800 years in 800 metres

One of my favourite parts of London is Bankside, the riverside route between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge. The 800 metres between the Tate Modern and the eastern end of Clink Street hold a quirky mix of buildings in various architectural styles covering 800 years.

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Clink Street under the railway

Listed residential chic

51 Bankside is a terraced house built in the early 1700s. In the 1950s the Southwark Cathedral authorities bought numbers 50 and 51 from the neighbouring Bankside Power Station (see below) and knocked them through, making a single 5-bedroom home that became the Provost’s Lodging. The cathedral’s Director of Music lived next door at number 52. Numbers 51 and 52 went on the market in 2011 for a total of £7.5 million. The buildings are clearly still functional (although the door frames are by now quaintly lopsided), and since they’re listed they will luckily never be cleared to make way for a characterless block of luxury apartments.

Industrial art deco

Next to these houses sits the former Bankside Power Station and current Tate Modern. Improvement works on the current building supervised by architect Giles Gilbert Scott began in 1947, although an earlier coal-fired power station on the same site dated from 1891. Giles had previously worked on Battersea Power Station, as you can tell; and his younger brother Adrian designed my old school chapel!

Apparently when the power station was being redesigned by Giles, there was some concern that it would draw attention away from the magnificence of St Paul’s (see below) just across the river. I think that the structure does have some art deco merit, its strong blocky shapes and vertical line motifs reminding me of Miami’s South Beach or the Empire State Building; but it’s certainly not in danger of eclipsing the cathedral.

Elizabethan artisanry

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The original Globe Theatre was built in 1599, and Shakespeare was one of the 6 original shareholders. The theatre was built reusing timber from a previous theatre located in Shoreditch, which had to be moved as, after its lease expired, the landlord claimed that the theatre belonged to him. The Globe was rebuilt once after a fire in 1613, but was later closed down due to Puritan influence in 1642, along with many other theatres. The current Shakespeare’s Globe, finished in 1997, was designed to be a historically accurate reconstruction of the original, made entirely of English oak (no steel), with a thatched roof and Elizabethan joinery. The original theatre is a couple of hundred metres inland now, but was riverside at the time; the Thames has since thinned.

Baroque magnificence

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The present Cathedral, the masterpiece of Britain’s most famous architect Sir Christopher Wren, is at least the fourth to have stood on the site. It was built between 1675 and 1710, after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, and services began in 1697.

This was the first Cathedral to be built after the English Reformation in the sixteenth-century, when Henry VIII removed the Church of England from the jurisdiction of the Pope and the Crown took control of the life of the church. – Source

Just across the river and within view of the Globe, St Paul’s was first founded in 604, 200 years after the withdrawal of Roman rule from Britain. Different incarnations of the cathedral were ‘resurrected’ a few times in the centuries following due to fires and Vikings, and a more permanent Gothic structure was first begun in 1087.

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The crumbling of religious certainty resulting from the ping-ponging between Catholicism and Protestantism set off by Henry VIII found a symbolic correlation in various natural disasters and other delapidations that affected the Gothic cathedral, from deliberate destruction of Catholic iconography to a lightning strike and finally the Great Fire of London. 

Sir Christopher Wren’s most famous structure, the existing building, was begun in 1675 and was finished 33 years later.

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I defer to Wikipedia for the Baroque definition. To my eyes, it’s a bit more similar to something neo-classical like La Madeleine in Paris (re: columns rather than shape) than the Church of Gesu’ in Rome.

Millennial marvels

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The one pedestrian-only bridge in London, the Millennium Bridge opened in 2000 but had to be reworked for two years afterwards, after unexpected lateral movement earned it the ‘Wobbly Bridge’ nickname. The ‘blade of light’ design, which was blitzed by Death Eaters in the 6th Harry Potter film, takes you from just outside the Tate Modern in a straight line to St Paul’s on the northern side.

It’s unclear whether this sketch, from one of the architects’ websites, is from the design planning or post-construction.

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Babelic ambition

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To the east of St Paul’s, the tops of the City skyscrapers can be seen. I don’t find any of them as interesting as, for example, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa or Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands; barring the Gherkin with its curves, spirals and diamonds, they are all a bit blocky for my taste.

Palatial ruins

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The principal survivors of the 12th-century Winchester Palace are one wall of the Great Hall and its rose window. The palace is so named because at the time the Southwark area belonged to Winchester Diocese, and the surrounding area was under the Bishop of Winchester’s jurisdiction (rather than that of the county of Surrey). This area was known as the Liberty of the Clink (hence the present-day Clink Street and Clink Prison museum). As such, certain things were permitted here where they were not elsewhere – such as brothels and theatres like the Globe. The palace was built by Henry Blois, Bishop of Winchester who was treasurer to the king, his brother Stephen.

Seafaring style

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A few steps from the palace and closer to London Bridge than the other attractions, the Golden Hinde II is a reconstruction of the vessel Francis Drake sailed around the world in from 1577-1580, although there were no drawings of the original ship to base it upon. The ship is fully functional, and has sailed from the UK to San Francisco, across the Pacific to Japan, and to Canada, before settling on Bankside in 1996. The original Golden Hind was exhibited in Deptford after a visit from Queen Elizabeth on successful completion of Drake’s voyage, until it rotted.

And when you’re done with your walk through history you can pay for a bespoke typewritten poem and then sit down with the ghost of Samuel Pepys in the 800-year-old Anchor tavern.

 

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