London Bridge is Sprawling Round! A morning spent exploring the London Bridge area.
My train purred into London Bridge Station and everyone clustered by the door, trying to be the first to press the OPEN button and show what great leaders they are for two seconds!
One man once leaned over me to press it. He obviously thought I wasn’t capable of understanding a flashing yellow light with OPEN engraved on it!
Walk through the glass doors in front of you after the barriers and gaze upwards at The Shard. But strangely, you have to go down the escalators to find the entrance.
It’s either a stunning symmetrical structure, or a big glass lump, depending on which angle you view it from. I think the best angle is from outside St Thomas’ Hospital, especially when the sky is clear, or early at night when the lights start to come on.
I was invited on a tour of it before it opened. It’s well worth a visit. And my advice is, don’t pre-book unless you’re sure of the weather. It might be better to pay a bit more and go on a clear day, rather than wasting your money.
Turn right and walk down the road with the hospital on your left and you’ll come to Borough Market. You won’t find any bargains there, but it’s interesting to browse round it.
There’s a wide variety of food, from Italian olive oil, a selection of fudges, cakes, unusual vegetables, fresh fish, cheeses, and lots of hot food that you can sit in the renovated area and eat.
It might take you a while to attract the attention of the bored stallholders, who ignore all the tourists who are just passing through, but you’ll eventually succeed in interrupting their conversations if you persevere.
Next to the market is Southwark Cathedral. It was built at what was the only entrance to the City of London for many centuries.
Built in 606, it was a Convent, a Monasterium in 1086, a Priory in1106, a Parish church in 1540, and finally it became a Cathedral in 1905. This was possible because it had a Cathedra, the Bishop’s Seat there.
The Refectory Restaurant has a good selection of drinks and meals, and a large outside area for when the weather’s warm enough.
From the Cathedral, walk towards the Thames. (The direction depends on which door you come out of.) It’s only two minutes away.
Directly in front of you will be the Golden Hinde, Sir Francis Drake’s ship.
Originally called The Pelican, it set sail for South America, where it was renamed The Golden Hind, in honour of a friend of Drake’s, whose emblem was a golden hind.
Briefly, the ship left Plymouth on the 13th December, 1577 and returned on the 26th December, 1580, having circumnavigated the world, and relieved the Spanish of £600,000-worth of gold and jewels, worth £25 million in today’s money.
It made Queen Elizabeth I very rich, freed The Crown of debt, and was twice the cost of the Spanish Armada of 1580.
The Queen immediately knighted Sir Francis, and had lunch with him on his ship.
I wonder if our Queen Elizabeth would do that to me if I became a pirate and paid off all our debts?
Next to the ship, right beside the Thames, is the Old Thameside Inn.
It was a spice warehouse in the 1800s, until it was turned into one of a group of pubs owned by William Nicholson around 1873.
Nicholson was born into a family who owned a gin distillery. He was a Liberal MP, then he changed to the Conservatives. He was also a keen cricketer, and lent the MCC the money to buy the Lord’s ground and build a pavilion.
www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk have remained loyal to the Nicholson ideal, with cask ales from specialist breweries, freshly-cooked food, character buildings and a warm welcome.
There is plenty of seating outside, by the Thames, overlooking the London skyline, including the Gherkin.
Out of the pub, turn right into Pickfords Wharf and you’ll see the remains of Winchester Palace on the left.
Built in 1136 and finished in 1144 for the Bishop of Winchester, the brother of King Stephen and grandson of William the Conqueror, the surrounding area was full of, among other things, lots of brothels. The Bishops took rent from them and the prostitutes were known as Winchester Geese. Don’t ask me why!
In the 17th Century the palace was split into tenements and warehouses, and it finally burnt down in 1814.
Almost next door is the Clink Prison Museum, built on the site of the old prison which was part of the Winchester Palace lands. It lasted from 1144-1780, when it was burnt down and all its prisoners released.
As you walk towards it you’ll hear the recording of agonised shrieks and groans echoing up the stairs.
It’s said that it was called Clink after the sound of the chains being fitted. Or it could be a Danish word for latch.
Of course, since the days of the Clink prison, the expression ‘in the clink’ came to mean being a prisoner in any prison.
I decided to save that visit for another day as I’m sure that it may take some time.
Pickfords Wharf was now called Clink Street.
I walked under the railway arches and turned right. Facing me was the Anchor pub, which is possibly the 2nd oldest pub in London. Samuel Pepys watched London burn from here in 1666. But a decade later, the pub burnt down!
(It seems that there have been a lot of fires in the area!)
There are many arguments about which is London’s oldest pub because a lot of them were built on top of much older buildings, and most of them have been rebuilt or renovated at least once.
Stepping out of The Anchor, I turned right and walked along Park Street.
Vinopolis is on the left. It gives wine tours and rooms can be booked for parties and meetings. Again it’s a very old building, under The Arches, and the property is owned by the Railway.
Out of Vinopolis, and continuing up Park Street, is Neal’s Yard Dairy. I was now back near Borough Market.
Neal’s Yard Dairy buys a selection of cheeses from around 70 British farms.
A lot of the cheeses are matured in their maturing rooms, in the Victorian arches.
The cream cheeses are turned regularly until they have matured enough.
They have between 70 and 80 cheeses available to sample and buy.
Turn left and opposite Borough Market again is Monmouth Coffee Company.
The building used to be a brewery.
They started importing and roasting coffee in 1978 in Covent Garden, then almost 30 years later they moved to Borough Market, and finally in2007 they took over premises in Maltby Street, Bermondsey.
The coffee beans are sourced from farms, estates and co-operatives in different countries, imported while green and roasted in two huge Italian roasters by five specially-trained staff.
Over six tons a week are sold in their shop!
Lucy the supervisor recommended a Finca El Trapiche Viejo from Colombia, and I sat round the huge wooden table and sipped it. It was freshly-ground for me and unlike a lot of commercial coffees in the UK it didn’t leave a bitter after-taste.
On the table was a basket of chunks of French bread and a selection of jams. You pay for a plate, then you can eat as much as you like.
Finishing my coffee, I turned left and on the left was Laithwaite’s Wine.
Started in 1969, and still owned by Tony Laithwaite, they source wines from all over the world. All their wines are grown and bottled by the producers.
It’s worth going in the shop just to admire the décor. Again, it’s in one of the magnificent railway arches. And you’ll get a personal, professional service to help you choose the wine that you want.
After all my walking, I was feeling hungry and my feet were beginning to complain. So I walked to the other side of the station and, after meeting my friend, I had a lovely lunch in Tito’s Peruvian Restaurant.
I had seen a lot of London’s history just in one block. I wonder what I’ll discover the next time that I visit the Capital to explore?