay’s enclosed dock wasn’t big enough to fit most of the vessels, so fell into disuse. Fortunately in the 1980s, the wharf was brought back to life by property developers. The dock was covered over, while the tea and produce warehouses were restored and converted into offices. A glass and steel barrel-vaulted roof was erected over the former dock area in a Victorian style. In 1987, ‘The Navigators’, a moving bronze sculpture of a ship by David Kemp, within a fountain, was unveiled in a nod to the wharf’s shipping history.

Now known as Hay’s Galleria, the building is a mix of shops, offices and restaurants today. There are several market stalls under the covered walkway, as well as branches of Boots, Café Rouge, The Christmas Shop, Bagel Factory, Côte and Starbucks. On a nice day, I would suggest buying some takeaway food here and bringing it for a picnic in nearby Potters Field Park overlooking Tower Bridge and the Tower Of London. Alternatively on a warm summer night, sink a pint riverside at the Horniman At Hays pub – named after the tea merchant Frederick Horniman. Also nearby is the museum on board the HMS Belfast.

  • Hay’s Galleria is located on the riverfront, but is also accessed from Tooley Street. Nearest station: London Bridge.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

What a backdrop: Performers at the gates to Hay’s Galleria during the Thames Festival 2012

To read more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.

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Cleopatra’s Needle: How an Egyptian obelisk ended up by the Thames… and why isn’t it Thutmose’s Needle?

Standing on the banks of the River Thames is a piece of Egyptian history.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The ancient Egyptian obelisk Cleopatra’s Needle stands on Victoria Embankment

Regardless of your knowledge of ancient Egyptian history, few would disagree that Cleopatra and Tutankhamun are two of the nation’s most famous rulers. While Tutankhamun’s reign was relatively short and his fame is largely down to the discovery of his tomb, Cleopatra was known for many reasons – her power, her beauty and being the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt. So when it comes to the ancient Egyptian obelisk standing by the River Thames on the Victoria Embankment, Cleopatra’s Needle is a lot more glamorous a name than one would have been a lot more accurate… Thutmose III’s Needle.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The bronze sphinx includes the words ‘the good god, Thuthmosis III given life’ written in hieroglyphics

The name Cleopatra’s Needle is shared between three Egyptian obelisks – the London one’s twin in New York City and a third in Paris – which came from a completely different site in Egypt. The London and New York pair are made of red granite from the quarries of Aswan, weighing a hefty 224 tons each. Standing tall at 68ft (21 metres), they were originally erected in ancient Egyptian city of Heliopolis by Pharoah Thutmose III (1481-1425BC) around 1450BC. Ramesses II (1300s-1213BC) added the hieroglyphs around 200 years later to commemorate his military victories. The obelisks remained in Heliopolis for around 1,400 years before they were moved north by the Romans to Alexandria to be placed in the Caesareum around 12BC. Although the Caesareum in Alexandria had been built during Cleopatra’s (51-30BC) reign, the obelisks didn’t arrive there until around 15 years after she had committed suicide. So why her name is associated with the obelisk is inaccurate, but probably brings a bit of glamour to it – but when it’s nearly 3,500 years old, I don’t think it needs the help to be any more impressive! The obelisks didn’t stay standing for long and were toppled some time later, spending centuries in the Egyptian sands.

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Ancient world meets modern: The needle is dwarfed by the Art Deco Shell Mex House (b.1930-1931) and its recognisable clock tower

Cleopatra's Needle sphinx © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Survivor: The west sphinx and its pedestal, as well the obelisk base were damaged by a German bomb on 4 September 1917

Central Park obelisk © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The London obelisk’s twin stands in Central Park in New York City

These days, Egypt is rightly intent on keeping on to its treasures. However, in the early 19th century, Egypt’s ruler Muhammad Ali (1769-1849) was happy to give away a piece of antiquity. Following the victories of Lord Nelson and Sir Ralph Abercromby in the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Alexandra in 1798 and 1801 respectively, Ali gave one of the obelisks to the United Kingdom as a thank you gift in 1819.  Although honoured, the then-Prime Minister Robert Banks Jenkinson (1170-1828) and his government couldn’t justify the huge expense it would have cost to transport the 224 ton monument to the UK. It remained in Alexandria for over five decades until anatomist and dermatologist Sir William James Erasmus Wilson (1809-1884) decided to fork out the money and organise the mammoth feat for  the obelisk to be dug out of the sand at Alexandria and brought to London. The obelisk left Alexandria on 21 September 1877, encased in an iron cylinder – nicknamed The Cleopatra – which included a stern and rudders and was towed along by the Olga ship. However, when it was over halfway to its destination, a storm in the Bay of Biscay put the crew of The Cleopatra in danger. The initial rescue attempt led to six crewmen from The Olga drowning, but eventually The Cleopatra’s Captain Carter and his five crew were rescued. Amazingly, The Cleopatra didn’t founder and was discovered drifting in the Bay a few days later and eventually retrieved by the Fitzmaurice and towed to Ferrol Harbour in North-West Spain. From there, she was towed to Gravesend, Kent, by the paddle tug Anglia, arriving on 21 January 1878. Finally, on 12 September 1878 – 59 years after the UK had been given it as a gift – Cleopatra’s Needle was erected on the Victoria Embankment of the River Thames.

Although they certainly look the part, the two sphinxes ‘guarding’ the obelisk aren’t quite so old. The bronze sphinxes were designed by George John Vulliamy (1817-1886) and created at the Ecclestone Iron Works in Pimlico in 1881. They include the words ‘the good god, Thuthmosis III given life’ written in hieroglyphics. It has been pointed out they aren’t really guarding it, but rather looking at it and should have been facing outwards from the obelisk. Despite surviving intact for nearly 3,500 years, London’s obelisk came close to being destroyed in World War I. A German bomb landed near the needle on 4 September 1917, causing damage to the pedestal of the obelisk, the pedestal of the sphinxes and to the west sphinx itself. However, the damage remains to commemorate the event and can still be seen to this day. A plaque has been placed on the western sphinx to explain this. Meanwhile, it’s twin was erected in Central Park in New York City in 1881.

  • Cleopatra’s Needle is located on Victoria’s Embankment, just south of Embankment Gardens. Nearest station: Embankment.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Looking at… not quite guarding: One of the two Victorian faux sphinxes

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For more on the Thames Embankment history, read about the lamps on the Thames Embankment or read about Vulliamy’s sphinx and camel benches.

Cross the road to Embankment Gardens to see the 17th century York Water Gate or the racy monument to composer Arthur Sullivan

To read Metro Girl’s other history blog posts, click here.

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