An urban view — 02 April 2019

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building which you might have passed without noticing.

The building this month is passed unnoticed by thousands of cabbies every day.

OVERLOOKED AS IT IS BY ITS MORE FAMOUS SIBLING, there are not many buildings that have stood the test of time while remaining as useless as Cowford Lodge. When in 1913 Sir Aston Webb refaced Buckingham Palace in Portland Stone cleverly anticipating that the Red Arrows would one day fly down the Mall and therefore a balcony would be needed by the Royal Family to view the spectacle, it was a triumph of useful design. That cannot be said of Cowford Lodge which stands opposite in Spur Road.

In the Middle Ages, Buckingham Palace’s site formed part of the Manor of Ebury. The marshy ground was watered by the river Tyburn, which still flows below the courtyard and south wing of the palace. Where the river was fordable (at Cow Ford), the village of Eye Cross grew. Now standing at that crossing point of one of London’s lost rivers is our little gem of a building and it was only 10 years ago that the lodge was given a name by The Earl of Snowdon – Cow-ford Lodge.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of lodge is:

Small house . . . Cottage at gates of park or grounds of large house occupied by gardener or other servant . . . porter’s room at gate of college, factory, or house of chambers or flats.

Thought to date about 1911 or 1912 it was probably thrown up with the leftover bricks from building Admiralty Arch. Compact yet massive, impressively monolithic, yet somehow apparently invisible to passers-by, it make little sense as an actual lodge for Buckingham Palace or St. James’s Park for it is in the wrong position. Any guard function seems similarly unlikely for it is just as clearly in the wrong place for the sentry box.

Cowford-1Grade II* listed and described by English Heritage as lodge (there is that name again), piers, gates and railings. 1900-01, by Sir Aston Webb as part of his Victoria Memorial-Mall-Buckingham Palace ‘rond point’ design. Portland stone lodge and piers with cast iron gates and railings. Ornate Beaux Arts detailing. Single storey, segmental pedimented lodge flanked by tall pairs of pedestrian gates and ball finialed panelled piers set on island at junction of Birdcage Walk and Buckingham Palace . . .

Suggestions have ranged from it once being a police post, prompting conspiracy theorists to propose a more sinister alternative as a hidden portal into the hidden network of secret escape tunnels, connecting the Palace to various government agencies.

Or it could be just a very ornate garden shed.

A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 2nd August 2013

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