My Backstreets of Bankside Historical Building Walk is perfect for anyone who finds themselves in Bankside, London. Many people are familiar with the tourist attractions of Bankside overlooking the River Thames. If you want to escape the crowds and take a short walk to admire a few historical buildings, this may be of interest. I’ve compiled a list of buildings that I appreciate near Union Street and Southwark Street, which I wanted to share with you. There are many beautiful buildings in the vicinity, so I have just picked out the ones I particularly enjoy looking at. Join me as I take you on my Backstreets of Bankside Historical Building Walk is in Southwark, London SE1. It’s a self-guided tour that takes around half an hour or longer if you are dawdling! It’s perfect if you are looking for things to do in Southwark, London walks or historic London architecture.
Backstreets of Bankside Historical Building Walk Highlights
Start the walk at London Bridge Station. Walk to Borough Market, down Borough High Street, and turn right into Union Street.
St Saviour’s House, 39-41 Union Street SE1 1 SD. A beautiful building from 1911. It is now a charity for Southwark almshouses.
The Ragged School, 47 Union Street, London SE1 1SG. An imposing Victorian building that was once a charitable school to help ragged children is now a residential property. A poster on the walls says, “The Shaftsbury Society’s charitable union of The Mint and Gospel Lighthouse mission for the guidance of ragged children in matters of cleanliness, appearance and manners thus enabling them to take up a military career no matter how short.” An engraved stone on the building says, “To the glory of God this stone was laid by the right honourable Lord Mayor of London Sir William P Treloar November 13th, 1906.”
The building with green painted windows and gate called R.K. Burt & Co, 59-61 Union Street. The Layers of London website says that this building dates back to the early 19th century and incorporates part of an 18th-century house in the yard used for malting barley with stables. Allsop Turners and Brush Makers occupied the building from 1786 until 1880. It was then occupied by Joseph Watson and Co yeast manufacturers.
Cross Bones Graveyard and Garden of Remembrance, Union Street, London SE1 1SD. A pauper’s post-medieval graveyard and memorial shrine where prostitutes, outcasts and infants were buried. On Redcross Way, you will see ribbons tied to the metal railings. The opening times vary because it is dependent upon volunteers. Read my Cross Bones Graveyard Garden of Remembrance article.
Opposite the metal railings of the Cross Bones Graveyard on Redcross Way is The Boot and Flogger. The pub is famous for being the only premise in the UK that can sell wine without having a license because of a special dispensation by James 1 dating back to 1611. The pub name refers to a leather boot that holds the bottle while the wooden flogger ‘flogs’ the cord, according to an article I read in London SE1. It is a lovely building so worth admiring.
Back to Union Street, turn into Redcross Way. On Your left is a building plaque for Janet Johnson (1858-1955), Pioneer Welfare Worker. It says, “Lived at 39 Redcross Way. She became the first woman Guardian of the Poor in Southwark, in 1888, devoting her life to the condition of poor workhouse internees. She became manager of the Central London School for Orphans and Destitute Children at Hanwell, initiating humanitarian reforms with new ideas on education, clothing and diet.”
A short walk down the street and on your left is Red Cross Garden. The plaque on the gate reads, “Welcome to Red Cross Garden. Established by Octavia Hill, social reformer and co-founder of National Trust, in 1887. Restored by Bankside Open Spaces Trust in 2005.” The beautiful garden has benches to sit down, a pond and pretty flowers. Walk through the garden, and you will see some historic buildings, including a hall and cottages with plaques.
The Metal Box Factory at 30 Great Guildford Street SE1 0HS was a late 19th-century tin box factory. It is now a building where you can rent a workspace. Look up to see the sign that says, “Barclays and Fry Printers, Stationers and Tin Box Makers.”
The next building of interest is Kirkaldy’s Testing and Experimenting Works building, 99 Southwark Street SE1 0JF. It is a Testing Works Museum set inside a former testing works (testing different materials). It houses a testing machine and other machines of interest in a Grade II* listed building. Above one door says, “Facts not Opinions”, which is a saying attributed to David Kikaldy, a Scottish engineer. He built the world’s first commercial material testing house. His patented 116-ton hydraulic-powered Universal Testing machine was made to exert excessive force to test construction materials. Opposite are some nice warehouse-style apartments about a row of shops.
Pop into Hopton Street, where you will see a collection of 20 Hopton’s Almshouses behind The Tate Modern. The Grade II* listed builders were built with money left by philanthropist Charles Hopton in 1752. I love the juxtaposition of the modern glass architecture behind it.
At 45 Doben Street, there is a blue plaque on the side of a house for Mary Wollstonecraft 1759-1797. It reads, “Writer, teacher and champion of women’s rights.” If you wander down that street you will see a few old buildings worth a look.
Hayward Brothers and Eckstein, 187-201 Union Street. The company was established in 1783, and they made pavement lights, iron staircases, etc. Look up to see their name on the front of the building. On both sides of the building, you will find reference to another life of this building. It says James Ashby & Sons Ltd, Embassy Tea & Coffee.
The Jerwood Space is a gallery with rehearsal studios and café at 171 Union Street SE1 0LN. It was previously Orange Street School (opening in 1874) and later the John Harvard School. The original architect was E R Robson.
Continue along Union Street, and you are back to where you started.
Backstreets of Bankside Historical Building Walk Information
I found some information about the Union Street buildings on Layers of London. The Bankside Wikipedia Page is interesting. If you would like to explore the area further, please read my Ten Unusual Things To Do In Bankside and Ten Tourist Things To Do In Bankside. I hope you enjoy your visit.
Author: Homegirl London. Photographs: Homegirl London.