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Thames Embankment

The Thames Embankment

The Thames Embankment  is one of the noblest works in the metropolis.  As long ago as 1666 Sir Christopher Wren advocated such a scheme.  Till Mr. Bazalgette, the engineer to the Metropolitan Board of Works, (who, by the way, planned the main drainage,) came forward with his plans, there had been scores of others, all over-costly and few practicable.  The work was virtually begun in 1862.  Both south and north embankments are now open.  The former (or Albert Embankment ) was opened the entire length, from Westminster Bridge to Vauxhall, on the 1st September, 1869; the latter, (or Victoria Embankment,) from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars, in the middle of July, 1870.  What the ultimate cost will be of both these gigantic works it is for us here impossible to tell.  Already the metropolitan public hare paid for their new Thames boulevard £1,650,000.

And now—in the case of the northern embankment, for example—let us consider what vast difficulties have had to be surmounted.  The words of an excellent authority put the matter very concisely as follows:—“The river had to be dammed out for some thirty-eight acres—the mud had to be dredged out down to the London clay—the granite walls had to be built below low-water mark; behind these the low-level sewer had to be constructed.  Over this, again, had to come the subway, and behind all the District Railway, which runs at an average of about eighteen feet below the surface.  It is not known what materials were required for the railway; but what was used for the Embankment is known.  It was:—Granite, 650,000 cubic feet; brickwork, 80,000 cubic yards; concrete, 140,000 cubic yards; timber, (for cofferdam, &c.,) 500,000 cubic feet; caissons, (for ditto,) 2,500 tons; earth filling, 900,000 cubic feet; excavation, 144,000 cubic feet; York paving, 90,000 superficial feet; broken granite, 50,000 yards superficial.  The railway works would make these totals still more formidable.  London is now the metropolis of engineering works, but there is no part of it in which so many and such varied and difficult kinds centre as in the Thames Embankment.  A section of it would be a study for engineers for all time.”

The public foot-way had been open since July, 1868.  It was for the formal opening of the carriage-way that the Prince of Wales, on 13th July, 1870, drove from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars along the Northern Embankment's carriage-way.  This is sixty-four feet wide, and the foot-way on the land-side is sixteen feet wide, and that on the river-side is twenty feet wide.  Along the river-side are planted rows of trees, which in a few years will afford an unbroken line of shade, doubtless.  As the railway works were completed sufficiently to admit of it, this main roadway has been extended to the Mansion-House, by means of a new street—Queen Victoria Street —referred to in a former page.  There is thus one broad, airy thoroughfare between the Houses of Parliament, and the West End, and the heart of the city.

It will be obvious that though so much has been done, much yet remains to be accomplished ere the Thames Northern Embankment is regularly completed.  The carriage-way, for the present, has only been gravelled and macadamized.  The reason is, that in newly-made rotten earth its sinking down must be allowed for, for some time, ere it can all be paved, like London Bridge, with “granite pitching.”  Four regular approaches into the Strand—by way of Villiers, Norfolk, Surrey, and Arundel Streets—have been made; and there are three other ways which go from Westminster, Whitehall, and Blackfriars; another is in progress from Charing Cross.

Starting from the western end, the Metropolitan District Railway has already open, along this embankment, five stations, called Westminster, Charing Cross, Temple, Blackfriars, and Mansion House.

The wall of the Thames Northern Embankment just alluded to is, to quote once more, “constructed generally of brickwork faced with granite, and is carried down to a depth of 32½ feet below Trinity high-water mark, the foundation being of Portland cement concrete.  The level of the roadway generally is four feet above Trinity high-water mark, except at the two extremities, where it rises to Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges to an extreme height of about 20 feet above high-water.  The rising ground for both these approaches is retained by a granite faced wall, similar in character to the general Embankment wall.

“The face of the Embankment forms a graceful curve, having a plane face to about mean high-water level, and being ornamented above that level with mouldings, which are stopped at intervals of about seventy feet with plain blocks of granite, intended to carry lamp standards of cast-iron, and relieved on the river face by bronze lions' heads carrying mooring rings.  The uniform line of the Embankment is broken at intervals by massive piers of granite, flanking recesses for pontoons or landing stages for steamboats, and at other places by stairs projecting into the river, and intended as landing-piers for small craft.  The steamboat piers occur at Westminster, Charing Cross, and Waterloo Bridges; and those for boats midway between Westminster and Charing Cross, and between Charing Cross and Waterloo Bridge; and both are combined opposite Essex Street.  It is intended eventually to surmount the several blocks and pedestals with groups of statuary.”