Looking for more things to Do in London? This guest post by David Elliott tells us all things exciting on London’s Bankside.
Bankside is one of the oldest parts not only of London but of Britain, with a history going back more than 6000 years. It was already ancient when the Romans set up a prosperous settlement here and called it Londinium. Southwark and Bankside have always enjoyed a somewhat seedy reputation, with brothels, animal bailing and even (horror of horrors) theatres being the main forms of entertainment in this godless part of the city for centuries. But when searching for deals in London, bear in mind that Southwark is now perfectly respectable, although it’s still one of the most interesting, historic and atmospheric parts of London.
In Tudor times there were four famous, or infamous, playhouses in this area – the Swan, Rose, Hope and Globe – and although the Rose theatre is now preserved as a sad relic beneath an office block on Southwark Bridge Road the nearby Globe has been gloriously reconstructed and stages major productions throughout the year. The Anchor pub nearby is a riot of creaking timbers where Doctor Johnson used to enjoy a pint, and along from there is the house where it is said Christopher Wren oversaw the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral on the other side of the river following the Great Fire of London in 1666.
After the Second World War Southwark went into a period of decline, but in the last couple of decades it has witnessed a colourful and dynamic renaissance and the Bankside stretch along the Thames has become a major attraction for visitors to the capital. Thousands of tourists and Londoners alike enjoy strolling along the riverside between Southwark Cathedral and Westminster, stopping off at the various sights on the way.
Southwark Cathedral itself has undergone several major alterations over the years but there are still numerous medieval features. Its great age is graphically seen in the way the land around it has risen significantly as the city has grown.
The Old St Thomas’s Operating Theatre just a short walk away brings back to life the gory old days of surgery with straps and gags instead of anaesthetics in a perfectly preserved wood-panelled room.
Borough Market just along from the cathedral has been here in one form or another since 1276 and is now a popular food market at the weekends. The maze of narrow cobbled alleyways and old warehouses in this area have formed the atmospheric backdrop to many a film, and even now after leaving a pub like the Market Porter late at night you can’t help glancing behind you occasionally and wondering what tales the streets could tell.
There’s now an interesting museum on the site of the notorious old Clink prison near the Anchor pub and Globe theatre where you can see how they dealt with miscreants in the good old days. A minute’s walk from there are the remains of the Bishop’s Palace, which still has its great rose window frame in places, and a replica of Drake’s Golden Hinde ship floats in the dock just beside it.
Don’t miss the Tate Modern gallery with its fine collections of modern art and regular special exhibitions. The building itself is a former power station that looks like something out of Lord of the Rings, and from higher floors you get panoramic views across the capital.
You can easily spend a day on the Bankside walk, enjoying the fresh air and river views as well as immersing yourself in centuries of London’s amazing history.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.