This week’s London Shoes venture out took me into central London for the first time in quite a few months – and its true to say that things have changed somewhat since those halcyon days way back in March when I was last in the heart of the ‘Smoke’.
Anyway – this little blog topic is one of those classic examples of something that us Londoner’s plus every single visitor to capital, would have walked past and seen millions of times and probably not taken a blind bit of notice of – I know that I’m personally guilty of this – and that’s why I felt that the topic in question was worthy of a ‘Shoes’ article.
So – this week’s subject matter is all about the historically majestic “Thames Lions”!!!!!
On the Thames river wall, spaced out equidistantly along the magnificent Victoria Embankment – there are a large number of bronze lion heads.
These majestic lion’s heads were sculptured way back in 1868 by a Timothy Butler, who made them for the Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the genius responsible for designing and installing London’s intricate sewage system between 1868-70, a system that is still heavily relied upon today.
Now – legend has it that IF these lions ever ‘drink’ the Thames water then London will flood – and there is a well-known folklore rhyme that accompanies this warning:-
“When the Lions drink – London will sink.
When it’s up to their manes – we’ll go down the drains
When the water is sucked, we’re all…………..in trouble”
Even though these majestic lions each have a mooring ring attached to their mouth, there is no evidence or records to indicate that they have ever been used for mooring purposes – and anyway, they would only be able to hold a small vessel, certainly not any of the large vessels moored alongside the Victoria Embankment these days.
Although not officially recognised as a flood warning mechanism, it has to be said that there is some truth to the humorous rhyme, because since the 1980’s London has seen on occasions, some very unusual high tides – that have required the Thames Barrier situated further downstream, to be called into action on many occasions to save London from drowning.
It is fitting that these lions are situated along the river side of Victoria Embankment, as this was just one of the many roads that Joseph Bazalgette designed and laid out throughout London to accommodate all the main sewage pipes and their connections that he implemented. In fact there’s a nice little commemorative memorial to Joseph Bazalgette on the northern banks of Victoria Embankment, just a few yards from Embankment tube station.
Usually the Victoria Embankment is one hell of a busy road – however, in these weird Covid19 pandemic times it was very strange to see so little traffic and for it to be so quiet – hopefully it won’t be too long until traffic volumes get back to some sort of normality.
The Thames Lions share their position on the Victoria Embankment with a very long standing historic London landmark – namely ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’.
Cleopatra’s Needle is an ancient Egyptian stone obelisk that dates back to 1,450 BC and was given as a gift to Britain from Egypt back in 1819. However, it didn’t actually arrive here in London until 1877, as Government’s during those years, were not too keen on paying the shipping expenses to get it over here. The two Sphinxes that accompany the Cleopatra’s Needle were added later by the Victorians.
One of the things that I find interesting about Cleopatra’s Needle that not many people know about – is the noticeable damage to the stonework around the lower section of the Needle’s plinth, and also the same sort of damage to the plinths that support the two sphinxes.
This damage was caused in WW1 when on at midnight on 4th Sept 1917; one of the very first ever bombing raids by the German Gotha planes, (not Zeppelins) dropped their cargo of bombs all over the ‘Smoke’.
One bomb landed right in the middle of the Victoria Embankment very close to Cleopatra’s Needle, rupturing a gas main and killing a tram driver plus 2 civilians. The plinths to both the Needle & the sphinx’s took a hit from all the shrapnel caused by the bomb, which caused all the damage to the stonework.
However, in the aftermath of the bombing, the authorities decided not to do any repairs to these popular landmarks, but leave the damage there for public to see, so that they would begin to appreciate & understand what sort of damage these ‘new’ bomb things could do to buildings and humans.
So – while I was mooching down the Victoria Embankment, it was only right to take in the views of old father Thames from Waterloo and also Hungerford bridges – and, as with everywhere I went on this particular jaunt, it was so reassuring and pleasing to see far more tourists out and about on London’s streets than I expected to see.
It really is the best time to explore the ‘Smoke’ at the mo – as most places are open and there is no overcrowding or queues – ideal for taking photos of landmarks and views.
Hopefully, over the coming weeks/months we will see more folks returning to visit this wonderful capital city.
So – before heading off back home, I decided not to partake in the usual ‘cheeky’ beer as was customary for me to do ‘pre-pandemic’ blogging days out – instead, what I did do was purchase a lovely cuppa from one of London’s iconic “Cabman Shelter’s” – and on this occasion, the one situated in Embankment Place, just to the side of Embankment tube station.
Cabman Shelters were first established in London back in 1875. At that time the drivers of Hansom Cabs and later Hackney Carriages were not allowed to leave their cab whilst it was parked-up, making it very difficult for them to stop and buy something to eat. If they drove to a pub to buy food then they would have to pay somebody to look after their cab while they were inside, otherwise it was likely to be stolen – and also. By calling in at a pub, there was a risk that they might be tempted to drink alcohol on the job.
These Cabman Shelters were small green huts, which stood on the pavements next to major London roads. They were not allowed to be larger than a horse and cart, and they all had to be exactly the same size shape and design. They had a small kitchen fitted inside them and they sold food and (non-alcoholic) drink to the cabbies.
Between the years 1875 & 1914, there were 61 Cabman Shelters scattered across London – and today, it so pleasing to see that around 15 are still in situ and still doing what they were designed to do. So – it was really good for ‘Shoes’ to grab a cuppa from one of them on this particular trek out.
So – to end my day out, armed with my Cabman Shelter cuppa, I wandered off to take in the peace & tranquility of the nearby Victoria Embankment Garden, to neck down me rosy, embellished with a couple of digestives – before heading back eastwards on a comparatively empty tube train – a very enjoyable few hours back in the real world.
See below, the full gallery of photographs accompanying this ‘Thames Lions’ blog