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In the Shadow of the Shard: Around Southwark

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at and my theatre reviews at
Published February 18th 2012
In the Shadow of the Shard: Around Southwark

In The Shadow of the Shard
Looking up at the Shard

When it reaches its peak of 310 metres the Shard will be the tallest building in Western Europe; it is already the highest structure in the UK, having surpassed 244 metres. After completion it will house offices, residences, a hotel and an observatory and will link to a regenerated London Bridge station, a new bus station and a public piazza. It's now difficult to miss the Shard from various locations around the city. Its towering presence, as it looms above Southwark, is an incredible juxtaposition of both old and new London. Here are a few contrasting places in the area that are as Lilliputians to the Shard's Gulliver.

Borough Market

Borough Market can trace its origins back to Roman times, so is as good a place as any to begin. Not so long ago we Brits were notorious for being terrible cooks and not taking a great deal of interest in food. This has all changed; chefs are the new celebrities and cookery programmes on television have their own niche market. We are all foodies now and Borough Market caters to our taste buds. Here you can buy fresh fish, organic meat and game, including more exotic varieties like ostrich. In addition you can purchase the freshest of fruit, vegetables and salads, indulge your taste for artisan cheeses, breads and cakes, and generally spoil yourself with foods sourced from a wide range of countries. Most delicacies are available to sample before buying, and many of the stalls sell hot and cold foods that you can eat as you shop.

In The Shadow of the Shard
Borough Market

The Middle Ages and the Renaissance

Southwark Cathedral (on the site of a monastery that later became the Priorie Church of St Marie Overie) is London's oldest gothic building and is believed to occupy the site of the original church, that dates from AD 606. It houses the tomb of Lancelot Andrewes, who was one of the translators of the King James Bible in 1611. In addition you'll be able to visit the sites where William Shakespeare's brother, Edmund, was laid to rest and where Gower, a contemporary of Chaucer, is buried. Just imagine that you too can walk where many famous figures of the past, including William Shakespeare, must have gone.

Round the corner from the Cathedral, in Clink Street, you may be surprised to come across the remains of the Palace of the Bishops of Winchester. This was built in the thirteenth century as the London home for the Bishops, but burned down in 1814. All that remains is part of the great hall, including the rose window.

In The Shadow of the Shard
The Palace of the Bishops of Winchester

Close by the palace, moored at St Mary Overie dock, is a replica of Francis Drake's The Golden Hinde. The original ship was used to circumnavigate the globe, and its deck was where Drake received his knighthood from Queen Elizabeth I. The ship that is now on display is a faithful reproduction and can be hired for functions and used for educational purposes.

The Nineteenth Century

There are still many nineteenth century buildings in Southwark; you only have to walk along and near Borough High Street to see these. But for somewhere different to visit you might want to climb the narrow, spiral staircase that leads to the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret Museum.

In The Shadow of the Shard
Spiral Staircase Leading up to the Old Operating Theatre

This served as both operating and lecture theatre for the apprentice apothecaries at nearby St Thomas's Hospital. You will be thankful to be living in the twenty-first century, when surgeons have recourse to anaesthetics and antiseptics. Even the operating tables look as if they would have given you backache. The hospital lays claim to being the oldest in London and argues that the original may have been built at the same time as St Mary Overie in 1100.

Rest, Relaxation and Refreshment

There are many pubs in the area, including The George, the last galleried inn in the country, which is closely associated with both Dickens and Shakespeare. Southwark has strong connections with the brewing industry as the hops would have come directly from Kent, although ales are no longer brewed in the area. Out of curiosity you might like to have a drink at the Boot and Flogger in Redcross Way. This is the only pub in the country that doesn't need a licence, a privilege dating back to the sixteenth century that was granted to some taverns. Additionally there are numerous places to eat, from sandwich bars to restaurants. If the weather is fine and you want to eat a snack outdoors, there are open spaces where you can sit and watch the world pass by.

You could take a seat in the Gardens of St George the Martyr, further down Borough High Street. This occupies the space between the church of that name and the wall of the Marshalsea Prison and is actually where the prison used to stand. Whilst there examine some of the old gravestones, many of which are now illegible.

In The Shadow of the Shard
Gardens of St George the Martyr
Alternatively you may want to take a small detour to Redcross Gardens, where Octavia Hill, the reformer and social housing pioneer, built a terrace of cottages for those trying to escape the local slums. The gardens feel like an oasis in the middle of such a busy area.

In The Shadow of the Shard
Redcross Gardens

Some Local Miscellany

Have a look at Crossbones Graveyard. This dates from the Middle Ages and is where 'Winchester Geese', prostitutes from Bankside, were buried in unconsecrated ground. The site belongs to TfL, so you can only stand at the railings.

Visit the site of the Tabard Inn, from where Chaucer's pilgrims started their journey in April 1386.

In The Shadow of the Shard
Plaque Commemorating the Tabard Inn

Spot the plaque by the post office on Borough High Street that commemorates the original St Thomas's Hospital that occupied the site between 1225 and 1865.

Look out for the Lunatick Chair in the grounds of Guy's Hospital. This is a surviving alcove from the old London Bridge; not the one that was shipped to Arizona in 1968.

In The Shadow of the Shard
The Lunatick Chair

If that one interests you, there is one stone remaining, and it is embedded by the south bank of the Thames, between the river and Southwark Cathedral's courtyard.

I hope I have provided some ideas for sights to see around Southwark, whilst occasionally looking skywards and being aware that the Shard is climbing ever higher above you.
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Why? It's fascinating to contrast old and new, tall and small
When: Any time of day or night, but some places may only be open at particular times
Where: Southwark
Cost: Free
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