Inventory Site Record

Victoria Embankment Gardens: Main Garden, Whitehall Garden, Temple Gardens, Ministry of Defence *

Victoria Embankment Gardens: Main Garden, Whitehall Garden, Temple Gardens, Ministry of Defence * (Westminster)

Brief Description

* on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens

Victoria Embankment Gardens comprise a series of public gardens created from 1864 following the embankment of the Thames by MBW's Chief Engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette, although Sir Christopher Wren had conceived of a continuous embankment in 1666. The four sections are all bounded on the river side by Victoria Embankment, and in each section are formal gardens, statues and monuments. Temple Gardens is the most northerly section. The Main Garden, created on the site of Adelphi Gardens, was the second to be laid out and opened in May 1875. Whitehall Garden followed, laid out in 1875. The Ministry of Defence section was laid out in the 1950s when the Ministry of Defence was built between 1939-59. In the north-west corner of the gardens are remains of the old Whitehall Steps to the Thames, 'Queen Mary Steps', discovered in 1939.

Practical Information
Site location:
Victoria Embankment/ Waterloo Bridge/Northumberland Avenue/Whitehall
Type of site:
Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
Mon-Sat: 7.30am - dusk, Sun & public holidays: 9am-dusk
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 6 times, most recently in 2009.
Special conditions:
Main Garden: Café, wine bar and kiosk. Toilet (including for disabled)
Main Garden: Summer entertainment /concerts on open air bandstand
Public transport:
Rail: Charing Cross. Tube: Embankment (District, Circle, Northern, Bakerloo); Temple (District, Circle). Bus: 6, 9, 11, 13, 15, 23, 77a, 91, 139, 176

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/09/2008
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Full Site Description

Site on The National Heritage List for England, Parks & Gardens, for Register Entry see

Victoria Embankment Gardens comprise a series of public gardens created from 1864 following the embankment of the Thames by Metropolitan Board of Works and undertaken by its Chief Engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette. The idea of embankment was not new, and Sir Christopher Wren had conceived a riverside quay for the City as early as 1666. A Royal Commission was set up and in 1844 recommended an embankment should be built between Blackfriars and Chelsea. The Metropolitan Board of Works was established in 1855, one of its main tasks being that of solving the sewage problem in London. An Act was passed in 1862 to approve the project and Bazalgette's scheme was put forward in 1863, with a massive sewer to be built below the new tree-lined roadway, with a granite river wall. Apart from the new road, much of the 15 hectares taken from the river was converted into public gardens. Along the Embankment are a series of fine lamp standards with twining dolphins by C H Mabey, bronze lion-mask mooring rings and benches with cast-iron sphinxes or camels, 1977 reproductions of the 1870s originals. The Victoria Embankment Gardens occupy the four sites curving round a loop of the Thames, in a quarter circle round from TQ311809 to TQ303799 from north to west. All four sections are bounded on the river by the Victoria Embankment and have statues, which were set up from early on.

Temple Gardens, the northernmost section, is bounded to north by Temple Place. Railings and dense shrubbery enclose a roughly rectangular area, with lawns and bedding on each side of a wide central asphalt path. The garden contains mature London planes, and a central rosebed has replaced a 1895 bandstand. In the gardens are monuments to J S Mill, W E Forster, I K Brunel. It includes a wide central path, planting beds, and various statues. The garden has recently undergone a major historical railing reinstatement project to match those of The Whitehall section of Victoria Embankment. This project has greatly improved the visual appearance of the gardens from both the adjacent road and river, and has helped restore and reintroduce an appropriate level of formality to the gardens. Above Temple station is Temple Gardens Roof Terrace, a paved terrace surrounded by stone balustrading with numerous benches. The terrace overlooks the river and the gardens either side. It is reached by steps from Temple Place.

The Main Garden was on the site of Adelphi Gardens and was the second to be laid out. It is bounded by Savoy Place to the north and north-west, by Watergate Walk to the west, by Villiers Street and Embankment Place to the south-west, and by Charing Cross Underground Station to the south. The garden layout was designed by Alexander McKenzie, whose plans were approved in 1870, and it was opened by W H Smith, MP in May 1875. It is railed, with shrubbery and mature trees that include London plane, thorn, catalpa and metasequoia; running through the gardens are curving asphalt paths, with lawns and outstanding displays of bedding. The main open area, with lawn and a symmetrical bedding scheme, is to south-west, with an open air theatre/bandstand beyond. This replaced the earlier Bandstand when the area was re-landscaped in the mid C20th. The York House Water Gate of 1626 is on the north-west boundary and was acquired by the LCC in 1893; it was built here for the Duke of Buckingham and acted as the landing place prior to embankment of the river, as a result of which it is now some 100m from the riverside. On the south-east side of the lawn is a fine mixed border with exotic foliage, backed by privet hedge, with lime trees above. The narrower north-east section has bedding displays, alternating with lawn, shrubbery, and small paved water gardens. There are numerous memorials and pieces of sculpture including those for Robert Burns, Robert Raikes and Sir Arthur Sullivan. The monument to Lord Cheylesmore (d.1925) by Sir Edwin Lutyens has a small water garden, which is aligned on Cleopatra's Needle on the Embankment to the south-east. Cleopatra's Needle is an ancient obelisk in pink granite dating from the reign of Thothmes III, which was brought to London as a gift in 1877 and erected in 1878 on the Embankment Wall with two huge bronze sphinxes designed by Vulliamy. On the outer, south-east side of the garden is the Belgian War Memorial by Sir Reginald Blomfield, 1917-20. In 2005 a temporary Memorial Garden was laid out for the victims of the 7 July 2005 bombings.

The south-western sections are separated from the first two by Hungerford Bridge. Whitehall Garden is bounded to the north by the railway, to the west by Whitehall Court, and to the south by Horseguards Avenue. The garden was laid out by George Vulliamy in 1875 in a formal design with three monuments, each within a grass island, arranged down the centre. These commemorate William Tyndale (1484-1536), Sir Henry Bartle Frere (1815-1885) and General Sir James Outram (1803-63). Newly railed in 1997 with reproductions of Bazalgette's design of 1873, the gardens have shrubbery, bedding displays and mature London plane trees around the peripheral path and central lawns. Other trees include tree of heaven, lime and Indian bean tree. There is also a monument of 1929 by F V Blundstone in front of the railings to Samuel Plimsoll, who was influential in the formation of the Merchant Shipping Act, which established the Load or Plimsoll Line that prevented overloading of ships. In 2000 the gardens received a Millennium Award for improvement works to shrubs, which is noted by a plaque next to the entrance from Northumberland Avenue.

The southernmost garden known as the Ministry of Defence Section lies south of Horseguards Avenue, and is bounded to the west by the Ministry of Defence, and by Richmond Terrace to the south. Preserved in the north-west corner of the gardens are the remains of the old Whitehall Steps to the Thames, also known as the 'Queen Mary Steps', and the adjoining early C16th Thames embankment revetment wall. This remnant of the Tudor palace was discovered in 1939. Created on the site of the former Privy Garden, the gardens, laid out in the 1950s, comprise a large raised rectangular lawn with paths and mature London planes. They are overlooked by the massive Ministry of Defence building designed by E.Vincent Harris which was built in 1939-59. Monuments in this section are those for General Gordon by Hamo Thorneycroft (1887), Air Chief Marshal Trenchard, and Lord Portal. On the other side at the front of the Ministry of Defence is another garden area towards Whitehall with a row of commemorative statues to WWII Field-Marshals and Viscounts, including Field-Marshal Montgomery. A statue of Sir Walter Raleigh by W McMillan, 1959, was moved to Greenwich in 2001.

Sources consulted:

E Walford, 'The Victoria Embankment', Old and New London: Volume 3 (1878), pp. 322-329. Cecil E, London Parks and Gardens, 1907, 132-133; N Pevsner, rev B Cherry, London I, 1985, 388, 660; Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England London 6: Westminster', (Yale University Press, 2003); Simon Bradley & Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England, London 1: The City of London', 1997 (1999 ed.); J J Sexby, 'The Municipal Parks … of London', 1898, 262-289; For further references see European Community Grant Application for the Victoria Embankment Gardens.1993; WCC Victoria Embankment (Main Garden) Management Plan 2008 - 2013; WCC Whitehall Gardens Management Plan 2009-2014

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ305805; TQ303802, TQ310808
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Site management:
Parks Service (contractor: Continental Landscapes Ltd)
1864-70, 1873; 1957
Alexander McKenzie (Main Garden); George Vulliamy (Whitehall Garden)
Listed structures:
LBI: York Water Gate, Cleopatra's Needle. Several monuments & sculptures along Gardens LBII: Belgian Monument to the British Nation by Blomfield & Victor Rousseau, Portland stone pedestal supporting bronze group, 1917-20; Memorial statue of I. K. Brunel (bronze) by Norman Shaw & Baron Marochetti, 1877; Statue of General Sir James Outram, 1871; statue of William Tyndale, 1884; statue of Sir Henry Bartle Frere, 1888.
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

NHLE grade:
Grade II*
Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Savoy, Strand and Whitehall Conservation Areas
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Local Imp. (Main, Whitehall & Temple Gdn)
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Special Archaeological Priority
Other LA designation:

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