Sights and Ships in Southwark

Our Quirky Camden blog seems to have started a ball rolling. It’s been suggested that we could look at the attractions around our other stores. We thought about focussing our attention on what’s quirky – but that wouldn’t be fair as our locations have such different characters.

So for Southwark – where our attention is turning next – it seems only fitting that we take a gander at the myriad of tourist attractions that one of London’s oldest most established Borough’s has to offer – if you need to take time-out from your storage unit.  Southwark goes back a long way. Which means it has a lot of history and is at a point on the River Thames where many routes converge. So it’s become something of a hotbed for historical places and culture, the kind of place that oozes London history from the corner of every building.

So let’s start with the headline places…

Towering Attractions

The Tower of London

Not strictly in Southwark (it’s Tower Hamlet’s) The Tower of London is one of the world’s most recognisable buildings. It’s just a short walk across Tower Bridge from Southwark’s north facing river bank, and offers a glimpse through the past 1000 years. Created by the Norman’s in the years following their conquest the White Tower (the oldest part of the complex) was built in 1078 – just 12 years after the famous Battle of Hastings.

The Tower has seen many famous ‘residents’ over its 1000 year history – none more so than the ‘Princes in the Tower’ the two sons of Edward IV who were incarcerated there, before mysteriously disappearing in a mystery that endures to this day. It is also home to the Crown Jewels, which it is believed have been secured in the tower since midd 11th Century. Find out more about visiting the Tower on the attraction’s website.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge isn’t as old as you might think. Completed in 1894 it’s a mere youngster compared to the overlooking Castle it was named after. The Victorian Gothic architecture was designed to be in harmony with the Tower of London and the Bridge cost £1,184,000 – equivalent to £120 million today (which actually seems like good value when you consider Wembley Stadium cost £798 Million).

It’s one of the most iconic London landmarks, but there’s a lot more to discover than you can see from Southwark’s bank of the Thames. Not least the Victorian engine rooms – used to house the original steam engines that powered the Bridges raisable roadways. Find out how you can get to see them and more of the inner workings of Tower Bridge on the Tower Bridge Exhibition website.

The Shard

Whilst the Tower of London and Tower Bridge represent the oldest and most iconic of London’s Landmarks, the Shard is one of the newest and perhaps most exciting. First off it’s Western Europe’s tallest building – beating Frankfurt’s Commerzbank by a whopping 50 metres. There’s a viewing platform at the top – so it’s a visitor attraction – but there are also  plenty of Bars and Restaurants on some of the high floors.  Sounding a bit like an Asian phrasebook – you can breakfast pastries in Lang (on the ground floor), try European Asian Fusion food in Ting (floor 35) or enjoy cocktails at Gong on floor 52. Get the full details for everything the glassy skyscraper has to offer on the Shard website.

Ships Ahoy

HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast is moored on the Thames close to London Bridge and accessible from the South Bank – in Southwark Borough. She entered service in 1938 and was one of ten “town class” cruisers. After sitting out the first part of World War two, (she struck a mine and repairs took 2 years) Belfast was a key escort to Arctic Convoys and in the thick of the action during the Normandy invasion. She was subsequently deployed to the Pacific as the war ended and then saw action in the Korean war. A refit later, Belfast was finally retired to the reserve fleet in 1963 and due to be scrapped in 1967. A petition and campaign to preserve her saw the creation of the HMS Belfast Trust which gained ownership in 1971.

As a branch of the Imperial War Museum since 1978 and receives over 250,000 visitors per year. If you’re interested in the workings of a WWII naval warship and what life was like for the sailors protecting arctic convoys then there isn’t any experience that will beat a visit to HMS Belfast. Find out more on the Imperial War Museum section on their website.

The Golden Hind Replica

When Sir Francis Drake set off to circumnavigate the globe in 1577, he couldn’t have known just how significant his journey would be. His little Galleon – The Golden Hind – was around 100ft long (no original plans exist) and was one of the world’s first examples of museum ship (she was put on display in Deptford – but after 100 years as an exhibit eventually rotted away).

In 1973 an accurate oceangoing replica was built. After sailing more than 140,000 miles over three decades this boat – Golden Hind II was retired to St Marie Overie Dock on the Southbank. She’s open as an attraction if you’d like to sample life as a 16th Century maritime explorer.


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