The Watts Church Crawl Part the 26th: Embankment

After a summer lull, we’re now ready to go on without last two stations: Embankment and Westminster.


Embankment Station is really tied up with its neighbour Charing Cross, and the two of them are a survival of four stations, all within a ten minute walk. There has also been Trafalgar Square and Strand Stations. Strand Station’s above ground entrance is still clearly visible to this day, along the side of the King’s College London Strand campus. Betjeman described Charing Cross as “the most charming of all the Edwardian and neo-Georgian Renaissance stations”.


The District line station, which opened in 1870, was initially Charing Cross. A second station opened as part of the Bakerloo line in 1906, and was named Embankment. It was then re-named Charing Cross (Embankment) in 1914, when Northern line platforms were added. This was then combined to make Charing Cross in 1915, and then re-named Charing Cross Embankment in 1974, before being re-named Embankment in 1976. Confused? You should be. Have a look at the map.


It is an unassuming station and very clearly sister to Temple station which was built at the same time. Simple and unassuming, but with some pleasant features. It’s not looking it’s best at the moment, as they are doing some renovations to the deep level platforms for the Northern and Bakerloo lines, but should all be finished by November of this year.


We could not visit this part of the world, without seeing one of the most influential churches of the Anglican Communion: St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Of course it is no longer in the fields, it is in Trafalgar Square. However when the first church was built and dedicated, the living belonging to Westminster Abbey, it was surrounded by fields. There are still fields in the Parish though: Green Park and parts of St. James’s Park.


The church is largely the work of the inestimable Gibbs, whose work and history we have discussed previously. It is arguably his finest, and certainly the building with which he is most strongly associated. The church was built in 1721, and replaced a church of much earlier pedigree. Notable people buried within include Nell Gwyn, and also Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, the judge allegedly murdered by Catholics, and one of the incitements of the Titus Oates led riots. To this day no one is quite certain who actually killed him.



It’s architecture is typical of Gibbs: continuing Wren’s legacy, with grand and sweeping Corinthian columns inside and out. Betjeman, it must be said, damns with faint praise:

“By J. Gibbs, 1722-6. Trafalgar Square was made a century later so that the awkward was the Portland-stone steeple bestrides the Corinthian portico was not apparent, and the church was glimpsed through narrow streets in parts, not as a whole. Both steeple and porticoed body of the church are compact and elegant as separate units. Much-visited interior has galleries, tall columns, supporting vaulted nave ceiling with graceful plasterwork especially over chancel arch and shallow domes over aisles. The E. end is an anti-climax.”

Adjacent to St. Martins, is the glorious centre of culture: The National Gallery.


There have been, are and will be books and books written on the National Gallery and its content. Architecturally speaking, it is a marvel, and its architect, William Wilkins in 1838, designed it to perfectly fit the square, and the view down Whitehall, with the domes offering a gentle and pleasing conclusion, all in harmony. Then Nelson’s Column was erected.  of the column by 1843, Wilkins’ sense of proportion was rather skewed, and the Galleries now look like something of an afterthought coming up Whitehall. Oh well, can’t win them all, as they say.


The idea for the gallery was first floated in the late 1700s, when the collection of Sir Robert Walpole came up for sale. However, the government didn’t buy, and the whole thing is now to be found in the Hermitage at St. Petersburg.  The collection actually came into existence in 1824, at 100 Pall Mall, the house of John Julius Angerstein, an emigreé banker, to whom the collection had initially belonged. The 38 were further ornamented by 35 paintings belonging to The Reverend William Holwell Carr in 1831. 100 Pall Mall proved eventually to be too small, and Wilkins gallery was opened in 1838. The positioning of the gallery is significant: it was supposed to be between the slums the fashionable west end, so that all social classes could enjoy the collection: it was suggested that the gallery move to South Kensington, but this was rejected. The building has been much expanded over the years, but small things, like dark marble door-frames ensure a feeling of unity. There was an inevitable attempt to eradicate some of the high Victoriana of the gallery’s architecture, but this thankfully didn’t last long. Even the Sainsbury Wing, built in the early 90s, manages to continue at least some of the building’s style, albeit on a much simpler level, at least as far as the frontage is concerned. The interior being on a much simpler, and intimate space.

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