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Bankside Pier

Peter Ackroyd on Bankside

'In the later sixteenth century there was a plethora of Thames poetry. This was the age when one of the principal landmarks of the Thames, Bankside, became the occasion or setting for the greatest of all English poetry. The association of Shakespeare with the Thames is generally neglected, but it was one of the highways of his invention. He lived beside it, first at Southwark and then later at Blackfriars. He crossed it continually, and indeed it became his primary means of transport. His plays were performed beside its banks, either at the Globe or at the indoor theatre in Blackfriars itself; when he writes of the tides, and of the merchant ships, he is considering the life of the Thames.'

'By the late 1940s and 1950s, however, the river was slowly closing down for more mundane reasons. It was not being used by its citizens. The holiday-makers of the nineteenth century had gone, together with the steam-packet trippers and the commuters. It had become a silent river, and was described as a 'broad, white, empty highway'. The reasons for this lack of interest and of attention were various. There were problems of access, because many of the wharves and stairs had been allowed to fall into dilapidation; there was the problem of neglect and consequent drabness; and there was of course the appalling problem of sewage. The South Bank had become 'a term of despair and reproach'. The point was that hardly anyone considered this area of river at all. Very few Londoners knew anything much about the vast port within the midst of the city, and fewer still had any inkling of the nature or extent of the docks. The Thames had become unknown territory. The city had turned its back upon it.'

'The rhythm of the buildings sited on the South Bank, including the National Theatre opened in 1976, has been described as 'flowing'; the architect of the theatre, Denys Lasdun, said that he wanted to create the feeling that 'the audience - like the tides of the river - flow into the auditoriums. Then the tide ebbs and they come out into the creeks of the small spaces that are made by all these terraces'. And of course 'terraces' are the most ancient feature of the Thames.'

Peter Ackroyd's Readings on Bankside

Peter Ackroyd's Readings on Bankside Pier

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History of the piers

History at Bankside Pier.

Download the exclusive Dark Waters history of the piers pdf here (pdf - 2MB).

Buildings around Bankside Pier

  • Number Key for Dark Waters Map Side One
  • 26, 33-37, 39, 40, 41, 43
  • (10 buildings)