Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Walking back in time

SINCE IT opened at the end of April more than 5,000 people have visited the Institution's 'Our River ' exhibition, located in the entrance hall at Great George Street. Now, continuing the theme and just in time for school holidays, comes the Engineering Discovery Trail, which takes in a number of sights along the Victoria Embankment, all listed, described and illustrated in an attractive leaflet which can be picked up from the reception desk at the ICE.

We decided to try the route out for ourselves and equipped with walking shoes, umbrella (just in case), and photographer David Jones, we set off. First stop was, naturally enough, Great George Street itself and ICE headquarters.

From comments in the visitors book for Our River, it is clear that people are impressed by the building itself and would like to see more of it. Whether this is because, as the leaflet states, 'it houses the world's largest collection of portraits of civil engineers', is a moot point, but the splendid entrance hall and staircase certainly make an effect.

On to Westminster Abbey, where the first shock was the £5 entrance fee. The second was the sheer number of people in the building which makes it seem more like the first day at the sales than a place of worship.

Memorials to Telford, Stephenson and Smeaton are all in the nave. Here too is the memorial window to Brunel, although the dedication is obscured by a wooden gallery.

The Houses of Parliament were next, open to the public during the holidays. Barry's gothic architecture is supported on a huge concrete raft foundation designed by ICE President James Walker. Then on the corner of Bridge Street and Parliament Street we spotted a plaque commemorating John Peake Knight, inventor of the world's first traffic light which was installed on that corner.

At Westminster Underground Station it is worth buying a ticket and descending to the lowest level so as to see the scale and scope of work for the Jubilee Line Extension which is really breathtaking. Then go back up the escalators and take the Victoria Embankment entrance to see Thomas Page's Westminster Bridge.

Walk along the Victoria Embankment until you reach the memorial to the man who designed it, Sir Joseph Bazalgette. Not only does the embankment contain the river and control its flooding, it also accommodates the District Line tunnel and the low level sewer which was part of the great man's design for London's main drainage system. Bazalgette's bust currently sports a well deserved laurel wreath which although past its first youth, still looks very well.

Northumberland Avenue, cutting through from the embankment to Trafalgar Square, was part of Balzalgette's scheme. To build the link he had to demolish to Duke of Northumberland's town house, hence the name.

Time for a break? Well, there is always the cabman's shelter in Northumberland Avenue, now beautifully restored thanks to the Heritage of London Trust.

But if the day is fine, cross into Embankment Gardens. Not only can you get your tea, coffee or soft drink in the attractive gardens, but we discovered the old water gate to York House, built in 1626 and still in its original position some 100m or so inland from the embankment today.

Revived and refreshed we moved on to Hungerford Bridge.

Then Cleopatra's Needle with its memorial to the men who lost their lives bringing it from Alexandria to London. Benjamin Baker was involved with the transport and erection of this curious landmark and he, together with Sir John Fowler, designed Temple Station which is a later stop on the walk.

Next Somerset House where Thomas Telford worked as a stone mason when he first came to London.

Alongside Somerset House is the next stop on the trail: Waterloo Bridge, designed by Rendal Palmer & Tritton. Opened in 1944, this used what was then the pioneering technique of prestressed concrete. A reminder of John Rennie's original bridge is still there in the brick arch vaults under the approach road.

Back down to embankment level and carrying on eastwards, be sure to see the statue of Brunel which stands at the junction of Temple Place and Victoria Embankment looking up the river towards the London Eye.

Last stop is Blackfriars bridge itself. A plaque on the north-east parapet gives details of the previous structure and of the present bridge designed by Joseph Cubitt. The decorative columns are all that remain of his adjacent railway bridge, but on the south bank is a seat overlooking the line of the former bridge where you can sit, rest your feet and think how different this small stretch of London's river frontage would look without the engineers who shaped it.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.