Posted by Colin
London’s most famous fake animals are probably the lions who guard Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square. However, further down the northbank of the river, close to Blackfriars Bridge and HMS President, you’ll find some unlikely creatures: camels. Having walked along the river many times, I’ve always managed to overlook these tassled creatures bookending the waterside benches.
Doing a bit of digging I’ve found that they were installed 1878, putting pay to one notion they were installed to match the memorial to the Imperial Camel Corps which sits in nearby Embankment Gardens. The Imperial Camel Corps was a camel-mounted infantry brigade of the First World War and so their memorial wasn’t installed until 1916.
It seems the camels of Victoria Embankment may be there to compliment the Egyptian theme of the area, with Cleopatra’s Needle – an 1819 gift to the UK to commemorate Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile – standing nearby. Due to the cost of transporting it to Britain, the needle wasn’t actually brought to London until surgeon Sir Erasmus Wilson stumped up the £10,000 (!) required to get it here. It was finally raised in 1878 – the same year as the installation of the camels. The ungulates are still standing today, peering over the Thames with a great view of the London Eye upstream.