The bridges of London are some of the most iconic landmarks in the city. From the striking drawbridge capabilities of Tower Bridge to the contemporary millennium bridge – which reflects the radicalism of the nearby Tate Modern – there are many exciting crossings that guests of hotels near Lancaster Gate Station will want to tick off their list. But one that is less than the sum of its parts is also, strangely, one of the most famous and historic.
Indeed, London Bridge has a history so long it has its own nursery rhyme. There have been at least three bridges in this area over the centuries, and many more lost to history when the Romans left the proto-city. London Bridge, however, is not much to look at and it’s the surrounding area that makes it so popular. From historic theatre venues to markets and museums, the London Bridge area has become synonymous with tourism and commuting.
In case first time visitors to the city staying at hotels in Lancaster Gate are a little disappointed by the bridge itself, this blog will explore some of the famous landmarks, attractions and districts that make the area so popular.
London Bridge – A Brief History
With Roman wood built floating pontoon bridges and early Mediaeval bridges never lasting more than a few decades, the first account of an official London Bridge came in 1209 when Henry II commissioned the building of a stone bridge in memory of his friend Thomas Becket. The bridge lasted into the 19th century and throughout Old London Bridge’s life, it even had houses built upon it. These were all eventually demolished in 1761 after several fires rendered living there unsafe. What the urban concentration here did do was establish a range of trading posts and markets, some of which have endured into the modern day.
New London Bridge was built in 1831 and by the end of the 19th century, it had sunk several inches and was prone to congestion. This led to plans to replace it, and “New London Bridge” was actually sold to an American oil tycoon. Strangely enough, you can now find New London Bridge on the Bridgewater Channel in Lake Havasu, Arizona!
Modern London Bridge was expanded from the previous design to accommodate more traffic, and was opened in 1973. The bridge has a namesake in London Bridge Underground and train station, which serves much of London and the surrounding area on Thameslink services and the Northern Line.
Borough Market is thought to have existed in some capacity for as long as a thousand years, but saw major redevelopment in the 1990s transforming it from a wholesale food market into a retail market. The food stalls, gifts and restaurants now surrounding the area are popular with locals and visitors alike. Guests of the Park Grand London Lancaster Gate can now enjoy cheesemongers, butchers, paella stalls and much much more under the vibrant sheltered roof of the market.
With 95 floors and 7 bars and restaurants, the Shard is one of the most prominent features of the London skyline – and one of the best for fine dining too! Whether you dine at Hutong’s Northern Chinese restaurant or sit back and relax with a cocktail at Aqua Shard, you’ll be blown away by not only the culinary prowess on show, but the stunning views over London as well.
Located on the top four floors of number 20 Fenchurch Street – or the Walkie Talkie building to locals – the Sky Garden was built as part of a development plan to allow public space within an otherwise private office building. The views from the observation deck are elevated by a beautiful series of pathways through what is essentially a 43rd floor conservatory. Entry is free, but you’ll have to book in advance.
Just east of London Bridge is the famous HMS Belfast, a 1936 built Navy cruiser that has seen action in several major battles in World War 2 and the Korean War. Now a museum ship, the HMS Belfast offers visitors immersive access to the many levels and areas of the ship, many of which have been renovated to the condition they would have been in during wartime service.
The Golden Hind
Launched in 1577 by order of Queen Elizabeth I, the Golden Hind was a Galleon ship that Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe on over the next three years. Also used as an attack ship against the Spanish Armada, the Golden Hind has two reconstructions, one in Devon and one on a harbour in the Thames next to London Bridge. The London ship is now open as a museum and tourist attraction, where visitors will be guided around its areas in an immersive storytelling experience.
It’s no surprise that the Globe Theatre is located right beside the Golden Hind, both were favourites of Queen Elizabeth I in the late 16th century. The official theatre of Shakespeare’s performing company, the Globe Theatre was built twice before demolition in 1644, but was rebuilt to the Elizabethan specs in 1997 as Shakespeare’s Globe. Now popular with tourists and locals alike, the Globe Theatre company performs the works of Shakespeare, his contemporaries and modern plays influenced by them in an open air, traditionally Elizabethan performance space.
The Clink Prison Museum
The Clink Prison Museum was once the actual prison owned and operated by the manor of the Bishop of Winchester between the 1300’s and the 1700’s. Arguing to have one of the worst conditions for prisoners, less squeamish tourists can now enjoy a full museum that explores the daily life, hardships and cruelty that the Clink inflicted upon its prisoners, all on the same street as the original. Beware, this one’s not for the faint of heart!
The London Bridge Experience
If you’re not yet satiated by the terror of the Clink, then head down to the London Bridge Experience opposite the tube station exit on Tooley Street. The London Bridge Experience is guided by actors and takes customers through several notably grisly events in the city’s history. A rival to the London Dungeons on the South Bank, the London Bridge Experience is a must for guests of accommodation in Lancaster Gate UK looking to add some horror to their history tours.