In Praise of Victoria Tower Gardens

Protected as “a public garden in perpetuity” by the London County Council (Improvements)Act 1900, Victoria Tower Gardens has served for over a hundred years, as a space for national, regional and local events. While the park’s eventual fate hangs in the balance with the repeal of the act which has protected it for so long, here are some of the events I have witnessed showing how it has, from its beginning, been open and available to all.

Among national events, Victoria Tower Gardens was used as a queueing area for the thousands of people lining up to pay their respects to Sir Winston Churchill before his funeral on January 30, 1965, and most recently hundreds of thousands queued patiently there to the see the lying-in-state of Queen Elizabeth II in WestminsterHall.

However, Victoria Tower Gardens has mostly been a tree-lined refuge by the central LondonRiver Thames for those seeking some moments of respite from the busy life and concerns around them.

Relaxing in the summer
Looking south from Rodin’s Burghers of Calais towards the Buxton Memorial

The gardens are obviously popular in the summer but also in winter and the photograph below shows a fine view of the Palace of Westminster without the obstruction of the Parliamentary Education Centre, which in theory, being only temporary, is due to be dismantled soon.

Enjoying winter
The Park in Winter
Morris dancers: A day of dance organised by the Westminster Morris Dancers
Two Morris dancers chatting
A dance troupe in rehearsal
The open air Luna Cinema pays a visit
Demonstration by farmers, Jan 22, 2024
Protest against energy costs, March 13, 2024
Camera poised for one of the many TV interviews that take place here but pigeons get in on the act, April 11, 2024
Film crew meet local dog
Powerful lamps lining-up for filming a night-time sequence along the River Thames
One of the hundreds of painted elephants for the Elephant Parade set around London in 2018
Spectra August 4 – ll, 2014
An art club on location in Victoria Tower Gardens painting the famous view across the lawns to the Palace of Westminster
Drone practice
A happy moment for Dave Wardell and Finn, Sir Oliver Heald and supporters, after the second reading of the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill, known as ‘Finn’s Law’, July 6, 2018
Children’s parties often take place in the summer, as do wedding photo shoots.
Another popular event is the Westminster Dog of the Year, a competition where MPs and their dogs gather in Victoria Tower Gardens. Last year it took place on September 14. There used to be MPs pancake races on or around around Shrove Tuesday but not since covid.
Count Binface, recently upping his profile at local and constituency elections, knocking at the door of the Parliamentary Education Centre

The much-enjoyed Horseferry playground
The spontaneous joy of waving back to a passing boat
Carefully maintained during the covid restrictions, the freedom to walk in Victoria Tower Gardens was a great consolation
The two metre distance rule

Since it first came into existence over a hundred years ago, the uncluttered, elegant open space in the centre of Victoria Tower Gardens has been available for numerous events. These have involved the closure of this part of the gardens for a short while and the restoration of the lawn afterwards, if necessary.

Polite notice, April 2023
Marquee covering a lot of ground, soon cleared after the Coronation
The Red Arrows flypast as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, June 2nd, 2022

Remarks and Further Information
Baroness Deech, Member of the House of Lords, wrote in The House Magazine, June 3, 2019.
“The proposed Holocaust memorial is the wrong design in the wrong place […] This bitterly contested plan does not speak to the heart. It is not good enough for the memory of the victims of the Nazi slaughter, including my grandparents.” Baroness Deech, The House Magazine, June 3, 2019.

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP, made powerful speech during the 2nd reading of the Holocaust Memorial Bill, Wednesday 28th June 2023, questioning among other things, how the decision was arrived at to site a Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens. See excerpts.

Nickie Aiken, MP, also made a powerful representations in defence of Victoria Tower Gardens during the 2nd reading of the Holocaust Memorial Bill, Wednesday 28th June 2023, arguing that “this is the right memorial but in the wrong location.” See excerpts.

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre: “While strongly supporting the concept of a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in London, re-iterates its serious concerns that the proposed location in Victoria Tower Gardens, would have an unacceptable adverse impact on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property and therefore, also reiterates its request to the State Party to pursue alternative locations and/or designs.” Unesco World Heritage Centre.

All images ©Patricia Stoughton