A gateway on the past

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is an old familiar sight in the heart of London, just off Charing Cross and a stone’s throw (by catapult) from Trafalgar Square.

It’s an imposing 17th century stone gateway that marks the former position of the Thames’s north bank, before the Victoria Embankment was constructed in 1862.

Nicholas Stone built it in 1626. He was the 1st Duke of Buckingham’s Master Mason, and George Villiers wanted an imposing structure to serve as the Watergate to York House, a mansion which he had bought from the Archbishop of York in 1624.

The motto reads ‘Fidei Coticula Grux’ – ‘The Cross is the Touchstone of Faith’ – and it and the accompanying arms belonged to the Villiers family.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 1675 York House was demolished and the site flattened into streets with views across the river. The gate itself remained standing but was in such a sorry state by 1893 that it was acquired for the nation by London County Council as an ‘object of public interest’, which it certainly is.

The gate stands as a relic from the time of Samuel Pepys, before the Great Fire, when the original wooden St Paul’s was still standing and before the Civil War erupted.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA quote from Pepys, in honour of the occasion:

‘I went out to Charing Cross to see Major General Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition.’

 

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