On this free London walk around the south bank, explore the famous waterloo, south bank and bankside areas of London, visit one of London’s most popular weekend markets at Borough and see tourist attractions such as Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern art gallery.
There are plenty of opportunities for eating, drinking and resting along the way.
This walk was written and first published in 1997, updated in October, 2006 and again in March, 2014.
The walk starts from Waterloo station and ends at London Bridge station
from Waterloo station concourse, walk past platform 18 and take exit 6 towards the London Eye or London Eye Pier. Go across the footbridge then down the stairs on the left, and turn right when you see the London Eye.
Walk down to the riverside and stop.
Waterloo station was opened in 1848. Little of the original station survives except the roof over platforms 18 – 21, which date from 1885. The current buildings date from 1922.
The main pedestrian entrance arch serves as a memorial to staff killed during world war one, and during the blitz the station was hit 50 times yet it still remained operational throughout. It was the terminal for London’s Eurostar service to the continent until 2008, when the terminal moved to St Pancras in north London.
The current Westminster Bridge was opened in 1862 to replace an earlier bridge dating from 1750. There had been a ford at low tide here since Roman times and many historians believe that the Romans used to wade cross the river near this point. They think the actual crossing point was on the other side of Westminster Bridge, in front of St Thomas’ Hospital. In 1909, the remains of a Roman boat were discovered nearby.
A popular tourist attraction in London, the London Eye is a ferris wheel with large pods, allowing riders to see great views of London.
The wheel was meant to be up and operational in time for the millenium celebrations – unfortunately for technical reasons, it wasn’t open until mid 2000.
County Hall, the large “Edwardian style” building overlooking the Thames near the London Eye, was opened in 1922. Though now housing a hotel, a Dali museum (Dali Universe), the Saatchi Gallery and the London Aquarium, it was the home of London government until 1986.
Did You Know?
The opening of the original Westminster Bridge in 1750 (which provided Londoners with only their second bridge across the river) was controversial as it threatened the livelihoods of the City Corporation and the watermen, who earned their living transporting people across the river in boats.
Money to build the bridge was raised through a public lottery.
pass the London Eye (and Jubilee Gardens) and walk along the riverfront towards Waterloo Bridge. Just before Waterloo Bridge, stop and face the South Bank Centre.
The South Bank Centre
The South Bank Centre was built between 1951 and 1976 by the London County Council for the Festival of Britain in an attempt to revitalise the area. It comprises a number of buildings linked by overhead walkways.
These buildings include the Royal Festival Hall (built on the site of the Red Lion brewery), Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Hayward Gallery and the National Film Theatre. The Royal Festival Hall was the first post-war building to receive a Grade I Listing.
The world renowned National Theatre is also based here. Although many performances charge admission, there are often free exhibitions and events happening in the foyers of the various buildings within the centre.
Did You Know?
This part of the walk follows the Silver Jubilee walkway, which is a circular walking trail extending from Buckingham Palace in the west to the British Library in the north, St Katherine’s Dock (near the Tower of London) in the east and along the south bank. It was originally created in 1977 to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.
continue past the South Bank Centre and under Waterloo Bridge, passing the National Film Theatre and National Theatre. Walk along the riverside until you reach Gabriel’s Wharf, just before the OXO Tower.
Waterloo Bridge, Gabriels Wharf and the OXO Tower
The original bridge on this site was opened in 1817 and was named to commemorate the Duke of Wellington’s famous victory over Bonaparte. The bridge fell into ruin and was closed in 1923 before being re-built, mostly by women (as many men were fighting in Europe), during the war years. It was re-opened in 1945.
London Television Centre, the tall white building you will pass just before Gabriel’s Wharf, is home to London Weekend Television and London Studios, where a number of programmes are filmed.
Gabriel’s Wharf is a crafts market, converted from a number of old garages. It is part of the Coin Street community area.
The OXO Tower was originally built as a power station in the 1900’s to supply electricity to the Post Office, and in the 1920’s it was converted into a meat packing factory. The factory’s most famous products were OXO stock cubes and powder, which you can still buy today.
If you look to the top of the tower you will see the letters O-X-O made out of glass bricks. This was because during the second world war, there was a night-time ban on advertising and the only way the designers could avoid the ban was by including the advertising within the building’s design.
Did You Know?
The area of London you are currently in is called Lambeth. Before the nineteenth century, it was mainly a marshland but during that century it became one of the worst slum areas of London as many of the city’s factory workers took up residence there.
continue past the OXO Tower, and then past Doggett’s pub. Walk through the foot tunnel, passing Blackfriars station, and stop just after the Founders Arms pub on your left.
Doggett’s Pub and Blackfriars Bridge
Doggett’s Coat and Badge Pub is named after the famous Doggett’s Coat and Badge race which runs from Tower Bridge to Chelsea. Started in 1715 and held annually in July, it is the oldest and longest single skulls race in the world. Racers are apprentice Thames Watermen and the prize is still a silk lined coat and badge. The winner is entitled to escort the Queen on the Thames.
Blackfriars Bridge was opened in 1869 by Queen Victoria, who was so unpopular at the time that she was heckled by the crowds at the opening. The bridge replaced an earlier one that was built in 1769. This bridge was originally named after William Pitt, the Tory Prime Minister. However, the title was so unpopular that its name was soon changed to that of the Black Friars, an order of monks that settled in London in 1279.
Parallel to the bridge ran a rail bridge and you can still see the remains of it – the red columns in the river and the insignia of the railway company.
The Founders Arms is so named because it was built on the site of the foundry where all the iron work for St Paul’s was forged.
Did You Know?
During Victorian times, London’s foundries cast everything from locomotives to bridges and machine tools. However, their main focus was on the production of domestic and architectural items such as pavement lights and street furniture.
Look around as you wander along and you are likely to see evidence of their work.
Just past the Founders Arms pub, you will see the Tate Modern gallery ahead of you, and a footbridge crossing the river. Walk along to the Tate Modern and stop.
The Tate Modern opened in May 2000 in the old Bankside Power Station, which was built in 1963 and generated power until 1981. Gas and electricity had actually been generated on or near the site for over a century – it provided the first public supply of electricity for the City of London.
It is the UK’s largest museum of modern art and its permanent collection includes works by Picasso, Warhol and Dali. Admission is free except to special exhibitions.
You can also catch a boat from here to visit its sister gallery, Tate Britain, on Millbank.
The Millennium Bridge, the first new footbridge to be built across the Thames for over 100 years, crosses the river in front of the Tate Modern. This footbridge became known locally as the “Wobbly Bridge” when it was first opened in May 2000 as it was closed again a few weeks later due to its instability.
It finally opened again in March 2002.
Did You Know?
From this point on, you are now in the oldest borough of London, Southwark. Southwark was settled by the Romans on the south side of London Bridge and from the Middle Ages it attracted the “undesirables”, those who were not welcome in the City (across the river).
The area along the riverfront is known as Bankside, which was London’s “Red Light District” during medieval times. It was the location for medieval brothels, tanning shops, Elizabethan and Jacobean bear and bull rings and theatres, notably Shakespeare’s Globe. During these times, the area stank of open sewers and outbreaks of plague were very common.
Southwark was the home of many people whose names you are likely to recognise from history including Dickens, Chaucer, Keats, Thomas Beckett, Charles Babbage and Michael Faraday.
continue past the Tate Modern and soon you will see an alleyway on your right called Cardinal Cap Alley. Continue past the alleyway to the Globe Theatre, stopping in front of the iron gates.
Cardinal Cap Alley and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Cardinal Cap Alley dates from 1360 and marks the beginning of the area where most of Bankside’s medieval brothels were. The alley once led to an inn and brothel named the Cardinal’s Hat. No. 49, known as Cardinal Wharf, is the oldest house on Bankside. Though there is a plaque on the building proclaiming the fact that Wren lived here when rebuilding St Pauls, this seems unlikely as the building dates from the 18th century.
Largely thanks to the efforts of the American filmmaker, Sam Wanamaker, the new Globe theatre was opened to the public in 1997. It has been re-built as close as possible to the original theatre’s design, from the thatched roof to the wooden bench seating.
The original Globe Theatre was built not far from this site, in 1598. Shakespeare and his fellow actors brought it over from the other side of the Thames (Shoreditch) in pieces and reassembled it on bankside since land rent was cheaper.
Many of Shakespeare’s most famous plays were performed in the original theatre on bankside, including Julius Caesar (believed to be the first play performed here), Henry V, Hamlet and Macbeth. The plays attracted lively audiences and Elizabeth I was often amongst them.
In 1613, during a performance of Henry VIII, the theatre’s thatch caught fire during the firing of a real cannon. The theatre burnt down within half an hour and was re-built the following year. In the 1640’s it was finally closed down and demolished by the Puritans.
The iron gates which lead into the theatre’s grounds contain sculptures of many animals from Shakespeare’s various plays.
Did You Know?
The team behind the new Globe intended to build a replica of the original theatre on its original site. However, when determining its location, historians mistakenly failed to allow for changes in the riverbank when they compared maps of the area in Shakespeare’s times to the modern maps they were using.
continue past the Globe Theatre until you reach the second turning on your right, called Bear Gardens. It is a small alleyway between two restaurants. Stop at the corner, facing the peculiar looking seat embedded into the wall of the restaurant opposite you.
Ferryman’s Seat and Bear Gardens
The stone seat embedded into the wall of the Riverside House offices in Bear Gardens is called a “wherryman’s” seat.
These seats were once common sights along the Thames and were the resting places for the Thames boatmen, who waited to ferry theatregoers home in their passenger boats or “wherries”. This one is believed to be the only remaining example left in London.
About half way down Bear Gardens, on the left, stood the Davies Amphitheatre, the last bear-baiting pit on Bankside.
Bear-baiting was popular in Tudor times and was a more profitable occupation than running a theatre. This bear-baiting pit was banned in 1642 and sadly all the bears were destroyed.
Did You Know?
Given the large number of inns and brothels in Bankside during its heyday, it was important to be able to distinguish one type of venue from another. In order to do so, inns had their signs hanging at right angles to the street, whereas brothels had their signs painted flat on each house front.
walk along Bear Gardens to the junction of Park Street. At Park Street, turn left, passing the site of the Rose Theatre on your left.
walk under Southwark Bridge, and almost immediately you should see the Financial Times building on your left. Stop in front of the apartments directly opposite the Financial Times building.
Sites of The Original Rose and Globe Theatres
Southwark Bridge was originally built in 1819 and re-built in 1921.
The Rose Theatre, the first of the Bankside theatres, was built in 1587 above an old rose garden. From 1592, the Rose became very popular and many acting companies performed on its stage, including Lord Strange’s Men (probably including Shakespeare as an actor) from 1592 to 1593. The theatre’s leading actor was Edward Alleyn, the founder of Dulwich College in south London.
During the plague of 1593 in which nearly 11,000 Londoners died, the Rose closed down for a time and the theatre was finally abandoned in 1605 when its lease ran out. However, in 1989 the remains of the building were discovered and you are able to see them as part of a small exhibition on the site.
The foundations of the original Globe Theatre are preserved under a small block of apartments called Old Theatre Court, opposite the Financial Times building.
They were only discovered in 1989 and although you can’t see them, you can read about what life was like in the area during Shakespeare’s day and about his theatre.
Did You Know?
To protect historic sites for future generations, they may be “scheduled”.
English Heritage takes the lead in identifying sites in England which should be placed on the schedule.
A schedule has been kept by the Government since 1882 and if a site is listed on it, its preservation is given priority over other land uses.
There are over 200 ‘classes’ of monuments on the schedule, and they range from prehistoric standing stones and burial mounds, through the many types of medieval sites – castles, monasteries, abandoned farmsteads and villages – to the more recent results of human activity, such as collieries and wartime pillboxes.
continue along Park Street. Stop at the end, next to the Anchor Tavern.
Park Street was originally called Maiden Lane because it was a red light area at the time it was created.
The Anchor Tavern was built in 1775 on the site of a much older inn from which Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London across the river. The first of the Bishop’s licensed brothels, Le Castell upon the Hoop, also stood on this site and the four iron posts in front of the tavern mark the medieval boundary of the Bishop’s domain.
One of the final scenes in Mission Impossible (the movie with Tom Cruise) was filmed here.
Cannon Street railway bridge was built in 1863 to carry the South Eastern Railway across the river.
Vinopolis, opened in 1999 opposite the Anchor Tavern, celebrates the world’s major wine producing regions. It is located only 100 metres from the remains of a Roman wine store that was created over 2,000 years ago.
Did You Know?
Six of London’s bridges can be seen from the Anchor Tavern.
Between Southwark Bridge and the Cannon Street railway bridge, the riverboat “Marchioness” was hit by a dredger in August, 1989. The boat sank within 2 minutes and 51 people drowned. There is a memorial in Southwark Cathedral to those who died.
go under the railway bridge (along Clink Street), passing the Clink Prison exhibition, and stop in front of the remains of Winchester Palace on your right.
Winchester Palace and the Clink Prison
Winchester Palace was the London home of the bishops of Winchester from the 1140s until 1626. The Bishop owned most of the land in Bankside and licensed the area’s brothels in 1161 as the area was outside the control of the City of London (the prostitutes were known as Winchester Geese.) The only remaining part of the palace is the Rose Window.
First mentioned in 1509, the Clink prison began as a small prison attached to the palace and was used merely to maintain order in the Bishop’s brothels. It existed as a prison until 1745 and was destroyed in 1780, to be replaced by Victorian warehouses.
However, it soon became useful for other purposes. During the early years, religious prisoners were held in it prior to being burnt at the stake or hanged and during later years it became a debtor’s prison. Prisoners were not fed by the wardens while in jail : they had to beg passers-by for food.
The prison lay partly below the level of the Thames and between the river and a sewer, and conditions were therefore particularly bad, especially during high tide. You can tour the Clink museum and see examples of crime and punishment, though nothing of the original prison remains.
St Mary Overie Wharf, a small creek which commemorates the earlier name of the nearby Cathedral, is possibly the tideway mentioned in the Domesday Book, where ships moored.
At Pickford’s Wharf, the ship you see ahead of you in dry dock is a replica of the Golden Hinde, Sir Francis Drake’s famous ship that took him on his voyage around the world in 1577 – 1580.
Did You Know?
The word “clink” may derive from the Middle English word, “clinken”, meaning “lock”. The Clink prison was so notoriously harsh that it led to the term “the clink” becoming slang for prisons in general.
continue to the end of Clink Street, passing the Golden Hinde on your left. When you reach a path, turn left, and go into the grounds of Southwark Cathedral (through the gate opposite Borough Market and Winchester Walk.)
There has been a church on the site of Southwark Cathedral for over one thousand years and the current building is the oldest building in Southwark.
The original church was founded by St Swithun in 860 and in the twelfth century it was known as the Church of St Mary Overie (“Overie” meaning “over the water”). Inside the church there are two rounded Norman arches that survived the fire of 1213.
In 1616, when most of London’s theatres were in its vicinity, the then chaplain denounced those who “dishonour God by penning and acting in plays”. Ironically, William Shakespeare’s brother, Edmund, who was an actor, is buried in the church. And there is a statue of Shakespeare alongside a tablet dedicated to Sam Wanamaker, founder of the present Globe theatre.
The church became a Cathedral in 1905.
Until 1729, London Bridge (next to the Cathedral) was the only bridge over the river. The original bridge was built by the Romans as a bridge of boats and this was replaced by various wooden bridges that were in use until 1176, when a stone bridge was built on the site.
The stone bridge was in use for over 600 years and became one of the wonders of the medieval world as it spanned what was at the time a fierce tidal river. The bridge had houses (up to seven floors high), shops and a church on it, similar to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.
The stone bridge was replaced in 1831 by a granite bridge as it was becoming a hazard to boats navigating the river. This bridge was in turn replaced by the present, less spectacular bridge which was opened in 1973, and the granite bridge was reconstructed in Arizona, USA. (Legend has it that the Americans who bought it thought it wasTower Bridge.)
Did You Know?
During medieval times, the decapitated heads of “traitors”, including in 1305, the head of Braveheart (William Wallace) were displayed on spikes on the gates at either end of London Bridge.
And John Harvard (after whom Harvard College in Boston, America, was founded) was christened in Southwark Cathedral in 1607 and lived in Southwark until he emigrated to America in 1637. His father was a butcher in Borough High Street.
exit the grounds of Southwark Cathedral from the same gate you entered, and turn left, then walk through Borough Market (along Cathedral Street).
Borough market was established on its current site in 1754 by an Act of Parliament, but historians believe that there has been a market in this area since pre-Roman times. Records from 1014 list the market as selling fish, grain and cattle, as well as fruit and vegetables, and attracting traders from all over Europe.
These days the market still focuses on the sale of wholesale fruit and vegetables and is busiest between 2am and 9am each morning as hoteliers and greengrocers buy their goods from traders. However, there is now also a popular gourmet food market open to the public, selling fresh produce including fish, meats, vegetables, ciders, cheeses, breads, coffees, cakes and patisseries.
The public market is open most days, from morning to evening, and is a popular place to eat.
Did You Know?
Borough Market is called “London’s Larder” because at the height of the Victorian era most of the food imported to London arrived nearby (on ships and by train) and was traded here.
The market has its own “police force”, the Beadles, who until the 1930s used to have powers of arrest and put offenders in the cells under the market (recently re-discovered).
continue through the market to Borough High Street.
At the junction of Cathedral Street and Borough High Street, cross the road and turn right. Walk along Borough High Street and stop at the junction with Southwark Street.
Borough High Street and the Hop Exchange
Borough High Street lies on the site of a Roman road, dissecting an area which became an important medieval borough. This area has the longest known history of any part of London apart from the City (on the other side of the river).
As you wander along it, look for the typically narrow, cobblestone medieval alleys running off the high street between narrow houses. For centuries, this area was the last resting point for travellers heading across London Bridge to the City and so, as you might expect, it was lined with inns.
“The Borough”, as it is traditionally known, was the first borough in London, apart from the City, to send representatives to Parliament. They sent their first member there in 1295.
Look down Southwark Street to the blue-fronted building just after the Southwark Tavern. This is the Hop Exchange, one of London’s few surviving Victorian exchanges. It was established in Southwark in 1866. The building had a glass roof so that hops could be examined under natural light.
Did You Know?
Southwark Fair was held every September from 1462 in and around Borough High Street near St George’s Church. It was a colourful occasion filled with dancing monkeys, weight lifters, street artists and circus performers.
However, as no large open spaces existed, booths and shows were held in the surrounding streets, courts and inn-yards, leading to complaints from local shopkeepers. These complaints, together with the rising levels of petty crime and prostitution, eventually caused the fair to be closed in 1763.
continue along Borough High Street, passing the George Inn on your left. Cross Borough High Street again at the next set of traffic lights then continue on for a few metres, turning right along Union Street.
Continue along Union street and turn right at Redcross Way. Stop half way down, on the right, near a steel fence with ribbons tied to it.
The George Inn and Cross Bones Graveyard
The George Inn, in George Inn Yard off Borough High Street, is London’s only surviving galleried coaching inn. The present building, though only a section of the original, dates from 1676.
Before the Globe opened in 1599, plays were performed in the courtyard and it is believed that Shakespeare himself performed from the back of a cart here. It was re-built after a fire in 1676.
Talbot Yard was the location of one of the most famous inns on Borough High Street, called the Tabard Inn, which stood here until destroyed by fire in 1676. This was the inn where Chaucer’s pilgrims gathered at the beginning of the Canterbury Tales and it was the inn keeper who suggested that each pilgrim told a story in order to pass the time on their journey. In the seventeenth century, the name of the inn was changed to the Talbot.
Cross Bones graveyard was the final resting place for many of Bankside’s medieval prostitutes, commonly known as “Winchester Geese”. The site itself has now become a shrine to the poor of London.
Stow, in his Survey of London in 1603, describes the burial site as being appointed to single women forbidden the rites of the church so long as they continued a sinful life. However, by Victorian times, when the area was stricken by poverty and disease, the site was used as a pauper’s burial ground.
Archaeological digs for the Jubilee Line extension uncovered evidence of a highly overcrowded graveyard with bodies piled on top of each other, and tests have shown that many of the bodies are of women and children with diseases ranging from smallpox and TB to vitamin D deficiency.
The graveyard was finally closed in 1853 on the grounds that it was ‘completely overcharged with dead’ and that further burials were ‘inconsistent with a due regard for the public health and public decency’.
Did You Know?
retrace your route back to Borough High Street, turn right, cross over the road and continue until you reach St George the Martyr Church, opposite Borough station
“Little Dorritt’s” Church
St George the Martyr Church, built in 1122 and re-built in 1736, is known locally as “Little Dorritt’s Church” as it features in Charles Dickens’ novel, Little Dorritt.
Born in nearby Marshalsea Prison, the fictional Little Dorritt sleeps in the church when she is locked out of it one night. It is also where she is married at the end of the novel.
Did You Know?
In addition to the Clink prison on Bankside, there were once three other prisons on Borough High Street, located in the area on your left between Newcomen Street and St George’s church. The original site of Marshalsea prison, which opened in the fourteenth century and closed in 1849, is on Mermaid Court, immediately on your left after you cross Newcomen Street.
Marshalsea is probably the best known of the three as it was where Dickens’ father was imprisoned for 3 months in 1824 for debt. While he was in prison, his wife and Dickens’ younger siblings also lived with him. Dickens himself lived in nearby Lant Street and so was able to join them for meals.
Today, nothing remains of the King’s Bench and White Lion prisons and only one wall of Marshalsea prison can still be seen (in St George’s Churchyard Gardens.)
Turn left along Tabard Street (the road just before the church) and enter St George’s Churchyard Gardens, to see the remains of Marshalsea prison. Walk through the grounds, turn right and follow the path. Turn right again at the end, and walk along Tennis Street, then turn left along Long Lane.
Turn left at Crosby Row, and follow it along the side of Guys’ Hospital to St Thomas Street. Turn left and stop in front of the Old Operating Theatre.
Guys’ Hospital and the Old Operating Theatre
Two of London’s major hospitals, St Thomas’ and Guy’s, originated in St Thomas Street. St Thomas’ Hospital was founded here in the thirteenth century, before being moved to its present location opposite the Houses of Parliament at Westminster in 1865 to make room for the railway station at London Bridge.
Nothing remains of the old hospital except a Georgian doorway(opposite Keats House and between two small courtyards fronting onto the road) and the old operating theatre, at 9a St Thomas Street.
Visit the old operating theatre and you will see one of London’s most bizarre secrets : the only surviving 19th century surgical theatre (in use from 1821 to 1862), complete with wooden operating table, blood box and tiered stands where spectators watched surgery being performed without anaesthetic .
Guys’ Hospital was built here in 1721. It is named after Thomas Guy, a wealthy publisher and printer who left a large endowment to help establish it. Its famous medical students include John Keats, the poet, who lived at 28 St Thomas Street, and Richard Bright and Thomas Addison, both remembered for the diseases they diagnosed.
Did You Know?
The first complete English Bible produced in England has on its title page “Imprinted in Southwark at St Thomas’ Hospital”. It was printed in 1537 and was dedicated to Henry VIII.
you have now completed this walk …… I hope you enjoyed it
continue to the end of St Thomas Street and turn left to London Bridge station
Or from this point, you could turn right at St Thomas Street, cross London Bridge and turn right at Monument Street to begin the city walk from Monument tube station.