London’s iconic Tower Bridge has been much in the news lately. Tower Bridge marked the final dramatic moments in the rain-soaked Diamond Jubilee pageant in early June, which celebrated Queen Elizabeth’s 60 years on the throne.
The panorama from Tower Bridge looking back up the River Thames towards Westminster is, for want of a better word, breathtaking. Cutting-edge new architecture like the GLA building (known rather irreverently to everyone as The Egg) and the Shard, the tallest building in Europe, with the contrasting Tower of London and historic ships, all combine to make a true fusion cityscape. The river is constantly busy, with water taxis, pleasure boats, booze cruises and even working barges.
Crossing over the river from the Tower of London to the South Bank, you can stroll along the banks of the river on a wide, well lit, clean pedestrianized pathway. Residents and tourists alike crowd this pathway – some are walking their dogs or taking an evening stroll, while others watch the street artists and buskers who entertain the crowds. People jog and roller-blade, tourists take their perfect shot of Tower Bridge, and for many visitors, this is as far as they venture along the river.
That would be a mistake. If you turn the other way, and look upstream, leaving Tower Bridge behind you, there is a whole new, regenerated London to be discovered and explored. Since many of the 2012 Olympic venues are along this stretch of river, this is clearly the part of town to be in.
Welcome to Shad Thames.
This area immediately beyond Tower Bridge is now home to a buzzy, vibey part of London, where nineteenth-century, Victorian warehouses have been transformed from derelict buildings to über-cool, über-expensive, über-chic apartments, restaurants, pubs and galleries. But it wasn’t always like this. For decades, this area was run down, neglected and, quite frankly, a rather tatty part of London. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the area underwent a transformation.
The whole area around St. Saviour’s Dock and all along the river has been/is still being gentrified to the ultimate degree. Bars and restaurant, boutiques, and fabulous apartments have all arisen from the shells of what were once Victorian warehouses.
Most of the warehouses have retained their external architectural characteristics and some still have the original winches that were used to haul goods up from the ships moored on the docks below. Just the names of these warehouses, now converted into luxury apartments, are a reminder of the glory days of London’s trading past – these expensive apartments are named after cinnamon, cardamom, fennel, caraway, ginger, cumin, tamarind, clove, anise and coriander.
Talk about mouth-watering names.
Nowhere do you feel as connected to London’s history as in Shad Thames. With the river as a backdrop, you wander past historic buildings, some of which are still linked by walkways high above your head as you walk through narrow, cobbled streets. These walkways were originally used to roll barrels between warehouses, and now have to rank as the ultimate private balcony.
As well as signature restaurants, there is also one of London’s newest and most stylish museums, the Design Museum near the east end of Shad Thames, which was founded by Terence Conran (of Conran Shop fame). The Design Museum houses frequently changing exhibitions of graphic and product design, and also features the "Design Museum Tank", a large outdoor glass box in the street outside, containing a selection of items from the current exhibition.
There are seagulls, there is the sound and smell of the river; Charles Dickens set part of Oliver Twist in this area, and the area has starred in many movies.
Remember the dramatic opening sequence in The World Is Not Enough, when James Bond drove his speed boat along St. Saviour’s Dock?
Or the John Cleese comedy, A Fish named Wanda, where a character is dangled out of a window? That was in Shad Thames.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Elephant Man – they all have scenes shot in and around St Saviour’s Dock. Bollywood also loves this area for film shoots.
Little surprise that Shad Thames has a distinct buzz and a confidence to it. Should you find yourself in London anytime soon, be sure to check it out.