London Bridge City didn’t exist forty years ago. Actually, that not’s strictly true – it’s just that it wasn’t called that. It was probably the marketing men that came up with the name for this riverside location on the south bank of the river between London Bridge and Tower Bridge.
This must have been a developer’s dream after Hay’s Wharf closed down in 1970. London Bridge, if you remember, was the first ever river crossing to connect London from the south, and even after William the Conqueror became King of England in 1066, the former Anglo-Saxon religious centres of Canterbury and Winchester still had a strong influence on how the country was run.
Under the circumstances, it’s therefore quite understandable how this area came under the ownership of several leading religious figures who wanted to live next to the river, from where they could easily sail up to Westminster.
Underneath the arches of the railway viaducts and in the shadow of Southwark Cathedralis Borough Market, one of London’s best loved food markets.
It’s both a wholesale and retail market and has in recent times become synonymous with speciality foods, both from the UK and continental Europe.
Southwark was the first of London’s 32 Boroughs, and in the early days was just known as The Borough, so it’s not difficult to see how the Borough Market got its name.
Apparently, there’s been a market at the southern end of London Bridge in various forms since 1014, which meant that there didn’t need to be any arm-twisting to celebrate its 1000th birthday in 2014. How the powers that be would have known it started up in 1014 precisely I’m not quite sure, but I’ll take their word for it.
It’s not difficult to see why a market was set up here in the first place though because it would have been an ideal location to sell goods to travellers making their way in and out of London over the bridge to and from the south.
I’d be the first to admit that Southwark Cathedral doesn’t have the immediate appeal of Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral, but there’s something likeable about this church on the south bank of the Thames.
Ok, maybe there’s not the same amount of architectural or historical interest as the other two, but what it does have is free entry and a really warm welcome – and if you want to take photos just buy the souvenir guide for a pound and you can take as many as you like.
The Cathedral stands close to the oldest crossing point of the River Thames at London Bridge, which was literally the only way to get across the river from the south for hundreds of years.
It’s thought that there was a religious house here during Saxon times, but it was after the Norman invasion that a priory was built dedicated to St. Mary. It became known as St. Mary Overie (over the river), a name that is still included in its official name of ‘The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St. Saviour and St. Mary Overie’. The dedication to St Saviour came about when it became a parish church after the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The Bankside area of Southwark roughly equates with the riverside between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge.
The distance between the two bridges is about a mile and there are not only plenty of things to see, but also a fair number of pubs to hold you up along the way, and if you stop at all of them you’ll need holding up yourself.
Next to Blackfriars Railway Bridge is the Founders Arms, which although modern is in a great location overlooking the river, but as this isn’t a pub crawl I’ll assume that you’ll want to move straight on to the first real point of interest which is the Tate Modern.
Housed inside the former Bankside Power Station, this gallery of modern art won’t appeal to everyone, and depending on your taste in art you can either spend the best part of a day in here or hardly any time at all. Either way, you should go in and take a look, not just because it’s free, but you can always take the lift up to the viewing level of the Blavatnik Building for great views over the City of London and beyond.
Outside the river entrance to the Tate Modern is the Millennium Bridge. No prizes for guessing where it got its name from, but you may be tempted across it because on the other side of the river is St Paul’s Cathedral, but as tempting as it may be, it’s best left for another time.
London’s metropolitan boroughs as we know them today weren’t formed until 1965, but historically speaking, Southwark was a borough on the south bank of the Thames back in Roman times.
Londinium was built where the river was narrow enough to be bridged yet still tidal, allowing trading vessels to sail right into the heart of what was to become the most important city in Roman Britannia.
On the opposite bank the terrain was marshy, but interspersed with islands which made it convenient for building the first London Bridge.
After the Romans left, the settlement that grew up around the southern end of the bridge eventually came under the ownership of the church which is why Southwark has its own Cathedral.
It may have been church territory but it didn’t stop the area becoming a medieval red light district – a sort of Tudor and Stuart Soho – with pubs, brothels and bear-baiting pits luring clientele from across the river.
The theatre was also a popular form of entertainment with the likes of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare writing material for The Rose and of course, The Globe, which has been re-incarnated in recent times on Bankside not far from the original theatre.