Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Vauxhall and the Spies

The pathway eventually emerges at Vauxhall Bridge, at first sight not the most spectacular of London’s crossings. It is a steel-arched bridge opened in 1906, which replaced a previous cast-iron bridge which had proved incapable of supporting the traffic levels of the time. It would never have stood a chance with the traffic flows of today.

A closer look reveals that there are some interesting features on this bridge. Looking over the waters are bronze statues positioned on the abutments of the bridge. There are eight in all, four facing upstream and four facing downstream. They are all female, and depict the arts and sciences. The four facing upstream depict agriculture, architecture, engineering and pottery, while the four facing downstream represent government, education, fine art and astronomy.

Close-up of Vauxhall Bridge with Statue
Close-up of Vauxhall Bridge with Statue

The name “Vauxhall” given to the surrounding area is derived from “Faulkes Hall”, the home of Faulkes de Breaute in 1200.

I cross the road at the bridge and notice that there are security men everywhere. Not surprising really because this is 85 Albert Embankment, officially known as the SIS building, but everyone knows that it is the headquarters of MI6, the home of the real-life James Bonds. The external appearance looks as if it has been build of white and green Lego bricks, and there is so much “muscle” around the perimeter that I instinctively know that I will never be allowed to see what the inside is like.

The SIS Building
The SIS Building

James Bond fans will have seen the building featured in three films, “Goldeneye”, “The World is not Enough” and “Die Another Day”. Fans will also be amused that the domain name has been acquired by a James Bond fan club and not the security organisation. A bold piece of cyber-squatting.

The thought crosses my mind. “Why, if it is meant to be so secret does everyone know where it is?” Then the conspiracy theory takes over. Perhaps this is just a decoy. Tell everyone the funny-folk are in residence, pack the outside with security and then they will all think it is the real HQ. When Ivan breaks in all he will find is a load of old junk while the real spies are holed up somewhere in the middle of Exmoor. On the other hand could it be the ultimate “in-yer-face” macho statement. We are here. Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough. And nobody ever does.

Spies or no spies, the building provides a terraced walkway that is a welcome relief from the roadside walking from Battersea. It takes me along the Albert Embankment with a fine view across the river to the Tate Britain Gallery, and then under Lambeth Bridge to the start of one of the most popular tourist destinations of the entire Thames Pathway.

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