Day 15 – Vauxhall to Thames Barrier (South)

There is a two hour walk through this part of London on the site Walk London.

Today’s stretch was some 12 1/4 miles through some of the most iconic parts of London to include: Westminster, London Eye, South Bank, National Theatre, Tate Modern, St Pauls, Golden Hinde, Southwark Cathedral, HMS Belfast, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Woolwich Arsenal, Greenwich, Cutty Sark, The O2 Arena and finishing at the Thames Barrier – to name just the most impressive. It can be a long and busy day, and here are 200+ photographs. Quite a contrast from Days 1-3 when you could walk for an hour or more and not see another living soul.

Here is a 15 minute video of photographs of this stage.

In terms of bridges, today we pass 11 – the most for one day: Vauxhall, Lambeth, Westminster, Hungerford/Golden Jubilee, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Millennium, Southwark, Cannon Street Railway, London and Tower Bridge – surprisingly the last bridge across the Thames before the QEII seen in the distance at Dartford which we see tomorrow and the end of the path.

The Thames Path continues down steps to the right of Vauxhall Bridge. However there was some construction work going on which necessitated a (signed) short diversion around the MI6 offices and along the Albert Embankment which opened in May 1868

At the end of some buildings the path rejoins the river at the statue of the Indian philosopher and social reformer, Basaveshwara (1134-1168).

Basaveshwara was a 12th century Indian philosopher and a social reformer who pioneered the idea of democracy in the east even before anyone in the western world would have thought about it.

Lambeth Basaveshwara

The original Albert Embankment (not the main road with the same name – the A3036 between Vauxhall Bridge and Lambeth Bridge) is still lit with sturgeon lamp standards to the designs of George Vulliamy in 1870. Here opens up a spectacular vista of London, first Lambeth Bridge, and behind the Houses of Parliament on the far bank and the London Eye on the near bank. Lambeth Bridge can be seen in the distance in stunning red and blue.

Just before Lambeth Bridge are the very visual offices of Equasis, with a stunning bronzed bow of a ship. Equasis is “a non profit initiation formed by the European commission and the French Maritime Association to promote exchange of unbiased information. It was launched in the year 1997.

The Grade II listed Lambeth Bridge was built in 1932, and is painted red to represent the colours of the benches in the House of Lords – contrasting with the green of Westminster Bridge representing the benches in the House of Commons. The original Lambeth Bridge was built in 1862 as a toll to replace a the Archbishop of Canterbury’s horse ferry in 1862 – which gives the name to the approach road – Horseferry Road. It ceased to be a toll bridge in 1879 and safety concerns closed it to traffic entirely in 1910. The current Bridge was opened on 19 July 1932 by King George V. It is famous for the obelisks at either end, though there is some controversy over whether they are topped by pinecones or pineapples. Pinecones are a symbol of hospitality, though the pineapple was introduced to England by John Tradescant who is buried over the road in the churchyard of St Mary’s.

There are a number of fascinating facts about Lambeth Bridge, including it being a site of crossing since at least 1327, and featuring in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban.

Thre first iconic spot is the Grade I listed Lambeth Palace, the official home of the Archbishop of Canterbury for over 800 years since 1197. The view here is of the Morton Tower or the Gatehouse, built in 1495 and is widely regarded as the finest early Tudor brick Gatehouse in England. It was in the Crypt in 16th May 1536 that Archbishop Cranmer got Anne Boleyn to admit to adultery. She was beheaded three days later. Cranmer compiled the Book of Common Prayer in his study in 1552. Growing in the garden is the oldest fig tree in England.

Adjacent to the Gatehouse is the 14th century Church of St Mary-at-Lambeth, deconsecrated in 1970 and in 1977 became the world’s first Museum of Garden History. During renovation works in 2016, builders found a vault containing 30 coffins, including those of five Archbishops of Canterbury. Buried in its churchyard are both John Tradescant the Elder and his father, the Younger, Charles I’s gardeners and Captain Bligh of the Bounty.

Just past the Gatehouse on the Albert Embankment there is a bust of Violette Szabo, a member of the Special Operations Executive.

The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a secret British World War II organisation. It was officially formed on 22 July 1940 under Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton, from the amalgamation of three existing secret organisations. Its purpose was to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe (and later, also in occupied Southeast Asia) against the Axis powers, and to aid local resistance movements

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Violette was a British-French Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent during the Second World War and a posthumous recipient of the George Cross. On her second mission into occupied France, Szabo was captured by the German army, interrogated, tortured and deported to Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany, where she was executed by firing squad on 5th February 1945.

The wall of the Albert Embankment up to Westminster Bridge is now the National Covid Memorial Wall. Paid for by crowdfunding each heart represents a death. The picture used on the website was taken after the initial phase was complete on April 8th, 2021. Then 150,837 hearts were painted at the time to align with the figures from the Office for National Statistics released that day. The pandemic continued thereafter largely due to the incompetence and intransigence of the UK Conservative Government and particularly PM Boris Johnson.

Grade II* listed Westminster Bridge was built in 1862 replacing the earlier bridge famously painted by Canaletto, in his Westminster Bridge with the Lord Mayor’s Procession, and the one on which William Wordsworth wrote the sonnet Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802. In the 1964 Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the Daleks are seen moving across the bridge in the 22nd Century, though Ernst Blofeld’s helicopter crashed into Westminster Bridge in the James Bond film Spectre.

The bridge is green to represent the colour of the seats in the House of Commons. It is particularity spectacular, with Gothic quatrefoils and spandrels and triple green and gold lamp-holders. On the north bank the bridge is adjacent to Portcullis House, (which we pass again on day 18) which was commissioned in 1992 and opened in 2001 to provide offices for 213 members of parliament and their staff at a cost of £235 million. Each MP gets a reclining chair costing £440.

The South Bank Lion guarding the entrance to the bridge has an interesting history.

Originally painted red the South Bank Lion was one of three which stood above the entrance to the Old Lion Brewery, where the Royal Festival Hall now stands. Looking like new, all three lions survive to this day. His bigger brother is at the entrance to the All England Rugby Football club, Twickenham, and his smaller brother stands over one of the gates into Kew Gardens, South West London.

Walk London

[It] was cast in 1837, the year of Queen Victoria’s accession, of Coade stone, one of the earliest types of artificial stone. The material is very resistant to weathering, and the fine details of the lion’s modelling still remain clear after decades of exposure to the corrosive effects of London’s severe air pollution. The statue was formerly known as the Red Lion, as it was painted that colour between 1951 and 1966. The lion was originally mounted on the parapet of James Goding‘s Lion Brewery on the Lambeth bank of the River Thames. The Lion Brewery closed in 1924 and the building was demolished in 1949, to make way for construction of the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Festival of Britain.

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The lion appears to be looking toward St Thomas’ Hospital. Named after St Thomas Becket, it was founded in the 12th century by the monks of Southwark Priory. The monastery was dissolved in 1539 during the Reformation and the hospital closed but reopened in 1551 and rededicated to Thomas the Apostle. It should thus be St Thomas’s. It moved to its present site in 1860 where Florence Nightingale “established the first professional nursing school in the world at St Thomas’ Hospital. She founded London’s Nightingale School of Nursing, which raised the reputation of nursing as a profession” (Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust).

After allegedly testing positive to COVID-19 on 27 March, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to St Thomas’ on 5th April and as his condition allegedly deteriorated, he was moved to intensive care later that day. He was moved out of intensive care on 9th April and discharged 3 days later. Many have doubted this account due to lack of verification and Johnson’s dubious relationship to truth.

We are now entering London’s South Bankan area of incredible history, architecture, culture and regeneration. Originally isolated and defined by the Thames, for centuries this riverside location developed in a very different way from the affluent north bank” (South Bank London).

Beyond Westminster Bridge is the iconic Grade II* listed County Hall Building, opened by King George V in 1922. Once a striking curved building housing the Greater London Council – abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1986. It is now the site of the Sea Life London AquariumShrek’s Adventure London. The beauty of the original building is now hidden behind a hideously out of place block entrance.

At the end of the building is the London Eye, the tallest wheel in Europe and the most popular attraction in the UK. The London Eye was formally opened by Tony Blair on 31st December 1999, but did not open to the paying public until 9th March 2000 because of a capsule clutch problem. Originally intended as a temporary attraction, with a five-year lease, the operators submitted an application in December 2001, to give the London Eye permanent status, and the application was granted in July 2002.

Just beyond the Eye is a memorial to the casualties of the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War, especially the British Battalion which took very heavy casualties.

As the path passes the Eye it comes to Jubilee Gardens, a space often used by musicians and performers, created in 1977 to mark the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II. At the end of the gardens is Hungerford Railway Bridge.

Hungerford Bridge, was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and opened in 1845 as a suspension footbridge. It was named after the then Hungerford Market, because it went from the South Bank to Hungerford Market on the north side of the Thames. In 1859 the original bridge was bought by the railway company extending the South Eastern Railway into the newly opened Charing Cross railway station. The railway company replaced the suspension bridge with a structure designed by Sir John Hawkshaw, comprising nine spans made of wrought iron lattice girders, which opened in 1864. The chains from the old bridge were re-used in Bristol‘s Clifton Suspension Bridge. The bridge is now flanked by two more recent (2003), cable-stayed, pedestrian bridges that share the railway bridge’s foundation piers, and which are named the Golden Jubilee Bridges.

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Above Charring Cross station is the curved roof of Embankment Place – an office block includes the HQ of PriceWaterHouseCoopers, said to be “the most sustainable building in the world“.

Just beyond Hungerford Bridge at Festival Pier, is the South Bank Centre (website here) containing the Royal Festival Hall (website here), built for the Festival of Britain in 1951. By the pier is an underpass covered with graffiti used by skateboarders.

The path is now approaching Waterloo Bridge, relativity new built in 1944. The original Bridge opened in 1817 named Strand Bridge, its name was changed to celebrate the Duke of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo in 1815. Originally a toll bridge, the toll was removed in 1878. The bridge was depicted by the French Impressionist Claude Monet in his series of 41 works from 1900 to 1904,  The permanent second hand book market which stands under the bridge was closed when I passed.

The previous bridge was much more attractive but became unsafe. This new bridge was partially opened on Tuesday 11th March 1942 and “officially opened” in September 1942. However, it was not fully completed until 1945. It is the only Thames bridge to have been damaged by German bombers during the Second World War.

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Michael Faraday tried in 1832 to measure the potential difference between each side of the bridge caused by the ebbing salt water flowing through the Earth’s magnetic field using magnetohydrodynamics. In 1978 Waterloo Bridge was the place where the Russian dissident Georgi Markov was killed with a ricin pellet shot into his leg from an umbrella adapted by the KGB.

Thre buildings along this stretch are sometimes described as “brutalist” being constructed of somewhat plain unpainted concrete. Adjacent to the bridge is the National Theatre founded in 1963 and designed by Denys Lasdun. it is one of the United Kingdom’s three most prominent publicly funded performing arts venues, housing three theatres: Olivier, Lyttleton and Dorfman. Beyond is the Grade II listed IBM building also one of Lasdun’s, built in 1983 there have been plans to upgrade it.

After the brutalism of the IBM building, the path gives way to a great view of London Beach, Blackfriars Bridge and the city beyond. This is the entry to Gabriel’s Wharf, which used to be a collection of old garages but has been transformed into a busy and attractive series of shops and restaurants. Overlooking the beach is the art deco OXO Tower. Originally a power station to supply electricity to the Royal Mail post office, it was bought by Liebig Meat Packing Centre in 1930 – at the time London’s second highest commercial building. Planning restrictions forbade signs advertising their product – the OXO cube – so they mischievously designed the windows in the clock tower to spell out OXO! The building now houses an art Centre, apartments and a Harvey Nichols restaurant which opened in 1996 on the top floor with fantastic views over London toward Blackfriars Bridge.

The Grade II listed Blackfriars Bridge is actually 2 1/2 bridges – a red road bridge, a green and yellow rail bridge and the red pillars of the original bridge built in 1862 and demolished in 1985. The present bridge was opened on 6th November 1869 by Queen Victoria built to a design by Joseph Cubitt. Cubitt also designed the adjacent rail bridge and it was a condition that the spans and piers of the two bridges be aligned. Due to the volume of traffic over the bridge, it was widened between 1907–10.

It is perhaps best known for being the site where in 1982 the body of Italian banker Roberto Calvi – knowns as God’s Banker – was found hanged from scaffolding under the bridge in mysterious circumstances.

Calvi was a member of Licio Gelli’s illegal masonic lodge Propaganda Due, who referred to themselves as frati neri or “black friars”. This led to a suggestion in some quarters that Calvi was murdered as a masonic warning because of the symbolism associated with the word “Blackfriars”

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The underpass of the railway bridge is decorated with tiled reproductions of the designs for the bridge.

The path comes out at the Founder’s Arms, which does look quite stunning outside but has a good reputation locally and is particularly well situated by the Tate Modern.

The Tate Modern (website here) only opened in 2000 but is, apparently, the world’s most visited art gallery. Originally the Bankside Power Station, which due to reducing demand closed on 31st October 1981.The Tate announced in 1994 it would become the new Tate Modern and the £134 million conversion started in June 1995, completed in January 2000.

The Millennium Bridge opened in 2000 and leads from the Tate Modern to St Pauls Cathedral. The bridge has to be closed after a few days because of “synchronous lateral excitation” – a slight wobble caused pedestrian to walk in unison thus exacerbating the wobble into a sway, which can be seen in this video. Officials shut it down after just two days, and the bridge remained closed for the next two years.

Engineers fixed the Millennium Bridge’s swaying issues by retrofitting the structure with 37 energy dissipating dampers to control the horizontal movement, and another 52 inertial dampers to control the vertical movement. The bridge hasn’t had a significant wobble problem since it reopened in February 2002.

ARS Technica

The view over the Millennium Bridge of the Grade I listed St Paul’s Cathedral (website here) is stunning, and although it is on the north bank, the path does not goes past St Paul’s without a slight detour.

St Paul’s Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral in London. As the seat of the Bishop of London, the cathedral serves as the mother church of the Diocese of London. It sits on Ludgate Hill at the highest point of the City of London and is a Grade I listed building. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. The present structure, dating from the late 17th century, was designed in the English Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren. Its construction, completed in Wren’s lifetime, was part of a major rebuilding programme in the City after the Great Fire of London. The earlier Gothic cathedral (Old St Paul’s Cathedral), largely destroyed in the Great Fire.

Services held at St Paul’s have included the funerals of Admiral Nelson, the Duke of WellingtonWinston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher; jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria; peace services marking the end of the First and Second World Wars; the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer; the launch of the Festival of Britain; and the thanksgiving services for the Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilees and the 80th and 90th birthdays of Queen Elizabeth II

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One of the best known images of London during the war was a photograph of St Paul’s taken on 29th December 1940 by photographer Herbert Mason, from the roof of a building in Tudor Street showing the cathedral shrouded in smoke.

Miraculously the cathedral survived the Blitz but was hit by bombs on 10th October 1940 and 17th April 1941. The first destroyed the high altar, while the second left a hole in the floor above the crypt. 

Just past the Millennium Bridge a row of three old houses one of which, Cardinal’s Wharf No 49, has a plaque which claims that Sir Christopher Wren lived there while building St Pauls – though this is contested. It was the Cardinal Cap pub alluded to in Shakespeare’s play Henry VI part II.The property to the right, 51 Bankside, is called Provost’s Lodging – was the home of the Dean of Southwark Cathedral, was put up for sale in 2011 for £6 million. To the right of Cardinal’s Wharf is an tiny cobbled alleyway called Cardinal Cap Alley, which has an interesting history. “Named because it had been owned by Henry Cardinal Beaufort, the Bishop of Winchester, who had paraded here wearing his red hat, after being appointed a cardinal by the Pope” (Wikipedia). It used to lead to a brothel.

Immediately next door is Shakespeare’s Globe, a 1996 reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse for which William Shakespeare wrote his plays, which was situated a shirt distance away.

The original theatre was built in 1599, destroyed by the fire in 1613, rebuilt in 1614, and then demolished in 1644. The modern Globe Theatre is an academic approximation based on available evidence of the 1599 and 1614 buildings. It is considered quite realistic, though modern safety requirements mean that it accommodates only 1,400 spectators compared to the original theatre’s 3,000.

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The Globe has the first thatched roof built in London since the Great Fire in 1666. The same layout, materials and building techniques were used as in the original. The idea originally came from Sam Wanamaker in 1970, and worked up until he died in 1993, never seeing it come to fruition.

The Globe leads to Southwark Bridge

A previous bridge, designed by John Rennie the Elder, opened on the site in 1819. On the 1818 map of London, it was labelled Queen Street Bridge. All subsequent maps label it as Southwark Bridge. The bridge was notable for having the longest cast iron span, 240 feet (73 m), ever made. Unsurprisingly, it was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ “Little Dorrit“. It was a commercial tolled operation which was trying to compete with the toll free Blackfriars and London bridges nearby, but the company became bankrupt and its interests were acquired by the Bridge House Estates which then made it toll free in 1864… A new bridge on the site was built by Sir William Arrol & Co. and opened on 6th June 1921.

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Going under the bridge brings you to The Anchor Bankside pub on the site of an earlier public house frequented by Shakespeare when his plays were being performed in the original Globe Theatre nearby.

This pub is the sole survivor of the riverside inns that existed here in Shakespeare’s time when this district was at the heart of theatreland and the Thames was London’s principal highway. It was frequented by many actors from the neighbouring playhouses, including the Globe, the Swan and the Rose. It is where diarist Samuel Pepys saw the Great Fire of London in 1666. He wrote that he took refuge in “a little alehouse on bankside … and there watched the fire grow”. Another fire devastated the pub whose interior was mainly constructed of oak. It was rebuilt in 1676 and has since had additions over the centuries. The Anchor tavern became a favourite place for river pirates and smugglers: during the course of repairs carried out in the early 19th century the removal of a massive oak beam revealed ingeniously contrived hiding places which were probably used for the storage of stolen goods and contraband.

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The pub went through a £2.6 million refit in 2008 and is now owned by Greene King.

As you go around The Anchor, to Cannon Street Railway Bridge. Built in 1866 it now has 10 railway lines going across it into Cannon Street Station on the north bank, The bridge was originally called Alexandra Bridge, after the wife of King Edward VII, Alexandra of Denmark.

Between Southwark Bridge and Canon Street Railway Bridge, the worst ever disaster on the Thames took place at 01:50 am on 20th August 1989. The pleasure boat Marchioness collided with the dredger Bowbelle. The Marchioness had been hired for the 26th birthday party of Antonio de Vasconcellos and had around 130 people on board. It took 30 seconds to sink and some 50 people were killed. This led to enhanced safety measures and four new lifeboat stations on the Thames.

The path then goes through a narrow alleyway past The Clink museum.

The Clink was a prison  which operated from the 12th century until 1780. The prison served the Liberty of the Clink, a local manor area owned by the Bishop of Winchester rather than by the reigning monarch. As the Liberty owner, the Bishop kept all revenues from the Clink Liberty, and could put people in prison for failing to make their payments. As the Bishop, he could also imprison heretics. The Clink prison was situated next to the Bishop’s London-area residence of Winchester Palace. The Clink was possibly the oldest men’s prison and probably the oldest women’s prison in England.

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The Clink burnt down in 1780 by Gordon rioters, and was never rebuilt. The museum attempts to recreate the conditions of the original prison, whose name has now became a generic term for all prisons. We now pass through his warehouses, some of which have been converted into apartments until we come to a remarkable medieval wall, which includes the rose window, part of Winchester Palace, once the residence of the Bishop of Winchester. Now under the care of English Heritage.

Winchester Palace was once one of the largest and most important buildings in all of medieval London. Built in the early 13th century as a home to the powerful Bishops of Winchester, the palace was mostly destroyed by fire in 1814.

English Heritage

Beyond Winchester Palace the path reaches St. Mary Overies’ Dock, and The Thameside Inn with a large riverside terrace, but more significantly a life-size replica of The Golden Hinde.

Golden Hinde was a galleon captained by Francis Drake in his circumnavigation of the world between 1577 and 1580. She was originally known as Pelican, but Drake renamed her mid-voyage in 1578, in honour of his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose crest was a golden hind (a female red deer)

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The replica galleon is more than just a dry-dock model however:

Golden Hinde, a full-size reconstruction of the ship, was built by traditional methods and launched in 1973, the result of three years’ research and construction. Since then, she has travelled more than 140,000 miles. She sailed from Plymouth on her maiden voyage in late 1974, arriving on 8 May 1975 in San Francisco. In 1979, she sailed to Japan to make the miniseries Shōgun, after which she returned to the UK having completed a circumnavigation. Between 1981 and 1984, she was berthed in England and was established as an educational museum. In 1984–85, she sailed around the British Isles and then crossed the Atlantic to St Thomas in the Caribbean. In 1986, she passed through the Panama Canal to sail on to Vancouver, where she was the main attraction in the Marine Plaza at Expo86. In 1987, she began a tour of US coastal cities, spending two years on the Pacific coast. In late 1988, she passed back through the Panama Canal to continue port visits on the Gulf and east coasts of the USA. In 1992, she returned home to the UK and spent the next four years visiting ports in Europe. Since 1996, she has been berthed at St Mary Overie Dock,

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To the right of the Golden Hind is Southwark Cathedral which was founded in 1106 as the church of the Augustinian Priory of St Mary Overie. It only became a cathedral on the creation of the diocese of Southwark in 1905.

Southwark Cathedral was also known for being the home to Doorkins Magnificat, a brown female cat who began visiting the cathedral in 2008 as a stray looking for food and shelter. She later made the cathedral her permanent home and was often found curled up beneath a radiator or prowling the aisles. She became known as a local celebrity and met both the Mayor of London and Queen Elizabeth II on formal visits to the cathedral. The death of Doorkins was reported on 2 October 2020. A memorial service for her was held at the cathedral on 27 October 2020, something apparently unprecedented for a cat and reported in the national press.

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There is a plaque on the floor near the entrance to the 51 victims of the Marchioness disaster.

As you go around thre Cathedral, you see the river on the left with a view of Cannon Street Bridge and The Mudlark pub on the right. Here we reach London Bridge, and steps go up to the bridge but the Thames Path goes under the Bridge and tucked away under the bridge is the Mug House pub which was undergoing renovations to reopen in September 2021.

London Bridge is possibly the most famous of London’s bridges for its “falling down” in the children’s nursery rhyme. The current bridge carries the A3 and is owned and maintained by Bridge House Estates, an independent charity of medieval origin. There has been a bridge here since Roman times, if not earlier, but the current one is surely a bit of a disappointment compared to others we have seen – and more so the next, Tower Bridge. After the collapse of earlier wooden bridges, Henry II commissioned a new and substantial stone bridge and work began in 1176 and it was finished in 1209.

This was no ordinary bridge, but had houses, shops with nineteen piers linked by nineteen arches and a wooden drawbridge as can be seen in this 1757 painting by Samuel Scott titled “London Bridge before the alteration“.

The number of houses on the bridge reached its maximum in the late fourteenth century, when there were 140. Subsequently many of the houses, originally only 10 to 11 feet wide, were merged, so that by 1605 there were 91. Originally they are likely to have had only two storeys, but they were gradually enlarged. In the seventeenth century, when there are detailed descriptions of them, almost all had four or five storeys (counting the garrets as a storey); three houses had six storeys. Two-thirds of the houses were rebuilt from 1477 to 1548. In the seventeenth century, the usual plan was a shop on the ground floor, a hall and often a chamber on the first floor, a kitchen and usually a chamber and a waterhouse (for hauling up water in buckets) on the second floor, and chambers and garrets above. Approximately every other house shared in a ‘cross building’ above the roadway, linking the houses either side and extending from the first floor upwards

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The severed heads of traitors were stuck on poles and regularly displayed at the bridge entrance.

As the path returns to the river, across on the north bank is the church of St Magnus the Martyr and the Monument, which we pass on day 18.

We then pass Hay’s Galleria named after its original owner, the merchant Alexander Hay, who acquired the property – then a brewhouse – in 1651.it was converted into an enclosed dock in 1856 and it was renamed Hay’s Wharf. During the nineteenth century, it was one of the chief delivery points for ships bringing tea to the Pool of London.

At its height, 80% of the dry produce imported to London passed through the wharf, and on this account the wharf was nicknamed ‘the Larder of London‘. The wharf was largely rebuilt following the Great Fire of Southwark in June 1861 and then continued in use for nearly a century until it was badly bombed in September 1940 during the Second World War. The progressive adoption of containerisation during the 1960s led to the shipping industry moving to deep water ports further down the Thames and the subsequent closure of Hay’s Wharf in 1970.

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The Wharf was subsequently redeveloped and re-opened in 1987 as Hay’s Galleria.

Beyond the Galleria is HMS Belfast a Royal Navy cruiser, permanently moored as a museum ship operated by the Imperial War Museum. It was the largest cruiser ever built for the Royal Navy, so named because she was launched in Belfast in 1938 and was the first allied ship to open fire during thre Normandy landings.

Construction of Belfast began in December 1936. She was launched on St Patrick’s Day 1938. Commissioned in early August 1939 shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, Belfast was initially part of the British naval blockade against Germany. In November 1939, Belfast struck a German mine and, in spite of fears that she would be scrapped, spent more than two years undergoing extensive repairs. Belfast returned to action in November 1942 with improved firepower, radar equipment, and armour. Belfast saw action escorting Arctic convoys to the Soviet Union during 1943 and in December 1943 played an important role in the Battle of North Cape, assisting in the destruction of the German warship Scharnhorst. In June 1944, Belfast took part in Operation Overlord supporting the Normandy landings. In June 1945, she was redeployed to the Far East to join the British Pacific Fleet, arriving shortly before the end of the Second World War. Belfast saw further combat action in 1950–52 during the Korean War and underwent an extensive modernisation between 1956 and 1959. A number of further overseas commissions followed before she entered reserve in 1963. In 1967, efforts were initiated to avert Belfast‘s expected scrapping and to preserve her as a museum ship. A joint committee of the Imperial War Museum, the National Maritime Museum, and the Ministry of Defence was established. In 1971 the government decided against preservation, prompting the formation of the private HMS Belfast Trust to campaign for her preservation. The efforts of the Trust were successful, and the government transferred the ship to the Trust in July 1971. Opened to the public in October 1971, Belfast became a branch of the Imperial War Museum in 1978.

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Passing HMS Belfast, the iconic Tower Bridge and Tower of London come into view, we come to the egg shaped City Hall, offices of the Greater London Authority and the London Mayor. It is where the London assembly meets. City Hall was constructed at a cost of £43 million on a site formerly occupied by wharves serving the Pool of London. In 2020, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced plans to vacate City Hall at the end of 2021 and relocate to The Crystal in the Royal Victoria Docks area of East London. The decision was confirmed on 3rd November 2020 with the move due to be completed by the 31st December 2021.

Much has been written of the final London bridge, Grade I listed Tower Bridge, which has its own webpage where visits can be booked. Built between 1886 and 1894 the bridge is one of five London bridges owned and maintained by the Bridge House Estates, a charitable trust founded in 1282. The bridge was opened on 30th June 1894 by Edward, Prince of Wales and Alexandra, Princess of Wales. A list of “incidents” includes the following:

In December 1952, the bridge opened while a number 78 double-decker bus was crossing from the south bank. At that time, the gateman would ring a warning bell and close the gates when the bridge was clear before the watchman ordered the raising of the bridge. The process failed while a relief watchman was on duty. The bus was near the edge of the south bascule when it started to rise; driver Albert Gunter made a split-second decision to accelerate, clearing a 3-foot (0.91 m) gap to drop 6 feet (1.8 m) onto the north bascule, which had not yet started to rise. There were no serious injuries. Gunter was given £10 (equivalent to £290 in 2019) by the City Corporation to honour his act of bravery.

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Bear in mind, we are now only three miles from Vauxhall Bridge with still plenty to see today and another 9 miles to go. We now move into a different world. No longer the iconic buildings of a bustling capital city, but a step into the past when this part of London was a busy port as we visit old warehouses and wharves, which, although now being regenerated, still offer a vision of an long lost industrial landscape.

Immediately after walking under Tower Bridge we find ourselves in a maze of tall warehouses, called Shad Thames, then turn left down Maggie Blake’s Cause – a small alleyway that gives access to the river. When this whole area was being developed in the 1990s, developers wanted to close off this part of the river for exclusive use of local residents and thereby increasing the value of the properties. Maggie organised a group of local activists to lodge a campaign, ultimately successful to keep it open for all. We are now in Butler’s Wharf, which instead of multiple ships unloading goods is now a riverside promenade replete with restaurants – and a clear view of the river.

Passing the imposing Grade II listed Butler’s Wharf, which was built in 1873 and was the largest warehouse on the Thames but was closed in 1972 and is now housing luxury flats and restaurants now known as 34 Shad Thames. In 1984, Butler’s Wharf and the part of Shad Thames behind it appeared in the Doctor Who serial Resurrection of the Daleks. The surrounding streets were also used in filming The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

St Saviour’s Dock is the point where the River Neckinger enters the Thames. and was named by the community of Cluniac monks who lives at Bermondsey Abbey just south-east of the dock from 1082.

The community began the development of the marshes surrounding their abbey at Bermondsey, cultivating the land and embanking the riverside into a Priory Close spanning 140 acres of meadow and digging dykes. They turned the adjacent tidal inlet at the mouth of the River Neckinger into the priory’s dock, and named it Saint Saviour’s Dock after their abbey’s patron. This provided a safe landing for Bishops and goods below the traditional first land crossing, the congested stone arches of London Bridge.

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Charles Dickens located parts of Oliver Twist in this area. Bill Sikes’s den was toward the east of Shad Thames adjacent to St Saviour’s Dock. It was here that Sykes falls from a roof and died in the mud of St Saviour’s Dock.

Crossing the footbridge over the River Neckinger designed by Nicholas Lacey, towards the Grade II listed New Concordia Wharf formerly a late Victorian grain warehouse. Originally built in 1882, restored and converted a century later as one of Dockland’s first conversions. “The development benefits from a 24-hour concierge, underground parking, communal roof terrace and swimming pool” (Urban Spaces). A one bedroom apartment will set you back some £650,000.

Now we pass the blue and red Harpy Houseboat which is moored here. Previously a floating Customs and Excise office it is now available for vacation rental and holiday lets.

The path goes along Bermondsey Wall West, wiggles a bit reaching Fountain Green Square which has an interesting fountain within a small development of new apartments. There is little history to the fountain but the view across the Thames is stunning – towards Oliver’s Wharf, which we pass later on Day 18.

Just beyond is Cherry Garden Pier, oft frequented by Samuel Pepys was where Turner based the view of his famous Fighting Temeraire. The painting hangs in the National Gallery, “having been bequeathed to the nation by the artist in 1851. In a poll organised by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in 2005, it was voted the nation’s favourite painting and In 2020 it was included on the new £20 note. The painting shows the Temeraire which played a role in the Battle of Trafalgar, being towed up the Thames in 1838, towards its final berth in Rotherhithe to be broken up for scrap” (Wikipedia).

It was from the pier that boats used to sound their horns if they wanted Tower Bridge to open. The gardens and original cheery trees are long gone, but now replanted. At the end of Cherry Gardens, is Angel Wharf – now a luxury block of apartments, where the path joins Bermondsey Wall East.

(Image of Butler’s Wharf from http://www.CGPGrey.com, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php)

We are now moving into Rotherhithe and at the end of Bermondsey Wall East come to a small paved piazza with great views over London. There is also an impressive sculpture by Diane Gorvin of “Dr Salter’s Daydream“. Dr Alfred Salter was a local doctor who trained at Guy’s Hospital and became a local councilor and MP for Bermondsey. Salter was a militant socialist, and an active member of the Peace Pledge Union. He was one of the founders of the Socialist Medical Association. Ada Salter, his wife, was the first female councillor in Bermondsey, where she worked with women’s groups to encourage local women to join trades unions.

In the year of his marriage he established his medical practice in Bermondsey, and the couple worked together in trying to alleviate the effects of poverty in the largely working class area. He chose to offer services free to those who could not pay. Salter decided that by entering politics he could effect changes to the squalid environment in Bermondsey far more quickly and profoundly than he could outside the political arena. He was elected to Bermondsey Borough Council in 1903, and was also a member of the local board of guardians. In March 1906 he was elected to fill a vacancy on the London County Council, representing the seat of Southwark, Bermondsey as a member of the Progressive Party following the election of the sitting councillor, George Cooper, as the area’s Member of Parliament.He was re-elected to the LCC in 1907. In October 1909 George Cooper MP died. Salter had since become aligned with the Independent Labour Party (ILP). On 8 October, Alfred Salter was announced as the party’s candidate at the by-election. The poll was held on 28 October, and Salter received 1,435 votes, finishing third of the three candidates. In the 1922 general election he was again nominated as Labour candidate for Bermondsey West. Salter secured 7,550 votes, a majority of 2,325. His wife, as mayor of the borough, was the returning officer who declared him elected. A further general election was held in 1923, and Salter lost the seat in a straight fight to the Rev. Roderick Kedward, the Liberal candidate Political instability led to another election in October 1924. Salter was able to overturn the result of the previous year, increasing his vote to 11,578 and unseating Kedward with a majority of 2,902. He was re-elected in the general elections of 1929, 1931, and 1935, but stood down at the 1945 election, when he was in very poor health, and died soon afterwards, aged 72.

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Dr Salter’s Daydream was first unveiled in 1991, the sculpture was re-located here in 2003 from the Cherry Garden Pier. In November 2011 the sculpture was stolen. The Salter Statues Campaign Group raised £60,000, which Southwark Council matched, to pay for replacement statues, and these were unveiled on 30th November 2014.

Alfred and Ada’s daughter, Joyce, contracted a virulent form of scarlet fever and died at the age of eight (London Remembers).

Across the road behind the Salter Statue are the remains of a moated royal palace, called King Edward III’s Manor House built around 1350. At the end of the road is the Grade II listed Angel public house. It is built on stilts over the river.

The pub dates to around 1830 and may incorporate parts of an early seventeenth century building. In the 15th century an inn and rest house for travellers called The Salutation was kept at or near this site by monks from Bermondsey Priory. In 1682 The Angel was in a position diagonally opposite its present site, and was referred to by the famous diarist Samuel Pepys as “the famous Angel.” In the 19th century The Angel was in the middle of a very busy stretch of tightly packed Thames businesses and, it has to be admitted, slums. It was built on stilts above the Thames marshes. Christopher Jones, captain of the Mayflower, is said to have hired crew here and Captain Cook prepared for his voyage to Australia from here.

Layers of London

Past the Angel, the view across to Wapping and down to Tower Bridge is spectacular. Following the riverside path we come to the end of Fulford Street and 41 Rotherhithe Street SE16 a lonely isolated four story house. Nicknamed The Leaning Tower of Rotherhithe, it was once part of a row of buildings owned by Braithwaite & Dean, a barge company which left the building in the 1930s, but it has an interesting history. Located in Kings Stairs Gardens (website here) – the stairs down to the Thames can be seen to the left of the buildings – it stands alone because Mr Braithwaite refused to sell it to the GLC in the early 60’s meaning the GLC had to provide road access to the property – which is the only one at that end of Fulford Street.

Now, the three Mitford sisters, Unity, Diana and Jessica, were famous in the 1930s and 1940s but pursued widely different paths. Unity and Diana both became fascists, Diana marrying Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists. However,

Jessica Mitford (1917-1996) on the other hand ran away to Spain with her boyfriend Esmond Romilly to back the republic against Franco’s fascist rebellion. Back in London and married, they ended up in 1937 living at 41 Rotherhithe Street in a large house ‘wedged between warehouses’ on the river. The house belonged to Roger Roughton (1916-1941), surrealist poet, who also stayed there. Another frequent guest was their friend the writer Philip Toynbee (Polly’s dad). They held ‘bottle parties… frequented by a motley crowd of journalists, writers, night-club singers, students’ and spent a lot of time arguing about the merits of joining the Communist Party.

Later in 1938 they were forced to move out of Rotherhithe Street when they couldn’t afford to pay their electricity bill, and the following year they moved to the United States. During the Second World War  Romilly, who had fought with the International Brigades as a teenager in Spain, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was killed in action in 1941. In the same year, Roughton committed suicide in the midst of despair about the Nazi-Soviet pact. Mitford remained in the United States where she lived a long and fruitful life as a writer and civil rights activist.

Transpontine

The building is now a private residence.

Across the river are some old wharves in Wapping – Oliver’s and St. Johns Wharves. “St Johns Wharf is a highly sought after, converted warehouse set on the banks of the Thames in the heart of Wapping” (Knight Frank). “Highly sought after”, usually means very expensive. Further on we come to Rotherhithe Street and walk under some newish redbrick flats and then between high converted warehouses with walkways somewhat similar to Shad Thames.

As the path meets the end of Rotherhithe Street there is a cemetery and the Church of St Mary the Virgin, (website here) an attractive redbrick building on a site that church since Roam times. The current building was rebuilt in 1714–15. but the tower was not finished until 1747. The external fabric has remained almost unchanged. “In 1838, when the well-known ship Temeraire was broken up, some of her timbers were used to build a communion table and two bishop’s chairs in the church” (Wikipedia). The church in particular, and the area in general has close connections with the Mayflower which took the Pilgrim Fathers to North America in 1620. The is a commemoration of 400 years since the sailing here. In the church is a memorial marking the final resting place of Christopher Jones, captain of the Mayflower who died in 1622. Three of the ships owners, one of whom was First Mate, John Clarke, are also buried here. Though his grave is unmarked, there is a statue to his memory.

The Mayflower left Rotherhithe in mid-July 1620 carrying about 65 passengers. It sailed along the Thames to the south coast where it anchored at Southampton before setting off for the New World on 6th September 1620. It arrived on 21st December and stayed until April, returning to Rotherhithe in May 1621.

Then we come to the Mayflower Pub, whose current name is only a fairly recent change. It was called the Spread Eagle between 1790 and up to 1957, when it was renamed to commemorate the Mayflower.

A short distance past the Mayflower is the Brunel Museum (website here) designed by Marc Isambard Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom. The museum is “located in the engine house for the steam powered pumps for the Thames Tunnel which opened in 1843 and was the first tunnel to be built under a navigable river anywhere in the world. It comprises the Engine House and the Tunnel Shaft” (Wikipedia).

The tunnel was originally designed for horse-drawn carriages, but was mainly used by pedestrians and became a tourist attraction. In 1869 it was converted into a railway tunnel for use by the East London line which, since 2010, is part of the London Overground railway network under the ownership of Transport for London.

The excavation was hazardous. The tunnel flooded suddenly on 18th May 1827 after 549 feet (167 m) had been dug. Isambard Kingdom Brunel lowered a diving bell from a boat to repair the hole at the bottom of the river, throwing bags filled with clay into the breach in the tunnel’s roof. Following the repairs and the drainage of the tunnel, he held a banquet inside it. The tunnel flooded again the following year, on 12th January 1828, by which six men died. Isambard was extremely lucky to survive this; the six men had made their way to the main stairwell, as the emergency exit was known to be locked. Isambard instead made for the locked exit. A contractor named Beamish heard him there and broke the door down, and an unconscious Isambard was pulled out and revived. He was sent to Brislington, near Bristol, to recuperate; there he heard about the competition to build what became the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Wikipedia

A little further on we come to Cumberland Wharf, where the Mayflower actually embarked. There is a statue here of a pilgrim and a boy reading a comic (The Sunbeam Weekly) and a dog underneath a gas lamp titled “The Sunbeam Weekly and the Pilgrim’s Pocket” by Peter McLean which has an interesting story. Whilst the boy is from the 1930s the pilgrim is intended to be the ghost of William Bradford. Born in Yorkshire, moved to Nottingham, sailed on the Mayflower, he became the Governor of New Plymouth Colony. He is seen looking on in horror at the changes in the US since 1620. The boy is also carrying:

… a 1620s A to Z of London, a lobster’s claw and a crucifix.  At the boy’s feet are a pair of pliers, a pair of scissors, the head of a hammer, and a paint brush.  The magazine is full of imagery.  Looking over the boy’s arm into the inner pages that he reads, the story of the Mayflower is shown as a graphic comic strip on the left hand page, and on the right there are images of modern America, including the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, American cars, a stage coach, a cowboy, a rodeo rider and his horse and a U.S. soldier.  On the back cover of the magazine are scenes of the pilgrims and Mayflower.

A Rotherhithe Blog

Past Cumberland Wharf, Rotherhithe Road crosses the red Surrey Basin Bascule Bridge, over the entrance to Surrey Commercial Docks. “A bascule bridge is a moveable bridge with a counterweight that continuously balances a span throughout its upward swing to provide clearance for boat traffic” (Wikipedia). Once home to several other large inland docks the area is now developed into residential apartments. The Rotherhithe Tunnel goes under the Thames at this point and the round red-brick building that serves as the access shaft can be seen just before the bridge. The access tunnel however is no longer open to the public. Passing over the bascule bridge comes immediately to the Salt Quay public house. Passing several small inlets between the new developments, there is a view of Limehouse Marina on the north bank where we will be on day 18. As the river takes a sharp bend at Sovereign Crescent, where a converted warehouse now apartments with red windows block the path, we are back on a short diversion along Rotherhithe Road and more dry docks.

Back by the river we pass the Rotherhithe Heritage Museum which sadly is now closed and converted into the Canada House Nursery. There is then a stone obelisk which has no indication of what it is – we are at Pageant’s Wharf, and Pageants Stairs (no apostrophe) and this is known as The Pageant Stairs Obelisk. However…

The master-plan for Canary Wharf Estate – on the Isle of Dogs – was laid out on a symmetrical axis, running through Canary Wharf Tower. If the line of that axis is extended westwards, across the Thames, it passes through the point where the stone obelisk stands. Who had the idea for this unusual marker is not known but since both sides of the river were under the planning control of the LDDC, it would not have been difficult to coordinate the erection of the pillar soon after Canary Wharf Tower was completed (in 1992).

Know your London

Passing an estate, the views of Canary Wharf appears across the river – our destination on Day 18, go past the Blacksmiths Arms and shortly afterwards find yourself having to walk around the new Nelson Dock apartments with a stunning view across the river of the Newfoundland Building a 58 storey residential block on the Isle of Dogs with its own website. Past an anchor on the pavement, there is a small wooded park , Durand’s Wharf Park which 1849 was a timber wharf which closed in the 1970s and the site was cleared. The bollards on the pathway are a reminder of where barges and ships were tied up to unload.

The path then passes the Surrey Docks City Farm a two acre working city farm on the site of an old shipyard (1740-1820) with its own website. It is a city educational site which has a range of small and farm animals and plants. There are cute animal statures outside.

Turning into Odessa Street, past Walker House composed of small apartments we get to the Ship and Whale pub.

Ahead is the Greenland Dock, one of oldest docks and one of the few docks remaining, now turned into a watersport centre with a working lock.

As wed pass the Boundary Stone between Rotherhithe and Deptford marking the boundary between St Mary’s parish, Rotherhithe and St Paul’s parish, Deptford – which is actually Grade II listed. Until 1899 this was also the Kent-Surrey boundary.

We can begin to get a sense of the change about to face us as the path moves from dockland to dockyard. No longer busy docklands, but now an area that has sadly declined. It was once the huge Deptford Dockyard, which was a small fishing village until Henry VIII had the dockyard built in 1513 which became the home of the administration of the Royal Navy. This closed in 1869 but the buildings of the old Navy Victualling Yard, were retained and remained in operation as a naval store depot as The Royal Victoria Victualling Yard which closed in June 1961. The majority of the old Victualling Yard buildings were demolished though some remain with arcades on the ground floor. A large council estate, the Pepys Estate, was built on the site.

From here is the first view of Greenwich ahead in the distance and we pass the recently renovated Dog and Bell pub. There has been a pub on this site for several hundred years. The path goes down the cobbled Sayes Court Street, through the Sayes Court Park and as the path turns right by a new block of flats at Millennium Quay, is a statue of Peter the Great with a dwarf, which was a gift from Russia. “It was installed here in 1998 to commemorate the tercentenary of Peter the Great’s time studying shipbuilding at the Royal Shipyard and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich” (Waymarking.com) Because of thre reputation of thre Royal Dockyard, for a few months in 1698, Peter stayed in the area to study shipbuilding in Deptford dockyards. He stayed in the house of john Evelyn at Sayes Court Park, but trashed the house with numerous parties. “Since it had been William III who had arranged the Tsar’s tenancy, the Treasury covered the £350 9s 6d of property damages incurred from his wild antics” (British Library). The house has now been demolished. The statue overlooks Deptford Creek which is the mouth of the River Ravensbourne, there was at one time a “deep ford” here – from which the town gets its name.

In 1577 plain old Frances Drake set sail from here to became the first Englishman to sail around the world in his ship The Golden Hinde. On his return in 1581, he invited Queen Elizabeth I to dine on board and was knighted for his achievement. Elizabeth decided the Golden Hinde should be preserved and remain in perpetuity at Deptford. It remained here for 100 years, until it rotted and its timbers were reused.

Somewhat later, in 1768, Captain Cook left from Deptford in The Endeavour to explore Australia, returning in 1771. One year later in 1772 he set sail again from here in the sloop Resolution. The Captain Cook Society has a report of this trip.

The group Dire Straits first performed in Deptford.

To get pedestrians cross Deptford Creek is the new £5m Deptford Creek Pedestrian Bridge a swing bridge goes across the creek and rotates to allow passage of boats. There is an academic study of the bridge here. On the far side is the New Capital Quay block of apartments, along the promenade of which is the Oyster Catcher