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The current London Bridge dates to 1970s and is a functional, efficient construction that links The City to Southwark (near to Southwark Cathedral and the Monument) and replaced a Victorian bridge that lasted for 140 years until it was sold to an Arizona oil magnate.
The most famous of the London Bridges - the one that quite possibly the song referred to - was the stone one built in the end of the 12th century by Peter de Colechurch. That one consisted of 19 small arches and included a drawbridge, but it was particularly well known for tall houses that were built on it (to raise revenue). These, despite causing a lot of problems and contributing to several disasters (including fires and collapses) were not removed until 1756, where reason won and the buildings were demolished and some narrow arches were replaced by a wider one to facilitate navigation.
The modern bridge is pretty unremarkable, really, without being ugly (though bridges rarely are, or is it just me?). I crossed it numerous times during the afternoon rush hour when City commuters walk across to the London Bridge station; though I walked in the opposite direction as I worked in south-east London and lived in Islington on the City borders. It is correctly classified here on Trivago as a lookout, and indeed it does make a good viewpoint. All central London bridges do, actually, and one of the joys of walking along and across the Thames is the changing panorama of the river and the city that spreads on both banks.
From London Bridge, looking downstream, you see the London Pool and get a great view of that London icon, the Tower Bridge, with HMS Belfast moored on the southern side. From certain points you also get a view of the futuristic City Hall, behind the Belfast.
Looking upstream, you can see the Southwark Bridge, Cannon Street station towers, the dome of St Paul's and, on the south bank, the towers of the Southwark Cathedral and the Bankside power station (now Tate Modern).
The southern end of the Bridge is flanked on one side by the rather ridiculous cathedral of management (formerly PriceWaterhouseCoopers headquarters, but they moved to even swankier quarters at More London), no 1 London Bridge. This will be - quite a good thing, really - eclipsed by the soon-to-open Shard London Bridge, 304m high glass-clad skyscraper that will feature a highest UK observation deck and look like, well, a shard of glass. I am not quite sure what the deeper cultural significance of this is. The preceding decade gave us the phallic, bullet-like, space-ship like, and - obviously - gherkin-like 30 St Mary Axe which, although faintly ridiculous, in a very self-conscious, post-modern way, still exuded a certain dynamic, focused, thrusting one is tempted to say, energy and hope. This decade, we have a piece of broken glass - also a dynamic, but somewhat painfully so, shape.
Leaving such speculations aside, though, the Shard will be an exciting addition to the London skyline and already gained a landmark status. Its presence will make London Bridge area even more popular among the tourists (currently they seem to be drawn largely by the ludicrous and overpriced wax circus of the London Dungeon: it's probably my age but I will never understand what the attraction of such places is).
Woah there, you scaremongers! London Bridge is not falling down. I’m at least 98% sure that it’s alive and well (allowing for possible catastrophes in the last few hours), so get away from the wireless and back to your Bovril. Yes, I’m back, and I’ve resisted the temptation to review Harry Potter. Y’all know by now that Ron was crap and Draco Malfoy was ace and Hedwig wasn’t named and Dumbledore wasn’t wacky enough. So yeah, I’m NOT going to talk about HP. Welcome to yet another neighbourhood op! Okay fine, so I’m becoming a neighbourhood bore, but look on the bright side. At least I don’t collect ornamental shoes. I don’t know what I’d do without London Bridge. My train from home would have nowhere to terminate for a start, and I would be forced to alight on a grassy knoll or similar, which is not a practical interchange for Westminster by anybody’s standards. Instead each day I am greeted by a beaming Connex ticket inspector and the smell of fresh-baked Whistlestop croissants. Aaah, what could be nicer? So London Bridge: this one’s for you. Actually, there will be comparatively little mention of London Bridge the station in this op, ditto London Bridge the song (yeah, all eight words of it). This is about the bridge (duh) and the district of ‘Borogh [sic] and London Bridge’ (c’mon dooyoo, sort it out). What’s this Borough nonsense? Blank looks all round? Well basically it’s the bit that stops London Bridge being too closely associated with Elephant and Castle, but more on that later. Gosh, I typed ‘London Bridge’ a lot in that paragraph. I’m not bothered, I’m just saying. One last thing about the station: for no discernable reason it is topped with opaque plastic pyramids. Late one Friday night and rather worse for wear, we decided that their only possible use could be to house pyrami
d-shaped monsters, thus keeping them off the streets, thus avoiding terrifying the locals, thus avoiding hysterical screaming outside the Southwark Borough Council offices at all hours of the day and night. If anybody knows the true reason for their existence, or wishes to offer an alternative and equally improbable theory, I’m all ears. Er, apart from my limbs, torso and all the other bits of my body which aren’t ears. Clearly. Okay, the bridge. As obvious as it may sound, London Bridge is not Tower Bridge. It’s a common misconception. London Bridge, in its present form, is a rather unremarkable stretch of concrete that has linked the banks of the Thames since 1973. It has a fairly interesting history – from medieval times to 1750 it was the only way to cross the river without a boat or saddled dolphin – but these days, exciting it ain’t. (The original, by the way, is now in Arizona. Why? I don’t know. I only know it’s in Arizona because it was a question on The Weakest Link yesterday.) Tower Bridge is the one that can be raised to let tall boats (?) through, and has two columns at either side that look like they’re wearing crowns. The one that appears in ‘The World is not Enough’ and on the front cover of any guida turistica a Londra which doesn’t feature beefeaters or red buses. It was opened in 1894 to relieve the traffic congestion on London Bridge and these days you can also take part in the ‘Tower Bridge Experience’ which lets you see its internal construction (stickle bricks, if the rumours are to be believed) and stroll across the beams, which are 140ft above the Thames. The ‘London Bridge Experience’ consists largely of walking, jumping or hopscotching (dastardly spellchecker says that’s not a verb, pah) across the bridge. But at least it’s free. One more thing to say about bridges before I start this op in earnest
(and no, Ernest doesn’t mind, we have an arrangement): the Millennium Bridge on Bankside is the new one for pedestrians only, which links St Paul’s and the Tate Modern. It’s closed at the moment due to ‘synchronous lateral excitation’ – basically when people walk on it, it rocks. As in sways, not like, yeah man, this rocks. Thing is, it was designed and built as a shallow suspension bridge, and then everyone was surprised when it moved about. I mean honestly. Still, you’re not allowed a go until the Wobblemaster’s fixed it, and that’s that. Right, finally...what can you do in London Bridge and the Borough? The Tate Modern is the place most people head for first and I’m not going to argue with that. I’m not going to reel off its various merits to you either, because I’m sure every man and his tortoise has already done so. Whatever you think of modern art (feel free to say your piece in the comments page but be warned I’ve had week-long arguments on this subject), you have to come here just for the building, a massive former power station which has retained its industrial features. There’s an absolutely superb site-specific Juan Munoz piece in the turbine gallery at the moment too which is worth a visit in its own right. And this excursion will cost you zip, zilcho, diddly-squat, so don’t even think about saying you’re washing your hair or bathing the hamster. I’m not interested in your lies. Nearby, and with a rather different vibe, is the London Dungeon. I’ve never been, despite having had 2-for-1 tickets at the bottom of my satchel for a month. My first prejudice against the place is that last summer as I walked past the back door, one of the employees was having a fag in costume and I was caught off-guard and screamed and made a tit of myself. The second is that my brother went when he was twelve – a gore-loving age, I think
– and was completely underwhelmed by the whole experience. Without wanting to be snotty, I don’t see what appeal it’s going to have for me if it don’t float the boat of a first-year kid. And third, all the attractions relate to things that really happened, from the Jack the Ripper murders to the Great Fire of London, and I couldn’t in good conscience pay to be ‘entertained’ by stuff like that. But if you are without conscience it’s on Tooley Street, costs £11.95 to get in and the website address is www.thedungeons.com. Let’s say no more about it. The Globe Theatre. Now there’s something nice to talk about. As with London Bridge, the original structure is long gone. The first Globe was built in 1599 and then closed by a herd of joyless Puritans 43 years later (okay, so what *is* the collective noun for a group of Puritans, smartass?). Thankfully in the seventies, the American actor Sam Wanamaker (you think of the ‘want-to-make-her’ pun, I can’t be bothered) led the campaign for its reconstruction. It was reopened 200 yards down the road by her Madge (the queen, not Madonna) in 1997, and is now one of the highlights of a South Bank walk. They still perform plays in the Shakespearian style there – ie. in the round and outdoors, so make sure you take mittens. Prices range from a fiver (to stand in the yard) to about £30 (for nice comfy seats which have champagne taps in the arms and pleasantly vibrating fingers beneath the fabric – sorry, just kidding). But what if you’re one half of the whitening/protection couple who can’t agree on anything? What if you want to do the tourist circuit and your better half wants to find the nearest boozer? Well, here is a perfect compromise: Vinopolis (City of Wine). Yes, in the urban sprawls of SE1. Go figure. This slightly bizarre attraction has wine tasting halls (the admission price of £11.50 includes fre
e tastes of five different vins), history of wine exhibits (“some of the artefacts date back 4000 years!” – the mind boggles) and four restaurants which promise to serve more wine by the glass than any other eaterie in London. Interestingly, they also have a kids’ admission fee of £5. I wonder if they do school parties too…? So, what about this Borough business then? ‘The Borough’ is one of the oldest bits of the capital, although in Roman times it was not even considered to be a part of London (which is hard to get your head round these days when most of Surrey, Essex, Kent and Hertfordshire seem to come under the ‘Greater London’ umbrella). It’s basically just a long high street which links London Bridge (quite nice) and Elephant and Castle (quite grim, possible op pending), but there’s a surprising amount of stuff there. In days gone by its location just outside the jurisdiction of London seemed to attract criminals on the run, and quickly became renowned for its bawdy taverns. Several such places still exist, although for the most part they’ve lost their ‘bawdy’ reputations – The George Inn is the finest of these. It’s the oldest galleried pub in London (built 1676) and has a huge suntrap of a courtyard which positively encourages you to get heatstroke and alcohol poisoning in the summer months. And not a felon in sight. Southwark Cathedral is the oldest Gothic church in London (completed in C13 after the original church burnt down in 1212). Since then, parts of the cathedral have been variously used as a prison, bakery and pigsty – in fact it won the Cathedral Versatility Prize in the seventies. No of course it didn’t. I just made that up. It’s more of a visitor attraction than a house of prayer these days, as Borough has more commercial than residential buildings, and the accommodation it does provide is in the R
ather Expensive Loft Conversation category. Sigh. I’ll just have to wait until I’m Mayor of London and earning a proper salary. It’d be handy for the GLA offices too. More old stuff: Borough Market is the great-great-great grandad of markets, having been there since 1276. In its heyday (yes, long before Tesco) it was referred to as London’s Larder and was relied upon for essential provisions – these days it’s more of a specialist foodie market. Most of the produce is organic and people come from miles to trade there, most notably a couple from France who bring their cheeses over early every Sunday morning. Bless. It’s also been the set for scenes in Bridget Jones’ Diary and Lock Stock, but guess what? Somebody high up in railways (a man on the station ceiling?) thought it’d be a good idea to knock down the market area and lay an extra railway bridge over the site, to ‘ease congestion at London Bridge’. I have to suffer this congestion on a daily basis and I would still stand in front of bulldozers to stop them destroying the market. I mean come on, it’s been there nearly a thousand years. AND there are a billion places in south-east London that need railways bridges far more than Borough, if they’re just keen to throw another bridge up. Why don’t they put a new station at Camberwell? Or spend the money making sure that the services from Brockley run on time?? Gggrrrrr. If you agree that this is folly and nonsense, pop along to www.save-borough-market-area.org.uk and sign their petition. Go on, please. If I’ve won you over (sucker) and you’ve decided to stay here, there’s a hostel (St Christopher’s Inn) on the high street which charges a very reasonable £70 per week (in a room with 10-12 beds – it goes up slightly for smaller dorms). It’s attached to a Belushi’s bar, which is decked out in bright blue (surprise surp
rise) and is full of 50s American memorabilia. It does bargain sandwiches at lunchtime too. Opposite there’s a Slug and Lettuce, and while I hate chain pubs as a rule, this one does cracking nachos; further down the road there are some really nice cafes too. I used to work here by the way, I haven’t spent several weeks researching the local grub in the name of dooyoo review writing. Honest... Well, the sun is sinking and I’m sure you’ve long since finished your Bovril, so let’s call this the end. I’m afraid I can’t think of a witty parting shot – I used up all my falling down gags at the start of the op – so this is just an announcement. FIN.
The Borough and London Bridge area is one of my favourite parts of London. There's so much to see and do here, so many wonderful buildings and tourist attractions, you could have a great day out in London if you stayed in this area alone. How to get there : Borough and London Bridge underground stations are literally about three minutes apart, so it doesn't really matter which one you alight at. They're both on the Northern line of the tube network. This line doesn't have the best reputation for speed and efficiency but in my experience, this part of the line rarely has severe problems. The area is also well served by buses and easily accessible from other parts of London. Here are some of the best places to visit in the area: Borough Market The Borough market is a gourmet food market situated under the railway arches of Borough station, selling everything from fine wine to exotic teas and coffees, hand made chocolates, gourmet cheeses, organic vegetables, meat, seafood and bread. It's open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and is the perfect place to pick up luscious goodies for a Saturday dinner party. The stallholders are all very friendly and obviously take a great pride in the food they sell, they're happy to discuss how things are made and offer tips on storage and recipes. Among the unusual and delicious things I've tried from here are Venison and cranberry sausages, creamy goats cheese and gigantic Queen olives. It's difficult to tear yourself away from the place once you've paid it a visit! Tate Modern The Tate Modern art gallery is the newest and most controversial modern art gallery in London. It's an interesting visit, but not being a fan of modern art, I wouldn't personally go more than once. Entry is free, but once inside you have to pay extra to enter certain exhibitions. I wouldn't bother - there's plenty of free stuff to see,
and after an hour or so of wandering around looking at all the weird stuff on display you'll probably have had enough anyway. There's a restaurant in the building if you're feeling peckish, but it's quite pricey and not all that great. You'd be better off trying one of the many pubs or restaurants in the area - much better value and nicer food. London Dungeon Needs no introduction! Gruesome, grim and great, great fun! Here you can learn about Londons unsavoury past, hear stories about some of the more notorious villains and their fate, and witness the terrible punishments meted out to criminals in times past. Perhaps not suitable for smaller children, but older ones (and adults!) will love it. Clink Prison The Clink Prison is a kind of mini version of the London Dungeon. Located in Clink Street next to London Bridge, it's well worth a visit, and has housed all sorts of villains ranging from priests to prostitutes since it was first built in the 12th century. It shows reconstructions of cell interiors and contains a hands-on display of original and reproduction restraining and torturing devices. Lovely! Vinopolis For wine lovers like myself, you can?t beat a visit to Vinopolis. You can go on an interactive tour of the worlds wine producing regions, see how wine is made and (the best bit!) try up to ten free samples. If you don't want to pay to go on the tour, the wine warehouse is still worth a visit for bargains and rare wines, and there's also an excellent restaurant. Globe Theatre I adore Shakespeare, and a visit to the Globe Theatre is always a treat for me. It saddens me that it took an American (Sam Wanamaker) to have enough love and interest for the great Bard to build this extraordinary monument to him and his plays. Why don't the English have the same sort of appreciation for this literary genius? Anyway, enough of that...
The Globe is a wonderful achievement, a a faithful recreation of Shakespeare's Globe close to its original Bankside, Southwark location. It never fails to amaze me seeing the theatre, and imagining the peasants and lords and ladies making their way there so many years ago...And now we, too, can experience a Shakespeare play the way in the same sort of surroundings where it would originally have been performed! This summer I saw Macbeth at the Globe, an absolutely fantastic production which I returned to see twice, I was so impressed. I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Globe. If you can't make it to an actual play, try the guided tour and the museum, both very interesting. There's also a shop with lots of lovely mementos, and a restaurant, which I haven't actually tried, but the menu looks nice. Hays Galleria This is a very nicely designed shopping centre containing lots of specialist craft and art shops and eateries. A nice place to stop for lunch, or to browse for gifts. There you have it, a guide to my favourite part of London! Do pay the area a visit, it really is lovely and there's so much to do. The borough of Southwark is often ignored in favour of trendier, more upmarket areas, but it's teeming with places of historical interest and has so much to offer. There?s loads that I haven't mentioned - Southwark Cathedral, Tooley street, the Golden Hinde... Have fun exploring!