Day 55 – The Cut – St George’s Circus – London Road – Borough Road – Blackfriars Road

I think it’s fair to say that just about everywhere I’ve visited so far during this project is a places I’ve been to at least once before during the thirty odd years I’ve been resident in the London Metropolitan Area. Today’s foray however took me to some locations that I had genuinely never set eyes on before (and to be honest am unlikely to ever again). We’re taking about the area to the south and east of Waterloo stretching almost as far from the river as the wilds of the Elephant & Castle.

Day 55 Route

For the third and final time we set out from Waterloo Station, taking Sandell Street to the east then hopping over Cornwall Road into Wootton Street. At the end of this we turn right on Greet Street and pay a brief first visit to The Cut before turning left down Hatfields. On reaching the railway track we follow leafy Isabella Street east in front of the parade of restaurants that now occupy the railway arches.

At the far end Joan Street dog legs left past the lumpen monstrosity that is Colombo House, a 1969-built outpost of the BT empire. We follow Joan Street back to Hatfields and then take Meymott Street east onto Blackfriars Road. The building below, 209-215, was refurbished as recently as 2011 but is apparently under threat of demolition as part of Southwark Council’s plans to turn the Blackfriars area into an extension of the City.

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Just before the railway bridge we cut down an alleyway (unofficially known as Falafel Alley due to its being home to a number of Turkish foodstalls) and utilise this and the top section of Joan Street to circumvent Southwark Tube Station in returning to The Cut which we then follow west all the way back to Waterloo Station. First point of interest en route is the Anchor and Hope pub, rebuilt here in 1936. The name, Anchor and Hope, and also its reverse which is more frequently encountered supposedly have a biblical origin, being a reference to a quotation from the Letter to the Hebrews (6: 19), “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope”.

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A short way further up on the same side of the street is the Young Vic theatre. The Young Vic Theatre Company was formed as an offshoot of the Old Vic (in the days when that was the home of the National Theatre) with a remit to produce classic plays for young audiences and also develop more experimental work. Its first Director, Frank Dunlop, oversaw the construction of the theatre building in 1970, taking over a butcher’s shop and extending onto a bomb-site where 54 people sheltering in a bakery had died in WW2. It was intended to last for five years, but has become a permanent venue.
The Young Vic primarily performs classic plays, but often in innovative productions. Many well-known actors have worked here including Ian Charleson, Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Timothy Dalton, Robert Lindsay, Willard White, John Malkovich, Michael Sheen and Arthur Lowe.
The Who performed free weekly concerts at the Young Vic in early 1971 in order to rehearse their  album, Who’s Next. One of these shows was released on the Deluxe edition of the album. Between 2004 and 2006 the old breeze-block building was rebuilt, though the main auditorium was left intact and the butcher’s shop was retained as the main entrance and the box office.

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Just before we get to the end of The Cut we take a quick detour off to the right down the southern-most section of Cornwall Road. Down here are the sleeping quarters for the single-decker 521 and 507 buses which link Waterloo Station with its mainline counterparts at London Bridge and Victoria respectively.

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Back up on The Cut we come to the Old Vic theatre, standing on the corner with Waterloo Road. A theatre was first established here in 1818 and known as the Royal Coburg Theatre. In 1833 it was renamed the Royal Victoria Theatre and in 1871 was rebuilt and reopened as the Royal Victoria Palace. It was then taken over by the philanthropist Emma Cons (1838 – 1912) in 1880 and formally named the Royal Victoria Hall, although by this time it was already known as the “Old Vic”. In 1898, a niece of Cons, Lilian Baylis (1874 – 1937), the force behind Sadler’s Wells, assumed management and began a series of Shakespeare productions from 1914 onward. The building was damaged in 1940 during air raids and it became a Grade II listed building in 1951 after it reopened. As noted in the last post, the Old Vic was the first home of the National Theatre from 1963 up until 1976. In 1982 the theatre was put up for sale through a sealed bid. Canadian entrepreneur Ed Mirvish outbid Andrew Lloyd Webber and spent £2.5 million restoring the building. The facade of the building was based on an 1830 engraving while the auditorium was modelled on the designs of 1871. In 1998 the Mirvish family put the theatre on the market. Suggestions for changing it into a themed pub, a bingo hall or a lap-dancing club provoked widespread outrage and protests, in response to which, it was acquired by The Old Vic Theatre Trust 2000, a registered charity. In 2003 it was announce that the theatre would recommence in-house production (rather than just being a home for visiting productions) with Kevin Spacey appointed as the first Artistic Director of the newly created Old Vic Theatre Company. Spacey’s tenure ended in 2015 and we all know what’s happened subsequently. Following an initial allegation of sexual misconduct against Spacey by actor Anthony Rapp up to 20 employees of the Old Vic have come forward with similar complaints of unwanted advances. To put it mildly, not exactly what the Old Vic would have wanted as it celebrates its 200th anniversary in 2018.

Passing the theatre we cross Waterloo Road into Baylis Road, named after Lilian, and then on the other side of Waterloo Green turn south down Coral Street. At the end we take a right into Pearman Street and, after a quick dip into Frazier Street, follow this down as far as Emery Street which links through to the parallel running Morley Street emerging opposite the former Webber Row School which was built in 1877 at the height of the Victorian era. Grade II listed since 1988 it’s now the Chandlery Business Centre.

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We follow Morley Street into Westminster Bridge Road and turn east as far as Gerridge Street which reconnects with Morley Street via Dibdin Row. Morley Street then takes us back to Waterloo Road from where we close the loop courtesy of Webber Row and Dodson Street.  Having arrived back on Westminster Bridge Road we strike north until we get to the Perspective Building at no. 100 then double back. In its former guise as Century House this was the home of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) aka MI6 from 1964 to 1994.  The Secret Service’s occupation of the building was supposedly classified information but according to the Daily Telegraph it was “London’s worst-kept secret, known only to every taxi driver, tourist guide and KGB agent”. Century House was described as “irredeemably insecure” in a 1985 National Audit Office (NAO) report with security concerns raised in a survey i.e. the building was made largely of glass, and had a petrol station at its base. MI6 moved to Vauxhall Cross in 1994 (if you’ve seen Skyfall you know what an upgrade in security that was).  Century House was refurbished and converted into the residential Perspective Building by Assael Architecture in 2001.

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Returning southward along Westminster Bridge Road we arrive at Morley College, currently under redevelopment. Morley College is one of the main adult education centres in London; it was founded it the 1880’s and currently serves around 11,000 students. The college’s origins lie in the series of “penny lectures” introduced by the aforementioned Emma Cons as part of the programme of the Royal Victoria Hall when she took that over. The success of these led to the founding of the College thanks to an endowment from the MP, Samuel Morley. The College has been long renowned for its Music Department; Gustav Holst was Music Director from 1907 to 1924 and Michael Tippett held the same post from 1940 to 1951.

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Turning the corner by the College we head down King Edward Walk until we reach Lambeth Road and turn left here, continuing on the opposite side of the road from the  grounds of the Imperial War Museum. Inset off the road here is Barkham Terrace which is mainly comprised of the building which now houses the Cambian Churchill mental health rehabilitation hospital. You wouldn’t know this from the outside though – I assumed it was just another residential conversion. The building dates from 1940 when it was opened as the Catholic Hospital of Our Lady of Consolation in Southwark. At the time the Catholic Herald described it as “ a splendid six-storey hospital whose creamy facade brightens the drabness of Lambeth Road”.

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At the junction of Lambeth Road and St George’s Road stands the Roman Catholic St George’s Cathedral, Southwark. St George’s was built in 1848 prompted by the swelling of the local congregation thanks to the influx of Irish immigrants into the area. Four years later it became one of the first four Catholic churches in England and Wales (and the first in London) to be raised to cathedral status since the English Reformation.  It was designed by Augustus Pugin (1812 – 1852), famous for his work with Charles Barry on the design of the rebuilt Houses of Parliament. Pugin was the first person to be married in the church, to his third wife Jane. The Cathedral was extensively damaged by an incendiary bomb during WW2. After the war (the fabulously named) Romilly Craze was commissioned to take charge of the rebuilding and the restored Cathedral was opened in 1958. Since then it has resumed its role as a focal point in the local community and has played host to many notable visitors, including the Dalai Lama (1998) and Pope John Paul II (1982), the latter being depicted in one of the Cathedral’s many fine stained-glass windows.

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After our visit to the church we head south on St George’s Road towards Elephant & Castle. Having passed Notre Dame High School for Girls, founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1855, we turn off to the left down Gladstone Street.

Gladstone Street and its offshoot, Colnbrook Street, are the epitome of the gentrification of this part of south London with their smartly done-up early Victorian terrace properties.
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This is reinforced by today’s pub of the day, the Albert Arms, which sits on the corner of Gladstone Street and Garden Row just across from the converted Ice Cream Factory. The gastro-pub menu isn’t really conducive to light lunchtime eating but it was gone 2.30pm and I was starving so I felt compelled to stump up £6.50 for three very small pulled-pork croquettes. In the Gents they’ve put up a framed poster of that lady tennis player scratching her bare bottom – I assume this is hipster irony.

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Having finished the aforementioned croquettes (and half a lager) I venture out onto London Road and take a northward turn, past several far more suitable eating spots, up to St George’s Circus. This nexus of five main arterial roads was created in 1771 as the first purpose-built traffic junction in London. Initially the middle of the roundabout was adorned by an obelisk with four oil lamps affixed to it but in 1905 this was relocated to in front of the Imperial War Museum and was replaced by a new clocktower. However by the 1930’s the clocktower was deemed a “nuisance to traffic” and was demolished. It took until the late 1990s before the obelisk was returned to its original location, now without the oil lamps. At the base of the obelisk is the inscription Erected in XI year of the reign of King George MDCCLXXI, with the inscriptions on the other three sides reflecting the obelisk’s one-mile distance from Palace Yard, London Bridge and Fleet Street.

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Crossing over the Circus we continue north up Blackfriars Road for some distance before turning off west along Webber Street which is on the far side of another of the Peabody Estates we’ve become familiar with.

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We’re heading back down towards the Old Vic now, criss-crossing between Webber Street and Waterloo Road by way of Webber Row, Baron’s Place and Gray Street. Just before we reach the theatre we take a sharp right onto Mitre Street and then navigate our way back to Blackfriars Road via Short Street and Ufford Street. At no.176 Blackfriars Road is the rather splendid (former) Sons of Temperance Friendly Society Building. The Order of the Sons of Temperance (SOT) was established in New York in 1842 as a teetotalist friendly society, with the dual aim of sustaining its members in a teetotal way of life, and of providing them with a modicum of financial security in case of ill-health, and their families with an insurance payment in the event of their death. The organisation, conceived on Masonic principles with lodges, insignia and rituals, overseen by a Supreme Patriarch, soon spread to other US states and to several Canadian provinces, and had amassed 100,000 members by 1847. The first UK lodges were established in Liverpool and other northern cities in the late 1840s, and in 1853 a National Division of Great Britain was formed. Within this were numerous Grand Divisions, the largest of which, based in London but with branches as far afield as Ipswich and Reading, commissioned the building of 176, Blackfriars Road as its headquarters in 1909-10 with Arthur Charles Russell as architect. The SOT only moved out in 2011 two years after which the building, now occupied by an architect’s practice, was Grade II listed.

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From here on there’s still a lot of streets to cover though not much to detain us en route so we’ll crack on. First off we work our way back to St George’s Circus passing through Boundary Row, Chaplin Close, Valentine Place and Webber Street then retracing our steps up Blackfriars Road. We then return to London Road and head off to the east side starting with Thomas Doyle Street, named after the founder of St George’s Cathedral (check the earlier slideshow for his memorial). This is the first of the streets that fall within the triangle created by London Road, Southwark Bridge Road and Borough Road, the others being Rotary Street, Keyworth Street, Ontario Street and Kell Street. Once we’ve tramped round that lot we end up on Borough Street by the entrance to London South Bank University, an institution which started life as the Borough Polytechnic Institute in 1892.

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On the other side of the road is another of the public libraries funded by the Victorian philanthropist (word of the day that) John Passmore Edwards. Most of these were built in the East End (we came across the one in Pitfield Street, Hoxton way back in Day 24). This one dates from 1899 and is currently unoccupied save for the presence of  “guardians” installed by the Camelot vacant property services company so its future is uncertain.

Traversing the area between Borough Road and the eastern stretch of Webber Street to the north takes us, in turn, through Library Street, Milcot Street, King James Street, Lancaster Street, Boyfield Street, Silex Street and Belvedere Buildings. The only thing to draw the eye amongst all that lot is this building, the Peabody Gateway Centre, and even that isn’t interesting enough for anyone to have recorded any information about it.

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Anyway, after all that we find ourselves back on Southwark Bridge Road from where we’re crossing between Webber Street to the south and Pocock Street to the north taking in Great Suffolk Street, Surge Street, Sawyer Street, Glasshill Street, King’s Bench Street and Rushworth Street. Final picture of the day is of Blackfriars Crown Court on Pocock Street which, earlier this year (2108), the Ministry of Justice announced plans to close and sell off. The site is valued at £32m on the Government’s National Asset Register.

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And so the very final leg of today’s marathon takes us from Pocock Street back onto Blackfriars Road and up to Southwark Tube Station. The tube station stands on the site of the Blackfriars Ring boxing arena that was bombed out of existence in 1940. The Ring arena was originally called the Surrey Chapel, built in 1783, until the strange shaped building was bought by former British Lightweight champion Dick Burge in 1910. Together with his wife Bella they staged many boxing matches including well known fighters such as Len Johnson, Jack Drummond, Alf Mancini, Jack Hood and the legendary Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis. This is all commemorated by the Ring public house that stands opposite the station on the other corner of The Cut and Blackfriars Road.

 

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