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Date updated: 3/07/2023

From the Thames to Eternity is a temporary stone re-use project repurposing 58 granite stones removed from Joseph Bazalgette’s 19th century Thames river wall at Victoria Embankment.

Granite stones in storage at Gravesend. © Matthew Barnett Howland

The idea behind the project is to stimulate discussion about reuse, material lifespan and cultural heritage, at a time when we can make a significant contribution to a more sustainable built environment.

Installation photograph, Sermon Lane. Photographer: Oliver Wilton.

The stone simply rest on the ground, with some supported on reclaimed oak frames, and no foundations. You can find the stones across seven sites in the City: from the River Thames up to Smithfield Market.

Map showing the seven sites of the installed stones. Source: Matthew Barnett Howland & Oliver Wilton

The stone's history

The story of these granite stones starts with the Great Stink in 1858. Untreated sewage and industrial effluent flowing straight into the Thames was causing disease and a truly unbearable smell.

Plans for London’s new sewers, June 1858. Source: The Engineer magazine archive

Parliament accepted Joseph Bazalgette’s proposal for a London sewer system that moved the effluent east to outfalls outside of London. This was a huge project involving over 1,000 miles of sewers. As a part of the works, three stretches of embankment were built on the Thames to accommodate the Low Level Sewer.

Illustration of the Victoria Embankment underconstruction in 1865. Source: The Illustrated London News, 4 February 1865, p.112.
Section through the Victoria Embankment in 1867.Source: The Illustrated London News, June 1867, modified.

Completed in 1875, the embankment river wall was built from many thousands of granite stones, sourced from quarries across the UK, mainly in Scotland and Cornwall.

Postcard of the Victoria Embankment, around 1890.Source: Wikimedia Commons

Today, with the London population reaching over eight million people, the sewers are unable to cope and to help increase capacity, the Thames Tideway Super Sewer is being constructed beneath the Thames. 

To help the connection between the old and the new sewer, a few sections of river wall are being removed.

Photograph of Tideway works to existing Victoria Embankment river wall, with section through wall wheregranite stones have been removed. Source: Tideway, modified.

The stones: their future

Weighing around one tonne each, the stones come from the Victoria Embankment, they have been gifted by Westminster City Council, assisted by Tideway.

Granite is particularly durable, and these stones could last for thousands of years and contribute to dozens of buildings and structures over this time.

Installation photograph, St Paul’s Cathedral. Photographer: Oliver Wilton

Cutting them in smaller pieces would have made their re-use easier but this would have reduced their potential for a broader range of further uses in the future. So we took the decision not to cut them into smaller sizes. 

A photograph of several stones From the Thames to Eternity installation at Christchurch Greyfriars
From the Thames to Eternity installation at Christchurch Greyfriars

Instead, we cleaned them and made them safe for public use and great care has been taken to display all aspects of their history – the geological character of the raw stone, the mortar that held them together as an embankment wall, and the tide marks from the Thames.

A photograph of the From the Thames to Eternity installation at Carter Lane Gardens.
From the Thames to Eternity installation at Carter Lane Gardens.

At the end of this project the stones will be re-used in the permanent King Edward Square public realm project. The opportunity to use the stones for this long-term use came about as a direct result of our temporary re-use project.

Sketch of proposed King Edward Public Square. Source: Luis Torres.

Download the full story

The project narrative for From the Thames to Eternity (4MB)
Date submitted: 20/06/23

From the Thames to Eternity is a City of London Corporation temporary stone re-use project designed by Matthew Barnett Howland, Oliver Wilton, and CSK Architects.

With thanks to Tideway, CED Stone, Tenon, Westminster City Council, FM Conway and St Paul’s Cathedral.