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.
According to the Port of London Study Group, Tooley Street (which runs parallel to the Thames between London Bridge and St. Saviour’s Dock), used to be a route of pilgrimage to Bermondsey Abbey, and crossed over several streams that ran down into the river. The street was lined with many fine palaces and town houses, one of which was occupied by the Abbot of Battle (where the Battle of Hastings was fought).
The building, known as the Inn of Bataille, was situated next to one of the streams that ran into the Thames and where the Abbot had his own personal quay. The bridge that took Tooley Street over the stream was called Battle Bridge, and there’s still a small street here called Battle Bridge Lane that runs down the side of Hay’s Galleria to Southwark Crown Court.
Everything changed when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, and the buildings around the inlet where the stream flowed into the river became warehouses. In 1651, Alexander Hay took over the lease and in 1710 the wharf was officially named Hay’s Wharf.
In 1861 a disastrous fire, which started in Cottons Warehouse, destroyed many of the original warehouses, but within six years the Hays Wharf company was founded and a whole new set of warehouses started to spring up centred on the site of today’s Galleria.
These warehouses stored everything from Indian and Chinese tea to Dutch cheese, Danish bacon, and ‘Anchor’ butter from New Zealand. Almost three-quarters of London’s imported food passed through Hay’s Wharf – no wonder it was called the ‘Larder of London’.
The wharf somehow managed to survive the heavy bombing of the Second World War, and although it did recover for a while, times had changed: The wharf became neglected, and a period of desolation set in. It was time to forge a new future.
In 1981 the London Docklands Development Corporation was formed and regeneration began. Hay’s Wharf Dock was drained, paved over, and protected by a Victorian-style roof that looks as though it’s always been there. The warehouses retained their outward appearance, but internally they were redesigned to make modern new offices. In 1987 the new complex, called Hay’s Galleria, was officially opened, with a 60 ft sculpture called ‘The Navigators’ taking centre stage.
As with most regeneration schemes, there are winners and losers, and even though beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I don’t see much beauty in the 13 storey pink granite block situated next to London Bridge, and I would include this ingeniously named ‘No 1 London Bridge’ building on my list of ‘Carbuncle Awards for London’.
Fortunately, alongside it is the fine art deco building of St. Olav House and the former tea warehouse at Chamberlain’s Wharf, which together form the present London Bridge (private) Hospital. Next to the hospital is the modern Cottons Centre which, as you may have guessed, was the location where the 1861 Great Fire of Tooley Street started. I have to admit that I don’t dislike this modern addition to the waterfront. I’ve definitely seen worse.
The photo below shows all four buildings mentioned above with the Cottons Centre on the left.
To the east of Hay’s Galleria is Southwark Crown Court and then a development called More London, (another imaginative name, I don’t think) which seems to be primarily given over to office space, but also includes a sunken amphitheatre called The Scoop where outdoor events such as musical performances, theatre productions and films can cater for up to 800 people during the summer months.
Next door to The Scoop is City Hall which was completed in 2002 and leased by the Greater London Authority (GLA) after the Greater London Council (GLC) got kicked out of County Hall.
In 2003, David Blaine, the American magician, illusionist, and endurance artist thought it would be a pretty good place to show off his unique skills. Somehow, he managed to survive 44 days in a 3x7x7 ft plexiglass box hovering 30 ft above the ground next to City Hall. There were people who were sceptical to say the least, and he was pelted with all sorts of stuff from food, beer cans and paint-filled balloons. The only concession to keep him alive was 4½ litres of water a day. He always maintained there was a serious side to the stunt which attracted an estimated 250,000 people in the time he was there, including people like Pamela Anderson, Sir Paul McCartney and yours truly.
By the time he was brought back down to earth, he was 4 stone lighter, and had to be slowly ‘fed’ a nutritional drink of vitamins to recover from the ordeal. His first solid food apparently, was a packet of crisps, but I don’t know what flavour they were.
Architecturally, City Hall is the only building that has any sort of merit to it in More London; but even then, I couldn’t disagree with former mayor Ken Livingstone’s description of it as a glass testicle. Now that the development is finished it looks positively fabulous compared to the buildings next to it, but at least the adjacent Potters Fields Park softens the landscape somewhat.
The one saving grace that this development has, apart from its attempt to be ecologically sustainable, is that the glass buildings take on a whole new look when the sun goes down – and I can’t help but admit that it looks far more impressive at night – as does the whole of London Bridge City.
London Bridge City sits alongside the Pool of London which was once the most important part of London Docks. Now that the docks have disappeared further downstream, the only ship that you’ll find here is HMS Belfast. If you’re worried that I’m going to tell you all about the history of the ship and why it’s here, you’ll be relieved to hear that I’m not going to – partly because I think it deserves an article of its own, and partly because, to my shame, I still haven’t been on there.
As you can see from the title, I’m including The Shard in this post even though it’s not technically part of London Bridge City; but it is part of the London Bridge Quarter, a separate development on the opposite side of Tooley Street that includes London Bridge Station, which itself has recently had a £1 billion makeover.
Designed by the highly regarded Italian architect Renzo Piano, this 95-storey structure is 1,016 ft (309.6m) high and was completed in November 2012.
The first two floors connect to the station, with the entrance lobby on the third. Floors 4-28 are offices, and then there are three different restaurants between floors 31-33. If you don’t want to pay the extortionate entry fees to get to the viewing galleries at the top, you can always visit one of these places instead, where there is no charge to visit, but you would need the pockets of a Qatari investor to enjoy the experience. Mind you, I believe the Aqua Shard also has a bar where you can just order a drink and enjoy the views, which is probably the cheapest option of all. You may not get exactly the same views as from the viewing galleries at the top, but you would get a drink to compensate, but just bear in mind that you won’t even be able to do that if you turn up in your trainers and Aston Villa football shirt.
Floors 34-52 belong to the 5* Shangri-La Hotel and floors 53-65 are exclusive residential apartments. I shudder to think what these would cost – but if you’ve got pockets as shallow as mine, you’re probably only interested in what the views are like from the top, which are on floors 68-72.
The View from the Shard, as it’s called, is the public viewing area: Floors 69-71 are the indoor viewing galleries, which means that all the views are behind glass. Nothing surprising there really, but what it means for anybody wanting to take pictures is that there’s going to be a certain amount of reflection off of the glass. I know it’s obvious, but if you’re going to pay a king’s ransom just to come up here and take photos you might just feel a bit short changed if you don’t come prepared.
Below is a selection of views going in a clockwise direction from Southwark Cathedral.
Floor 72, at 801ft (244m) is as far as you can go and is described as an open-air viewing gallery, but don’t get too excited because you’ll only really be able to photograph the top of the spire without any glass in the way.
I think it’s fair to say that many people wouldn’t pay the entry charges to come up here (the cheapest current price is £35), but it also has to be said that plenty of people do. There are various packages, too many to mention here, that lure people in. We came here for a special occasion and enjoyed the experience, but if I’m being completely honest, I think there are other viewpoints in London that offer great views for a fraction of the price, and in some cases are absolutely free.
When plans were originally submitted, London Bridge Tower as it was initially called, was described by English Heritage as a ‘shard of glass’ through the heart of London, but as somebody who can be excited by innovative modern architecture, I really hope that this building will be a landmark for some years to come.
There’s one thing that bothers me, and I mentioned this on my Canary Wharf pages a while back; London Docks were an integral part of London life, much more so than offices employing thousands of people moving bits of paper and money around, but what happens when the offices are no longer wanted?
Dockers and their families not only provided a valuable contribution to people’s needs, but their communities also had a heart and soul, but these days thousands of office workers pour into London Bridge Station from the suburbs and then return home again at the end of the day.
Covid-19 has seen a change, with people quite happily working from home, and there already seems a reluctance to go back to the office. The dockers have gone, so will the office workers follow suit? – If so, the only person that could be left working in the sparkly new London Bridge City is the window cleaner.