New Riverside Space Opens at Putney Embankment

Published: 07/10/2023 By Allan Fuller

Putney Embankment Foreshore has been officially opened to the public after the completion of work in the area relating to the super sewer project. 

Fleur Anderson MP was one of the dignitaries on hand last Friday (15 September) as the Thames Tideway Tunnel construction handed over the area which had been largely closed off to the public over the last few years.

The 500m2 space just west of Putney Bridge is now decorated with several locally inspired artworks, including a new cast-bronze marker for the start of the University Boat Race, which was unveiled for the first-time. 

Timber-laid benches facing the river are positioned to make the most of the panoramic view upstream towards Hammersmith and downstream, through the bridge arches. The Cornish granite comes from the same quarry used to construct Putney Bridge, nearly 140 years ago.
Bronze oars form the handrails of the balustrade and a relief sandblasted into the granite walls of the operational kiosk building and Glasgow-based artist Claire Barclay has created Water Finds a Level which is a series of three artworks that respond to the area’s heritage of commercial and recreational boat use. The University Boat Race is celebrated with a strip of bronze inlaid into the granite paving to mark the start line. Other design elements include a sculptural bronze ventilation column and uplighting.

Bronze oars form the handrails of the balustrade

The artist said, “This commission has involved much welcomed delving into the history of the Thames at Putney, and unearthing fascinating facts, narratives and eccentricities about the life of the river. The process has led me to inspiring people whose lives are interwoven with the river and its heritage through work and recreation, and the keeping alive of traditions like barge racing and boat restoration. I was able to borrow oars and sweeps that bear the marks of wear and tear on the Thames. These have been cast in bronze to create a monument of sorts to the diversity of river use. As an artist that usually makes temporary artworks, it has been wonderful to work with Powderhall Bronze foundry in Edinburgh to realise a permanent artwork for the Putney foreshore.”

Structures by the space hint at the engineering feat underneath

Fleur Anderson MP said, “I am delighted that Putney has this new public space, right on the riverbank and just a two minute walk from Putney High Street. I look forward to residents enjoying this space for centuries to come. "I was honoured to cut the ribbon and to start a race with young rowers from London Rowing Club, which is a charity that aims to open up rowing to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. "Thank you to the Putney Society and the many residents who have been involved for so long in the plans and who successfully fought to save the trees at the site.” She continued,“At the opening I met artist Claire Barclay and poet Dorothea Smartt. I was struck by how thoughtfully they have incorporated the history of Putney into the new space, from the University Boat Race to the Putney Debates at St Mary’s Church. 

Do look out for the poetry on the site and the railings made from oars and original boat race stating stone which has been preserved throughout all the works going on around it. "Whilst at the opening, I was delighted to speak with the engineers on the Tideway Project, which is an absolutely staggering feat. London has got far too big for the Victorian sewers and we need this super sewer to keep us healthy and clean up the Thames. The ‘wet wipes island’ near Putney shows how much sewage from toilets is going into the river. I’ve been campaigning for a ban on plastic in wet wipes since 2020. Wet wipes containing plastic cause hundreds of millions of pounds worth of blockages to our sewers, and there is an easy fix – ban wet wipes containing plastic." Clare Donnelly, Tideway’s Lead Architect, said: “This is a fantastic moment for the Tideway project as we open the first of seven new pieces of public space along the Thames. Our vision for creating the spaces has been to reflect the local area and its heritage and we hope that people will explore this new part of Putney.”

The new sewer tunnel is due to be activated in 2024 when sewage overflows will be diverted away from the river for the first time. When fully operational in 2025, it is claimed that the tunnel will prevent an estimated 95 per cent of sewage spills from entering the river.

The foreshore area is officially opened

Nevil Muncaster, Strategic Resources Director, Thames Water, said, “I am delighted that we have reached another great milestone with the opening up of this public space along the river in Putney for everyone to enjoy. We remain focused on working with our partners to complete this project on schedule. We are looking forward with excitement to bringing the tunnel into service – so that it can do the vital job of improving the health of the River Thames and London’s environment."