Does what it says on the tin this one, so it’s a long south to north and narrow east to west. So much so that I’ve had to divide the route map in two; starting off with this one which takes us from the Elephant & Castle as far as Mint Street Park which lies about halfway along Southwark Bridge Road.
Our journey north from the E & C begins along Newington Causeway then takes a right into Rockingham Street before continuing north up Tiverton Street as far as Newington Gardens. This small park sits on the site of the former Horsemonger Lane Gaol which closed in 1878. The poet and reformer, Leigh Hunt, had been one of the “guests” of the gaol, detained for writing disrespectfully of George IV. In 1849, Charles Dickens (of whom much more later), came here to witness a public execution and was so appalled he wrote to The Times in favour of their abolition.
Avonmouth Street takes us away from the park back to Newington Causeway where we turn back southward briefly before cutting sharply north again down Newington Court which runs alongside the railway arches. On the way we pass the Institute of Optometry which started life in 1922 as the London Refraction Hospital – refraction in this context basically just meaning eye test – the world’s first specialist eye clinic. The current name was only adopted in 1988. On the other side of the road is the Southwark Playhouse which has been one of London’s leading studio theatres for the last 25 years.
Newington Court houses the entrance to the Ministry of Sound nightclub which took over the disused bus garage behind the arches back in 1991. One of the first of the so-called superclubs of the nineties and one of the few remaining, MoS still attracts around 300,000 clubbers a year to its three weekly sessions and has fought off several threats of closure due to the development of the surrounding area.
At the far end of the arches we emerge onto Borough Road and turn east. On our right we pass the home of the London School of Musical Theatre, a faux-Gothic style building dating from 1906. The LSMT moved here in 2000 having previously been at the Old Vic then Her Majesty’s Theatre. Like the MoS they have also had to ride out local redevelopment plans.
At the junction of Borough Road and Newington Causeway is a sadly crumbling example of a classic 1960’s petrol station forecourt canopy….
… right opposite the Inner London Crown Court located in the Sessions House opened in 1917.
Crossing onto the north side of Borough Road we take Stone’s End Street up to Great Suffolk Street then turn west as far as Southwark Bridge Road where we dip back southward in order to check off Collinson Street and Scovell Road. We resume the northward trajectory from Great Suffolk Street up Sudrey Street which is blessed with one of the four rows of cottages in this area built around 1887 at the instigation of social reformer Octavia Hill (1838 – 1912). Octavia, who later went on to co-found the National Trust in 1895, arranged for the cottages to be built on land owned by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners following her appointment to manage their portfolio of inner city properties.
At the end of Sudrey Street we turn right onto Lant Street then right again round Bittern Street. A 1904 warehouse on the corner here is now home to the Listening Books charity
And round the next corner, heading north again on Touliman Street, stands the Charles Dickens primary school, appropriately bordered on one side by Pickwick Street.
Next we turn back along Lant Street before taking the dog-leg Trundle Street round to Weller Street. Then a combination of Mint Street and Caleb Street drops us onto Marshalsea Road. An obvious further Dickens connection here though the debtors’ prison that held his father was actually sited on what is now Borough High Street. Circling round Mint Street Park we arrive at another Dickens’ reminder in the form of Quilp Street – Quilp being the vicious and stunted villain from The Old Curiosity Shop.
Before we get to the second leg of today’s journey there’s a previously unvisited stretch of Southwark Bridge Road to go up and down. This includes the old Southwark Fire Station a Grade II listed Gothic Revival building of 1878 (further developed in 1911).
And adjacent to the north, Winchester House, originally built as a workhouse in the late 18th century and later converted into a hat factory and private residences. At the same time as the fire station was being built next door this was acquired by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade to serve as its HQ, which it did up until the 1930’s. In 2018 planning approval was granted for a redevelopment to create a new secondary school that would incorporate both the Fire Station and Winchester House buildings.
Stage 2 kicks off on the other side of the Borough Welsh Congregational Chapel where Doyce Street makes a short run into Great Guilford Street.
Once on Great Guilford Street you’re greeted with this warning (nicely juxtaposed with the Anarchist symbol I thought) which is supposedly an Edwardian injunction against public urination.
We follow Great Guildford Street down to Union Street which then takes us west as far as Pepper Street which runs back south to Copperfield Street (Dickens again of course). On the south side of the street are some more of Octavia Hill’s cottages, Winchester Cottages, with a pleasingly Dickensian aspect to them.
And on the north side is All Hallows Church originally erected in 1879-80 in the Victorian Gothic style as interpreted by George Gilbert Scott Junior (1839 – 1897) but almost completely destroyed in the Blitz. Fragments of the building remain, including two stone archways and a chapel, all incorporated into a rebuilding of the north aisle of the church in 1957. This was closed in 1971. The remainder of the bombsite rubble was restored to create an award-winning walled garden with lawns, flower beds and shrubbery.
We take the next turn on the left as you go west which is Sawyer Street. This connects us with Loman Street on which we continue west back to Great Suffolk Street and are pleased to discover en route a Victorian warehouse yet to succumb to demolition or redevelopment. The warehouse is a grade II listed building and dates from the 1850s or 1860s. It has had many occupants over the decades, including Spicer Bros paper merchants in the late 19th century and more recently a group of squatters.
From here we loop back to Union Street via the western section of Copperfield Street and Risborough Street. Heading back east we stop off briefly at the Jerwood Space. The Jerwood which opened in 1998 was the first major capital project of the Jerwood Foundation. The Jerwood Foundation was established in 1977 for the international businessman and philanthropist John Jerwood (1918 – 1991). Jerwood moved to Japan after the Second World War and established what became one of the largest cultured pearl dealerships in the world. The Jerwood is an important dance and theatre rehearsal space and includes a gallery which hosts the prestigious annual Jerwood drawing prize. It also has a pretty good café.
At the eastern end of Union Street we rejoin Great Guildford Street and resume our northward trajectory. Before reaching Southwark Street we call in on America Street and Wardens Grove. The latter runs along the side of the Metal Box Factory which is a development of office and studio spaces in the building where the tins for Peek Freans biscuits were once made (and was nothing to do with the Metal Box Company as I originally assumed).
From Southwark Street, going west, we branch off down Lavington Street then take a left into Ewer Street which starts out running southward then turns west alongside the railway. The final arch before you get back onto Great Suffolk Street is the current home of The Ring boxing club which as we noted in the last post started life in a twelve-sided former chapel of prayer that stood on the site now occupied by Southwark tube station.
We continue to the west on another stretch of Union Street then make a circuit of Nelson Square before going north on Gambe Street. Scoresby Street takes us west again onto Blackfriars Road from where we switch back east via Dolben Street, Brinton Walk, Nicholson Street and Chancel Street. At the end of all this we arrive at no.45 Dolben Street which hosts a blue plaque marking this as the site of one of the London homes of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797). Wollstonecraft is best known for the proto-feminist treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) but she was author of many other works including a history of the French Revolution. She was born in Spitalfields but led a peripatetic life before returning to London in 1788 to reside here in Southwark. Her other claim to fame is of course as the mother of Mary Godwin, the creator of Frankenstein. It was a fame she was destined never to experience herself as she died of septicaemia just ten days after giving birth to the future wife of the romantic poet, Percy Bysse Shelley.
From Dolben Street we take a left into Bear Lane then cut through Treveris Street back to Chancel Street which is where the Philarmonia Orchestra are based. The Philharmonia was founded in 1945 by EMI producer Walter Legge but has been self governing since 1964. Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen has been Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor of the Orchestra, which has 80 player-members, since 2008.
At the northern end of Chancel Street we initially turn left onto Burrell Street but then double-back under the railway. At the end of Burrell Street we turn back onto Bear Lane and after a few paces southward switch east down Price’s Street which runs along the rear side of the Kirkaldy Testing Museum. David Kirkaldy (1820 – 1897) set up the Testing Works at 99 Southwark Street in 1874 to house the hydraulic tensile test machine which he had patented ten years earlier and had built at his own expense by the Leeds firm of Greenwood & Batley. The machine is 47 feet 7 inches (14.50 m) long and weighs some 116 tons and could theoretically test the strength of metal parts up to 450 tons in weight. The museum, which was established in 1983, is only open on the first Sunday of each month. The building (including the machine) has a Grade II listing.
The eastern end of Price’s Street emerges onto yet another section of Great Suffolk Street. Turning south we call in on Farnham Place before revisiting Lavington Street which deposits us back on Southwark Street. As we head all the way back to Blackfriars Road we pass the Blue Fin building, completed in 2008 and so-named because its façade incorporates 2,000 vertical fins of varying blue colours to provide solar shading for the offices inside. It has been included in a Daily Telegraph list of London’s ugliest buildings but then that’s the Telegraph for you. I have visited the roof terrace in the past but it’s not generally accessible to the public. In any event its views have been largely rendered redundant by the Tate Modern extension (see below).
Once on Blackfriars Road we head down to the river and along the Thames Path under Blackfriars Railway Bridge before leaving the riverside to take Hopton Street back to Southwark Street.
Hopton Street is home on its west side to what is genuinely one of London’s ugliest buildings. Sampson House was built in the late Seventies as a processing centre for Lloyds Bank but is currently leased to IBM who use it as a data centre. That lease (rent of £8m a year) has a mutual break clause exercisable in June 2018 and as a result its (no doubt slow) deconstruction to pave the way for new apartment blocks has already begun. Whether those blocks will be less of a blight on the skyline remains to be seen (though Sampson House does actually look quite fetching in this photo).
By way of complete contrast, on the other side of Hopton Street are a collection of Grade II listed almshouses built in the 1740’s as homes for poor men of Southwark of good character.
So for the final stretch of today’s tour we head back east on Southwark Street then negotiate Sumner Street and Holland Street to takes us to the entrance to Tate Modern. As pretty much everyone knows, Tate Modern was created out of a redevelopment of the Bankside Power Station which was built here across the river from St Paul’s Cathedral in two phases between 1947 and 1963. The power station was designed by, our old friend, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and consisted of a stunning turbine hall, 35 metres high and 152 metres long, with the boiler house alongside it and a single central chimney. However by 1981 the facility was no longer in service apart from a single London Electricity sub-station and in 1994 the Tate trustees selected this as their preferred site for a separate new gallery focusing on modern and contemporary art. Swiss architects, Herzog and De Meuron were appointed to oversee the conversion of the building.
Since it opened in May 2000 Tate Modern has become one of the UK’s top three tourist attractions and welcomed more than 40 million visitors. That electricity substation (now under the control of EDF Energy) continued to occupy the southern third of the building but the western half of this holding was released to the Tate in 2006 and plans were put in place to build a tower extension over the old oil storage tanks. The ten-storey 65m high Switch Tower was opened to the public in June 2016. The design, again by Herzog & de Meuron, has been controversial. It was originally designed with a glass stepped pyramid, but this was amended to incorporate a sloping façade in brick latticework (to match the original power-station building) despite planning consent to the original design having been previously granted by the supervising authority. In May 2017 the Switch House was formally renamed the Blavatnik Building, after Anglo-Ukrainian billionaire Sir Leonard Blavatnik, in recognition of his “substantial contribution” towards the £260m cost of the extension.
For once the timing of my visit was fortuitous as the museum is currently playing host to one of my favourite ever things, Christian Marclay’s epic work The Clock. 24-hours long, the installation is a montage of thousands of film and television images of clocks, edited together so they show the actual time. During several years of rigorous and painstaking research and production, Marclay collected together excerpts from well-known and lesser-known films including thrillers, westerns and science fiction which he then edited so that they flow in real time. If you’ve never seen any of it I would urge you to do so; you have until 20 January 2019.