My walk starts at the Tate Britain and plans to end at the Tate Modern, two miles down the River Thames on its South Bank. My interest in both galleries and what history I might stumble across in walking between them, is what gave me the idea for this walk. Also it created a possibility to draw a comparison between the galleries and the area in which they are situated. I chose to cross Lambeth Bridge and carry out the majority of my walk south of the river, I had considered the option of walking mostly along the north side. If I had chosen the alternative route my observations would have differed, however, this creates the opportunity to carry out a further walk in future to offer contrasting results.
The walk began at the Tate Britain, in the City of Westminster. As I wasn’t in Central London near any major tourist spots quite yet, the roads were mostly quiet and easy to cross. The Tate Britain is the older of the two Tate Galleries in London, opening in 1897. The surrounding area was quiet and the people appeared to be professionals which I found to be reflective of the gallery itself which seems altogether more refined and elite than the Tate Modern. The rest of the area was clean and generally well-kept and opposite was Victoria Gardens South, a neat small garden and bench area in Millbank.
Once crossing the road I passed by Millbank Millennium Pier and MI5. Piers along the Thames are very useful part of London Transport, ‘set up in 1997 … charged with the goal of developing a river passenger service… riverboat service offered from central London piers, including Westminster, the Tower of London, Millbank Millennium and Bankside East’ (Wayne). Of course, the river has been used throughout history for delivery and transportation of goods, however, this River Service is unique in that it is mainly used for leisure and tourist reasons. I then cross Lambeth Bridge and attempt to get on to the South Bank of the River. The roads were far busier here and possibly having seen my struggle to get across an elderly man with a bike helps me to cross road, “you have to be brave here, not mad but brave”. This kind gesture, though unexpected, was useful in allowing my journey to progress.
This side of the river appears to be less neat and tidy, as within the first ten minutes of my walk on this side I spot graffiti and litter near the site of the famous St. Thomas Hospital. The hospital, widely believed to have been named after St Thomas Becket, was ‘designed and built in the nineteenth century and the original pavilion wards have also been in continuous use since they opened’ (Del Nord).
After getting across Westminster Bridge, I reach the part most popular among tourists as it includes, the London Aquarium, London Dungeons and the London Eye. This stretch of walkway was considerably more difficult to manoeuvre as the mass of people, paired with the obstacles of construction work meant the whole area was very busy, even for a Wednesday afternoon. One point of interest here was that grand historic buildings, such as County Hall, is now the site of a McDonalds. This demonstrates how increased tourism and consumerism, on this stretch of the river in particular, can lead to such buildings being occupied by huge corporate companies.
I reach another of the many green spaces along the river, Jubilee Gardens, there are many motifs along this side of the river marking the celebration of the Queens Silver Jubilee 1977. The path way near St Thomas’ is even named as the ‘Silver Jubilee Walkway’. Approaching the first of many cultural land marks on the South Bank, The Southbank Centre, ‘the largest single-run arts centre in the world and includes the Royal Festival Hall, Hayward’s Gallery… 21 acres of creative arts’. I believe the centre highlights the South Bank’s tendency to promote arts and culture, this is supported by Jones who states that the Southbank ‘developed in a very different way from the affluent North Bank’. Adding that the South Bank ‘became a by-word for ‘post-war cultural restoration’ and ‘is now home to great national centres for art and culture, a vibrant and growing community and some of London’s finest achievements in architecture’ (Jones).
After passing the Festival Pier, the South Bank continues its artistic theme as I reach the section popularised by the National Theatre. The Theatre is an interesting, vast concrete building designed by Denys Lasdun, ‘with the help of the royal institute of British architects… Lasdun was unanimously chosen as the architect…national theatre was opened in March 1976’ (Medau). The then Chancellor, Selwyn Lloyd, had stated that the Theatre ‘should be built on the South Bank and opened in 1964, on the quarter century of Shakespeare’s birth’ (Elsom).
Next stop is the area formerly known as Gabriels wharf alongside the river, home of the iconic building, the OXO Tower. The area had a ‘change of name to OXO Tower Wharf’. This ‘based on its landmark tower, emphasised the central place of this building in CSCB’s (coin street community builders) popular image’ (Brindley), as the area would be more likely to attract tourists if it shared a name with the landmark. The final bridge I have to cross is Blackfriars, third bridge to be built on the Thames, this time traffic is not an issue as I use the underpass to pass to the site of the Tate Modern. The Blackfriars Bridge pedestrian underpass was officially opened on the 11th October 1995. Its interior displays interesting paintings and writings regarding the construction and history of the bridge itself, telling of the reconstruction and opening of the present bridge in 1869 by Queen Victoria.
I then reach the end location of the Tate Modern in the Borough of Southwark. The Tate Modern, which opened in 2000, is true to its name in that it displays modern and contemporary art. The space here is much more interactive and relaxed, there are people playing live music along the river and the Gallery itself seems less elite and therefore more easily approachable tan the Tate Britain. Grayson Perry describes the Tate Modern in his recent book as ‘the first of second most visited tourist destination in Britain and the fourth most visited museum in the world’ and ‘a cult entertainment megastore’ (Perry). Overall, through walking from Britain to Modern I conclude that the galleries appear reflective of their surroundings. I believe that the reason the Tate Modern was opened in the old Battersea Power-station was because throughout recent history the South Bank was flourishing into a creative artistic stretch of the river. Whereas the oldest Tate Gallery, that houses more historic works, is suited to the more serious professional environment of Millbank.
Brindley Tim, Remaking Planning: The Politics of Urban Change, Routledge, 2005, P.g.163
Del Nord Romano, The Culture for the Future of Healthcare Architecture, Alinear Editrice, 2009, P.g.109
Elsom John, Post-War British Theatre, CRC Press, 2014, P.g.164
Jones Alasdair J.H., On South Bank: The Production of Public Space, Routledge, 2016, P.g.10
Medau Peer, The Architecture of the National Theatre, GRIN, 2007, P.g.4
Perry Grayson, Playing to the Gallery, Penguin, 2014