London: Pt 6 – Borough of Southwark

Southwark is home to many of the newer landmarks in London, from City Hall to the Shard, but there are also numerous historical gems including Southwark Cathedral…


Status: London Borough of Southwark, Greater London (historically Surrey), District, England

Date: Various

Travel: London Underground (Various)

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Southwark Cathedral, City Hall, The Globe Theatre, Oxo Tower, Tate Modern, South Bank Tower, Tower Bridge etc

On the way through Lambeth we had spotted the Oxo  & South Bank Towers which actually lie in Southwark but I have talked about them in my Lambeth post here. Our journey around Southwark began when we crossed over the boundary from Lambeth at Blackfriars Bridge, and we arrived at 1 of London’s major train stations, London Blackfriars.

Blackfriars Station opened in 1886 as “St Pauls”, part of the London, Chatham & Dover Railway (LCDR), as the original terminus of the line, before it was extended through to London Victoria. The bridge it crosses was at that time called St Pauls Railway Bridge, as there was already a Blackfriars Railway Bridge immediately next to it. You can see there is an extra set of bridge supports to the right of Blackfriars Road Bridge, before Blackfriars Railway Bridge. These once supported the original Blackfriars Railway Bridge of 1864, also used by the LCDR on their routes through towards Holborn and Kings Cross/St Pancras. There were originally 3 lines of pillars remaining, however the 3rd set, over to the far left are now part of the new bridge, which allowed it to be widened.

The main portion of the Station is located on the North bank of the river, only half a mile from St Pauls Cathedral, and features a number of terminus platforms. Through platforms are located on the South Bank where we were stood, with the bridge forming 1 large station across the river. The famous roof which spans the entire bridge is the largest solar-powered bridge in the world, providing almost half of the total energy requirements of the station.

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Our next stop was the Tate Modern, a large art gallery inhabiting the former Bankside Power Station, which opened in 1952, to replace a Coal Powered Station on the site from 1891. Whilst the interior and major design works were a job for skilled craftsman and engineers, the exterior was given to Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880 – 1960, English Architect) who had already designed the well known Battersea Power Station which opened in 1933.

The central tower of this mammoth building stands at 325 ft tall, and it all ran off Oil rather than Coal. Much like Battersea, it opened in sections, although it was ready to produce electricity by 1952, and officially declared open in 1962.

Unfortunately Oil was becoming expensive, and rising prices forced the station to close in 1981. After laying derelict for a number of years, and facing the threat of demolition, it was eventually saved when the Tate Gallery bought the building and reopened it in 2000. It was an instant success, and is currently still in the top 10 most visited Museums in the world, along with the British Museum and the National Gallery.

Behind the Tate Modern the brand new Shard skyscraper rises high into the sky, but more on that later…

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Terminating in front of the Tate Modern is the new Millennium Bridge from 2000, built to commemorate the starting of the new Millennium. Just over 1000 ft long, this cable stayed pedestrian bridge links the South Bank to St Pauls, just a few yards up the road from its Northern terminus.

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Further along the riverbank you will come to Shakespeare’s Globe, the stunning 3rd version of the famous Globe Theatre where many of William Shakespeare’s (1564 – 1616, English Playwright from Warwickshire) plays were performed to the public during the 16th/17th centuries.

Shakespeare was a member of a company called the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men”, founded in 1594 by the Lord Chamberlain (Senior advisor to the Royal Family), Henry Carey (1526 – 1596, English Noblemen). They built the original Globe in 1599, to stage the plays of various playwrights including Shakespeare himself. Going to the theatre was 1 of the most common forms of entertainment at the time, until a production of Henry VIII, written by Shakespeare in 1613, on the 29th June of the same year. A cannon was fired as part of the performance, but it accidentally set fire to the building, razing it to the ground.

By the end of 1614 it had already been rebuilt, and performances would go on for another 30 years, until it finally closed in 1642, after intense pressure from the Puritans, early English Protestants, and the building was demolished thereafter.

It would be another 340 years before London’s riverside would again be graced by this incredible building, as a replica was the brainchild of Samuel Wanamaker, (1919 – 1993, American Director/Actor) in the 1970’s, although sadly it was only completed 6 years after his death in 1993. When it opened for business a production of Henry V was performed, written by Shakespeare around 1599.

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Linking the Globe with London Cannon Street, North of the river in the City of London is Southwark Bridge, which replaced John Rennie’s (1761 – 1821, Scottish Engineer) Queen Street Bridge of 1819.

The present bridge was jointly designed by Ernest George (1839 – 1922, English Architect) and Basil Mott (1859 – 1938, English Civil Engineer), with construction beginning in 1913. The building work was carried out by Sir William Arrol & Co, a Scottish Engineering Firm from Glasgow, founded in 1873. They had previously built Tower Bridge in 1894, as well as the Tay & Forth rail bridges in Scotland.

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The path along the riverside can only take you so far, as you are required to move onto the streets of Southwark when you reach Cannon Street Railway Bridge, the next bridge to the East of Southwark Bridge. As you do so, you pass through a charming brick built area, with shops and a restaurant built into the arches of the Railway Bridge itself.

To the left you can see the quaint facade of “The Anchor”, a public house that is quite famous in this area of London. An Inn has stood here for around 800 years, and whilst the exact date for construction of the original is unknown, we do know that The Anchor was destroyed by a fire that occurred not long after the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed most of the ancient city of London. Rebuilt by 1676, the pub is the only remaining pub on the riverbank from Shakespearean times, and many actors and performers from the Globe Theatre would have drank here. 1 person of note who regularly visited the Anchor was Dr Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784, English Writer from Lichfield in Staffordshire) whose house still survives in the City of London.

Crossing beneath the Railway Bridge, you will come across the “Clink Prison Museum”, a notorious prison in the heart of London.

Its history begins with Henry of Blois (1098 – 1171, Bishop of Winchester) who built Winchester Palace just a few yards further up the road. Along with the Palace he established 2 separate prisons, 1 for men and 1 for women. The name Clink only surfaced in the 14th century, and it is theorised on the prisons official website here that it came from the sound of the blacksmith shackling prisoners in chains.

The prison abruptly closed in 1780 when Lord George Gordon (1751 – 1793, Scottish Politician) and a number of his Protestant followers broke into the prison, released all of the inmates and then set the building alight, destroying the prison for good. The event was part of the “Gordon Riots” instigated by George Gordon, and for which he was eventually locked up until his death. You can visit the Clink Museum to see surviving artefacts from the Prison, and find out more about the Prison itself.

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Just up the road lies the remains of Winchester Palace, mostly made up of the Great Hall of 1136, which included the famous 14th century Rose Window you can see above. As stated earlier, it was built by Henry of Blois, and it was used by successive Bishops of Winchester until the 17th century, when the building was devastated by a fire in 1814, and mostly demolished.

The Bishop of Winchester was not the only important Bishop to have a grand residence (despite being a full 71 miles from Winchester Cathedral), as the Archbishop of Canterbury moved into Lambeth Palace in 1200 AD, and still inhabits the building today.

Southwark 10

A few yards further East from Winchester Palace lies 1 of 2 surviving replicas of the Golden Hinde, the famous Galleon which completed a full circumnavigation of the globe under the command of Sir Francis Drake (1540 – 1596, Elizabethan Explorer).

This version is officially called the Golden Hinde II, presumably because there is another replica in the town of Brixham, Devon, which amusingly is itself a replica of a previous replica of the boat completed sometime around the 1960’s.

The London version is much larger, and is actually seaworthy, having itself completed a full tour around the world, visiting various countries from Hong Kong to the United States. The boat was completed in 1973 and launched from Plymouth Harbour, before embarking on a tour of the world until the 1990’s, and in 1996 she was brought here to Southwark and berthed in a drydock.

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Southwark is absolutely full of interesting landmarks, as just round the corner from the Golden Hinde lies Southwark Cathedral, a finely crafted building providing a snapshot of history amongst the newer towers and office blocks that surround it.

The original Monastic Church to stand here dated back to the start of the 11th century, dedicated to St Mary Overie, mostly destroyed by a fire in 1206. Any surviving sections of the building were incorporated into a new Church completed by the 14th century. As it was primarily a Monastery, King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) set his sights on it during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, and the building was converted from a Monastic Church into a Parish Church, rededicated to St Saviour.

The later history of the building was tied with the Palace of Winchester as well as the Globe, as Roman Catholicism gave way to the Church of England (C of E) after the reformation, with the last Catholic bishop here being Stephen Gardiner (1483 – 1555). The Globe Theatre was then constructed in 1599, bringing with it numerous Inns, Theatres and of course large numbers of people, who began to visit the Church, turning around its fortunes.

The Church was restored, and it continued in regular use until the 19th century, when it was abandoned and it began to decay, with the huge central Nave being knocked down and replaced with a brand new Gothic design by Sir Arthur Blomfield (1829 – 1899, English Architect) in the 1880’s/90’s. In 1905 the new diocese of Southwark was created, and the building was elevated to the status of Cathedral.

I am happy to report that during the Blitz aside from shrapnel damage from a bomb that landed nearby, the Cathedral emerged relatively unscathed like its counterpart in the City of London, St Pauls.

You can find out more about events going on at the Cathedral, opening times etc on their official website here.

Towering 1,004 ft into the sky behind the Cathedral, and indeed many other buildings in the area, is the Shard, 1 of the newer London Skyscrapers, and 1 of the few to be built in recent years outside the City of London. Replacing the Southwark Towers office block from 1976, the Shard took a number of records when it opened in 2012:

1) Tallest Building in London (overtaking 1 Canada Square in Canary Wharf)

2) Tallest Building in the UK (again taken from 1 Canada Square)

3) Tallest building in Western Europe

4) Tallest Building in the European Union (overtaking the Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt, Germany)

There was a 5th record, as the building became the tallest building in Europe as a whole, but just a few months later the Mercury City Tower opened in Moscow at 1,112 ft, taking the title from the Shard.

Designed by Renzo Piano (Born 1937, Italian Architect) the building features a large observation deck spread out across the 68th – 72nd floors. Floors 3 -33 contain offices and restaurants , with floors 34 – 52 taken up by the Shangri-La Hotel. All the floors above that excluding the observation gallery and the spire above it are residential space, with the best views in the United Kingdom and London.

Close to the main entrance to the building is a set of steps leading to an underground floor, where you can purchase tickets and enter the lift to travel to the viewing gallery. Find out more on their official website here.

Leaving the Shard, we made our way back towards the riverside, through Hays Galleria, which began life as a brewery sometime prior to 1651, when Alexander Hay bought the area and it became a large dock/series of warehouses by the 1850’s. Renamed Hay’s Wharf, the area became 1 of the largest, and most important in London, with 80% of tea imports as well as a large number of food stuffs coming in.

In 1861 a fire broke out in Southwark, raging for 17 hours before breaks were created by the demolition of strategically positioned houses. Despite it being extinguished reasonably quickly compared to the Great Fire of London, it badly damaged the wharf, which had to be rebuilt. The ports eventual fate was sealed with the arrival of container ships, many of which were too large to pass so far up the Thames and through Tower Bridge, instead settling in outlying docks.

The Wharf eventually closed in 1970, but it was saved from demolition when it was bought out by a property corporation, who decided to retain the original buildings, and convert the various warehouses into shops, restaurants and bars. The central part of the Galleria, which was once the dock itself, was covered over, and marked with a large sculpture.

Designed by David Kemp in the 1980’s, this monumental 60 ft tall Ship called “The Navigators” is now the focal point for a visit to the Galleria, the whole of which was covered over with an enormous glass roof.

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Exiting the Galleria onto the riverside once more, we gazed out at the familiar form of HMS Belfast, moored just a few metres offshore in the Thames directly opposite the Galleria.

1 of the most famous ships in London, Belfast was completed in 1939 by the well known ship building company Harland & Wolff, in the Northern Irish capital Belfast, which the ship was also named after. Her completion coincided with the outbreak of World War II, and she immediately saw action as part of an effort to blockade German Ships in the North Sea, starting in September 1939. Her WWII service would be short lived however, as she was badly damaged by a mine after leaving her new port of Rosyth on the Firth of Forth for a training exercise. It would be 2 years before she was seaworthy again, but in 1942 Belfast once again began to aggravate the attempts of the Germans to get supplies through the North Sea.

The proudest moment of HMS Belfast during the War has to be the part it played in the Normandy Landings, as the command ship of Bombardment Force E, helping to provide covering fire for British & Canadian Forces who stormed Gold & Juno Beaches, 2 of the 5 beaches invaded by the Allies.

In 1945 Belfast was earmarked for a final allied invasion of Japan to end the Pacific Theatre of the War after the German Surrender, but the American Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki negated the need for an invasion. She would however be deployed in Korea during the Korean War, before being given a full refit back in the United Kingdom, to modernise her. This included replacing wooden decking with steel armour plating, and upgrading the enormous guns that already graced her decks.

After many years of sailing the world and calling at many ports around the British Empire, she returned to the United Kingdom, mooring in Fareham, Hampshire for use as an accommodation ship until 1970, and in 1971 decommissioned altogether. Whilst the Government had planned to scrap her, a private trust headed by her former captain Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles (1914 – 2013) campaigned successfully for her preservation, and she was permanently moored on the Thames in October 1971. She still sits there today, officially a branch of the Imperial War Museum and open to the public, and always a welcome sight on the Thames, in recognition of the bravery of her crew, and the many battles she was engaged in during WWII and the Korean War.

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As the Borough of Lambeth is famous for County Hall, the former home of 1st London County Council, and then Greater London County Council from 1965 until 1986, so to is Southwark famous for the new City Hall, shown on the right.

In 2000 the Greater London Authority was created after a referendum was held in London on whether to devolve more powers from Parliament to London as a whole. The result was a 72% vote for yes, with Ken Livingstone (Born 1945) becoming London’s new elected mayor almost 15 years to the day of writing this post, 4th May 2000. He had previously been the final leader of Greater London County Council before it was abolished, so he effectively continued from where he left off.

A building was needed to house the new assembly, and as the old County Hall had been converted into mixed use with an aquarium and hotels etc inhabiting most of its rooms, Norman Foster designed the iconic City Hall. Completed in 2002, it features a large glass helix-inspired staircase inside, with a viewing platform on the top floor.

The present Mayor is Boris Johnson, who took over from Livingstone in 2008. The post is not to be confused with the Lord Mayor of the City of London, who is responsible for the square mile of the ancient city, an area independent of the Mayor of London.

Southwark is an incredible part of inner London, and there is plenty to explore, with multiple museums, Churches and river views to enjoy. The view from the Shard is 1 of Londons new premier attractions, with views out across the entire City. Transport wise, there are 7 Tube Stations across 3 different lines throughout the city, along with a number of Overground routes. Southwark is also home to the major station of London Bridge, with routes out towards Kent and other areas of the South.

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Proceeding onto Tower Bridge, shown on the previous picture behind City Hall, spanning the river between the boroughs of Southwark and Tower Hamlets, we got a commanding view of the river.

In Southwark on the left you can see City Hall and the Shard, with HMS Belfast centre. On the right the various skyscrapers of the City of London dominate the skyline, and you can find out more about the individual towers in my City of London Pt 1 post here.

To the immediate left lies the Tower of London, a famous Castle & Prison where many famous historical figures have been incarcerated. So join us next time as we delve into the Borough of Tower Hamlets, to discover the secrets of Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the financial district at Canary Wharf…


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