South Bank

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The London Eye on the South Bank at County Hall

The South Bank is an area of Central London, England located immediately adjacent to the south bank of the River Thames. It forms a long and narrow section of riverside development within the London Borough of Lambeth and the London Borough of Southwark. It developed much more slowly than the north bank of the river due to adverse conditions, and throughout its history has twice functioned as an entertainment district, separated by a hundred years of use as a location for industry.[1] Change to the current use of the South Bank began in 1917 with the construction of County Hall at Lambeth and the Festival of Britain in 1951 redefined the area as a place for arts and entertainment. It now forms a significant tourist district in central London, stretching from the Design Museum in the east to the London Eye in the west.[1] A series of central London bridges connect the area to the northern bank of the Thames, including the more recent Golden Jubilee and Millennium pedestrian bridges.[1]



Royal Festival Hall c1959 and the now-demolished Shot Tower

The south bank of the River Thames was slower to develop than the north bank, alongside the City of London and the Westminster, because sunlight favours the north bank and the deep channel of the Thames was alongside it. During the Middle Ages the south bank developed as a place of entertainment outside the formal regulation of the City of London on the north bank; this included theatres, prostitution and bear-baiting. By the 18th century the more genteel entertainment of the pleasure gardens had developed. However, the shallow bank and mud flats of the south bank were ideal locations for industry and docks; and the south bank went on to develop as an industrial location in a patchwork of private ownership, with the riverside cut off from the public access.[1]

There was a shift in use when the London County Council required a new County Hall, which was built between 1917 and 1922 on the south bank near North Lambeth.[1] The construction of County Hall returned the first section of river frontage to public use. This was extended eastwards in 1951 when the Festival of Britain caused a considerable area to be redeveloped. The legacy of the festival was mixed, with buildings and exhibits demolished to make way for Jubilee Gardens, whilst the Royal Festival Hall and The Queen's Walk were retained as part of the Southbank Centre.[1] During the years following the festival the arts and entertainment complex grew with additional facilities, including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and other arts venues opened along the river such as the Royal National Theatre.


The National Theatre is one of the collection of arts buildings on the South Bank

The South Bank stretches two square miles (5 square kilometres) along the southern bank of the River Thames. The western section is in the London Borough of Lambeth and the eastern section is in the London Borough of Southwark. The area is hemmed in between the river to the north and the viaducts of the approaches to Waterloo, Charing Cross, Cannon Street and London Bridge railway stations to the south.[1]


Graffiti and skaters at South Bank

The South Bank is a significant arts and entertainment district. The Southbank Centre comprises the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and The Hayward. The Royal National Theatre and BFI Southbank are located adjacent to the east, but are not part of the centre. County Hall is no longer used as the seat of London government and has been converted to house the Sea Life London Aquarium, the London Marriott Hotel County Hall, the London Film Museum, and is the location of the London Eye. The OXO Tower Wharf is located towards the eastern end of South Bank, and houses gallery@oxo, shops and boutiques, and the OXO Tower Restaurant run by Harvey Nichols.

Cultural organisations situated near to the South Bank include The Old Vic Theatre which has been under the artistic direction of Kevin Spacey since 2003, the Old Vic Tunnels which operates under the artistic direction of Hamish Jenkinson, and the Young Vic which specialises in giving opportunities to young actors and directors. IWM London (Imperial War Museum) is also near the South Bank, hosting exhibitions from the first world war to the present day. The Florence Nightingale Museum is situated close by, next to Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital. Coin Street Community Centre host exhibitions throughout the year.

Part of the South Bank Centre known as the under-croft, has been used by the skateboarding community since the early seventies. Originally an architectural dead-spot, it has become a home of British skateboarding. The size of the under-croft has been reduced in recent years and was supposed to be returned to original size. This now seems unlikely and the future of the whole space is completely unsure at present. Part of the South Bank Centre has been turned into shops looking out over the river.

The South Bank is a central location in the 1952 comedy film The Happy Family which is set around the Festival of Britain.


Part of the success of the area as a visitor attraction is attributed to the high levels of public transport access. Several major railway terminals are within walking distance of the South Bank, on both sides of the river, including Waterloo, Charing Cross, Blackfriars and London Bridge. The London Underground has stations on or near the South Bank, from west to east, at Westminster, Waterloo, Embankment, Blackfriars, Southwark, London Bridge, Monument and Tower Hill. The development of the new Thameslink Blackfriars station, which has access from both the southern and northern side of the river, prompted the additional named signage 'for Bankside and South Bank'. Accessibility to the north bank is high with connections made, from west to east, over the Westminster, Golden Jubilee, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Southwark, London and Tower bridges. The river is utilised as a means of transport with piers along the South Bank at the London Eye, Royal Festival Hall, Bankside and London Bridge.

South Bank by night. Showing the illuminated National Theatre (right side of image), facing east; towards the City of London


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Farrell, Terry (2010). Shaping London. John Wiley & Sons. 

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Coordinates: 51°30′15″N 00°07′00″W / 51.50417°N 0.1166667°W / 51.50417; -0.1166667