Dave the Taxi Driver's


Guide to London

London Eye

Sunday on the South Bank…..and Bankside

….or on any day for that matter. But at weekends, especially on a sunny Sunday afternoon, the South Bank is so full of life it resembles a bustling seaside resort, whereas it is in fact London’s Riverside resort, slap bang in the centre of town.  Yes, it is very crowded, all the way from its beginning at Westminster Bridge, from where the South Bank Lion stares majestically in to the beyond, all the way to the other end of Bankside near Tower Bridge.  Within a few short steps from the Lion you have the London Aquarium. Then comes the enormously popular London Eye with the fantastic views it affords over the whole of London.  There is an array of bridges that you pass as you make your way eastwards, the Golden Jubilee Pedestrian Bridges, Waterloo, Blackfriars (notice the pulpits adorning the bridge, representing the Blackfriars Monastery which stood north of the river), the Millennium Pedestrian Bridge, Southwark, then London Bridge, from where you have a great view of Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast.  Walking on the South Bank will give you fabulous views of the City and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

On the South Bank arty things tend to arrive here and then disappear. Things like a musical square containing pillars which emitted different notes, where you could walk near each pillar and compose your own music, and a square series of fountains which you could stand inside. It is a very artistically fluid area.

Everywhere you go there is something happening. You can sing and you can dance and it doesn’t matter, though people were laughing when I danced the Rumba, maybe I should have had a partner.  Just like in Covent Garden there are street musicians and human statues (some really weird), chalk artists, sandcastle building (providing the tide is out), beach huts, pretend beaches, like the Greek one in 2010, lots of food stalls and restaurants, especially in Gabriel’s Wharf, and near Blackfriars Bridge the fabulous Oxo Tower, an urban skateboard circuit, and of course plenty of shopping such as at Hay’s Galleria which is on Tooley Street, just beyond London Bridge. Close to Tower Bridge is the new Greater London Authority Headquarters. Because of its design it is known as the ‘wobbly jelly’. You can continue to wander eastwards by the river and discover the rich new, or rather the more fitting, ‘nouveau riche’ Shad Thames and adjacent streets. Rebuilt in the 1980s, they transformed the decrepit old wharves and warehouses of centuries ago, and also the property prices. Close by is The Design Museum , or you can cross Tower Bridge here to visit the Tower Bridge Experience and/ or the Tower of London.

The South Bank’s modern beginning was the redevelopment of the area during the Festival of Britain in 1951, and celebrated its 60th birthday in 2011, with lots of exhibitions and events, including Ray Davies. You can have your own Waterloo Sunset from here even if you missed him, because Waterloo Station is just across the road.  Stand on any bridge or anywhere close to the London Eye and there it will be.

Originally, the austere bastion of concrete which became The Southbank Centre was controversial, but it is now synonymous with the exciting world of traditional and contemporary theatre and art.  With creative lighting, the area takes on an ethereal look once the sun has set.  The Southbank Arts Centre includes The Royal Festival Hall, British Film Institute, The National and Cottesloe Theatres, Purcell Room, and the Queen Elizabeth and Hayward Galleries.  Not too far away at the south side of Waterloo Bridge is the circular Imax 3D cinema, and on the corner of Waterloo Road is the famous Old Vic Theatre, with The Young Vic a short distance away along The Cut.

Shakespeare Globe Theatre, LondonThough in my opinion the greatest is The Globe Theatre.  A recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe, it stands not far from the Millennium Bridge, opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral. Prior to the Globe being built, the Rose Theatre was discovered on the south side of Southwark Bridge during building excavations. Its remains are now incorporated into the office block which now stands on the site.

This modern Globe, which was built a short distance from where the original stood, recalls the era when Bankside was a lawless, poverty stricken place, filled with brothels (known as ‘stews’ ), dog fighting, cock fighting and bear pits for baiting. This new ‘civilised’ South Bank, which I am sure we all prefer, puts a sort of historical veneer over the squalid place it used to be. From near The Globe, passing the old, haunted Anchor Tavern, the old brick streets of Bankside change the mood and are closer to the River, winding underneath the railway arches; the dark target of World War 2 bombs.

It was here in Elizabethan times that Theatre arrived. The original ‘theatre’ used to be located north of the river in Shoreditch. It was moved here in the sixteenth century. Theatre in those days was regarded as a den of iniquity. Those involved in what was, in ancient Greek times a highly regarded art form, by sixteenth century England had degenerated into a bawdy world of low life, according to the Aldermen of the City of London. They wanted nothing of the sordid world they understood to be theatre. So the City was kept pure by their decision to remove the ‘theatre’ and rebuild on Bankside, a fitting venue for such a low life pursuit.

If you walk behind the river front from Shakespeare’s Globe you will see the site of the infamous Clink Prison, the Clink Museum and the ancient Winchester Hall, the domain of The Bishops of Winchester, who despite our presumed reverence to the Church, were the local administrators of the local brothels, or to put it another way, the pimps! Farther on is the Golden Hind, Sir Francis Drake’s Ship and Southwark Cathedral, which in one form or another has stood there since the 8th century. The close by Borough Market is a great place to shop and eat on Friday and Saturday. Some of the scenes from Harry Potter were filmed here.

Just off Borough High Street is the oldest surviving coaching inn in London, The George. Both Shakespeare and Charles Dickens frequented this area. Some of the local streets echo the names of Dickensian literary characters , such as Mr.Quilp from The Old Curiosity Shop. In fact the father of Charles Dickens was imprisoned in the Marshalsea Prison for a time. The Tabard Inn was the starting point for the Pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  There are many interesting, historical guided walks of these old mysterious streets and graveyards  that you can take, with tales of the ghoulish skulduggery from times past, which I really recommend.

So, if we leave The George and turn right onto Borough High Street, as we stand looking north towards London Bridge and at the glass bastions of capitalism which dominate the skyline, we are actually standing on the spot where, two thousand years ago, the Romans first settled.  Rather than being satisfied to wallow in what was always a marshy, mosquito infested area, and eyeing the tempting, better defendable hills of Cornhill and Ludgate Hill across the River, the Romans decided to build a bridge, the first London Bridge. And so the story began of The City of London.

Tube: Waterloo (National Rail), Westminster, Southwark, London Bridge (National Rail)

Dave the London Taxi Driver on HolidayMy name is David Bromiley. I have been a Licensed London Taxi Driver for many years having passed the famous ‘Knowledge of London’ back in 1984.  As many will already know, the ‘Knowledge’ is the strictest testing system for prospective taxi drivers in the world. As I am an Official London Guide it will be my pleasure to escort you on private tours of  London, during which you can ask as many questions as you like and stop to take photographs wherever you want to. There are various aspects of London life that can be incorporated into a tour with a particular theme. Whatever you would like to do just contact me at my email address below. I hope to meet you soon. brommers1@ntlworld.com

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