The South Bank

Although called the ‘South Bank’, a large bend in the River Thames places the area in the heart of London, midway between the City and the West End. For centuries it remained neglected as low-lying marshland, prone to flooding. Then, in the first half of the 19th century, the population of London trebled and people crammed into little houses built alongside factories and wharves. It was a poor area where families and neighbours supported each other and a close-knit community spirit developed. The railways were ‘carved’ into the area in the mid-19th century displacing any who lived in their way. Early in the 20th century, the South Bank was chosen as the location of County Hall, the home of London’s government.

During the Second World War the area suffered bomb damage. Afterwards, a significant amount of housing was demolished when the South Bank was chosen as the site for the 1951 Festival of Britain. The Royal Festival Hall, the only permanent legacy of the Festival, was later joined by the National Theatre, the National Film Theatre, ITV London, IPC Media and many others turning the South Bank into Europe’s largest centre for the arts and media.

Many of the new office buildings were large and faceless with shops and facilities inside and ‘dead’ street frontages outside. Most staff commuted to work and used the internal facilities rather than spending money in shops serving the wider community. By the early 1970s, the residential population of the area had fallen from 50,000 to just 4,000. Schools and shops closed. Increasingly the area was described as ‘bleak’.