Southwark in London
Rich in history—some of it rather unsavory—Southwark is the area south of London Bridge, Southwark Bridge, and the grand Millennium Bridge. Whether it is called Southwark,The Borough, or Bankside (an old name that seems to lend itself to the area’s recent gentrification), this area south of the Thames is worth exploring.
A church has stood on the site of Southwark Cathedral for more than 1,000 years. The main structure of the current church was built between 1220 and 1420. A recent restoration of its interior and exterior has Southwark Cathedral looking better than it has in years. (More Southwark Cathedral pictures and history)
While you are in the neighborhood, check out all that remains of Winchester Palace, the 13th Century London pied-à-terre for the Bishop of Winchester. One wall, with its now-glassless Rose Window and three doors leading nowhere, is all that remains of the palace that was destroyed by fire in 1814. You will find the ruins of Winchester Palace at the corner of Clink Street and Storey Street.
Feeling hungry? Borough Market, one of the largest food markets in the world, offers customers a wide selection of gourmet foods, fresh produce, meats, and seafood. Customers should be aware that while the wholesale market is open every weekday, the retail market is only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
The Market has been at its current location since the mid 1700s, but the first mention in writing of the then-open-air bazaar dates back to 1276. The current Market buildings were constructed in the 1850s and 1860s; its art deco entrance on Borough High Street was added in the 1930s. Borough Market is just south of Southwark Cathedral.
If you want to sit down with your food, try the George Inn. Here you can eat pub grub while sitting in the only galleried coaching inn left in London. (The inn is now owned by the National Trust.) If you squint and use a bit of imagination, you can picture a horse-drawn coach and see a Dickens character arriving or departing—Dickens mentioned the George in Little Dorrit. When the weather is nice, the courtyard is the place to eat your steak and kidney pie or toad-in-the-hole. Are your kids getting out of hand? Just throw them in the Clink — the Clink Prison Museum, that is.
Clink Street Prison Museum
Located on the site of the original prison on Clink Street (now you know why the street name become a synonym for “jail”), the museum gives visitors an idea of prison accommodations during the Clink’s 600-year history. Before the Clink burned down in 1780, it served as a lodging place for heretics (both Catholic and Protestant-depending on the times), prostitutes, thieves, and debtors. The wax figures and the taped screams may be a bit cheesy, but children of a certain age will enjoy it. Leave your Miranda rights at the door.
Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde
Another attraction that may appeal to the younger set floats on the River Thames at a Southwark berth. Sir Francis Drake was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, voyaging in the Golden Hinde between 1577 and 1580. Queen Elizabeth I, who had help to fund the trip, knighted Drake in 1581—the gold, jewels, and other plunder that he had taken from the Spanish provided a great return on her investment. Children may enjoy exploring the full-size replica of the Golden Hinde (whose crew is in period dress) and imagining the dangers and adventures that Drake and his crew experienced.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
The Thames forms the boundary between Southwark and the City of London, and going back hundreds of years, Southwark was outside the jurisdiction of London authorities. Free from the City’s many restrictions, it became London’s entertainment as well as red-light district. During Elizabethan times, Southwark’s bull- and bear-baiting arenas drew large crowds, and playhouses dotted the area. The Globe, where many of William Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, was among them. In 1997, a faithful replica of the Globe re-opened not far from its original site.
Do you adore Abstract? Swoon over Surreal? Would Picasso, Magritte, Dalí, and Warhol be your perfect dinner guests? Then the Tate Modern is for you. Housed in the former Bankside Power Station (itself a modern architectural wonder designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott II), the Tate Modern displays Britain’s national collection of modern (i.e., since 1900) art.
Admission to the Tate Modern is free, although the museum may charge for entry to special exhibitions.