|Location Map ( geo)|
|To:||Tower of London (TQ336807)|
|Distance:||2.4 miles (3.9 km)|
|Meets:||A302, A400, A201, A300, A3, A100, A1211|
|Route outline (key)|
The A3211 is a thoroughly strange road, given both its purpose and its location. Despite the proliferation of important-sounding road numbers in central London, the road is one of a very tiny group that has the capability to get you somewhere in a reasonable amount of time. It forms Victoria Embankment and, further east, Upper and Lower Thames Street, which together are a surprisingly fast dual-carriageway route that bypasses the West End and traverses the City east-west.
Westminster - Tower
It begins on the A302 Bridge Road, at the point that it becomes Westminster Bridge. The signalised T-junction here stands in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, with the clock tower (and Big Ben) looming high above it. Travelling north at first, on the Embankment itself, Portcullis House is on the left, and is followed by a procession of stately Government buildings, most of which front onto Whitehall at the far side.
The Embankment was constructed by the Metropolitan Board of Works, an astoundingly rich and powerful government body set up by the Victorians which had the power to trample all over landowners. Along the north bank of the Thames it built a colossal retaining wall, reclaiming much land from the bank of the river and in the process severing direct access for several buildings - most notably Somerset House - which were designed to have river access and moorings. What the Board of Works gave us is arguably worth the trouble: a wide road sweeping around the river on a handsome retaining wall, providing relief for the A4 Strand just to the north. Beneath it is a huge sewer, which keeps the Thames clean, and the District and Circle lines of the Underground.
We stop in the shadow of Hungerford Bridge for a junction with the A400 Northumberland Avenue. For much of the A3211's traffic this is the furthest south it will venture, using the A400 to cut across to Trafalgar Square to continue its east-west journey. Northumberland Avenue thus forms part of the tacit Strand bypass.
The Embankment continues around the corner, connecting with Savoy Street but not with Waterloo Bridge, which passes above carrying the A301 without even waving hello. The way to get up there is to continue a little further to Temple tube station, where the unclassified Surrey Street and Arundel Street link Temple Place to the Aldwych and allow traffic to travel between Waterloo Bridge and the Embankment.
The road now passes into the City of London, with the ever-present grotesque statues guarding its border, and then after another set of traffic lights goes through an impressive grade-separated junction at the Blackfriars Underpass.
This impressive interchange, completed in the early 1960s, sees west-facing sliproads connecting the Embankment to the A201 Blackfriars Bridge. The A3211 - now Upper Thames Street - dives into an underpass, throwing off more west-facing sliproads. The entry sliproad from St Paul's, called White Lion Hill, actually hangs out a little way over the Thames.
A short cut-and-cover tunnel beneath buildings leads to Upper Thames Street proper: a redeveloped area, once a warren of narrow alleys and warehouses and now a series of gleaming corporate buildings with river views. The A3211 offers no flattering views of this, however, as it passes by the more functional side of these buildings, serving loading bays and back doors. There are few stoppages, however, and several speed cameras are employed to make sure 30mph remains the top speed.
A T-junction serves the A300 Southwark Bridge, from which there is no direct road into the City beyond Upper Thames Street. We continue beneath Cannon Street Station to an unfathomable series of connections with the A3 London Bridge, which flies above us and sends down some back streets to make the necessary interchange possible; some of these roads even claim to be spurs of the A3211. We are now on Lower Thames Street, which is much the same as before - a parade of trade entrances and delivery bays, set back on service roads, and crossed by the occasional footbridge. The whole section through the City is actually a rather dank and unwelcoming place to be.
At Custom House there is a noticeable swerve away from the river and we join Byward Street, passing the blue glassy buildings of Tower Place on the right. Blinking in the daylight after spending so long hidden beneath concrete blocks, we are now on what appears to be quite an important and pleasant road, passing between some fine old Portland Stone buildings and formal gardens on the left and the handsome Tower of London on the right. However, we're not actually on the A3211 any more. That ended at the traffic lights where the unclassified Great Tower Street came in from the left and the road morphed into the A100. Great Tower Street used to have the A100 number and despite being declassified along with many roads in the City in the 1990s this did not affect the number of Byward Street.
The City of London was not included in the 1922 classification, so the original route of the A3211 ran from Westminster Bridge to the boundary of the City. The City was given classified roads later in the 1920s, so the A3211 was extended to Blackfriars Bridge, which became the A201, and then on along Queen Victoria Street to end at the Bank.
At that time, Upper and Lower Thames Streets were numbered B132, which road ended by running alongside the Tower along Petty Wales to reach Byward Street. These roads were then still narrow and still only really worthy of Class II status. Their upgrade, together with construction of the road's underpasses, allowed the A3211 to be extended east to the Tower. Queen Victoria Street remained a spur of the A3211, however, until it was declassified in the major declassification of the 1990s, along with the western end of the A100 mentioned above.