Many tourists make the simple mistake of simply viewing the Houses of Parliament (AKA the Palace of Westminster) from across the River Thames or from Lambeth bridge that connects the two sides of London. However, head just around the corner from the Palace and you’ll soon stumble upon a pretty space, the Victoria Tower Gardens…
Quiet and secluded, these gardens may be only one of the green spaces in central London, and yet they still remain fairly infrequented. Much like the iconic Jewel Tower plenty of people pass by on a daily basis but few know that you can actually enter and wander around.
After all, on one end the gardens lie in the shadow of the Palace, while much of the perimeter is- for lack of a better word- quite literally shrouded in trees. That, combined with the fact that of the eight Royal Parks in greater London, this is the smallest means much less foot traffic than the likes of Hyde Park or Regent’s Park.
A brief history of the Victoria Tower Gardens
For those who have ever wandered down a quintessentially British high street, no doubt you’ll have passed by a W.H. Smith’s newsagents. Well, the very same man who gave his name to the chain that has become such a major success today was instrumental to the foundations of the Victoria Tower Gardens. Incidentally, the W. H. Smith family mansion can now be found in the form of Bovey Castle, a luxury hotel nestled within Dartmoor National Park.
After all, prior to the late 19th-century, the plot of land next to Westminster had not been embanked. The site was used for all kinds of works; oil works, flour mills, cement mixing, and the like. Following a gift in 1879 of £1000 by W H Smith and an additional sum of £1400 by Parliament, the project was to create a slice of park land for public use.
By 1909, the garden had become quite the success among Londoners, and so a further act of parliament was proposed, that would see the gardens extended. In 1912 legislation passed, in 1913 the gardens were created, and by 1914 the new slice of land was open for public use in the form of a shrub-filled park.
As you may well have already guessed, Victoria Tower Gardens can be found next to Victoria Tower, the slightly smaller and less popular sister of the Elizabeth Tower (the place where Big Ben is located!). By and large, Victoria tower is used to store important Parliamentary documents. The Grade II* listed park itself is now listed within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Westminster.
The Memorials of Victoria Tower Gardens
So many are the number of statues, memorial figures, and the like within the park, that the space is actually a zone of ‘monument saturation’. When strolling through the park, be sure to be on the lookout for several particularly prominent features which celebrate the theme of ‘freedom’:
The Horseferry Playground
During the 1920s, the gardens were once again remodelled to accommodate a children’s play area, including a vast sand pit. Today, the park is named for a waterway that connected the two sides of London during the 16th-century and is surrounded by railings designed by Chris Campbell. Depicting all kinds of scenes from London history, look closely and you’ll soon spy the Great Fire of London, St Paul’s, and Lord Nelson’s Funeral Barge depicted in the wrought iron.
The Buxton Memorial Fountain
Designed by SS Teulon and originally erected in Parliament Square in 1865, the Buxton Memorial commemorates MP Thomas Buxton and was created at the behest of Buxton’s Son. During his career, the MP’s most important campaign to make slavery illegal throughout the British Empire. In 1957, the memorial was moved to the Victoria Gardens to mark the 150th anniversary since the Act of Parliament that abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin
For anyone familiar with French sculpture, Rodin likely needs no introduction. The Burghers of Calais represents the idea of freedom from oppression and depicts a story about Calais during the Hundred Years War between the French and the English.
At this time, Calais had been surrounded by the English for a number of years. The tale tells of six men, known collectively as the Burghers, offering themselves up for death at the hands of English is the rest of the town could be saved. Queen Philippa heard of this and eventually, all the people of Calais were allowed to leave.
The campaigner for women’s rights, Emmeline Pankhurst, was instrumental in the struggle for women to get the vote and was one of the key members of the Suffragettes. Sadly, Pankhurst died just one month before all adult women were granted the vote. Today, a statue stands in the heart of the Victoria Tower Gardens to commemorate her.