Bankend, Southwark

Cannon Street Railway Bridge, c1910 (SLife)_134pc_sepia_800x600

Above: View at Bankend looking north at Cannon Street Railway Bridge and Cannon Street Station.

If you walk west from Southwark Cathedral, your route will pass St Mary Overy’s Dock (on your right) before you start walking along Clink Street. After passing the dock you will not see the Thames for several minutes, even though it is only the other side of tall warehouses lining the narrow street. At the western end of Clink Street you will walk under one of the high brick-built arches that carry the railway viaduct running south from Cannon Street Railway Station.

As you turn right, after passing through the arch, you will have arrived at the Anchor Tavern, a famous hostelry on Bankside. If you look at the wall of the pub that is facing you, there is a street name plate with ‘Bankend’ inscribed on it. At this point a grand vista opens up, with views of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral across the Thames.
Today the land between the pub and the riverside is raised and forms a large pub garden which is well patronised at weekends, especially in the summer. It all looks so natural that you might be thinking that it has always been this way. In fact, you would be wrong. In the 1970s the street called Bankside extended from this point west, all the way past the old Bankside Power Station (now in use as Tate Modern) and joined onto Hopton Street.

In those days Bankside passed right beside the Anchor Tavern which had almost no pavement in front of the wall that faces onto the Thames. The street was narrow along its whole length. In front of the Anchor, the north side of the street was lined by a few kerb-stones and a wall, some four of five feet high.

As will be noticed on the map, Cannon Street Railway Bridge has a substantial abutment which juts out into the Thames. People who brought their drinks out of the pub could only cross the road, which had almost no traffic in the evenings or at night, and look over the wall at the Thames. They could only look north at the City or west for a view of the sunset, if it was a sunny evening. Looking east was impossible because the side of the railway bridge abutment prevented any views down-river.

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Above: View taken by a photographer standing on Southwark Bridge, looking east in the 1950s. Notice how narrow Bankside was. Notice secondly the low wall beside the river. Notice thirdly the steam engine pulling a train into Cannon Street Station and the faint outline of the tower of Southwark Cathedral. The Anchor Tavern stands at the end of visible part of the street. Large warehouses lined the street, looking out towards the Thames with cranes unloading goods from lighters sitting on the beach (because the tide is out). Lastly, notice how far the abutment of the railway bridge extends into the Thames from Bankend.

Some time in the late 1970s Bankside was changed considerably. The western part was almost completely removed when Falcon Point, the housing development with the Founder’s Arms pub in front of it, was completed.

At the same time, the eastern part of Bankside was converted into pedestrian access only and the piece in the middle of Bankside became a large grassed-over area in front of the old Bankside Power Station.

In front of the Anchor Tavern, the riverside wall was rebuilt in line with the abutment of Cannon Street Railway Bridge and, for the first time since the railway bridge was built, it was possible to stand and look east as far as Tower Bridge.

All this preamble leads into the point of this article. The interesting photograph at the top, taken in 1910, shows the original ‘state of play’ outside the pub. Having given the explanation, you can see that the abutment is protruding into the Thames and that the photo has just captured a small part of the top of the wall beside Bankside (bottom right) because the photographer was, no doubt, standing beside it taking the view. From the sign on the brickwork, it would appear the a business called ‘R H Moore’ was operating a lighterage company and, indeed, three lighters (or barges) are to be seen moored in front of the camera. The scene was not a particularly interesting one and few people (including myself) would not have bothered waste film on this scene. My memories of this spot only go back to the 1970s and, by this time, there were never any barges moored at this point on the Thames.

What is also interesting about the photo is the view of Cannon Street Railway Bridge, which has hardly changed at all. In the distance is Cannon Street Station, with its arched steel roof which was once fully glazed. During the Second World War the glass was blown out and the steelwork remained until the late 1960s before being removed. The two brick towers at the two riverside corners of the station structure, which many people think might be the spires of Wren churches, can be clearly seen in the view.

-ENDS-

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