Waterloo and London’s South Bank are in the heart of London. They’re centrally located along the River Thames and offer a mix of history, culture, and entertainment.
Waterloo Station, a key transportation hub, adds historical significance and has lots of intriguing tales.
South Bank is a hub for arts and entertainment with landmarks like the Royal Festival Hall.
There’s fascinating history waiting to be discovered!
Early Waterloo on London’s South Bank
Waterloo and the South Bank are really fascinating places, popular with both those who live in London and those visiting.Embed from Getty Images
It wouldn’t have been that nice to have visited in the past. It was marsh land for hundreds of years, and you can see references to the marsh in some of the nearby street names like Lower Marsh, which has been home to a street market since the mid-nineteenth century.
Being all marshy and boggy, the South Bank developed a lot slower than the North Bank of the Thames, and not many people lived around here until the 18th century when wharfs and businesses started to be built alongside the river.
The area really sprung to life as a hub of entertainment and tourism with the 1951 Festival of Britain, a national exhibition and fair that was intended as a ‘tonic for the nation’ to lift the spirits of a country still in the grasp of austerity and rationing after the second world war.Embed from Getty Images
Many new and exciting buildings and attractions were built, including a Dome of Discovery and the Skylon, a cigar-shaped aluminium-clad tower who base was 15 metres from the ground and top nearly 90 metres high.
Whilst many of the festival’s buildings and attractions were removed after the festival, a number still survive, including the Royal Festival Hall.Embed from Getty Images
If you’d like to find out more about the Festival of Britain, there’s a small exhibition in the Royal Festival Hall.
Over the next 20 years, it was joined by other entertainment venues including the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall, National Theatre and BFI Southbank, and of course the London Eye. Today, it’s a popular destination for families, culture lovers and foodies.Embed from Getty Images
One of the cool things about the South Bank is that it’s not just highbrow.
Go down under the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and you’ll find the Undercroft, a really fun place used by skateboarders since the early 1970s. It’s widely recognised as the birthplace of British skateboarding and has been home to boarders, riders and graffiti artists for many years.Embed from Getty Images
Places to visit
Roupell Street Conservation Area
Whilst a lot of the buildings around the South Bank are fairly modern, if you want to step back in time a little, check out an area east of Waterloo Station.
There’s a little knot of Victorian streets known as the Roupell Street Conservation Area.
It’s about the closest you’ll get to 19th century London. The fact these streets have managed to survive the march of time, the bombs of the Blitz and developers, is truly remarkable.
St. John’s Church
St. Johns Church is built in a Greek style inspired by the architect’s love of Greek scholarship.
Like lots of buildings in London, it was bombed in 1940 and only restored in 1950 when it was rededicated as the Festival of Britain church.
It’s been given a new lease of life, and what’s great is that its graveyard has won multiple awards as a wildlife sanctuary and green space, filled with plants to counteract local pollution.
As well as hosting some of the country’s top entertainment venues, Waterloo is also home to the country’s busiest station.
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Did you know that over 41 million people pass through Waterloo Station every year?
A station was first opened here in 1848 as the railway company, London & South Western Railway, wanted a station closer to the city. Until that point, the nearest station was at Nine Elms – close to where the American Embassy is today.
It wasn’t meant to be a big terminus. They wanted their railway to run into the city, but they ran out of money, and so stopped.
Over the next 50 years, Waterloo Station grew and grew, but in a rather hot-potch way with additional platforms built first to the north, then the south and then the north again.
It ended up being a very confusing station with four different concourses and unclear platform numbering. There were sometimes even platforms with the same number!
Just imagine the chaos.
A new station was designed to solve all the problems and that’s the one we see today. With 21 platforms under a huge ridge-and-furrow roof, it’s light and airy compared to the dark maze it once was.Embed from Getty Images
Waterloo’s a station that’s always been strongly connected with the races. In fact, they brought the opening of the station forward so that passengers could travel to the Derby by rail for the first time!Embed from Getty Images
London Necropolis Company
As well as their terminus, Waterloo had a second one for the London Necropolis Company.
It was mid-19th century London and the population was booming, as was the number of those dying.
There was a severe shortage of space in the city’s cemeteries. Some enterprising people created a new cemetery outside of London.
They built Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, and to take funeral mourners and the deceased there and bring the mourners back, they built the London Necropolis Railway.
It transported over 200,000 corpses between 1854 and 1941, when it closed after the station was destroyed in the Blitz.
All that remains of the Necropolis Railway is the façade of the station building at 121 Westminster Bridge Road. If you look through the gate railings, you can see the tiled walls of the driveway that once led into the station.
What a grave affair!
Things to see
National Windrush Memorial
Waterloo has a long history of welcoming immigrants and this is commemorated with the National Windrush Memorial.
Designed by renowned Jamaican artist Basil Watson, the memorial symbolises the courage, commitment and resilience of the thousands of men, women and children who travelled to the UK between 1948 and 1971.
It acknowledges and celebrates the Windrush generation’s outstanding contribution and has been created as a permanent place of reflection, to foster greater understanding of the generation’s talent, hard work and continuing contribution to British society.
The memorial depicts a man, woman and child, dressed in their Sunday best, climbing a mountain of suitcases to demonstrate the inseparable bond of the Windrush pioneers and the aspirations of their generation.
Another important memorial at the station is Victory Arch, which commemorates 585 railway staff who lost their lives in the Great War.
Made of Portland stone and bronze, it depicts War and Peace, with Britannia holding the torch of liberty.Embed from Getty Images
The Waterloo Clock
There are few clocks in London more famous than this one.
The Waterloo Clock is perhaps the most famous symbol of the station and “under the Waterloo Clock” is one of the most famous meeting places in London.
It’s pretty big so you won’t miss it! Each of the four sides of the clock are over five feet.
It’s hung above the concourse since the early 1920s and was built by Gents of Leicester, a company which made a fair few clocks for railway stations around the world.Embed from Getty Images
What you like
We caught up with some of you to find out about some of the cool things you like to do around Waterloo Station and the South Bank…
- “We found the South Bank Lion on a pedestal at Westminster Bridge – it’s not a REAL lion – but it’s a like a symbol of an old building called the Lion Brewery which was turned into the County hall in 1917.”
- “The London Eye is amazing although my dad doesn’t like heights so he stayed on the ground and looked after our bags! We thought it was brilliant as you can see for miles and see all the landmarks.”
- “Jubilee Park is a good place when you want a change from the crowds and want to have a run around or a picnic.”
- “Leake Street is a really cool tunnel under Waterloo Station where you can see all the graffiti art and it changes all the time. Sometimes you see the artists doing it – it is pretty smelly with all the paint but I really liked it.”
- “We went to the Festival Hall. It’s a huge building overlooking the River Thames. We saw the exhibition about the Festival of Britain, and a model of the attractions. It looked super cool.“
Famous people in Waterloo
All the way back in 1768, Philip Astley created the circus here.
He brought together a cracking cornucopia of entertainments including trick horse-riding, acrobats, clowns and more! No one had seen anything like it before!
Buster was a member of the Great Train Robbery gang.
Buster evaded arrest and fled to Mexico.
However, the money ran out and he got homesick, so he returned and after 15 years in jail, the reformed criminal ran a flower stall outside of Waterloo station.
Did you know Waterloo Station once had its own cinema near platform one? A very cool way to pass the time if you missed your train!
Waterloo’s not just shown films, it’s appeared in a fair few as well. It’s in the action movie ‘The Bourne Ultimatum‘ as part of an exciting chase sequence, and underground scenes in ‘Sliding Doors‘ were partly shot at Waterloo tube station.
Comedy fans might know that Del Boy Trotter met Raquel under Waterloo station’s clock in the classic British sitcom ‘Only Fools and Horses‘. It’s also been in the ‘Constant Gardener‘, ‘Living‘ and ‘Ab Fab‘, amongst many others.
Whilst you might not have visited Roupell Street… yet, there’s a good chance you’ve seen it on TV. ‘Mr Selfridge‘, ‘Call the Midwife‘ and even ‘Doctor Who‘ have all had episodes filmed there; whilst parts of the Kray Twins’ biopic ‘Legend‘ was also filmed there.
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
In this book the protagonists spend some time in the station, trying to find their train to Kingston upon Thames. After being given contradictory information by every railway employee they speak to, they eventually bribe a train driver to take his train to their destination.
The Wrong Box by Robert Louis Stevenson
The farcical plot revolves around the mis-delivery of two boxes at Waterloo and the attempts by the various people to retrieve them!
Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks
This song describes two people meeting at Waterloo Station and crossing the river. It’s also inspired by the 1951 Festival of Britain.