London Stories and Tips

The Thames Walk Pt 2 - Clink Prison to Tower Bridge

'The Liberty of the Clink' Photo, London, England

This is by far the most interesting section of the walk and takes you through the ancient alleyways and streets of Bankside and Southwark. Here the lanes are so narrow that they block out the light and there is a real taste of Old London here with its alehouses and docks. As you follow the walk you may be able to imagine the London of Christopher Marlowe and Moll Flanders.

Bankside and Southwark have always had a nefarious reputation. It was outside the puritancial jurisdiction of the city and all manner of vice sprang up - brothels, theatres, alehouses, bear-baiting, gambling houses, breweries, cockfighting and even gladitatorial contests. It was the abode of cutpurses and thieves, of prostitutes and gin-factories - all looked over by the Bishop of Winchester. In fact prostitutes were known as 'Winchester Geese' in the old slang. This area of ill-repute was a favourite pleasure-ground of Tudor and Medieval London. And nowadays gives just as much pleasure to modern Londoners in its riverside walk.

To keep a lid on so much sin the Bishops had a prison in their jurisdiction - the Liberty of the Clink (hence the expression - 'in clink')This prison has been opened as an attraction and can be reached by following the railway arches after the Anchor Inn on Clink Street. If you decide to enter (£4.00)you will get to view this septic prison with its torture instruments and dank cells. Not just criminals were incarcerated here but debtors as well, and those with money could buy luxuries. The other side of the Clink Prison is a real surprise - the ruins of the Bishop of Winchester's Palace. Most of the building is gone but the beautiful rose window is still visible. If you follow the narrow, atmospheric lane you will end up at St Overies dock where a replica of the Golden Hinde is moored. This Tudor ship is famous for Sir Francis' Drakes 1577 circumavigation of the globe and really adds to the Tudor atmosphere.

Something even older is further along the trail - Southwark Cathedral. This is a beautiful church and very important to the community today. It dates back to the 7th century though most of what you see today is 15th Century and the interior is superb. The nave is carved in marble and the ceiling is of lace-like gothic. Beautiful little side-chapels add something to the church and contains the tomb of John Gower, a contemporary of Chaucers. And don't miss the effigy of the 15th Century knight in his shining armour. To the north of Southwark Cathedral is the bustling Borough market. A market has been on this spot since the middle ages and the current one is under threat from developers. It concentrates on hearty fresh produce and it is not unusual to find unusual food from the shires such as venison and wild boar sausages.

If you follow the trail you will end up on Tooley Street, you may cross the road to the London Dungeon. Better still is to follow the river to Haye's Galleria an old converted spice warehouse which now is a very classy shopping arcade (see photo). There are some exceptional shops and pubs and good views of the mighty HMS Belfast. A moored World War II battleship which you can visit and the kids will enjoy playing on the guns. The ultimate kodak moment is to align this ship up with nearby Tower Bridge. The bridge itself is impressive but if you duck underneath it and stay on the south side you will find yourself in one of my favourite streets in London - Shad Thames.

This narrow street (see photo)is squeezed between old Victorian sugar warehouses, and the galleries where the dockers used to carry sugar from one warehouse to the other still soar above the street. This area is very atmospheric and was used as a location in the film 'The Elephant Man'. If you carry on past the Design Museum you will come to Concordia Wharf (see photo) with its expensive flats overlooking the Thames. But most people settle down, perhaps at the nearby Conran restaurant Pont de Jour, rest easy and congratulate themselves on finishing one of he best urban walks in the world.

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