London’s reborn Southbank

Anglotopia Day 18 – London’s Southbank and surrounding area

As a one-time reader of Samuel Pepy’s diary way back in the day, I figured that I could begin my day by the Monument, walk along the Thames, then end up at St. Paul’s Cathedral in time for a guided tour of it.

The Monument was a massive column which one can walk up – decided that’s a ‘no’ – memorializing the Great Fire of London in 1666. The fire, which destroyed a hell of a lot of the city, started quite close by to where the Monument would eventually go – right on Pudding Lane. Located near the lovely Fish Street and Monument Street – people kept street names plain and simple back in the day – it stands out in the city with some fabulous views of London – or, so I hear, because I didn’t feel up to 311 steps.

No surprise, the Monument was designed by none other than the indomitable Sir Christopher Wren. I learned, somewhere at some museum or another, that he had designed around 50 or so of London’s churches after the Great Fire, and, of course, the magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral, where I was eventually heading toward that same day.

I have to say, a brisk walk from Monument Tube Station, along the Thames, across Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s is a brilliant way to get going in the morning. I grabbed a coffee at a Gracechurch Street Starbucks, which brought to mind yet another Pride and Prejudice scene where the snobbish Bingley sisters are gossiping about the Bennet family and their relations:

 “I think I have heard you say, that their uncle is an attorney in Meryton.”

“Yes; and they have another, who lives somewhere near Cheapside.”

“That is capital,” added her sister, and they both laughed heartily.

“If they had uncles enough to fill all Cheapside,” cried Bingley, “it would not make them one jot less agreeable.”

Gracechurch Street was the part of London known as Cheapside (though, I’ve read somewhere that Gracechurch Street was further out from Cheapside), which, of course, reflected the people who lived there – tradesmen, market traders, and the like. It used to be the heart of the city, really, with loads of shops and merchant warehouses. Coffeehouses and cafes were the norm.

Of course, the Bingley family, for all the sisters’ snobbishness, was only one step and generation above that of the “less desirable” Gardiner family. “Grace” actually meant “grass” at one point, a reference to the hay and straw market that used to be nearby. Because the Cheap in “Cheap”side doesn’t mean cheap or inexpensive, but rather, “market”, the names around Gracechurch were (and still are) Pudding Lane, Fish Street, Bread Street, Honey Street and so on. It made a whole lot of sense now – if you get the old English and Saxon bits.

From Cheapside, I crossed the Thames on the London Bridge of “London Bridge Is Falling Down” fame (not the iconic Tower Bridge), a bridge that has been around in some fashion for time immemorial. On the Southbank side, I skirted past the Borough Market for lunch and continued to follow the winding river.

I found the original Clink Prison (probably the origin of the word “the clink”, slang for jail), a huge ship that apparently Sir Francis Drake had something to do with, The Anchor Inn, a sailor’s pub, the factory-ready Tate Modern, and the old-but-new Globe Theatre, where I once saw Much Ado About Nothing as groundling for £1. I think the groundling price has increased now – but there is nothing like standing for a few hours to watch men prancing about in Renaissance or Greek costumes and women’s clothing.

St. Paul’s loomed magnificently just beyond the Millennium Bridge. It was difficult to miss it on the skyline, and the grand cathedral, once the site of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding, seemed to grow more massive and towering as I approached it. The sheer scale of the cathedral was absolutely daunting. It’s difficult not to be totally impressed by the size and scale of it – and it’s even more beautiful and decked out on the inside.

Inside, the cathedral was simply – breathtaking. I could not take any pictures on the inside of the building, but I did take a guided tour through the cathedral, learning about the people, the art, and the sculpture of the cathedral. It’s amazing how much can be packed into such a place – and how much could have been lost in the Blitz had they not protected it as well as they did.

I had to rush back to the apartment where I was staying as I had bought a ticket to see The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre, its home theatre, and I figured it would take me some time on Tube and walking to the theatre.

After seeing the best production of it yet – I’ve seen it in Chicago and Detroit before – I walked back through the velvety city night toward the Green Park Tube Station, spying a familiar sight – the Ritz, which featured a good deal in the film Notting Hill.

I’ll just leave this here.


“She said, ‘Hello, my name is Anna. Call me at the Ritz. Then gave herself a completely different name.” – Spike, Will Thacker’s brainless flatmate

“Which was …?” – Will Thacker

“Absolutely no idea.”


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