There are so many things to see in London that you sometimes miss little gems right under your nose. So, when last staying at London Bridge Hotel, I thought I might go for a little morning stroll to see what I might see.
Look left out of the entrance and of course you can’t help but spot Europe’s tallest skyscraper – The Shard London – which, when the public viewing floors (floors 68 – 72 and twice the height of any other viewing gallery in London) open in February, is bound to be as popular as the London Eye. Go onto their website and book up now!
On this occasion however, I am turning left out of the entrance and walking down Borough High Street. Southwark was settled by the Romans around 43CE and the Roman road from Canterbury to London (Watling Street) runs into Borough High Street.
The first plaque I see relates to one of the oldest hospitals in London – St Thomas’ – which as you can see was also the home for the first printing of the St James’ edition of the Bible – more of that later. The hospital was located here from 1225 to 1862 when Florence Nightingale moved it across London a little to Lambeth.
A turning off Borough High Street – St Thomas’ Street – and you visit a remnant of St Thomas – one of the most fascinating museums I have ever been to - The Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garrett.
High up in the old hospital’s attics lay the untouched and forgotten women’s operating theatre from pre-anaesthetic times and a Herb Garrett. Priceless.
Re-discovered in 1956, dusted off and opened as a museum, access is via a spiral staircase. Entrance is around GBP6.00 for adults at the time of writing – cash only.
Opposite, there’s a blue plaque to John Keats, one of Britain’s most interesting poets. Who knew he worked in the garrett when he started to earn a living as a medical student?
Back onto Borough High Street again and walk along a little way and you come to London’s sole remaining galleried coaching inn - The George Inn - which dates to the late 16th century although this building is from around 1670. Accessed via the old coaching entrance, you find a fine old pub where where Shakespeare and Dickens supped and friendly ladies displayed their wares! The rooms where they played now house the restaurant.
Having partaken of a fine repast, let’s keep heading down the road. On the right, you will see these amazing figures stuck to the facade of the Maya House building. What are they all about? We must ask artist Ofra Zimbalista. I just rather like them and call them the Blue Men of Borough.
Near enough opposite however and we come to our next stop.
By Southwark Council offices, here’s a plaque to John Harvard. Did all you Americans know that Harvard University was founded by John Harvard who was born in Southwark? I certainly never put the two together. He sailed to Massachusetts in 1637 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Well if you are a fan of Charles Dickens, you will know that he lived in Southwark and visited his debtor father who was ensconced in the sinister and revolting Marshalsea Prison. Thankfully, this is all that remains of that awful place. It oozes ill will.
Moving on back up the road towards a more fun place now – the famous food market of Borough Market. It’s normally a very busy place and full of delicious temptations – I would certainly recommend coming here hungry to eat! The full market is open Thursdays – Saturday and its open for lunch Mondays – Wednesdays.
Now film fans – do you remember this place? Well only if you watched Bridget Jones’s Diary - it features in the film. Watch it again to see!
Now just walking outside Borough Market – this might give you a hint as to where we are headed for next. Little tip – in the summer, the gardens are a peaceful place to sit and eat your lunch.
There has been a place of worship on the site of Southwark Cathedral for over 1,000 years. It began life around 852 AD and is London’s oldest gothic church, largely rebuilt in 1212. A former Bishop & noted scholar - Bishop Andrewes – was part of the committee that translated the bible for King James I in 1611.
It is one of my favourite cathedrals but please, if you are taking photographs, do pay your dues at the Cathedral Shop – your money helps with the upkeep and it’s a small price to pay to enter such magnificence. Little tip? Come in and listen to the quartets that play there – it’s free and the acoustics are inspirational!
The cathedral used to sit cheek by jowl with houses and lodgings which were cleared for the new London Bridge to be constructed. Talking of London Bridge, this one dates from 1973 as the American Robert P McCulloch bought the old one designed by John Rennie. It now sits in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.
You can see that the supports of the old bridge are still here being used with the new – and it gives an idea of the style and character which I personally think the new version sadly lacks. However it’s the steps that are of interest here. They are known as Nancy’s steps – another Dickens reference to novel Oliver Twist – these are where the foul villain Bill Sykes lays her low.
On that rather sad note, let’s cheer ourselves up by taking a look ground level up the Thames to see life swirling around us and the magnificent Tower Bridge in the background. It’s just a short stroll back to the hotel from here and the welcome oasis of Quarter Bar & Lounge if you need a reviving cocktail … or two.
Contributor & photographer: Sue Lowry
London Bridge Hotel and Quarter Bar & Lounge are clients of Magellan PR. For more information please visit www.londonbridgehotel.com, follow them on twitter: @LondBridgeHotel / @Quarter_Bar or on Facebook: /londonbridgehotel or /quarterbar.
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