SE1: All the World’s a Stage

SE1 is Waterloo, London Bridge, Bankside and Borough. There is so much here and like so many of the central postcodes I can only offer a small selection. I am going to focus on the part I know best – the bit west from London Bridge to Bankside, as this is where I worked for 8 years.

We start our walk at London Bridge Post Office, which is at 19a Borough High Street, just by the big railway bridge. Turn right out of the Post Office and then take the first right which is called London Bridge Street. Our first stop is up ahead.

Stop 1: London Bridge Station

This station is currently being completely rebuilt and so is in a state of flux. When it is finished in 2018, it will be very smart and modern, as can be seen from what has been done so far. Go in the station and work your way down to the lower level.

 

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Hard to see now but this is one of the most historic railway sites in London. This was the terminus of the first passenger railway in central London – opened by the London and Greenwich Railway in December 1836. The story of this station is hugely complex but here is a bit of the tale.

Prior to completion, the London and Greenwich Railway had entered into an agreement with the proposed London and Croydon Railway. This allowed the Croydon company to use the Greenwich tracks from Bermondsey, and to share its terminal station. The Greenwich railway could not afford to build a sufficiently large station for the traffic for both companies because it had underestimated the cost of building the viaducts which carried most of its line. So in July 1836 it sold some land adjacent to its station site to the Croydon railway to build their own independent station. This was inconveniently on the north side of the Greenwich station which meant the two companies’ trains had to cross each other.

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Parliament decided that the London and Greenwich route should be the entry point for services serving south east England and so two more companies started to use the station and approach tracks – the London and Brighton Railway in 1841 and the South Eastern Railway (running to Dover via Redhill and Tonbridge) in 1842.

With all this traffic the two tracks into the station were inadequate and so in the early 1840s the line was widened to four tracks. It was at this point the London and Greenwich swapped its station with the London and Croydon and so the conflict down the line was solved.

The Croydon and Brighton companies merged to form the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1846 and the South Eastern took over the London and Greenwich Railway in 1847. And these two companies ran their stations side by side but independently.

In 1864 the South Eastern extended their line to Charing Cross and a couple of years later to Cannon Street. The two halves of the station stayed separate until the creation of the Southern Railway in 1923.

London Bridge was badly damaged in 1940/1941. It was patched up and then there was a comprehensive redevelopment in the 1970s. But the two distinct stations could still be discerned. It was only finally with the Thameslink upgrade project that there was finally a chance to do a proper rebuild of the station.

The station is being rebuilt from one with 6 through platforms and 9 terminating ones to one with 9 through platforms and 6 terminating ones. And as part of this a new viaduct has been built over Borough Market to provide extra tracks to the west and to the east the tracks are being reordered so the Thameslink trains can reach the Brighton line without having to cross Kent trains on the level.

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One of the features is the opening out of the brick arches underneath the station. This was started with the opening of the Jubilee line extension here and the consequent rebuilding of the underground station in the late 1990s.

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But now an even bigger area has been created for the national rail station for a street level concourse linked to all the platforms by escalators. It is impressive now and it is only half open.

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At last London Bridge is getting the station it deserves

Now from this new concourse, go out into St Thomas’s Street and turn right. Our next stop is across the road on the left.

Stop 2: Guy’s Hospital

This is a surprising sight – a lovely courtyard. This was built in stages through the 18th century for Guy’s Hospital.

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To the right is a Chapel. Do go in if it is open.

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This dates from the 1770s and architectural commentator Pevsner describes it as “a unique survival”.

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Now look at the back wall and you will see this statue.

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This is the guy himself. Strange to think there was a man called Guy – Thomas Guy actually, and he founded the hospital.

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What I had not appreciated was that Thomas Guy set up his hospital opposite St Thomas’ Hospital to relieve overcrowding of the latter. St Thomas’ can trace its origins back to the 12th century and only Barts can claim an older heritage.

But when the South Eastern Railway extended their lines westwards, this was very disruptive and St Thomas’ moved in the late 1860s to its present site by Westminster Bridge. However since 1993 the two hospitals have come under the same NHS trust

There is one other things to spot here. Look just to the left of the Guy statue at this brass plaque.

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This commemorates four times Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone’s connection with the hospital. Despite his other responsibilities he seems to have found time to be a Governor of the Hospital for 63 years – presumably this did not entail much.

Now head out of the Chapel and go though the main archway. This leads to a colonnade with an enclosed courtyard either side.

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On the left is an odd stone shelter with the statue of a man sitting inside.

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The stone structure is an alcove which came from the 18th century London Bridge which was removed when the bridge was widened in the early 1900s. And the person is the poet John Keats (1795 -1821) – he was a student at Guy’s in 1815/1816.

If you keep going you reach a peaceful open space. Or at least it is peaceful when there are no medical students are around.

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Now retrace you steps back to St Thomas’s Street, not forgetting to look up to your right, where you will see the Shard towering about the Guy’s Hospital Tower, which looks so clunky (and short) against the Shard. The 34 floor Guy’s Tower was apparently the tallest hospital building in the world from when it was built in 1974 until it was overtaken in 2010 by one in Houston, Texas.

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Turn left into St Thomas’s Street and you will pass a couple of things of interest on your way to the next stop. On the left is a blue plaque, to John Keats and his friend Henry Stephens who lodged here whilst studying.

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We have come across these two before – Keats when in Lower Edmonton, N9 where he lived before becoming a student here and Henry Stephens when in N3 – he is the ink man.

Then on your right is a church like looking building which now houses the Old Operating theatre Museum and Herb Garret,

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This is a museum of surgical history and is one of the oldest surviving operating theatres, dating from 1822. It is housed in what was once the attic (or garret) of St Thomas’s Church. This it seems was part of the original site of St Thomas’ Hospital. The garret was created when the church was rebuilt in the late 18th century. It was described as “the herb garret” in 1821 and it seems likely this was because it was used by the apothecary of St Thomas’ hospital to store medicinal herbs.

At the end of St Thomas’s Street turn left. Our next stop is across the road.

Stop 3: Borough Market

Borough Market claims to go back to the 11th century but it has been on this site since around the middle of the 18th century. The main market building are mid 19th century although there is this 1932 entrance which Pevsner describes as “mediocre”.

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Although today the market is largely a retail one, for most of the 20th century it was really a wholesale market like Covent Garden. One of the things which allowed it to reinvent itself as today’s go to place for food was the fact that the Market is not controlled by central or local Government body but a board of trustees drawn from the locality. This meant it could adopt a policy of allowing only food related businesses and could prevent chains from invading. Thus it has a unique atmosphere, whereas Covent Garden and now Spitalfields have lost much of their special charm. There are one or two non food shops on the fringes but I believe these are in buildings not controlled by Borough Market Trustees.

Keep walking along Borough High Street. Our next stop is on the left.

Stop 4: The George Inn

The George is in a courtyard and the remaining part of a galleried coaching inn. The buildings on the right date from the late 17th century – the Inn had to be rebuilt after the Great Fire of Southwark in 1676. A large chunk of it was lost in the 1880s when the then owners, the Great Northern Railway, demolished the central and northern wings .

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Nevertheless what is left is lovely and one can see how the theatres of Shakespeare’s time evolved from this. This pub is actually owned by the National Trust but is leased out and operates as a normal pub. Do go in for a drink!

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Now return to Borough high Street and turn left. You will note there are various alleys and courtyards off the main road which would have housed other inns, including the Tabard. The Tabard is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales which are the stories of a group of pilgrims as they travel to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. This is a contest and the prize is a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark on their return. The old Inn was lost in the Great Fire and its successor demolished in the 1870s.

Ahead you will see St George;s Church, borough ahead. Sadly we do not have time to venture down there, as we will be taking the first street on the right, Union Street.

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Having turned into Union Street, continue down here. Just before a crossroads you will discover a little open space on your right. This is our next stop.

Stop 5: Crossbones Garden

This piece of land was once a burial ground – thought to be for those who could not be buried in consecrated ground, such as the local prostitutes. It was closed in 1853 and eventually the site was built over. Then when the Jubilee line extension was built in the 1990s, the site was used in part for an electricity sub station. As a result excavations took place and almost 150 graves form the first part of the 19th century were discovered.

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Transport for London still own the site and its future is unclear. A local volunteer group, Friends of Cross Bones, is campaigning for a permanent memorial gardens. But in the meantime, the garden is open between 12 noon and 2pm Monday to Friday and a vigil is held on the 23rd of every month to honour the outcast, dead and alive.

More about Crossbones Gardens at: http://crossbones.org.uk/

Now as you turn to leave, you can appreciate better the wooden shelter which has been consructed over the entrance way.

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And just on the left as you leave do have a look at this great sculpture.

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The figure on the left represents the Bishop of Winchester under whose jurisdiction this area fell for many hundreds of years. He is in fact a kind of a gargoyle and when it rains the water from the roof above flows through his mouth and on to the other part of the sculpture, which is a bird. In fact it is a goose, symbolic of the local prostitutes who plied their trade around here and who were known as Winchester Geese. They were able to work here as it was outside the City of London and indeed the Bishop of Winchester at one point actually licensed them.

There is one bit of the space which is best seen from the other side of the boundary. So go out of the garden and turn right and then right again, into Redcross Way. you will see various City buildings poking their heads up over the railway.

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On the right you will see a gateway festooned with ribbons.

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And look though the gate.

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Continue along Redcross Way towards the railway bridge. At the bridge Southwark Street crosses. Take a left here and our next stop is just ahead on the left.

Stop 6: Menier Chocolate Factory

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This was built as the British outpost of a French chocolate company between 1865 and 1874.

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By the 1980s, the building had become disused. But it was reborn in 2004 when it reopened as a small studio theatre, an art gallery and a restaurant.

Today it runs an eclectic programme of plays and musicals, and it has had a number of successes in getting its productions transferred – most recently its revival of the musical Funny girl with Sheridan Smith.

Now return along Southwark Street and turn left just before the railway bridge.

Stop 7: Cromwell Buildings

Our next stop is soon on the left.

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This is Cromwell Buildings, an early social housing development dating from 1864. It was put up by the Improved Industrial Dwellings Company, founded by Sir Sydney Waterlow whose statue we saw in Highgate

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Keep straight on and follow the road round to your left

Stop 8: Site of the Anchor Brewery

The site ahead and to your left is a surprisingly low scale housing development, dating from the 1980s.. There are a few little plaques along the way. First at the corner of Maiden Lane is one which commemorates a roman connection

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Then as you go along Park Street and find one which celebrates an obscure “international incident”.

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And finally as we follow the development round to the left

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Here we get the story of what was actually on this site – it was the Anchor Brewery. Note the name Thrale. For much of the 18th century, the brewery was in the hands of two members of the family Ralph, then his son, Thomas. It was Thomas and his wife Hester who were great friends with Samuel Johnson, as we heard when we were in SW16.

On Thomas’ death in 1781, the brewery was sold to Barclay Perkins and Co who operated it until 1955 when they were bought out by Courage. Brewing finally ceased here in 1982.

If you carry on walking down Park Street, have a look back and you get a nice view of the Shard.

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Our next stop is a little further along Park Street, on your left just before the overbridge.

Stop 9: Site of Globe and Rose Theatres

You will see a relief plaque commemorating the site of the original Globe theatre.

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And behind this is a little viewing platform up some steps.

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This was the site of the original Globe theatre which was built in 1599 by Shakespeare’s playing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It burnt down in June 1613. A new theatre was up and running within a year and that carried on until it was closed down by the puritans in 1642.

The site was built over and today much is below a listed terrace from the 18th century but a fragment was uncovered in the 1980s when the area was being redeveloped.

But this is not the only place where there are remains of a Shakespearean theatre.

Go under the bridge and there is a doorway on the right. This leads to the remains of the Rose Theatre.

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This predates the Globe and was the first theatre here. It was discovered when the office building on the site was demolished. There was such an outcry when it was discovered that the Rose Theatre was here and would be destroyed. So the solution was to build the new building over the remains. And there is a Trust looking after the remains – more info here: http://www.roseplayhouse.org.uk/

According to their website, around two thirds of the original foundations have been excavated and protected for future generations to experience. The Rose Theatre Trust is now engaged in raising funds to excavate the remaining third and to make the site a permanent display as an educational and historical resource for the public to learn from and enjoy.

In the meantime you can visit (on Saturdays only I believe) and there are also theatrical productions you can see there.

Now keep walking and turn right down New Globe Walk and our next stop is right here on the left.

Stop 10: Globe Theatre

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This is the replica of the Globe theatre. American actor and director Sam Wanamaker (1919 – 1993) is credited with the idea of building a replica. It is apparently quite realistic, though it only accommodates 1400, less than half the original. But then that is modern day safety considerations for you,. Sadly Wanamaker did not live to see the playhouse open in 1997.

Beyond the chimney of the old Bankside Power station, which is now Tate Modern, more of which anon.

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But there is also another neighbour which is peeking up ahead. This is a new residential tower called One Blackfriars.

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Our next stop is just a little further along the river.

Stop 11: Cardinal Wharf

This range of buildings is dates from the early 18th century and includes a building called Cardinal’s Wharf.

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Look at the plaque.

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Now that is a compelling story. It even seems to be borne out by the fact that if you look round you get a great view of St Paul’s across the river.

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The trouble is that this plaque does not actually belong to this house. It seems it was moved here in the 1940s when the original house it adorned was demolished. that was a bit further along the river near the Founder’s Arms pub apparently.

Here is a link which explains: https://memoirsofametrogirl.com/2013/12/18/cardinals-wharf-bankside-history-survivor-of-early-18th-century-the-globe-tate-modern/

Before we leave here, just take a look by the river and you will see a quotation on the riverwall. It starts boldly “Men’s evil manners live in brass”…

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Then continues rather more faintly “Their virtues we write in water”

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This it seems is a quote from Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII

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Now continue walking along the riverside and our next stop is just on the left past the Millennium Bridge (which I am ignoring)

Stop 12: Tate Modern

Tate Modern opened here in the former Bankside Power station in 2000 and kickstarted the regeneration of this part of the South Bank.

Over time, Tate had become the guardians of two national art collections: British Art and International Modern Art. Taking over this space allowed Tate to split its permanent collections between two sites and give them more space.

The power station has closed in the 1980s and the disused hulk proved perfect for being reincarnated as a modern art gallery. It has been hugely successful and in June 2016 an extension was added expanding the floor space by some 60%.

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Since the new extension opened, Tate Modern has had a wonderful (and free) viewing terrace at Level 10 from which you can look out in all directions. Even if you do not like Modern Art do go in to go up to this terrace.

The view to the east is dominated by the Shard, with the Guy’s Hospital tower in its shadow..

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The going round anti-clockwise, you get a great view of the City from the corner.

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Then straight over the original Bankside Power Station, you see the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s beyond. This is course is not a protected view of St Paul’s and it shows.

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The going round you can look west over the two bridges at Blackfriars – first the railway bridge, with its distinctive solar panel roof to the station which spans the bridge and then the road bridge.

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And finally walk round to the back. It is at this point you can just see parts of the Palace of Westminster (although I neglected to take a photo of that) And you can look into the nearby Neo development of apartment blocks, which have floor to ceiling windows. They look like show homes and seem unlikely to be the kind of places where anyone lives as their main home.

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Beyond you can see the yellow and grey flecked Palestra, which is opposite Southwark tube.This was a speculative office block designed by Will Alsop Architects. Palestra was an ancient Greek wrestling school, so perhaps it is fitting a building with this name now houses Transport for London staff who are responsible for the scrum that is London’s rush hour. In the distance you can see the distinctive shape of the new residential tower at Vauxhall.

In the summer of 2016 I joined the group of volunteers who give guided tours at Tate Modern, so if you time it right you can come on a tour with me (for free). Have a look at the “Come on one of my walks” tab for info on when I am next doing a Tate tour.

We are now at the end of our SE1 walk. There is so much we could have seen, but I thought I would stay mainly back from the river to point out a few things like Crossbones Gardens, Cromwell Building and the site of the Anchor Brewery which you might not have come across.

If you go back to the river, you will see Blackfriars mainline station to your left running across the river. But if you want the tube then follow the orange lamp posts from the landward side of the building and they will take you to Southwark tube station.

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