Site Unseen: York Watergate

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past, they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

What I like about this little arch and the Queen Mary’s Steps just up the road is that you get an idea of how wide the Thames was before the construction of the Victoria Embankment.

[Y]ork Watergate or Buckingham Watergate was the river entrance to York House the River now flows some 150 yards further south.

Situated in land-locked Embankment Gardens York Watergate is all that’s left of York House one of some 13 palaces or mansions, the majority of which lined the south side of the Strand (meaning shore of the river). Now only Somerset House is a testament to these grand buildings.

York House was originally owned until the Dissolution in 1536 by the Bishops of Norwich, Henry VIII then passed it on to an old friend the Duke of Suffolk and in 1624 the estate eventually came into the possession of George Villiers, The Duke of Buckingham.

Villiers restored the bishop’s old estate and built the magnificent York Watergate in 1626. It was designed by Inigo Jones, if you look closely you can still see the Buckingham family coat of arms on the top of the gate.

Villiers was murdered in 1628 by a Puritan fanatic, but the Duke’s wife lived in York House until she lost the property in the Civil War. Her son, the second Duke, fortuitously fell in love with the daughter of York House’s new owner and on marriage regained his family’s home.

He had a better eye for heiresses than finance, for by 1672 he found himself in hoc up to his neck and sold the house to speculators to redevelop the site.

But the second Duke of Buckingham did manage to secure £30,000 for the house and gardens to repay his debts.

One stipulation of the sale Buckingham insisted upon was that the developer Nicholas Barbon record literally every sound and syllable of his Grace’s name and title; Buckingham Street; Villiers Street; Duke Street and George Street still remain.

But unfortunately, the Burgers of Westminster don’t possess the wit of Nicholas Barbon when he named the streets, for Of Alley has been given the rather prosaic title of York Place.

A footnote: George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham started the first fox hunt in England, the Bilsdale Hunt in 1668 and later started the Sinnington Hunt in 1680. He died from a chill after digging for a fox above Kirkbymoorside. At his death in 1687, the title became extinct.

Image: York Water Gate, Buckingham Street Most impressive, and a reminder of how much the course of the Thames has been altered by human hand. When built in 1626-27 it was the river entrance to the Duke of Buckingham’s residence, York House. Nicholas Stone built it and may have designed it, or Balthazar Gerbier may have, or Inigo Jones, or A.N. Other. Grade I listed.The office block behind is Burdett House (1962-64, by Trehearne & Norman, Preston & Partners).By Stephen Richards (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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