Public garden laid out in 1879 and extended in 1914, with the layout revised in 1955-6.
The Houses of Parliament were built by Charles Barry (1795-1860) and Augustus Welby Pugin (1812-52) between 1837 and 1858, and in 1867 an Act was passed allowing land to be obtained to construct an embankment to the south. The OS 1st edition map (surveyed 1872) shows the new Houses of Parliament with the Victoria Tower in the south-west corner and a small area of ground to the south which had been embanked to provide a vehicular entrance to the south side of the buildings. The remaining ground to the south had not been embanked and was occupied by wharves, a cement works, an oil factory, and flour mills. In 1879 a gift of £1000 from the Rt Hon W H Smith was supplemented by £1400, voted by Parliament, towards 'enclosing and laying out for the use of the public the ground to the south of the Houses of Parliament which has recently been embanked' (Works file 11/63). A design for the garden dated November 1879 (Works file 11/63) shows a simple formal design of four grass lawns around a central circular lawn, all divided by paths. There were shrubberies with a grass verge around the south, west, and north sides, and a row of trees along the embanked east side. The gardens occupied the square northern end of the present gardens. This scheme is shown on the OS 2nd edition map (revised 1894-6), with regularly placed trees on the grass plats. These trees (plane, lime, Pyrus, elm, and thorn) were shown on early C20 plans (Works file 16/826), symmetrically positioned on each lawn. The land to the south of the gardens was still unembanked and occupied by wharves.
In 1909 there were proposals under the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 to extend the embankment and continue the gardens along the line of it. The plans were approved in 1912, the gardens laid out in 1913, and opened in 1914. The northern end of the gardens were redesigned at the same time with the circular feature positioned further south and the Burghers of Calais statuary group by Auguste Rodin positioned near the north-west corner. The revised layout is shown in the 3rd edition OS map (revised 1914).
In the 1920s the southern end of the gardens was redesigned as a children's play area (Works file 16/1214) and was partially altered by the building of the new Lambeth Bridge, completed in 1932. In 1933 the gardens were simplified in order to give clear views to the Houses of Parliament and trees (remaining from the 1870s scheme) and some of the shrubberies (from the 1890s scheme) were removed. The north lawn was also kept clear of people, the middle lawn was open but ball games were forbidden except in the summer holiday, and the south lawn was for children (Works file 16/1510).
The gardens were altered to their present appearance in the 1950s. In 1952 there were proposals for resiting the statues and for the incorporation of the Buxton Memorial Fountain from Parliament Square. A scheme for altering the gardens was finally agreed in 1955 and carried out in 1956, with the resiting of the Burghers of Calais and the Pankhurst statue, the installation of the Buxton Memorial Fountain, the planting of new shrubberies at the northern and southern ends of the gardens, the removal of the circular feature, and alterations to some of the paths and entrances (all references Works file 16/1940-1). The shrubbery at the northern end was designed to mask a new boiler house in Black Rod Garden and a fence which was realigned around it.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Victoria Tower Gardens, c 2.5ha, lie within the London Borough of Westminster, immediately south of the Houses of Parliament (listed grade I), and c 150m south-east of Westminster Abbey (listed grade I). The gardens are bounded by Abingdon Street and Millbank to the west, the Thames to the east, Lambeth Bridge to the south, and Black Rod Garden with the Houses of Parliament to the north. The entrance to Black Rod Garden from Abingdon Street lies immediately north of the gardens (outside the area here registered), and is marked by a small octagonal lodge with iron gates (Barry and Pugin c 1850-60, listed grade I). The approximately triangular gardens are laid out on level ground with excellent views looking north to Victoria Tower (on the south-west corner of the Houses of Parliament) and east over the River Thames. The boundaries to the west and north are marked by iron railings, to the south by the retaining wall of Lambeth Bridge, and to the east by the granite embankment wall (northern section 1870s, southern section 1913, listed grade II).
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The gardens are entered from four gateways along the west side. The northernmost entrance leads from Abingdon Street and was made in 1955-6, replacing the original late C19 entrance, which was aligned on Great College Street. The middle two entrances, aligned on Wood Street and Great Stanley Street on the far side of Millbank, were made when the gardens were extended in 1914. The southernmost entrance on the west side was formed in the 1930s, and replaced the 1914 entrance which was c 20m to the south. A fifth entrance is from Lambeth Bridge to the south and was formed when Lambeth Bridge was rebuilt in 1929-32. The gate is on the bridge, beside an obelisk, and to the north of the gate a flight of steps leads down to the gardens.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
Just inside the northernmost entrance to the gardens there is a circular area of asphalt with a bronze statue of Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst (A G Walker, listed grade II) on the eastern edge, facing west and backed by a shrubbery. The statue was commissioned in 1929 and was unveiled in 1930, and was positioned on the western edge of a circular shrubbery in the centre of the gardens, facing west along the line of Wood Street. It was moved to its present position in 1956 as part of the revised layout of the gardens (all references Works file 20/188). The shrubbery which backs the statue is on a slight bank, and runs east from this point along the northern boundary of the gardens, masking a fence and boiler house which were installed in 1955-6.
A shrubbery runs along the northern end of the west boundary (between the two northern entrances) but the central area of the gardens is laid out as open lawn, kept clear of planting to preserve the views. The areas of lawn are divided at the northern end by arching paths, which cross just east of the centre, with the northern branches leading to the north-west and north-east corners of the gardens, and the southern arms joining onto straight paths which run south along the west and east boundaries. At the point where the paths cross, c 60m south-east of the northern entrance, there is a large bronze statuary group of six figures by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), known as the Burghers of Calais (first version 1895, listed grade I). The group was donated by the National Arts Collection Fund and erected in the gardens in 1914. Because of the outbreak of the First World War and anxiety of offending the French Allies, the statuary group was not formally unveiled but the tarpaulin was removed informally in 1915. It was sited approximately on the present position of the Pankhurst statue, on the west end of a path which ran west/east across the north end of the garden. This path was removed and the Burghers of Calais were resited as part of the alterations to the gardens in 1955-6. The original position had been chosen by Rodin, who had also requested that the piece was placed on a high plinth (the versions in Calais and Copenhagen had been placed on lower plinths). Objections to the high plinth were made from the start on the basis that it was difficult to view the piece properly and the piece was therefore placed on a lower pedestal when it was resited in 1955-6 (all references Works file 20/124 and 20/243).
The open lawns in the centre of the gardens are lined by rows of planes along the perimeter paths on the west and east sides. The east path, which forms a terrace walk along the embankment wall, has a row of benches set on high pedestals looking out over the river. A path crosses the gardens from west to east, aligned on the entrance opposite Dean Stanley Street. At the east end of this path, dominating the southern end of the gardens, is the Buxton Memorial Fountain (S S Teulon 1865, listed grade II) c 200m south-east of the northernmost entrance. The octagonal gothic fountain has a limestone and granite pavilion which supports a pyramidal spire roof decorated with enamelled metal. The fountain was erected in Parliament Square (qv) in 1865/6 but was removed in 1950, following the Parliament Square Improvements Act 1949. It was finally resited in Victoria Tower Gardens in 1955-6 (Works file 20/266 and 20/301-2).
A path runs west/east from the southernmost entrance across to the terrace walk, with a shrubbery (planted in 1955-6) on the south side dividing a children's playground from the rest of the gardens. The southern end of the playground is terminated by a curving screen wall incorporating a seat, three wall drinking fountains, and carved animals at each end of the wall (all references Works file 16/1214). The wall and seat were part of a scheme laid out in 1923 to the designs of Philip Tilden. The playground now has play features on asphalt, surrounded by the 1920s paving. The centre of the 1920s scheme was taken up by a sandpit, which was extended in 1927, and filled in with asphalt in the late C20. The area to the south and east of the playground was altered in 1932 following the building of Lambeth Bridge (Works file 16/1216). To the south of the curving fountain wall is a works area with shrub planting surrounding rose beds and storage within the wall of Lambeth Bridge. The southern end of the eastern perimeter path terminates at the flight of steps up to Lambeth Bridge.
B Cherry and N Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 1 The Cities of London and Westminster (3rd edn 1973), p 598
B Weinreb and C Hibbert, The London Encyclopaedia (1988)
OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition surveyed 1872, published 1879
2nd edition revised 1894-6, published 1897
3rd edition revised 1914, published 1916
Victoria Tower Gardens files: Works 11/63; 16/826; 16/1214; 16/1510; 16/1940-1; 20/124; 20/188; 20/243; 20/266 (PRO)
Date written: June 2002
Register Inspector: CB
Edited: August 2003