Southwark Bridge, London

A recently completed restoration of Southwark Bridge, London has drawn new attention to the grace, history and charm of this nearly 200 year old thoroughfare.

Southwark Bridge was built over a site favored by boatmen to ferry passengers across the Thames River. Original stone steps to the moorings still exist on the river’s south bank. The ambitious triple arched design of the bridge features a 240 foot central arch, the longest cast iron span ever made when the bridge opened in 1819.
Southwark Bridge is mentioned in several Dickens novels, including Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit. In hard times, its steps have served as a sleeping spot for the unfortunate. Over the years, its roadbed has been re-designed for use by trams and, later, for autos. Today, bicycle lanes and pedestrian walkways flank the roadway on both sides.

The low level of traffic on the bridge, along with its ornate lamp posts, freshly painted balustrades and sweeping views, make it perfect for sightseers. Also popular is a vaulted brick pedestrian walkway beneath the south end of the bridge. A sculpted frieze decorating the walkway honors the frost fairs of the Little Ice Age centuries ago, when the Thames sometimes froze thick enough to support skaters.

Pausing at the center of the bridge offers visitors a panorama of London history. Upstream, to the west, visitors can see the wing-like balustrades of the Millennium Bridge. Downstream lies London Bridge and, beyond it, the iconic Tower Bridge.

On land, the north bank shows off London’s modern business blocks. The culture-rich south bank holds a number of landmarks. The cone-shaped 95-story Shard, London’s tallest building can be seen from the bridge, as well as the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales were married.

While the north bank is primarily devoted to office buildings, the south bank has many public attractions near the bridge. A short walk west is Shakespeare’s Globe, a convincing reproduction of the first Globe theater. Located just a few hundred feet from the site of the original, it features live performances. A few more blocks west lies one of London’s premier art galleries, the Tate Modern.

East of Southwark Bridge is the Clink Prison Museum, built on the site of the original 1144 structure. Nearby, at Pickford’s Wharf, visitors can tour a full-sized reproduction of the Golden Hinde, the galleon Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world in twice, in 1577 and 1580.


Speak Your Mind