SOUTHWARK: A borough in London (Part 1)

London is here

London; the capital city of the Great Britain. As a frequent visitor to this part of the country, I thought I would describe an area about which I have dawdled many-a-time; Southwark (pronounced by those familiar with those parts as Suvuck).

Located on the South Bank of the River Thames, it was first mentioned as Sudweca in the Doomsday Book in 1086 (not sure if one can get hold of the Kindle edition), Southwark meaning “Surrey Folk’s Fort”, dates from the ninth century where it was formed as a defensive position by King Alfred, although the actual location was briefly occupied by the Romans a few centuries prior. These days the Borough defends against marauders & ruffians approaching from the City/Tower Hamlets in the north, Lambeth in the west, Lewisham in the east & Bromley in the south.

But when it comes to touristic eye-candy though, Southwark boasts possibly one of the most iconic tourist attractions in the country – no, not Wote Street Willy, but Tower Bridge. This Grade-I listed structure opened in 1894, is a 240 metre combined bascule/suspension bridge that spans the mighty River Thames. (BTW Bascules are the flaps (no schoolboy titters from the common riff-raff, if you please) that raise to allow tall vessels to pass underneath). I won’t waffle too much about the facts & figures as 1) that is what the font of all knowledge (Google) is for, 2) facts & figures tend to make my eyes glaze over & 3) I really would like to get on with my dawdle.

Right follow me, I know the way….

From the southern end of Tower Bridge, I joined the aggregation & headed down the steps which are located slap-bang in the middle of the pavement on Tower Bridge (If you emerge at the Tower of London I do believe that you are the wrong side). Exiting onto a pavemented open expanse, I proceeded forward in a westly direction passing in front of a small open area that was surrounded by modern, glass-fronted buildings. One structure in particular caught my attention for it was shaped like a giant glass helmet. This bulbous building (City Hall), was designed by Sir Norman Foster & has been previously described as ‘an onion’, ‘a misshapen egg’, ‘a woodlouse’ & ‘a glass testicle’.

Skirting cautiously around ‘the gonad’, I spied (I say spied, in reality one could hardly miss it) before me a former Royal Navy relic from the second world war in the form of HMS Belfast – a Town-class, light cruiser warship. Having been fortunate enough to explore all the nooks & crannies on a previous jolly, I won’t witter-on too much except to say that she is well worth a visit, especially if you have inquisitive offspring.

HMS Belfast

Just the merest stones throw away from HMS Belfast is a former wharf turned shopping centre called Hay’s Galleria, which besides containing all the typical opulence associated with a galleria, also houses a rather impressive centrepiece, known as ‘The Navigators’. This wonderful kinetic (movable to my military brethren) sculpture, made by the sculptor David Kemp in 1986, pays homage to the bygone Victorian era combining ‘gothic fantasy, sea monsters, man & machine’. Jolly clever if you ask me & totally steampunk long before the word steampunk was even conceived by some check-shirted, bearded, tattooed, craft-ale drinking twentysomething (I do hope I haven’t gone overboard with the stereotyping..)

Back on the rivers edge, I followed the concourse further upstream venturing in front, or possibly behind London Bridge Hospital, passing under London Bridge, which thankfully at that time, wasn’t falling down. A hundred or so metres beyond this I happened upon a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, The Golden Hinde (not The Golden Behinde as the son of dawdler named it), & like a nimble-toed ninja I tip-toed around the crowds who were busily observing crows-nests, masts & rigging, to dally-off into Clink Street. Now if you are not from round these here parts, ‘The Clink’ is a generic term for an establishment where you would detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. “ee’s arf to the clink guv’na” as that famous Londoner Dick van Dyke would say. But located below the swinging gibbet (complete with skeletal remains), in the depths of Clink Street is the remnants of the real, genuine, original ‘Clink’ – which is now a museum. Diminutive but darned interesting if you intend to visit.

Oh, by the way, just before the Clink museum is Winchester Palace, or rather the ruins of it. This former medieval townhouse of the Bishops of Winchester was rediscovered in the 19th century following a fire.

Passing under the railway arches, I headed in a starboard direction passing some modern eateries & a nice looking pub musing to myself what the 15th century Clink gaolers would of preferred to eat – “Oi Sid, what ya fancy for tea tonight – Wagamama’s or Nando’s?” asked the guard to his colleague as they washed congealed human blood & entrails from their hands….

Continuing in a westerly direction I once again followed the river, passing through the underpass of Southwark Bridge. But withstanding the usual malodourous tones associated with such places, I paused momentarily to observe the slate artworks inscribed with scenes & words discussing the ‘frost fair‘ – periods in history when the River Thames froze over & much fun & merriment was had as a result. Given the current state of the planet I am not sure that London will witness another Frost Fair anytime soon though.

The next place of interest on the waters edge is The Globe theatre – the circular building made famous by William Shakespeare. Being not of a thespian nature I stood, I observed & I then skedaddled onwards, although something of interest did catch my eye just beyond; Cardinal Cap Alley – the entrance to a former house of ill-repute, so named after the headwear that the Bishop of Winchester adorned after he was cardinalized. (Yes, cardinalized is an actual word as I have just Googled it & I can neither confirm nor deny whether the recently appointed cardinal actually frequented the said knocking shop).

Location of former knocking shop

By this time I was now in need of some liquid refreshment & waning with dawdling enthusiasm due to avoiding the crowds, so like a dog with a scent, I made haste past the former power-station turned trendy Tate Modern art place & metallic Millennium footbridge (forever remembered as the ‘wibbly-wobbly bridge’ due its pendulous swinging movement when it was first constructed), towards the Founders Arms public house.

And it is here that I will pause this dawdle, whilst I rehydrate my body, mind & spirit with a pint or two of fine English ale, & maybe a burger & chips.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s