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Westminster Hall: Stand in some of Britain’s most famous footsteps at Parliament’s oldest building

The history of a Medieval remnant of the old Palace of Westminster.

Westminster Hall © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Westminster Hall is the oldest building in Parliament and has been the setting for many historic events

Westminster Hall in 1810 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Westminster Hall in 1810 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Whatever your taste in architecture, few Brits would deny the Palace Of Westminster is one of our greatest architectural treasures. While the current buildings mostly date back to the mid 1800s during Sir Charles Barry‘s reconstruction, the oldest part of the building, Westminster Hall, has been there since Medieval times. There has been a palace on the site since the 11th century, although the royals have chosen other properties as their main residences from around the 16th century.

The Hall was first built in 1097 under King William II (1056-1100) and was the biggest hall in England, measuring 73 by 20 metres. However, the stunning hammer-beam roof you see today wasn’t added until 1393. Commissioned by King Richard II (1367-1400) in 1393, it was created by Chief Mason Henry Yevele and carpenter Hugh Herland. The roof is made of oak farmed in Surrey and weighs an impressive 600 tons. Aside from its practical use, the roof also featured decorative angels, with 13 statues of kings dating from Richard back to Edward The Confessor placed in niches along the walls. Six years later, it was under the very roof he commissioned that King Richard was deposed by Henry of Bolingbroke, who went on to become King Henry IV (1367-1413). The deposition went on to be immortalised in Act IV of Shakespeare‘s play Richard II. King Richard later died in prison.

Over the centuries, the Hall was primarily used for early Parliament, legal matters and court cases, with Court of King’s Bench, the Court of Common Pleas and the Court of Chancery based there. The 1875, these courts merged to become the High Court of Justice and met at the Hall until moving to the Royal Courts of Justice in 1882. Notable historical figures to have undergone trial in Westminster Hall included King Charles I, William Wallace, Guy Fawkes and Thomas More. The building has also hosted the lyings-in-state for members of the royal family, such as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother in 2002, but also a few notable state figures such as Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.

However, the Hall wasn’t just the location for serious functions, many monarchs’ coronation banquets took place between the 12th and 19th century. Addresses during the monarch’s jubilees and during foreign leader’s visits, such as Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama, have also been heard within the Hall.

Westminster Hall roof © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The stunning oak hammer-beam roof was constructed in the 14th century

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A plaque to mark the trial of King Charles I, which took place in Westminster Hall, before he was sentenced to death in January 1649

By the early 19th century, the ageing Hall wasn’t looking too great so architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) oversaw the dilapidated north façade being completely rebuilt between 1819-1822. Over a decade later, there was more work needed to maintain the crumbling building under Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867), who replaced the wall facings with a layer of Huddlestone stone and lowered the floor between 1834-1837. During the building works in October 1834, a fire broke out at the Palace of Westminster’s House of Lords Chamber due to an overheated stove. A majority of the 11th century palace complex was destroyed, but the Hall was fortunately saved thanks to a change of direction in the wind and fire-fighting efforts.

After much discussion, a Royal Commission settled on Sir Charles Barry’s (1795-1860) Neo-Gothic design in 1836. The designs incorporated Westminster Hall, with the Palace eventually completed in 1870 – 10 years after Barry died. Under his plans, the grand south window was removed and was replaced by an arch and stairs to St Stephen’s Hall, which remain today. Between 1914-23, the roof was in dire need of repair after the discovery of damage by death-watch beetle, with many trusses replaced and the structure strengthened by hidden steelwork.
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Duck Island Cottage | A ‘rural’ retreat in St James’s Park

The history of the small cottage in one of London’s Royal Parks.

Duck Island Cottage © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Duck Island Cottage is a 19th century building in St James’s Park

Entering St James’s Park from the Whitehall side, it’s likely you will have come across Duck Island Cottage. Situated on the eastern end of the park’s lake stands a 19th century cottage – quite a contrast with the nearby neo-classical, imposing grey stone government buildings and Buckingham Palace. Situated by the lakeside with a small stream running under a bridge linking the cottage’s two sections, it also includes a sweet little garden. When I first saw it, it reminded me of Mr McGregor’s garden in Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit tales.

As part a chain of royal parks (which are separated by roads), St James’s Park stands out from the others because of its birdlife. Established in 1603 under King James I (1566-1625), the park was named after a women’s leper hospital dedicated to St James the Less. After being landscaped, the park became home to exotic animals, including camels, crocodiles and an elephant! It wasn’t until 1664, the famous pelicans arrived as a gift by the Russian ambassador, and they still remain today. At the time, a long canal ran nearly the length of the whole park, with a duck decoy in the south-east corner to capture ducks for the royal dining table. The island in the middle of the decoy was given the name Duck Island, which was entrusted to the appointed Governor of Duck Island to oversee. The first cottage on the site wasn’t built until King William III’s (1650-1702) reign in the late 17th century, initially as a tea house. By the 18th century, Duck Island was removed due to the stench of stagnant ponds and replaced by grass.

Duck Island Cottage © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The view over the lake and the Tiffany fountain from the bridge

Over the centuries, the park was re-landscaped many times, with the body of water changing shape between a stream, channels, smaller ponds and now the lake as we see today. The landscape of the park today is mostly down to the Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835), who remodelled the straight canal of water into a more natural looking curved lake in the late 1820s. He also reintroduced Duck Island, which had been missing for several decades at this point. With new trees and shrubs surrounding the cottage, birdlife returned to the park.

In 1837, the Ornithological Society of London was founded with the aim to protect the birds and three years later, work started on plans for a cottage to house a bird keeper. Architect John Burges Watson (1803-1881) designed the cottage comprising of two buildings – a dwelling for the bird keeper and a clubroom for the Society – which were completed in April 1841. The two buildings were connected by a small covered bridge, offering views across the lake and garden. The romantic design appears to be Swiss inspired and wouldn’t look out of place in the countryside. (See a 1844 sketch of the cottage on the London Metropolitan Archives).

From 1900 to 1953, Duck Island Cottage was home to bird keeper Thomas Hinton. The cottage was damaged during the Blitz in 1940 and by 1953, following Hinton’s death, the cottage was abandoned after it was considered unfit for habitation. Today, the cottage features water treatment facilities and pumps for the lake and fountain, while the garden is maintained by the Royal Parks. Duck Island is a nature reserve as a sanctuary and breeding ground for the park’s birds, including herons, mute swans and eastern or great white pelicans. If you want to see the pelicans being fed, head to the grassy bank adjacent to the cottage between 2.30pm-3pm every day.

  • Duck Island Cottage, St James’s Park, Westminster, SW1A 2BJ. Nearest stations: Westminster or St James’s Park. Park is open daily from 5am-midnight. For more information, visit the Royal Parks website.
Duck Island Cottage © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

The cottage grounds features an enclosed garden ‘in the Arts and Crafts style’

Find out about the milkmaids and cattle, of Green Park and St James’s Park.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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‘We are all in the gutter…’ Oscar Wilde memorial near the Strand

A look at Maggi Hambling’s sculpture by the Strand.

Oscar Wilde Maggi Hambling © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

A Conversation With Oscar Wilde’ by Maggi Hambling

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Take a seat: A Conversation With Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was one of the greatest poets and authors of the 19th century. Although born and raised an Irishman, he spent a lot of his life in London and, of course, many of his plays were first staged here, and continue to be staged in the capital over 100 years after his death.

Given his huge contribution to London’s West End with his masterpieces such as The Importance Of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband, it is only fitting there should be a memorial to him in the city. Unbelievably, it took until 1998 for the great talent to finally be honoured in his former home.

‘A Conversation With Oscar Wilde’ by Maggi Hambling is a bit more interactive than most memorials. I have often walked past it to see people sitting on it eating their lunch, perhaps completely oblivious to what they are resting their posterior on… but they could also be having a quiet moment with Oscar. Unveiled by actor Stephen Fry on the 98th anniversary of his death on 30 November 1998, the piece consists of a granite block, which looks rather coffin-shaped, with the bronze head and shoulders of Oscar peering out. Oscar’s hand hold a cigarette, which has been replaced several times. Describing the piece, Hambling has said in the past: ‘The idea is that he is rising, talking, laughing, smoking from this sarcophagus and the passerby, should he or she choose to, can sit on the sarcophagus and have a conversation with him.’

At the tail end of the piece is a quote from his 1892 play Lady Windermere’s Fan (first performed at St James’s Theatre), which is probably one of his most memorable and apt quotes. ‘We are all – in the gutter – but some of us – are looking at – the stars.’ Look out for it next time you’re walking along the Strand.

  • A Conversation With Oscar Wilde is located on Adelaide Street, WC2N, just near the junction of the Strand and Duncannon Street. Nearest station: Charing Cross.
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A quote from Lady Windermere’s Fan

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Great Scotland Yard history | From a London base for Scottish kings to the Met Police’s HQ

Learn why London’s police head office is named after Scotland.

Great Scotland Yard © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Great Scotland Yard is off Whitehall in the City of Westminster

The name Scotland Yard is synonymous with London’s Metropolitan Police. However, how did the name of a yard end up following the Met around Westminster as they moved headquarters over the decades?

As I write, the Metropolitan police are preparing to move their headquarters again from the current site of New Scotland Yard on Broadway in Victoria to the Curtis Green Building on Victoria Embankment in 2015. While the name New Scotland Yard will follow wherever the Met goes, the name originates on a short road in Westminster, which still exists to this day.

Great Scotland Yard is a short road spanning between Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue, taking just three minutes to walk from one end to the other. While today, the road is relatively quiet from pedestrian and vehicle traffic, in the 19th century it would have been a hub of activity with police officers, victims and criminals passing through it. The name of the road is said to stem back to a medieval palace which was used as a base for Scottish kings and diplomatic representatives visiting London. By the 17th century, the road was home to various government buildings and residences for civil servants. Three notable residents include the architects Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and the poet John Milton (1608-1674).

3-5 Great Scotland Yard © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The former Hackney Carriage and Detective Department building in Great Scotland Yard being converted into a luxury hotel in 2014

The name Scotland Yard was first linked to police when the original Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s office at 4 Whitehall Place, had a rear entrance on Great Scotland Yard. The then-Prime Minister Robert Peel (1788-1850) selected Whitehall Place for the HQ after forming the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Today, a blue plaque commemorates the site at Whitehall Place, now the Ministry of Agriculture. By 1887, the police had acquired the nearby buildings of 3, 5, 21 and 22 Whitehall Place, as well as 8 and 9 Great Scotland Yard, but needed more space. In the early 20th century, the force moved to New Scotland Yard at the nearby Norman Shaw Buildings on Victoria Embankment (located next door to current Portcullis House), which were built between 1887-1906. New Scotland Yard remained at the site until 1967 when it moved to the current site in Victoria. The move in 2015 brings New Scotland Yard full circle as it returns to the Embankment – next door to the Norman Shaw Buildings.

While the Met has moved on from Great Scotland Yard, the association will be enshrined forever thanks to the road name. At time of writing, the Grade II-listed building at No.s 3-5 Great Scotland Yard is being converted into a five-star Hyatt hotel, due for opening in 2019. Through much of the 19th century, the site was used as stables for the force’s horses. In 1874, the ‘Hackney Carriage and Detective Department’ was built at 3-5 Great Scotland Yard – the first space designed exclusively for the Met’s detectives. In 1884, it was converted into living accommodation for the Police Commissioner and his deputies. In 1910, the building was given a new Edwardian façade and it was passed to the British Army to be used as recruitment offices in World Wars I and II. On the corner of Whitehall and Great Scotland Yard, stands The Clarence pub, which dates from 1896.

  • Great Scotland Yard, off Whitehall, SW1. Nearest stations: Westminster, Embankment or Charing Cross.
Scotland Yard 18th century Edward Rooker 1766

Scotland Yard with part of the Banqueting House, 1766. From Edward Rooker’s Six Views of London on Wikimedia Commons

Great Scotland Yard © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Quiet: The road is relatively calm to what it would have been in the 19th century as a hub of police activity

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Monument to a woman who changed history | Emmeline Pankhurst statue in Victoria Tower Gardens

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The monument to Emmeline Pankhurst stands in the shadows of the Houses of Parliament in Victoria Tower Gardens


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A bronze medallion of Emmeline eldest daughter Christabel was added in 1959

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) is widely acknowledged as one of the most important, British female figures of the 20th century, if somewhat controversial. As the figurehead of the fight for women’s suffrage, she helped pave the way for future female politicians and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – who wouldn’t have been able to vote, let alone run the country. The Manchester-born campaigner ended up living most of her adult life and died here in London so it is only fitting to have such an important figure in the history of British politics commemorated in the city.

This post is not intended to give a history of women’s suffrage – because frankly I don’t have all day to write it, nor do you (I assume) have all day to read it! However, most British women – whether they perceive themselves as feminists or not – acknowledge they owe a debt of gratitude to Pankhurst and her fellow suffragettes for improving women’s rights in this country (although we all know we still have some way to go when it comes to equal pay, but I’m not going to get on my soap box so moving on…).

Victoria Tower Gardens is a small park just west of the Houses of Parliament leading down to Lambeth Bridge. It contains various monuments and a good view of the River Thames. Entering through the north-east gate, the first monument you come to is one dedicated to Pankhurst.

Emmeline Pankhurst statue © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The sculpture of Emmeline was erected two years after her death

Emmeline died on June 14, 1928 at the age of 69 – just a few weeks before the Government passed the Representation Of The People Act which extended the vote to all women over 21 (previously it had been given to women aged 30 or over who were either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register in 1918). Shortly after her funeral, her former bodyguard at the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union), Katherine Marshall begun fundraising for a monument to Pankhurst.

On 6 March 1930, a bronze statue of Emmeline by sculptor AG Walker was unveiled by former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947). In attendance were former suffragettes, radicals and other dignitaries, along with her daughter Sylvia (1882-1960). Her eldest daughter Christabel (1880-1958) was absent as she was touring North America, but her telegram was read out. Addressing the crowd, Baldwin said: ‘I say with no fear of contradiction, that whatever view posterity may take, Mrs. Pankhurst has won for herself a niche in the Temple of Fame which will last for all time.’ Although today, the sculpture of Emmeline stands in the centre of the two side screens, when it was first unveiled it stood alone and was situated further south. However, it was moved to its present position in 1959 with the screens, one which features a bronze medallion of Christabel (who died the previous year in Santa Monica, California) and the other a replica of the WSPU prisoners’ badge.

  • Victoria Tower Gardens is accessed from Abingdon Street/Millbank on the north bank of the River Thames. Nearest station: Westminster.

For more posts on London history, click here.

Neo-classicism, masques and an execution site | The history and beauty of Banqueting House

Gaze at Ruben’s stunning ceiling at a 17th century survivor of the old Palace of Whitehall

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Inigo Jones’s Banqueting Hall and Ruben’s canvasses are accessible to the public

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The Southern End of Rubens’s ceiling depicts the ‘Peaceful Reign of James I’

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The chandeliers are now lit by electricity rather than candles

Like many Londoners, I have walked or rode a bus past Banqueting House more times than I could count. I must confess I didn’t know much about it until I decided to visit during Open House London and was totally stunned by the beauty and history of the building. However, unlike many of the buildings open during the September weekend, Banqueting House is open to the public all year round (the only difference was Open House was free). Located halfway down Whitehall, at the junction with Horse Guards Avenue, it is just across the road from Horse Guards Parade.

Banqueting House is the only surviving building of the old Palace of Whitehall, which was mostly destroyed by fire in the late 17th century. A previous banqueting house on the same site was destroyed by a fire (yes, another one) in January 1619 when over-zealous workmen cleaning up after a New Year’s celebration decided to burn the rubbish inside the building (not exactly the most worldly of men I would say…). King James I of England (1566-1625) immediately ordered it to be rebuilt and commissioned architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) to design one. Jones had spent a lot of time studying the architecture of Italy and was a leading figure bringing the fashion for neo-classicism to London. His designs helped architecture move away from the largely timber-framed and Jacobean English Renaissance style in favour of simpler designs influenced by the classical world. The building was eventually finished in 1622 at a cost of £15,618 – a considerably large sum in Stuart England.

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Takes your breath away: This is the splendour which awaits when you enter through the main door

The building comprises of three floors – of which two are accessible on your visit. The ground floor was for store rooms and cellars, while the first floor and second floor encompassed the actual Banqueting Hall – with a gallery on the second floor where the less fortunate would watch the king and his chums having a raucous good time at their banquets, masques and royal receptions. Although built by King James I, it was really his son Charles I (1600-1649) who transformed the space into what we see today thanks to his commission of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) to create the ceiling canvasses around 1629-1630. The canvasses were painted by Rubens at his studio in Antwerp and were unveiled at Banqueting House in March 1636. Today, his canvasses remain the only of his ceiling paintings still in-situ. The central image is The Apotheosis of James I, which celebrates the Stuart belief of kings as an absolute monarchy and their God-like status. The two other main canvasses show the Union of the Crowns (England and Scotland) and Peaceful Reign of James I.

For two decades, the Banqueting Hall played host to many celebrations under Rubens’ masterpiece. However, as we all know,  the fun all stopped during the English civil war and subsequent revolution, when Oliver Cromwell took charge. King Charles I was executed on a temporary wooden scaffolding outside the windows of his beloved Banqueting House,  the scene of many happy evenings in his past. His last words on 30 January 1649 were ‘I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be’.

Following the restoration, the Banqueting Hall was again used for royal parties, but this began to decline in the late 17th century. Throughout the 18th century, it was mostly used as a chapel to replace the Tudor one destroyed in the Palace of Whitehall fire in 1698. Throughout the 19th century, the building was being used as a place for entertainment once more as it hosted concerts, before being given as a museum to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) by Queen Victoria in 1893. It is now a Grade I-listed building and managed by the Historic Royal Palaces charity so the public can visit this important piece of history and architecture.

  • Banqueting House, Whitehall, SW1A 2ER. Nearest stations: Westminster, Charing Cross or Embankment. Tickets: £5 or £4 concessions, Under 16s: Free. For more information, visit the Banqueting House website.

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Centrepiece: The Apotheosis of James I

Banqueting House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

The grand façade of Banqueting House – where Charles I met his maker outside

For other blog posts on Open House London, read:

To read about the story behind nearby Great Scotland Yard, click here.

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Cock a doodle doo! A blue cockerel takes residence on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth

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Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock was erected on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square in July 2013

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The fourth plinth, designed by Charles Barry, previously sat empty for decades

Trafalgar Square is easily London’s most famous square. Once marooned as a traffic island, the closure of the north road beside the National Gallery has made the space more pedestrian friendly. The square is a huge draw to tourists due to Nelson’s Column and his lions and the great view down Whitehall looking towards Victoria Tower and Big Ben. Dotted around the square, which was laid out in 1845 by Sir Charles Barry, are three plinths containing statues of notable figures: King George IV, General Sir Charles James Napier and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock. Which leaves the fourth plinth in the north-west corner, which stood empty for decades. It was originally designed to hold an equestrian statue of King William IV, but plans were dropped due to lack of funds.

Finally, after decades of debates about what would go there, it was decided in 1998 that the fourth plinth would play home to temporary contemporary artworks. Over the years, it has been the base of many sculptures, including Marc Quinn’s one of Alison Lapper, Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle and, most recently, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s Powerless Structures, Fig. 101.

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Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock stands at 4.73 metres high

In July 2013, a striking and colourful creation was unveiled. Katharina Fritsch’s 4.73 metre high sculpture of a blue cockerel, entitled Hahn/Cock. Meant to symbolise ‘regeneration, awakening and strength’ and the British triumph at the Tour De France, it will remain on the fourth plinth for 18 months. German artist Fritsch admitted her work is a feminist sculpture, prompting a humorous juxtaposition in  a square full of alpha male historical figures.

N.B. Hahn/Cock has since been replaced on the Fourth Plinth by a new piece entitled Gift Horse. Click here to find out more. 

  • Trafalgar Square is located in the City of Westminster. Nearest tube: Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus, Embankment or Leicester Square.

To find out the history of another famous London Square, read More than just a traffic island: The history behind Parliament Square.

To find out the story behind the nearby statue of Charles I and the Eleanor Cross which stood on the same site, read Civil war, centre of London and a memorial to a queen: The story behind Charing Cross.

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Canada Day London 2013 | Trafalgar Square is awash in red and white to mark Canada’s birthday

Buxton Memorial Fountain | A memorial to one of Westminster’s most important laws

A monument to the abolition of slavery.

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The Buxton Memorial Fountain has stood in Victoria Tower Gardens since 1957

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The fountain contains four large granite basins

Every year, tens of thousands of tourists flock to Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge to gaze upon Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. However, the pedestrian traffic flowing to the west of the iconic building shrinks considerably in comparison to the east. With the Elizabeth Tower containing Big Ben (actually the name of the bell, not the actual clock and tower as is often believed) being the main draw, the Victoria Tower and its adjacent eponymous gardens often get ignored.

Victoria Tower Gardens is a small area to the west of the Houses Of Parliament containing greenery, memorials and a good view of the River Thames. Having rode on a bus past the Gardens many times over the years, I have often found my eyes drawn to the Buxton Memorial Foundation in the gardens. After decades of not seeing it up close or knowing what it was about, in recent years I finally started walking through the Gardens and checked out the fountain up close.

Although the fountain is mid-19th century, it has only been in Victoria Tower Gardens since 1957 when it was relocated from nearby Parliament Square following a redesign. The colourful and ornate monument is to commemorate one of Westminster’s most important laws – the emancipation of slaves following the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act. Although Parliament had passed the 1807 Slave Trade Act, making slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire, some still held slaves that were traded before the act. The 1833 Act went a step further and gave all existing slaves emancipation.

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Ornate: The fountain was designed in a Gothic Revival style

It wasn’t until another 33 years later that the lawmakers and campaigners involved in making the 1833 act happen were commemorated for their efforts. MP Charles Buxton funded the fountain and dedicated it to his late father, the abolitionist and MP Sir Thomas Buxton, along with William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Henry Brougham and Stephen Lushington. Charles commissioned London architect Samuel Sanders Teulon to create the fountain in his Gothic revival style for the price of £1,200.

The fountain is covered with a timber-framed spire and clad in enamelled sheet steel. The entire structure is made with a wide range of materials, including limestone, grey and red sandstone, wrought iron, rosso marble enamelled metalwork, grey and pink granite, mosaic and terracotta. Originally unveiled in Parliament Square in 1865 – coincidentally the same year the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed, abolishing slavery.

The ornate memorial commemorating the end of a horrific part of human history remained in Parliament Square until 1949 when the area was given a post-war makeover. It was finally reinstated in Victoria Tower Gardens in 1957. However, by 1971 all eight of the decorative figures of British rulers, including Queen Victoria and William the Conqueror, on the pinnacles had been stolen. These were replaced with fibreglass ones in 1980. Over the years, the fountain fell into disrepair until it was restored in 2006-2007 – just in time for the 200th anniversary of the Slave Trade Act.

Along with the Buxton Memorial Fountain, there is also a monument to suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and a reproduction of the sculpture The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. There is also a children’s play park, which is currently closed for refurbishment.

  • Victoria Tower Gardens is accessed from Abingdon Street/Millbank on the north bank of the River Thames. Nearest station: Westminster.

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The fountain stands in Victoria Tower Gardens, overlooked by the great tower itself

To read Metro Girl’s blog on the memorial to Emmeline Pankhurt in Victoria Tower Gardens, click here.

Or to find out the history of nearby Parliament Square, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s history blog posts, click here.

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The Northall review: Brilliant service, hearty British cuisine in a grand Victorian dining room

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To start: Mint and Pea Soup (left) or Pressed Ham Hock with Piccalilli

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Contemporary Victorian: High ceilings, lofty windows, columns and lots of lighting © Amy Lorna

The Northall is an upmarket restaurant in the five-star Corinthia Hotel in Westminster. Located on Northumberland Avenue, just a stone’s throw from Embankment tube station, the Victorian building started life as a hotel, before becoming government offices, and reverting back to a hotel in 2011.

The Northall restaurant is located in the south-east corner of the building, with lofty windows giving a glimpse of the River Thames. The huge ceilings are held up by imposing white columns, giving the room a feeling of grandeur. While the windows, columns and stucco work on the ceiling throws back to the hotel’s Victorian origins, the room is brought into the 21st century with huge, dramatic, contemporary chandelier -esque lighting and jet black tables.

I have been to the Northall for dinner twice – in February 2012 and more recently, last week. On both occasions, my party were celebrating a birthday. Last week, a female friend and I booked the set theatre menu, which includes three courses and a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne for £30. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the friendly host, who showed us to our table – a comfortable brown armchair for me and a plush sofa on the room’s curved walls for my friend. We hadn’t seen the contents of the theatre menu before arriving at the restaurant and were pleased with the choice. We had a few questions about the menu and were given informative answers by the helpful waiting staff.

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Delicious: Cornish Cod with Mussel and Squid Fregola Pasta

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Stately entrance: The staircase on Northumberland Avenue leading to The Northall

To start, I had a Fresh Pea and Mint Soup, which was a generous portion and tasted lovely with the warm, fresh bread accompaniment. My friend ordered the Pressed Ham Hock with Piccalilli and really enjoyed it. For our mains, I opted for the Cornish Cod with Mussel and Squid Fregola Pasta with a side order of mashed potato and spinach. Despite the three different fish and seafood, the dish didn’t tasty too ‘fishy’ and was filling and tasty. My friend ordered the Risotto of Butternut Squash and Red Wine with Rocket Fritters. She found the dish delicious, but incredibly filling.

Although I didn’t finish my main because I was feeling so full, I managed to find a bit of room (always!) for dessert. I had the Open Jaffa Cake with Mandarins and Chocolate, which was soft, full of flavour and quite decadent. As I have a sweet tooth, I easily managed to eat the whole thing. My friend opted for the Syllabub, Cherry Compote and Sugared Almonds, which she really liked.

Overall, the service, food, ambiance and presentation were great. Hence why I have now been to the Northall twice. As well as the restaurant, there is also a neighbouring bar, which does a good cocktail and wine menu. The theatre menu is a particularly good deal to get high quality food at an accessible price.

Thanks to my friend Amy Lorna for the kind use of some of her photos.

  • The Northall, Corinthia Hotel London, 10 Northumberland Avenue, Westminster, WC2N 5AE. Nearest tube: Embankment, Charing Cross or Westminster. For more information and booking, visit the Northall website.

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Dessert: Open Jaffa Cake with Mandarins and Chocolate (left) the Syllabub and Compote with Sugared Almonds

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The Northall at Corinthia Hotel London on Urbanspoon

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