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dolphin lamppost Oyster walk_detail

Oystergate Walk gets its name from the Oystergate, not a real gate, but one of the wharfs where goods were offloaded from ships for the London markets. Other ‘gates’ were Billingsgate, Botolphsgate, Ebgate, Puddledockgate and Wolfgate. They derived their names either from the goods that were landed there, or from the owners or neighbouring places. Oystergate is easily recognizable as the place where oysters were brought into London. Oystergate Walk is located on the Thames side of Fishmongers´ Hall and is graced with several ´dolphin lampposts’. These lampposts were originally to be found on the Albert and Victoria Embankments (the ´Dolphin Zone´), but they have spread themselves across to South Bank and to Oystergate Walk. They are said to represent sturgeons rather than dolphins, but ‘dolphin lamppost’ is the accepted name, so I’ll stick to that.

dolphin lamppost Oyster walk

dolphin lamppost Oyster walk

dolphin lamppost Oyster walk

The Victoria Embankment was built in the 1860s and 1870s and provided a perfect opportunity for a walkway along the Thames. The Metropolitan Board of Works displayed several designs under consideration and the Illustrated London News and The Builder of 19 March 1870 published pictures of the designs. A favourite was an elaborately ornamented design by Timothy Butler, cast by the Coalbrookdale Company, with climbing boys and overflowing cornucopias. You can still see a Coalbrookdale lamp on the Chelsea Embankment, at the east end of Albert Bridge Gardens (see here).

ILN 19 March 1870 Coalbrookdale design

Illustrated London News Butler/Coalbrookdale design

ILN 19 March 1870 Bazalgette design

Illustrated London News Bazalgette design

Joseph Bazalgette designed a more restraint lamp with lion’s paws (modelled by S. Burnett) and you can see those on the Chelsea Embankment. See the last picture in this blog post for the construction of Chelsea Embankment with the Bazalgette lampposts. But for the Victoria and Albert Embankments the design of George John Vulliamy (1817-1886) was chosen. His lamps were said to be designed after the examples Vulliamy had seen on the Fontana del Nettuno in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome. They were modelled by C.H. Mabey. See here for the reasoning behind the choice for Vulliamy’s design.

ILN 19 March 1870 Vulliamy design

Illustrated London News Vulliamy design

Fontana del Nettuno, Piazza del Populo, Rome

The dolphins on the Fontana del Nettuno, Piazza del Populo, Rome

Vulliamy was educated at Westminster School and started his career at Joseph Bramah & Sons, engineers. In July 1836, he came to work for Charles Barry, but in 1841 he left to travel through France, Italy, Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt. He returned to England in 1843 and set up his own business as an architect. He was a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a member of the Royal Archaeological Institute, and he exhibited at the Royal Academy. He was elected superintending architect to the Metropolitan Board of Works in March 1861 and in that capacity designed several fire-brigade stations, the pedestal and sphinxes for Cleopatra’s needle on the Embankment and the Embankment lampposts. He resigned in 1886 for health reasons and died in November of that same year.

The building of the Embankments offered a perfect opportunity to install electric light. Charles Dickens in his Dictionary of London of 1879 reports that

The electric light first practically introduced into London by Mr. Hollingshead at the Gaiety Theatre, has been made, during the last few months, the subject at a great number of experiments both public and private. Of the former the most important has been that on the Thames Embankment where the great width of, and the entire absence of all extraneous light from shop windows or public houses on either hand, enabled the rival systems of gas and electricity to try their strength against each other on equal terms. On the conclusion of the period allotted to the first experiment the Board of Works decided upon continuing it on a somewhat larger scale, and an additional length, of the Embankment parapet has accordingly been supplied with electric burners.

The dolphin lampposts have spread from their original location and can now be found in various places, one of them being Oystergate Walk where I took my pictures, another location is Queen’s Walk, which follows the south bank of the River Thames from Lambeth Bridge to Tower Bridge. Queen’s Walk is part of the 1977 Jubilee Walkway and became part of the Thames Path national trail in 1996.

The lampposts have even inspired Moorcroft’s for their London Vase (designer Paul Hilditch).