Theatre and performance are a tradition along the Southbank. In 1587, The Rose Playhouse opened on Bankside, to rival Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, further along the River Thames to the East. In 1951, The Festival of Britain (pictured) was centred on the newly-built South Bank Centre.
The ‘humanist’ British modernist-style of these buildings was criticised by purists of modernism for the frivolity of the architecture. It is a monument to that era when the welfare state, “from the cradle to the grave”, was understood to include an enriching cultural life for all.
The South Bank Centre is comprised of The Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, Haywood Gallery and Saison Poetry Library, each with a wide-ranging programme. The South Bank arts quarter ranges wider still, from The National Theatre and British Film Institute, situated near the London Eye, via Tate Modern, all the way to The Globe Theatre, by Southwark Bridge.
Stroll East along the Southbank to take in spectacular views of St Paul’s and the old City. This is probably the best way to view the London skyline and River Thames.
Then, at London Bridge, Borough Market unfolds behind Southwark Cathedral, selling abundant fruit and vegetables, bakery, patisserie and artisanal food.
There remains much fascinating London history to be discovered in this area, known as The Borough or Southwark. As long ago as 1109 AD, the Bishop of Winchester built his London residence here, on Clink Street where Winchester House still stands today. It was here, in Tabard Street, that Chaucer’s pilgrims assembled before setting off for Canterbury in the 14thC. AD. Five centuries later, Charles Dicken’s Father spent time in the debtors’ prison, Marshalsea, which informed his novel Little Dorrit.
Today on Clink Street, at Pickford’s Wharf, a replica of The Golden Hinde, Francis Drake’s 100-tonne galleon ship which circumnavigated the world between 1577 and 1580, is an opportunity to sample Tudor-style pottage, participate in a mock battle and learn to fire a cannon.