Vauxhall Bridge

Vauxhall Bridge is of particular interest to these pages because of its excellent allegorical statuary by the New Sculptors Drury and Pomeroy. Anyone with Victorian art interests visiting London is bound to visit the Tate Britain, a couple of minutes walk away, and so has every reason to visit the bridge as well. Just up Vauxhall Bridge road is G. E. Street's St James the Less, in Gothic style with splendid polychrome interior and a mosaic by G. F. Watts. A short walk upstream can be made to see a statue by John Gibson. South of the river can be a bit grim, but a walk can be made through to Lambeth Bridge and thence along the Albert Embankment through to Westminster Bridge.

The bridge itself was built in 1895-1906 by Alexander Binnie, reusing footings of the previous bridge, which dated from 1816. The statue has 5 arches, and the statues we have come to see are on the piers (pillars) between each arch. Most annoyingly, there is nowhere where one can get a really good view of them except from a boat. Peering over the edge of the bridge gives us a view from just above each statue, very obliquely, so we can see a profile, a breast, what she carries in each hand, and looking almost straight down, an open-toed sandal, but not the statue as a whole. From the riverside on the north or south bank, we can at least see the closest statues in 3/4 view, or close to it, but even the second statue away from each side is too far to make out much detail. Having said all that, it is still worth seeing them.

Fine Art, by Alfred Drury

On the upstream side, F. W. Pomeroy was the sculptor. From the south-east side, the first allegorical figure is Pottery, holding a pot, of course, and with very nice drapes; second is Engineering, and holds a Mamod-like fixed steam engine, with 1 cylinder and a big flywheel. Her right hand holds a mallet resting on an anvil next to her. Architecture is next, holding a model of St Paul's Cathedral in her left hand - the fact that the model is about 2 ft long indicates the scale of the statue - and callipers in her right hand. Finally, closest to the north-west bank is Agriculture, with rather magnificent shepherd's crook and a sheaf of corn.

The downstream side sculptures are by Alfred Drury, a personal favorite of mine. His subjects are Education, Fine Art, Science, and Local Government - the latter being the only statue of this subject I have come across. Fine Art is of course the best, and is the subject of the picture above. She carries a palette and brushes, and holds to her breast a small leafy branch bearing some fruit, evocative of natural beauty and imagination. In her other hand she holds a small nude statue.

So far as the view goes, the Thames swings round at this point from an east-west course upstream to a northerly direction, with the bridge just at the bend. So the view upstream is very different from that from Lambeth Bridge, which has an upriver view almost due south. Here, the view is dominated by the huge Battersea Power station (when will some enlightened philanthropist make it into a museum?), a gasometer, and modern things. Downstream, the London Eye dominates, and there is an oblique view of the Houses of Parliament from the south end. On the north-west bank, the dome of the old Tate (Tate Britain) can be seen.

Vauxhall Bridge Road was at one time a haunt of potters and architectural sculptors. (There actually exists a pottery showroom just off to one side of the road, though whether this is a recent addition or represents some genuine continuity with the former potters I don't know.) J. B. Philip had his architectural sculpture practice here, as did a certain Peter Wright who carved the various small heads and leafy bits in Caen stone for St Stephens, Rochester Row nearby. Just south of the river was the Grosvenor Life School, run by a certain Mr Donne, and here the architect J. L. Pearson had his first major commissions (Holy Trinity Church, then St Peter's Church and Art Schools in Kennington Lane).

Further artistic interest is earlier still. The 1816 bridge, by James Walker, was originally known as the Regent Bridge, but took its present name from the proximity to Vauxhall Gardens, themselves of some artistic note. Originally called the New Spring Garden in the 17th Century, Vauxhall Gardens were done up considerably by a certain Jonathan Tyers in the 1730s, with musical entertainments through the summer, decorated gardens with paintings by Hogarth (then a friend of Tyers), and a fine statue of Handel, the work of Roubiliac, of which a later description writes that 'the eminent composer in the act of rapturous meditation when the music had fully awakened up his soul... Though every button of his dress seems to have sat for its likeness, and every button hole is finished with the fastidiousness of a fashionable tailor, the clothes are infected with the agitation of the man, and are in staring disorder.' That statue at least did not remain long at Vauxhall. It went at one time to the house of Mr Barrett of Stockwell, and then to a house in Dean St, and eventually found its way to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

After various ups and downs, including being at one time the haunt of prostitutes, later Vauxhall Gardens went sharply upmarket, with an entrance fee, and by about 1850 had some Gothic roofed structure with an orchestra and casts from the antique - the statues included Eve after the Bath, Diana, copies of Canova's dancing girls, and nearby a fountain with a Neptune complete with trident, 'driving 5 seahorses abreast ,which are snorting forth liquid streams from their nostrils'. An Italian walk had further statues, and a line of colonnades had 'supper boxes' with paintings by Francis Hayman (1708-1776) and his pupils. Later in the 1850s, the Gardens fell out of fashion again, shut down, and eventually everything was sold off by auction, including statues and paintings often at knockdown prices - 'a large historical painting of the King of Sardinia with the order of the garter, being introduced by Prince Albert to the Queen - 35 shillings; an equestrian picture of the Emperor and Empress of the French at a hunting party, 22 shillings;' and so forth. From here, on the north west bank, walking downstream leads to Tate Britain with its Victorian collections. Straight up Vauxhall Bridge Road for 5 minutes allows a visit (around lunchtimes only) to St James the Less off on the left hand side, and proceeding further leads to Victoria Station and Westminster Cathedral. A walk upstream on that side goes to the modest Pimlico Gardens, with a stone statue of William Huskisson by John Gibson, and from where striking inland passes some of the more ornate housing of the Pimlico area. On the south side, a walk into town goes via Lambeth and then Westminster Bridge, and leads into town, with many good views.

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