York Watergate – The ceremonial gateway to the River Thames, out of sight of water.

Following on from Mondays post on the Lions of the River Thames, not to far away is one of the last remnants of an era of grandeur on the Thames that has largely been swept away.  The York Water Gate.

However, if you walk along the River Thames you won’t ever find it.  That’s because the York Gate is now marooned 150 yards or around 137 metres away from the river, a reminder of just how much wider the Thames used to be, indeed going back to London times London was one vast marshy valley with Westminster Abbey and Parliament being on Thorney Island surrounded by rivers.

Screenshot 2019-05-04 at 16.04.05

The location of York Watergate.

Until Victorian times, when the Thames was narrowed, the length of the river in this part of London was sided by expensive and expansive mansion houses belonging to the rich and the powerful.  One of the few reminders of this is the magnificent Somerset House.

York Watergate was for York House which originally sat up on the Strand, the linking road from the City of Westminster to the City of London or for all intents and purposes for tourists today, liking Trafalgar Square to St Pauls Cathedral.   The name Strand is actually a very old English word for ‘shore’ as it used to run just along the riverbank.


York Water Gate and the Adelphi from the River by Moonlight in 1850

Lots of important people would enter London this way when river and sea transport was the primary mode of transport, rather like the later ceremonial arch in the India city of Mumbai which is known as The Gateway To India.  And the purposes of both were quite similar.

1807 Daniel Turner Nelson's Funeral Procession on the Thames, 9 January 1806 oil on canvas 58.4 x 106.6 cm National Maritime Museum, London

This painting shows the funeral cortège of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson approaching the archway.

Following the 19th century sewage works and the final embankment of the Thames in this part of London, these highly desirable residences lost their precious riverside vantage points with some areas even becoming a haven for crime and squalor before the whole district was either voluntarily re-built by city planners or a few decades later by the Luftwaffe planners.


York Watergate in London

As you can see, it’s still perfectly preserved and the only remnant of York House.  Given that it is in the original position on reclaimed dry land, one can only imagine it would look even more splendid when it sat 10-12 feet up from the water.


Looking through the gate, the River Thames is nowhere to be seen and is across the park, several lanes of traffic, a broad pavement and a deep drop behind a wall.   If that is all a little bit sad, at least we can no longer smell the Thames from miles away.

If you’d like to see this and many other unusual relics in London, why not book our Secret London Walking Tour.





About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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4 Responses to York Watergate – The ceremonial gateway to the River Thames, out of sight of water.

  1. A new one on me … something to add to my list… very interesting.


  2. Pingback: The secret underground road right in the heart of London | Stephen Liddell

  3. Pingback: The 900 year old Swan Upping ceremony is cancelled | Stephen Liddell

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