The southern waterfront’s string of creative establishments and new developments are possible only because of its history, which is quite different from that of the riverside to the north.
From Roman times, the area at the south end of London Bridge was the gateway to and from continental Europe. As Chaucer recounts, pilgrims started their journey to Canterbury and beyond at The Borough and the area still has a diverse population and links worldwide.
Free from the City of London’s strict jurisdiction and sensibilities, the land across the river was for centuries home to theatres, breweries, asylums, prisons, hatmaking and potteries. Street names such as Morocco Street and Bear Lane are a reminder of the former tanning industries and popular bear pits.
Huge population shifts from the countryside to the city in the nineteenth century and the introduction of the railways increased the number of residents and the level of industry along the river. The two power stations at Battersea and Bankside fed the growing need for electricity across the city.
Throughout this time, the Church and prominent Christians played an active role in the development of the southern waterfront. It built schools and hospitals, pioneered social housing (Octavia Hill is fondly remembered), established arts institutions such as Emma Cons’ Old Vic, addressed poverty and cared for local residents. Some church buildings have endured, others have sprung up. Lambeth Palace has been the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury since the C13th; St Andrew’s Waterloo was consecrated in 2006.
Over the last 60 years, as the docks and polluting industries have left and as London has again become a magnet for young people, sites along the river have become available. The Festival of Britain lifted postWar spirits and gave birth to the Southbank Centre, increasing access not only to the arts but to the river – and for all Londoners, not only riverside residents. Tate Modern has transformed a redundant building. MI6, the London Eye, City Hall and the O2 have appeared. The regeneration of extensive areas at Nine Elms Vauxhall and the Greenwich peninsula is underway.
At ﬁrst gradually and now more rapidly, the area is being transformed. The developments range from a new US Embassy to the Shard, from hotels to cinemas, but the major investment is in ﬂats and apartments. The housing in any area determines who lives there. The properties are attracting thousands of new residents who will ﬁnd themselves living along an historic waterway. When they venture out, they will meet people whose families have lived there for generations as well as more recent arrivals. They will ﬁnd parishes and churches, law institutions, newspaper and media headquarters, ancient charities and settlements, a few green spaces, theatres, medical establishments, museums and art galleries, social housing and even a sandy beach at Gabriel’s Wharf.
Throughout the centuries, the Church has invested in the southern waterfront. It has supported the arts, pioneered social reform and provided educational and health services for rich and poor alike. As the twenty-ﬁrst century developments transform the built environment, the Church continues to invest and to play its part in creating a good city for all