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The Ferryman’s seat: A hidden piece of Bankside’s history

The amazing history behind this old piece of flint.

Ferryman's Seat Bankside © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The Ferryman’s Seat sits unassuming in the side of a restaurant wall on Bankside

Hidden in the side of a chain restaurant on Bankside is a tiny part of London’s history. Embedded in the wall of The Real Greek restaurant at Riverside House on Bear Gardens is a slab of flint, called The Ferryman’s Seat. Although it’s long been out of use, it’s a hark back to a time when the River Thames was heaving with boat traffic at the peak of its use.

The seat's age is unknown, but it's likely to have been at Bankside for a few centuries at least

The seat’s age is unknown, but it’s likely to have been at Bankside for a few centuries at least

Prior to the 19th century, there were hardly any bridges in London, with London Bridge being the only permanent river crossing until old Putney Bridge was built in 1729. For hundreds of years, Londoners and visitors made do with just one bridge. It was only in the mid 17th century with the increasing use of horse and carriages that there became growing demand for another bridge. As an alternative to a bridge, ferrymen were used to transport people across the Thames, essentially providing a water taxi service. In the 16th century and early 17th century, Bankside was a thriving entertainment destination with its theatres, bear-baiting pits, inns and brothels, so ferrymen in the area would have been in high demand taking City-dwellers back and forth. The seat is erected on the entrance from the river walk to Bear Gardens – named after the Beargarden which stood in the area during the Elizabethan era, where bear-baiting and other animal ‘sports’ (eg. what today we would consider as animal cruelty) would take place. Within a short distance of the seat were the theatres The Hope (1614-42), The Globe (1599-1642) and The Rose (1587-1606), where plays by the likes of William Shakespeare and others would be performed. In 1628, there were a recorded 2,453 watermen working along the Thames. Transporting drunken patrons back to their homes on the north side of the river every night would have been quite a task for the ferrymen so it’s no wonder they would need a rest now and again. This unassuming piece of flint would have provided a small place to perch for these hard-working men as they waited for their fares. Although no one has been able to date this seat, it was previously erected on an older building before being protected and replaced on the modern Riverside House.

  • Riverside House, Bear Gardens, Bankside, SE1 9HA. Nearest station: Blackfriars, Cannon Street or London Bridge.
Ferryman's Seat Bankside © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The seat is easily missed due to its hidden location


To read about the history of nearby 49 Bankside, an 18th century house, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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Discover the world of wine – tasting, history and techniques – at Vinopolis

Vinopolis © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Armed with your card charged with tokens, so you can sample different wines with ease

Vinopolis © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Did you know champagne was invented in England?

London is the city where you can literally do most things. Now, of course there aren’t any vineyards with rolling hills around, but those wanting to taste and discover the world of wine then look no further than Vinopolis on the south bank of Thames.

After years of having it on my wishlist and walking past it countless times, I finally paid a visit to Vinopolis this month with a cousin visiting from Scotland. Arriving for a lunchtime slot, we were able to put our coats and bags away in the free cloakroom so your hands were available for holding wine glasses. We had booked the Essential Wine Experience, which comes with 7 tokens worth of tastings for £27. The price goes up the more tokens you get, depending on whether you’ve got a taste for more expensive wines or a larger quantity of wine! The tickets are scheduled in time slots because you are given a short tour and introduction to wine before you begin your self-guided tasting experience.

Before we were able to sample the drinks, we were given a 15 minute ‘How to Taste’ lesson, where you learn how to sniff, swirl and slurp with a glass of white wine. We were given great advice, such as what types of wines can keep for long or what to drink sooner and how to tell if a wine has passed its prime. There was a little bit of science involved as we learned what parts of different wines tasted like on different parts of the tongue. Following the talk, we headed into the main Vinopolis experience – a series of Victorian railway arches featuring eight tasting and educational zones. In the middle was a Tapas Bar serving food, should you need something to soak up the alcohol or accompany your drinks. Our informative guide showed us how the tasting experience worked, giving a demonstration on how to use the very easy card method to obtain the measures before we were free to start our taste experience.

Vinopolis © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Which zone are you? Vinopolis is split into different tasting and discovery zones underneath Victorian railway arches

Vinopolis © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2015

Sample your way around the world’s wines, 125ml at a time

The wines had been grouped into different types of zones and flavours, such as the white wine or champagne zone. You keep hold of the same glass, with water filters and sinks dotted around to rinse your glass in-between samples and refresh your palate. Although I’m a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc and bubbly, I went off my usual tastes and used the experience to sample other wines. Vinopolis guides are also on hand should you have any questions, with one able to recommend a type of red to me (someone who doesn’t normally drink it…) and I actually liked it. The various wine samples start from 1 token upwards, reflecting the quality and market value. I tried a variety, including Canard-Duchene Cuvee Leonie Brut champagne (2 tokens), Hugels Et Fils Pinot Noir (1 token) and Jean Luc Colombo Le Vent (1 token), among others. As well as handy fact boxes dotted around the experience to expand your knowledge, there were also interactive tables to help you find the right wine for you.

As well as the main wine tasting experience, Vinopolis also holds various events and drinking experiences throughout the year, including cocktail masterclasses, so there’s a lot more than just wine. There is also a spirits area where you can try Absinthe if you’re up to it! I think Vinopolis would make a great daytime activity for a hen or stag party. Overall, we had a great couple of hours in Vinopolis. There’s not many social events where you can combine drinking and learning! Admittedly, my cousin and I did end up a bit tipsy as we left, but felt much more knowledgeable when it comes to making our wine selections at a restaurant in future.

  • Vinopolis, 1 Bank End, Southwark, SE1 9BU. Nearest tube/overland: London Bridge. Opening times: Wed: 6-9.30pm, Thurs and Fri: 2-10pm, Sat: 12-9.30m, Sunday: 12-6pm. Vinopolis is closing permanently on 31 December 2015, so pay a visit before then. For more information, visit the Vinopolis website.

Why not pay a visit to Vinopolis after lining your stomach with food from Borough Market. Click here for Metro Girl’s blog on the market.

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Cardinal’s Wharf: A survivor of 18th century Bankside amidst two London landmarks

The Georgian terrace has a plaque claiming to be the former home of Sir Christopher Wren… but what’s the truth?

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Cardinal’s Wharf, aka No.49 Bankside, is a rare survivor of 18th century architecture in the area

Cardinal’s Wharf isn’t usually on a tourist’s checklist of things to see in London. However, inevitably a large proportion of visitors will pass by it while on the way to the Globe or Tate Modern and be attracted to the row of 18th century terraced houses juxtaposed by 20th century architecture. Standing out amongst the three buildings is the tallest – No. 49 Bankside – a three-storey cream building with red door. If you get close enough, you’ll find a cream, ceramic plaque linking it to a very important Englishman – Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). Renowned as the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and many of the City of London’s churches, Wren is an important name in the history of the capital. The plaque claims: ‘Here lived Sir Christopher Wren during the building of St Paul’s Cathedral. Here also, in 1502, Catherine Infanta of Castile and Aragon, afterwards first queen of Henry VIII, took shelter on her first landing in London.’

Cardinal's Wharf © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

No.49 was built in 1710

If you stand with your back to the building, you have a lovely view of St Paul’s over the Thames. It’s easy to imagine Wren retiring with a glass of something to the first floor in the evening after a long day at work and gazing out of the window surveying the progress… however, sadly it’s not quite what happened. Wren was tasked with rebuilding a lot of the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666 and is believed to have based himself at Bankside… but at a building a few doors down from No.49, which has long been demolished.

Writer and historian Gillian Tindall uncovered the truth behind the myth of the building in her 2006 book The House By The Thames: And The People Who Lived There. It turns out No.49 was actually built in 1710 – the same year St Paul’s Cathedral was completed, so that already debunks the theory Wren was based there during the decades it took to build his masterpiece. Tindall believes the plaque stood on the actual house that Wren did live in, but a few houses east – situated where a modern block of flats stands today behind the Founders Arms pub. Her theory suggests Malcolm Munthe (1910-1995), who owned the property in 1945, retrieved the plaque when the original Wren building was demolished and placed it on No.49 to protect it from demolition (for a photo of No.49 in 1946, click here). While the act may have led many to confuse fact and fiction, the plaque’s incorrect placing has managed to save the house from destruction. Bankside was heavily bombed during World War II, before there was mass demolition and redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s, so the continued existence of these three houses in Cardinal’s Wharf is a remarkable thing. Situated next to the 1940s-built Tate Modern (formerly Bankside Power Station) and the modern reconstruction of The Globe theatre (opened 1997), Cardinal’s Wharf is a striking contrast to the modernity around it. The house used to stand a lot closer to the Thames, until the Greater London Council revised the waterline back in the 1970s, creating a larger pedestrianised area we see today. No.49 remains the oldest house on Bankside today.  Read the rest of this entry

Every which way: Endless Stair by the Tate Modern

Winchester Palace ruins: A surviving piece of Medieval London amidst the wharves

The history of these striking 12th century ruins on Bankside.

Winchester Palace © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Medieval architecture: The fine rose window of the great hall in Winchester Palace still exists

While London has been in existence for over 2000 years, there is little that remains from the earlier centuries. The Tower Of London and sections of the old Roman Wall are just a few pre-17th century remnants of the City of London. Over the centuries, the city has been ravaged by fire, plagues and bombs. Back in the 13th Century, the population of London was extending beyond the City walls, as the adjoining City of Westminster was also rapidly growing since the 11th century – with people spreading across the River Thames to the South Bank.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The remains of the gable wall with doors leading to the kitchen, pantry and buttery

Of course, during Shakespeare’s times, Bankside had become renowned for being the Soho or Shoreditch of London of the time – where the population went to party and be entertained. However, a few centuries before the Elizabethan playhouses entertained the masses, Bankside became home to Winchester Palace – a city base for religious leaders.

The town of Southwark belonged to the old Diocese of Winchester – when the Hampshire city was the capital of Saxon England – and was  a handy base for the Bishop when he needed to visit London for royal or state business. Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester at the time, decided to construct the palace in the 12th century as a permanent base. The palace included a Great Hall, prison, wine cellar, brewery and butchers, among other buildings on the large site. As well as providing somewhere to rest, it soon became a place for entertainment. The palace played host to royal guests over the decades and was the location of James I of Scotland and Joan Beaufort’s wedding reception in 1424. The bishops certainly lived well – even having access to tennis courts, garden and bowling alley.

The palace remained in use for nearly 500 years until the 17th century when the building was divided up into warehouses and tenements. However, like many of London’s greatest buildings, it was largely destroyed by fire in 1814. The existing ruins, which lie on the Thames Path, were partially re-discovered in the 19th century following another fire, and redevelopment of Bankside in the 1980s uncovered more. Today, all that’s left is the stunning rose window and the gable wall with doors leading to the pantry, buttery and kitchen.

  • The remains of Winchester Palace lie on the Thames Path, just west of the Golden Hinde ship replica and a few minutes walk from Southwark Cathedral. Free to visit. Nearest station: London Bridge. For more information, visit the English Heritage website.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Quite a sight: The remains of Winchester Palace are visible alongside the Thames Path


To find out about another historic building along the Thames Path, read the story behind Hay’s Galleria.

For a post on nearby Cardinal’s Wharf, often referred to as the ‘Christopher Wren house’, on Bankside, click here or to read about the ruins of Edward III’s Manor House 1.7 miles away, click here.

For the rest of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.

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