“Cleopatra’s Needle is flanked by two faux-Egyptian sphinxes, designed by the English architect George John Vulliamy. The sphinxes are cast in bronze and bear hieroglyphic inscriptions that say netjer nefer men-kheper-re di ankh, which translates as “the good god, Thuthmosis III given life”. These sphinxes appear to be looking at the Needle rather than guarding it, due to the sphinxes’ improper or backwards installation. The Embankment has other Egyptian flourishes, such as buxom winged sphinxes on the armrests of benches…The original master stone mason who worked on the granite foundation was Lambeth-born William Henry Gould (1822–1891).”
Cast iron street furniture was originally installed on London’s Thames Emankment near the Houses of Parliament in the late 1870s, to mark the opening of Cleopatra’s Needle, which had spent a four-year voyage from Egypt.
George Vulliamy, architect to the Board of Works, designed an ornamental dolphin lamp, along with benches that featured sphinx and camel-shaped armrests that expanded on the historicist, patriotic and imperial concepts of the obelisk.
The original benches were later faithfully reproduced in cast iron, but by 2007, the timber had fallen into disrepair and required replacement.
From the website of the British Museum:
“Vulliamy, George John (1817-1886)
Architect and civil engineer. Son of Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780-1854), the last head of the firm of watch and clockmakers founded in London, c. 1730. G. J. Vulliamy worked for Joseph Bramah & Sons, engineers, and Sir Charles Barry, before commencing practice as an architect in 1843. Fellow and council member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a member, and for a time secretary, of the Royal Archaeological Institute; exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1838 and 1845. On 2 April 1851 Vulliamy married Eliza King (née Umfreville); they had five children.
Elected superintending architect to the Metropolitan Board of Works in March 1861, Vulliamy designed various buildings, several fire-brigade stations, and the pedestal and sphinxes for Cleopatra’s needle on the Embankment. He resigned in 1886 due to ill health and died at his home, Ingress House, Greenhithe, on 12 November 1886; he was buried on 17 November at Stone, near Dartford.”