You might also like to look at this site, maintained by the
Development agency and Employers' group - it has
interesting walks and good colour brochures (these
may be picked up at several sites on the South Bank
- the Cafe of the NFT is the best).
We start amid London's docks and warehouses, once a delapidated Victorian labyrinth, favourite of film makers for its eerie atmosphere. Oliver! was filmed here at the area's nadir in 1968, but twenty years later, by the time 'A Fish called Wanda' was shot here it had become a hyper-trendy residential quarter, where riverside views in converted lofts fetch $1M upwards. Right until the second world war the docks were an attraction in themselves and in the 1870s the poets Verlaine and Rimbaud loved to wander round here, when they weren't getting horribly drunk in Soho.
Southwark, which lies on the south bank of the Thames, had a reputation for lowlife for centuries, as theatres, brothels and bear-baiting, deemed improper, were banished here - road names such as Stew Lane, Bear Lane bear witness to this tradition. "Better termed a foule dene then a faire garden, here come few that either regard their credit or losse of time" said one commentator.
It was also a centre of brewing and victualling (Dekker in the 17thC says there was scarce room for shops on Borough High Street, so numerous were the Inns) - coaches would set out from here for the South East - and parties such as mentioned in 'The Canterbury Tales, would stop off in the coaching Inns before setting off.
In a 16th C inquiry into the areas around the City this was the opinion: "a great nomber of dissolute, loose and insolent people harboured and maintained in such and like noysom and disorderly howses, as namely poor cottages and habitacions of beggars and people without trade, stables, ins, alehowses, tavernes, garden howses converted to dwellings, ordinaries, dicying howses, bowling allies and brothell howses. The most part of which pestering those parts of the citty with disorder and uncleannes are either apt to breed contagion and sicknes, or otherwize serve for the resort and refuge of masterles men and other idle and evill dispozed persons, and are the cause of cozenages, thefts, and other dishonest conversacion and may also be used to cover dangerous practizes."
Yet the area's history is not entirely negative: The Mayflower set off to bring Puritanism from here, and John Harvard set off for academic fame too. Most of Britain's maritime history took place along this stretch of water, including Queen Elizabeth's knighting of Walter Raleigh. And, of course most of our best Drama was created here, at theatres like Shakespeare's Globe.
Next to the museum is a river inlet - Fagin's
hideout - in the film Oliver, and where, pursued by
the police, he dropped his treasure chest and
watched it sink into the mud. At low tide it's still
muddy and one wonders what smells waft up to the
balconies of the flats that overlook it.
Across the other side of the river is Wapping - named after a Saxon settlement known as 'Waeppa's People' - it was populated mainly by seamen in the 17th century - and features in Samuel Pepys' diary - mainly for the noise its inhabitants made. It is the location of Rupert Murdoch's newspaper presses, and the scene of violent and recriminatory strikes in the 1980s.
14) Continuing westwards we get into the complex of warehouses of Shad Thames, it's worth getting off the riverbank behind the restaurants (Cantina, Pont de La tour, Chop House) as the street just behind them is stunning, many of the interconnecting gangways between the buildings have been preserved. It's worth nosing round the area further from the river if you have time, there are many pleasing alleyways and buildings - especially if you like architecture. There's a modern sculpture of a horse in 'The Square', noted for its blue tiles, hand made in Holland.
Eventually if you keep heading westwards, you will
hit TOWER BRIDGE ROAD, which leads to 13)
the bridge itself, which isn't officially a
bridge but a ship - according to Lloyds of London. There's
a museum ('The Tower Bridge Experience') inside
the bridge where you can see the great Victorian
engines that make up London's landmark, and admire
the views from the raised walkway, now somewhat
eclipsed by the London Eye wheel further upstream.
The bridge goes up several times a week to allow
large masted boats underneath - it's possible to
find out when, as it's timetabled. Japanese tourists
tend to get a bit orgiastic when this happens and
the noise of camera shutters popping can be
12) Next to the Bridge is St Katherine's Dock, a pleasant mooring place, with shops and restaurants, with several original Barges and sailing ships moored there.
Click on map to enlarge
Walking through Hay's Galleria you emerge onto Tooley Street, 'Winston Churchill's Britain at War' is on your left, 'The London Dungeon' (great website) on your right. The Dungeon is one of London's top tourist attractions, containing waxwork images of torture and other such nasties - there's often a long queue to get in. It's a bit Hollywood and we're not fans, though people seem to enjoy their visit. The sister museum in Paris also claims to be the world's first museum of torture. Head through the tunnels under London Bridge Station and you emerge onto St Thomas Street.
Turn right and you pass Old Guys Hospital on your left, the Herb Garret/Old Operating Theatre museum on your right (small but interesting) and if you continue to the end of the road you emerge onto Borough High Street. Turn Left to visit the George (No 77) - the last London galleried coaching inn, where plays were performed in Shakespearean times. The current building dates from 1667 - though there have been inns on the site since the middle ages - it originally occupied three sides of the courtyard, but two sides were demolished for the railway in 1899 (London's tragedy - so much has been/is being demolished). Great place to have a drink on a winter's evening - the interior is much as it was 200 years ago, though the beer is reportedly better. Destroyed now, but 100 yards further south lay the Tabard, from where Chaucer's Pilgrims set out in Canterbury Tales.
Off Borough High street, opposite the St Thomas Street is Bedale St which goes through The Borough Market - London's Oldest Fruit & Veg market (it was already big in 1276) and used in countless films (eg Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Richard III) because its streets haven't changed since the twenties - their design dates from the 1850s. Continuing down Bedale St you come to Southwark Cathedral on your right - this is essentially a large Church which got a promotion. It dates from about 1200, though there was an earlier church on the site for centuries. It's the oldest Gothic Church in London, though much of the stonework is later. John Harvard who came from Southwark was baptised here (there's a plaque to him on the former pub the Harvard family ran in Borough High Street, opposite 'Fields' estate agents.) Inside are quite a few monuments, recently restored, including a really good effigy of a corpse, designed to scare the congregation, or at least make them wonder for whom the bell tolls.
Following the street round we come to a replica of The Golden Hinde in which Drake circumnavigated the World. It's great for kids but otherwise not worth visiting. A friend of ours sailed round the world in another copy - quite a frightening experience.
The Church, and the Knight's Templars (see Walk Three) owned much of the land round here which accounted for the massive influx of immigrants, and for lawlessness. That the area had a reputation for Brothels says more about the equivocal attitude of the Church towards the sin of lust and lechery, at least where prostitution was concerned. "Suppress prostitution," wrote St. Augustine, "and capricious lusts will overthrow society." Aquinas was even more explicit: "Prostitution in the towns is like the cesspool in the palace; take away the cesspool and the palace will become an unclean and evil-smelling place." Sadly this area suffered from both - the stench from the leatherworks, which used to be here is minutely described in Dickens. The names of many of the streets round Borough (Tanner St, Morocco St, Stainer St) testify to the power of this industry - the old leathermarket (now a business centre) is on Leathermarket Street, off Bermondsey Street (see Markets)
The other main characteristic of this part of
London (apart from prostitution, Leather, and the
Entertainment industries) was the number of prisons:
having something of a reputation for lawlessness and
civil disorder, the area had five of them - the
Clink, the Compter, the King's Bench, the Marshalsea
(where Dickens' father was incarcerated and where
his novel 'Little Dorrit' is set) , and the White
Lion. Each of London's fourteen prisons had its
different grades of accommodation, and which one a
prisoner ended up in depended not on the nature of
the offense he was charged with or the severity of
the sentence but entirely on how much money
("garnish" was the technical term) he was prepared
to lay out in bribes to gaolers, keepers, tipstaffs
and others. Life on the 'Master's Side' could be as
comfortable as life outside for those who had money:
the inmate could eat, drink and smoke whenever he
wanted, have his friends in for an evening's
gambling, or a woman from the local brothel to warm
his bed. He could even bribe a gaoler to escort him
out of doors. On the 'Common Side', however, a
penniless man could actually starve to death if he
failed to secure relief, primarily obtained by
begging through the grated prison windows.
down Clink Street there's the old Bishop's of
Winchester Palace (now ruins) and the Clink Museum -
on the site of the Clink Prison (even today to say
someone's 'in the clink' means they're in jail)
though the museum isn't really that good. It runs
into Park St, the site of the original Globe
Theatre. As you emerge from under the railway arches
there's the entrance to Vinopolis - a wine museum
(not worth the visit unless you're into wine
tasting, but even then you'd be better served
elsewhere - the food and drink is overpriced)- it
has , however, sneaked into the list of the top ten
most popular attractions - we can't see why.
'When we could endure no more... we to a little alehouse on the Bankside.. stayed there til it was dark and saw the fire grow... a most horrid malicious bloody flame.. it made me weep to see it.. the churches, houses and all on fire and flaming at once, and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking of houses at their ruin'
The Monument to
the fire stands on the north side of London Bridge,
the flaming golden orb on top would, if the column
were lain down, sit in the exact spot of the start
of the fire in Pudding Lane. It was a favourite
place for disgraced (ie pregnant) serving girls to
commit suicide in the 19th C. You can climb to the
top, though it is somewhat encumbered by the
buildings around it.
BACK EN ROUTE:
London's first public playhouse was established by the Burbages north of the City in Shoreditch in 1576, but performances were being given at Newington Buttes to the south, in 1580. These public theatre were open to anyone who could afford the penny entrance fee, which meant that shopkeepers, craftsmen and their apprentices could afford to go and did (though most plays were performed in working hours). Within a short time, three or four thousand people were being carried over every day to the plays on the Bankside. By the end of the sixteenth century there were four theatres there: the Rose in Rose Lane, built about 1584; the Swan near Paris Garden landing, which was used for fencing exhibitions in James I's reign; the Hope in Bear Gardens, which was built in 1610 and was devoted to plays for most of the week (Jonson's Bartholomew Fair was first produced there in 1624) but was used for bear-baiting on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and the Globe in what is now Park Street, built by Richard Burbage in 1599 from the timbers of the theater at Shoreditch when the former's lease ran out.
Nell Gwynne, who became the King's mistress (the house he built for her features on Walk two) used to sell fruit at the Globe - oranges were to theatre in those days what popcorn is to the cinema now, several times Pepys complains of having to buy his wife and her friends oranges at great cost.
Often the spectacle in the stalls was greater than that on stage: 'A gentleman of good habbitt, sitting just before us eating of some fruit in the midst of the play did drop down as dead, being choked: but with much ado Orange Mall did thrust her finger down his throat and brought him to life again... sitting behind in a dark place, a lady spat backward upon me by a mistake, not seeing me, but after seeing her to be a very pretty lady I was not troubled at it at all...' Today's theatregoing experience is a more refined experience!
Passing from the Globe we come to 8) The Tate Modern a must-see. It's the biggest Modern Art Gallery in the World and is housed in an old converted power station (coal was brought up the Thames by barge and off loaded onto a special jetty). It's formed part of a new (wobbly and contentious)footbridge that connects the Tate to St Paul's Cathedral on the opposite shore. <
on you pass the OXO building and Tower. When
advertising was banned in London the tower
incorporated the logo of 'Oxo' stock cubes into its
design and a lantern was lit inside to get round the
regulations. Today it houses artists' studios (not
much of interest) a cafe and a restaurant (gets
consistently bad reviews, but a great terrace). The
building has a pleasant jetty out into the Thames.
There's a rotating series of temporary museums here
- a typical example from last year was "The Museum
of Emotions", where you are able to label a bottle
of tears with the name of something that makes you
cry. Further on is Gabriel's Wharf Market,
with restaurants, a bike hire shop, and several
ethnic shops. It abuts Thames TV's studios - at the
top of the building is their newsroom which
overlooks St Paul's, and is used for nightly news
Next is the huge South Bank Centre 7) maintaining the South Bank's reputation for entertainment. It comprises a cluster of buildings that's home to the National Theatre (Oliver, Cottesloe and Lyttleton theatres), National Film Theatre, Museum of the Moving Image (closed for refurbishment), An Imax cinema, the Royal Festival Hall (and Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room) and the Hayward Gallery. There's also a gamelan room, a poetry library and a good, but expensive restaurant 'The People's Palace'. There's always something going on at the SBC - free foyer events, talks, concerts. Tickets often are on sale in Leicester Square's half price ticket booth. Concert tickets are often cheaper just before a show. We have a love/hate relationship with the architecture, close up during the day it's awful, but illuminated at night, from the other side of the river it can look quite fetching. The National Theatre's expresso bar and the trendy NFT Cafe (under Waterloo Bridge) are, apart from Borough High Street, about the only place for a good coffee en route. See also our entertainments section. There's a good webcam view of this area at the BBC website, taken from atop their World Service headquarters at Bush House.
Past the SBC is 6) the London Eye, a huge ferris wheel - billed as the highest observation platform in the World. It's very popular with tourists (queues, queues, queues) but we don't really think London's that good from on-high and can't wholeheartedly recommend it. It also gets stifling inside the bubbles in hot weather. The telephone booking system is currently a mess - much better to buy advance or day tickets in person. We prefer the view from Hampstead Heath or Crooms Hill/The Observatory in Greenwich Park for free. The latter at sunset is striking with the sun setting over the city.
The London Eye also overlooks 5) County
Hall, site of the old Greater London Council, before
its abolition by Margaret Thatcher, still much
reviled for unilaterally dismantling an elected body
for political ends. The recent creation of an
elected Mayor and Council for London will see a new
building built between Tower and London bridges.
Inside County hall there's an amusement arcade, The London Aquarium, several Hotels and
a Gym. Outside the building is a series of Dali
sculptures advertising the Dali Gallery - see our Art page for more
On the north side of Westminster Bridge are the 3) Houses of Parliament - though a better
photograph is usually had from the South Bank
outside old St Thomas' Hospital. You can visit bits of the
building, designed by Pugin, and even attend
parliamentary debates. Prime Minister's Question
Time is one of our top ten things to do in London
(it's only on when Parliament is sitting and
virtually impossible to get into without a ticket
from an MP or friendly member of staff) - however
you can always queue up for admission - even the
regular political business is worth it. You won't
get in much before 1600, and usually to see the
house when it's sitting it's best to turn up later,
when the queues have died down.
Also in Parliament Square is 2) Westminster Abbey, which despite the high admission charge, is worth the visit. It was first chartered in the late 7th century, and has seen many additions (1065, 1269, 1422 and 1532) Anyone who made a name for themselves in Literature was dug up and reburied or has a monument here. The acoustics are great. You can attend Evensong for free. St Margaret’s church, next to Parliament is often overlooked. Worth sticking your head in as it has body of Sir Walter Raleigh, (also his head which was cut off by Queen Elizabeth I)
Last port of Call, walking along the North Bank (Millbank) is the 1)Tate Britain Gallery occupying the site of the old Millbank Penitentiary. It's free. Pimlico and Westminster tube stations are a short walk away.
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