Walking through history along the south side of River Thames in London
One of the best ways to experience London, England is on foot. In past visits, I’ve walked through areas in the West End and the City, where many popular tourist attractions can be found. On my most recent visit, I discovered attractions on the south side of the River Thames on a leisurely walk through Bankside. Bankside runs between London Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. A pedestrian walkway along the river, The Queen’s Walk, offers views of the river and the north bank.
My husband and I started the day from London Bridge Station, under the shadow of The Shard, an 87-storey skyscraper almost the twice the height of any other building in London. Viewing is available on floors 68, 69, and 72. Our first stop was Borough Market, one of the oldest and largest food markets in London with over 100 stalls featuring British and international foods.
From Borough Market, we made our way to the pedestrian pathway along the Thames.
The Golden Hinde is an historically accurate representation of the ship in which Sir Francis Drake completed the second-ever circumvention of the world between 1577 and 1580, something the replica ship has also done. The ship is open for self-guided and guided tours. The Golden Hind was the only one of five vessels to return from Sir Francis Drake’s expedition.
Bankside is one of the oldest settlements in Britain. It is in the London Borough of Southwark. For centuries London Bridge was the only river crossing and anyone travelling south from London went through Southwark. In medieval times, taverns to service the tourist trade abounded. In Tudor times, because the area was outside London city boundaries and outside of control of city elders, it became a haven for prohibited activities, such as bear-baiting and prostitution. Southwark later became the focus for theatre-goers. In the late 18th century, Bankside developed into an industrial environment. Southwark was heavily damaged by German bombing in the Second World War, and after the war Bankside went into decline until its recent redevelopment. It is now a prime tourist destination.
The medieval Bishops of Winchester possessed great wealth and political power. They owned a great deal of land in Southwark. Winchester Palace was built in the 12th century to house the bishops in comfort when they visited London. It was used until the 17th century when it was divided into tenements and warehouses. It was rediscovered after a fire in the 19th century. What remains was revealed in the 1980s when redevelopment occurred.
Two prisons existed on the ground of Winchester Palace, one for men and one for women. Prison inmates ranged from priests to prostitutes and also included many political activists and rebels. The name “clink” began to be associated with the prison in the 14th century, possibly because of the sound of a blacksmith’s hammer closing the irons around a prisoner’s wrists or ankles. Today, a museum on the site examines London’s unsavoury past from 1144 to 1780.
The Globe Theatre is a reconstruction of the original open-air playhouse built in 1599, where Shakespeare worked and for which he wrote many of his plays. Tours are offered, bringing the world of Shakespeare to life and providing details about the reconstruction and current use of the building. The Globe is a working theatre so tours may not always be available. When we visited, tours ended at noon because of a scheduled matinee performance.
The Tate Modern art gallery is located in what was once the Bankside Power Station, an oil-fired power station which generated electricity from 1952 to 1981. The Tate Modern has been housed here since 2000. Entrance to the Tate Modern’s regular galleries is free. Admission is charged to visit special exhibitions.
At this point in the walk, one could chose to walk back to London Bridge, cross the Millennium Footbridge to the north bank and visit sites on that side (e.g. Tate Britain, St. Paul’s Cathedral), or continue walking west on Queen’s Walk to Royal National Theatre, London Eye, and Westminster Bridge.
We chose to walk back to London Bridge via Southwark Street. As we neared Borough Market, we noticed an interesting looking building, the Hops Exchange.
The Hops Exchange was opened in 1867 as the hop trading centre for the brewing industry. Today, it is a private office building and we did not go inside. I later learned there is a Good Beer Guide pub located underneath in the vaults of the Exchange, which would have offered an opportunity to see at least a part of the inside of the building. Something for a future visit perhaps.
Our Bankside river walk was a great way to explore the history and culture of part of London on the south side of River Thames.