Thursday, 25 February 2010

Crossings of the River Thames 27: Southwark Bridge

February is a hilarious month in the life of Charles Michel Duke. At 28 days, the month passes by pretty quickly, and if you are not careful spring will burst into view before you know it! And always, I seem to be rushing around in February, attempting to make the year start with a bang. Of course, 2010 has started no differently from '09 or '08, in the sense that this is a very last minute visit to the riverside. Is this a worrying omen, or should I just get on with the bridge?

Southwark Bridge. Understated, currently covered in scaffold and one of the least used crossings in London. You would be hard pressed to find a traffic jam here. I am also willing to bet that many Londoners do not even know of its presence. And I really like it. It is a kooky crossing, evidence that despite the fact you are in the heart of Europe's biggest city, quirks will appear from every corner. First of all, let us see how under-utilised it is.

All right, there are roadworks on the crossing, but still, this is the middle of the city! And that is Southwark Bridge (Queen Street) joining Upper Thames Street. Note, where the traffic is NOT going, across the river.

There is good reason for this. Firstly, it is one of the newer bridges across the Thames, the original going up in 1819 with the current structure built in 1921. But more importantly, it is the bridge to nowhere. The northern approach is currently pedestrianised, but even before the erection of the Ring of Steel, it only led as far as the Guildhall. The southern approach is no better, being the most awkward way to cross the Thames from the Elephant (see map here). Of course, the inconvenience to cars makes this a great place for cyclists and films!

I mentioned that I liked Southwark Bridge. Well, it is pretty, delightfully so. You see, Blackfriars is huge, the Millenium Bridge, while a beautiful piece of engineering is, well, a bit grey, and London Bridge also has the same awful colour scheme. Secondly, because it is not busy, it is a relatively calm oasis in the middle of the city. The traffic is free flowing, when it exists. There are no silly tourists to jostle with and no angry commuters, bitter at wasting another day of their lives in a job they despise. It has an almost 'end of the world feel' to it, such is the peace that can be had on the bridge. Plus the surrounding streets are fascinating to explore, filled with the history of The City and Southwark. I can feel another blog spot coming up soon on this subject...

Well, it is currently being repaired, but do not worry. As with the other crossings within The City, along with Tower Bridge, it is not a drain on taxpayers, but is instead paid for by the wonderfully archaic City Bridge Trust, a fact that is proudly announced at either end of the bridge. Just in case you're cursing the current works on the bridge itself...

One final note to make about Southwark Bridge, is the artwork under the southern side of the bridge. The Thames Path is particularly gorgeous in central London, and is one of the few times that the southern side of the Thames beats the northern side. As the path snakes under the southern most arch of Southwark Bridge, a set of murals tell the story of ye olde frost fairs that used to line the Thames every winter in days of past, when the weather was much, much colder than now (and the Thames itself did not really flow due to old London Bridge). Great piece of public artwork, that has managed to withstand the worst that Londoners can throw at it. And pretty cool to look at too!

Getting there and away:

The nearest tube/rail station to Southwark Bridge is Cannon Street (District/Circle), which has limited opening hours, but is only a couple of minutes from the north bank. While route 344 is the only bus to cross Southwark Bridge, it does so twenty-four hours a day.


magiceye said...

a lovely post!
that perspective and composition of the bridge is classic!

el director! said...

thanks magiceye - it is an absolutely stunning example of a thames bridge, one of my faves!