August 4th is National Coast Guard Day. Although Victoria doesn’t have its own coast per se, what it does have are a pair of unusual huts in Grosvenor Gardens decorated with seashells.
These shell huts were built in 1952 as a way of reshaping the landscape of Lower Grosvenor Gardens. They were erected to commemorate French soldier Marshal Foch – a French hero of WWI – for whom a statue had already been built in 1930, located elsewhere in the Gardens.
Following the Second World War, it was decided that Grosvenor Gardens should be redesigned in French style as a symbol of strong Anglo-French relations. Trees were removed, the ground was dug up, and an intricate, intertwining collection of paths were laid down in gravel, and vibrant fleur-de-lis installed as the centrepiece. Although these drastic changes were not immediately well-received by the British public, ‘London’s French Garden’ opened officially on 18th July 1952, with the French Ambassador honouring Foch’s memory.
The shells used to design the huts came from both French and British beaches. Designed by famous French architect Jean Moreux, the huts were styled according to small 18th-century French pavilions, known as fabriques, and were originally meant for storing the park gardeners’ tools and as a hut for the park attendants. Nowadays, one of the huts is still used for storage, however the other hut remains locked.
The huts remain in remarkably good condition (barring some mild graffiti on one of the doors), and are very pleasant to look at, despite their stark contrast with surrounding architecture. Although the other features that accompanied them (the fleur-de-lis; the arabesque walkways) no longer exist – or at least not in the same way they used to – such changes have yielded an increase in greener spaces in the Gardens, without threatening the simplistic beauty of the huts themselves.
The seashell huts are one of several symbols of wartime Anglo-French relations in Victoria. Another is the monument of the Unknown Soldier located on Platform 8 in Victoria Station. Following the First World War, Britain had lost 1 million soldiers, many of whom remained lost or unidentified. After the war, it was decided that an unidentified body would be repatriated from French soil, so that the soldier might be laid to rest in the heart of London; a symbol of all those lost during the war, especially those who were unnamed. The body pulled in to Victoria Station at 8:32, November 10th, 1920, before being buried in Westminster. During the funeral (which was preceded by a guard of honour attended by the King), King George V dropped a handful of French soil onto the coffin, once again reaffirming the bond between Britain and France.
In honour of National Coast Guard Day, why not visit the seashell huts, or the memorial of the Unknown Soldier and get back in touch with the historic bonds Britain shares with our French neighbours.Back to our news Top