The rich variety of puddles in the much-loved Thames-side park of Victoria Tower Gardens in the heart of London…

Victoria Tower and ornamental cherry

As many of you will know, if you follow me on Twitter-X or elsewhere, I enjoy photographing puddles, so if you scroll through the pictures below you will find puddles from all seasons reflecting Victoria Tower Gardens and some of its features and visitors. Also, as many will have noticed, we have had a lot of rain recently, which has given more photo-ops than usual.

Circles within circles
Tsunami waves from a fallen leaf
A cluster of raindrops spreading concentric circles
Artist at work
Crow, the centre of attention
Sip and kiss
Egyptian goose Narcissus
Fluffed up pigeon bathing
Puddle ghost
Reflection of the southern entrance to Victoria Tower Gardens
The willow bower in the playground, gradually greening
Garden maintenance
A canopy of plane trees
Reaching out
Reaching over
Reaching down
Summer green
Autumn gold
Puddle of gold
Leaf-filled golden puddle
Puddle selfie
Puddle at the end of a *Desire Path* reflecting glimpses of Victoria Tower and the Buxton Memorial

Sometimes it’s good to escape for a while from all the violence and uncertainty in the world, out of our control. I hope that looking through these pictures has been a distraction. And I hope, as it was enshrined in Law by an Act of Parliament in 1901, that there will always be free and unimpeded access to Victoria Tower Gardens for all.

Victoria Tower Gardens, under the care of The Royal Parks, was created by an Act of Parliament (Section 8 of the London County Council Improvements Act). Though the Act passed in 1900 required the gardens to be “laid out and maintained […] for use as a garden open to the public”, therefore prohibiting any construction, this much-loved, peaceful central London riverside park is under threat as the Government is now in the process of repealing the 1900 Act.

For further information on the threat to Victoria Tower Gardens see:
Save Victoria Tower Gardens: The Campaign
London Parks and Gardens: Victoria Tower Gardens
Two articles by Richard Morrison of The Times:
The Bungling of London’s Holocaust Memorial, February 3,2023
The Gaza war should make us rethink the Holocaust Memorial, March 21, 2024 Article: Victoria Tower Gardens, September 5, 2021

19th century etchings of the tidal Thames: II

Further etchings I have photographed from: The Thames from its Rise to the Nore, by Walter Armstrong, published in 1886-7. As with the first article they present a somewhat idealised picture of the River Thames but again, their detail is interesting and as before, I have added a little history below a few of them.

The Palace of Westminster from the South Bank

Armstrong, while admiring “the unity, rhythm, grace and skill of the detailed execution”, found two faults in the design of the Palace of Westminster. “Firstly the contradiction between its general symmetry and the contempt for that particular beauty shown in the positions and forms of the towers; and, secondly, the absence of any direct communication with the river.” He glances swiftly over the present Westminster Bridge, opened on May 24, 1862, the first arch of which is just visible in the picture above, saying rather enigmatically that it “has more grace than dignity”. Sadly there is no illustration.

Cleopatra’s Needle and Waterloo Bridge

Cleopatra’s Needle was shipped from Egypt to London in 1877. It was a gift to the British Government from the Sultan of Egypt in 1819 to commemorate “Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 and Sir Ralph Abercromby’s victory at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801.” See the Royal Museums Greenwich for the story of its eventful journey from Egypt to the Thames Embankment where it was eventually placed in 1877.
Also clearly seen in this image is the much-acclaimed Waterloo Bridge, completed by architect and engineer John Rennie, following the initial design of what was first called the Strand Bridge, by George Dodd. It was funded by a public company. Work began in 1811 and finished, with its opening to the public in 1817, on the second anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. George Birch wrote in The Descriptive Album of London, c.1896, ” Waterloo Bridge is considered the finest stone bridge in the world.” It was, as you may know, replaced during in 1942 during the Second Word War, by the present bridge known as ‘The Ladies’ Bridge’, whose story is told by the Institute of Civil Engineers.

The Thames Embankment. Artist W. Allen marked on the wall and another indecipherable name in the water

As with many of the pictures I have included, there is no date attached to the above image but you can see the bronze lion’s head mooring rings designed by Timothy Butler and cast by Singer in 1868-70. They were installed during the building of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s sewage system for London. And in the background, St. Paul’s Cathedral is looking out across the river much as, despite all the modern building, it still manages to do today.

The Shot Towers at Waterloo

Though the shot towers are the captioned subject of this etching in Armstrong’s book, Waterloo Bridge is very much in evidence too, as is St. Paul’s Cathedral, once again clearly visible on the horizon.

The New London Bridge in 1827

In 1825 the foundation stone was laid for the new London Bridge designed by John Rennie. “The stones for the bridge were cut and the arches laid out on the Isle of Dogs. They were each given a number or letter code marking their positions so that they could be taken to the site and assembled correctly. This attention to detail paid off again over a century later in 1967, when it facilitated the sale and shipping to America of these same stones.”, from: Where Smooth waters Glide. Meticulously reassembled over Lake Havasu, what was once the ‘new London Bridge’ has become a much appreciated tourist attraction.

Looking across the Pool of London towards St. Paul’s cathedral
London Bridge from the Tower of London
The Pool of the Thames

Armstrong writes that the most crowded part of the Pool is between Rotherhithe and Wapping,” explaining that “the Pool is divided into Upper and Lower, the point of division being at the Thames Police Station at Wapping.” Regulations demanded that “a minimum passage between the ships moored on either side of the central stream of 200 feet in the Upper and 300 feet in the Lower Pool has to be kept.”

Entrance to West India Docks. Artist W. McM.
Rotherhithe Church

St. Mary’s Church, Rotherhithe was the first church in Britain to be destroyed during the Second World War. It was hit by incendiary bombs during an air raid on September 7, 1940. Rebuilding of the main body of the church took place between 1954 and 1956.


The famous ship, SS GREAT EASTERN was built at Blackwell Point and “the berth on which she was built was laid east and west upon it.” Designed by Brunel she was the largest ship of the day. Though her fortunes were mixed, she was used to lay the first transatlantic cable in 1865.

Greenwich Hospital
Prison Hulk

This was one of the prison hulks created by the Hulks Act of 1776, which “Authorised for a limited time, the punishment by hard labour of offenders…raising Sand, Soil and Gravel from…the River Thames”. The Act was regarded as a “temporary expedient” to relieve the pressures on “English prisons which were quite literally overflowing with prisoners awaiting transportation, but with nowhere to go.” Jeff James writes: “This ‘temporary expedient’ was to last for almost a century.”
You can discover more about the prison hulks from the text of Jeff James’s excellent lecture at the National Archives. Though illustrated in Armstrong’s book, there is no mention of the truly harsh conditions endured by the prisoners, perhaps because the Hulks Act expired in 1857. However, there is a faint, uneasy echo of those times in the use of the Bibi Stockholm, now moored in Portland, to house asylum seekers.


Armstrong mentions that Erith is “known as the headquarter of two minor yacht clubs and for its ancient church tower.” He also mentions an artist, Mark Anthony, who had recently died and whose painting of Erith Church he greatly admired, feeling that his “fame would revive one day.” Sadly, though his work occasionally comes on the market, his fame did not “revive”.

Training Ship off Grays

Researcher Julie Gilbert writes that the Poor Law Amendment Act, 1834, meant “increasing numbers of the destitute were forced to enter workhouses, since other forms of relief were essentially eliminated.” One solution to the now dreadfully overcrowded workhouses, was to send pauper boys to training ships, which could be found on the River Thames and elsewhere. One of these was The Goliath, lent by the Royal Navy and operated by the Forest Gate School District from 1870-1875 and, as she was moored off Grays town, she could well have been the ship in the above etching from Armstrong’s book.
Gilbert writes: “The Goliath was an 80 gun two-deck wooden ship, with room for 500 boys. On board, each boy was given his own hammock and was expected to maintain a cleanly and professional environment.” They were taught how to make and repair sails, to make ropes and, along with rudimentary schoolwork, they learnt how to row, sail and swim. These attributes were useful training for a future in the Royal Navy or the Merchant Navy. However, though the young men mostly went on to have a career at sea, the Goliath came to a sorry end in 1876, described in an article in the Illustrated London News.
“She was moored in the estuary of the Thames, off the village of Grays, having on board more than 400 boys…a fire broke out in the lamp-room…though the firebell was rung immediately, and the boys rushed to their stations and pumps on the lower deck without confusion or delay, yet the fire had spread all over the main deck even before the bell had ceased ringing…the boys stuck to their work on the lower deck till the fire began to reach them… They had to save themselves by jumping into the water. Happily, nearly all had been taught to swim, and many managed to reach the land unaided. However, fifteen are missing, though only five are known to be dead”.

Boats at Leigh
The Mouth of the Thames by A. Willmore

“The mouth of the Thames, with the red light-ship, may fairly be called the centre of English naval life.”, writes Walter Armstrong at the end of his account, emphasising the light-ship’s importance, guiding with its “famous light” all kinds of shipping past the Nore sandbank. He was of course talking about the famous Nore light vessel.

The Nore Light vessel

The first light vessel, the Nore, was anchored at the mouth of the River Thames by Mr. Thomas Hamblin in 1732. In 1836 Trinity House was given powers to acquire and maintain all private lighthouses. The most recent light vessel to protect shipping from the sandbank, 86 Nore, was replaced by a light navigation buoy. Glen Humble tells me, “However, there is still an unmanned light vessel at Sunk, and Sunk pilot station is the one used calling in on Felixstowe as well as the largest (deepest drafted) vessels calling on the Thames and the Medway.”

Armstrong’s book is full of detail both in the etchings and the text. The two volumes of The Thames from its Rise to the Nore combine to make a substantial piece of work but curiously I have been unable to find it mentioned along with the many well-received books that he published on art and artists, both before and after his appointment in 1892 as Director of the National Gallery of Ireland. However, it is advertised on several internet bookselling sites and it appears that it was also first published in parts to subscribers at a price of 6 shillings.

Sources and further Information
Armstrong, Walter: The Thames from its Rise to the Nore, Virtue & Co., 1886-87.
Gilbert, Julie: ‘The English Poor Law and Training Ships in the Nineteenth
April 25, 2016. Article in Port Towns & Urban Cultures
Royal Museums Greenwich. See: Nore Light Vessel
Trinity House timeline.
With thanks to Glen Humble @wavecrestglen