The importance of the Thames since ancient times has left its mark. Follow the river’s course through London and you will see how greatly London has changed over the years. At Ghelsea Bridge two periods of history stand almost facing each other. On the North Bank is the Royal Hospital – an elegant, 18th century building by Sir Christopher Wren. On the South Bank there is stark contrast – the rather forbidding Battersea power station, built to provide electricity for modern Londoners.
Further downstream at Vauxhall Bridge time has certainly moved on. In the time of the famous diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) there were beautiful pleasure gardens here, where he “walked long and the wenches gathered pinks”. There are no pinks to gather near Vauxhall Bridge to-day, the area contains factories and offices instead. Under Lambeth Bridge, the river flows on past the Victoria flower gardens towards Westminster Bridge. Westminster Bridge is ornate and Victorian, its lamp-posts bearing the initials of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (V and A ) lovingly entwined. Here are the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, built in the 19th century in the fashionable “gothic” style. On the terrace you can watch Members of Parliament having a rest from running the country, and taking tea by the river. From this point all along the embankment run the Embankment Gardens,
With their tramps, memorials and flowers. At the riverside itself there is a row of charming Victorian lamp-posts decorated with ferocious-looking dolphins. Even the public benches are decorated with winged sphinxes, showing the fascination the Victorians held for anything exotic. The best example of this, of course is Cleopatra’s Needle. This is a huge obelisk carved in Ancient Egypt and given to Queen Victoria and Great Britain in 1820. It was placed by the river in 1878, and a “time box”, containing objects typical of the time was buried beneath it. Among these objects were a razor, a baby’s feeding bottle and a box of hairpins!