Tower Bridge to Stave Hill: Discovering London’s Secret Treasures

Testing testing… is this blog still on?! Welcome one and all as I take another trip around our great capital to explore some of its best sights, sounds and secrets. My journey today begins at perhaps one of the most iconic landmarks in London, Tower Bridge, and will take me to a true hidden gem, Stave Hill, where my adventure ends. On the way I’ll pass through Southwark Park, Canada Water, Greenland Dock and Russia Dock Woodland, so grab those walking boots and let’s get going!

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Tower Bridge to Stave Hill

We start at a sight that isn’t just recognisable to Londoners, but people across the world, Tower Bridge. Opened on the 30th June 1894, it was designed by Horace Jones, the City’s Architect, in collaboration with John Wolfe Barry, and took eight years to construct using five major contractors and 432 workers a day.

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Tower Bridge

Originally chocolate brown in colour, the bridge was repainted in 1977 red, white and blue to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, adding to the patriotic nature of the landmark. In order to construct it, a staggering 11,000 tons of steel were used to create the framework of the Tower and its walkways. Since 1976 the closing of the bridge has been operated with hydraulic power driven by oil and electricity rather than steam which was previously used. If you ever want to pass under the bridge, it’s free to do so and you can do it 365 days per year, though remember to give 24 hours’ notice! Every year the bridge is raised on average 850 times, so when you’re walking by it, you may well see it being lifted!

I do love the structure of Tower Bridge, it’s so distinctive and really illustrates the old, traditional historical significance to London, which only a few landmarks can bring. Also it has a real Royal feel to it and has to be the most beautiful bridge in the capital!

A short walk from Tower Bridge takes me to the Rotherhithe riverside where you get a ground-eye view of many of the capitals well-known landmarks. When you look across the river you can spot The Shard, Tower Bridge, The Walkie Talkie, The Cheese Grater, The Gherkin and even St Paul’s Cathedral, it’s like they’re all trying to squeeze into the photo!

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Rotherhithe Riverside

Walking along the river takes you to Southwark Park which opened to the public in 1869. Designed by Alexander McKenzie, the park is 25 hectares in size and includes a lake, bandstand, bowling green, play area, gallery, cafe and football pitches.

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Southwark Park Bandstand

Right beside the bandstand sits a drinking fountain which is commemorated to Mr Jabez West, who was a member of the local Temperance Society. This was London’s first public memorial to honour a working class man.

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Jabez West Drinking Fountain

A walk through the park takes you to the tranquil lakes and plants. The Ada Salter rose garden was built by West Bermondsey MP Alfred Salter in 1936 and was dedicated to Ada’s wife with the aim to provide somewhere of beauty where mothers and the elderly could sit.

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Ada Salter Rose Garden
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Fountain Within The Ada Salter Rose Garden

In 2001, £2.5m from the Heritage Lottery Funds was used for major refurbishment of the park. These included a replica of the 1833 bandstand from the Great Exhibition being replaced. Also a new bowling pavilion, children’s play area, restoring the lake and the main gates were created.

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Treemendous Views!

One of the main aspects of Southwark Park is that it combines nature with leisure and recreation, as on the one hand you have the picturesque lake, with the leisure of football pitches, something that parks like St James’s Park, Green Park and Hyde Park don’t have. It’s quite a vast area with a real community feel about it and has everything you could possible want from a park.

Leaving Southwark Park through its grand old gates, I take a short walk past Surrey Quays Overground station and Surrey Quays Shopping Centre to my next destination, Canada Water!

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Southwark Park Gates

As the name suggests, Canada Water’s origin comes from that of the country, Canada! Constructed in 1876 on the site of two former timber ponds, the name derives from the former Anglo-Canadian trade which took place in the docks. In 1926 two neighbouring timber ponds were replaced by the Quebec Dock, which were connected to the Canada Dock.

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Canada Water Shops

In 1964 the Canada Estate was built on the former site of the chemical works and consisted of five courts of 4 storey blocks. It wasn’t until the early 1980s when the docks finally shut down with the closure of the Surrey Docks, Quebec Dock and Canada Dock, with the majority of the old Canada Dock being filled in.

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Cute Water Walkway

The site that we see today has been redeveloped quite heavily with the Surrey Quays Shopping Centre now present with other entertainment places such as a cinema, bingo hall, bowling alley and restaurants. The regeneration project is a joint initiative by Southwark Council and British Land which was completed in 2012, and included new homes, commercial premises, a library and cultural spaces. The area is well connected too with Canada Water station being opened in 1999 with links to the London Overground and Jubilee Line.

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Canada Water Library in the Distance

Although Canada Water isn’t one of the most picturesque parts of London, I think it becomes much more appealing when you know the back story and origin of it, and that it used to be a major docking area. That makes it a bit more special to think that one day there was significant trade going on in the area, quite the contrast to the shops now there.

Having explored the history of one dock, it’s time to discover another as we head to Greenland Dock.

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Greenland Dock

The area has the honour of being the oldest of London’s riverside wet docks and used to be part of the Surrey Commercial Docks, most of which have now been filled in. Originally named Howland Great Wet Dock after the family that owned the land, the dock was excavated in 1696. It was renamed Greenland Docks by the mid-18th century when it became a base for arctic whaling, hence where the name Greenland comes into it!

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Overlooking Greenland Dock

During the 19th century it handled trade in Scandinavian and Baltic timber and Canadian gran, cheese and bacon, and was enlarged in 1904. The majority of the trading however was timber with the Surrey Commercial Docks controlling 80% of the capital’s timber trade.

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Greenland Dock

Technological changes in the shipping industry would soon push the docks into a spiral of decline and with timber being packaged as well as bulk carriers being far too large to accommodate the London docks, they were closed in 1970 with Greenland Dock being sold to Southwark Council. Between 1984 and 1990 the area saw vast change with 1,250 homes being built. Although trading has ceased in the docks, the waters are still used for boating and other water recreational uses.

Leaving Greenland Dock, it’s now time to move on to two of the most hidden gems and incredible wonders that London has to offer, as we first pay a visit to Russia Dock Woodland, then to Stave Hill.

The Russia Dock was one of the former Surrey Commercial Docks which also included the Island Dock and Surrey Basin. The docks were used to import timber from Norway, Sweden and Russia with it being mostly soft wood known as ‘deal wood’, which was used for newsprint and manufacturing furniture. Following the closure of the docks in the early 1970s the area was developed by the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) and in 1980 was turned into a 34.5-acre (140,000m2) woodland. The woodland still contains some of the old features of the docks such as wall capstones, gauges, bollards, mooring chains and tracks. Now the area is maintained and owned by Southwark Council.

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Pretty Pathway
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Ditch within the Woodlands
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Loved this Old Wooden Bridge!

It’s hard to believe that this area is right in the heart of the capital, with Canary Wharf just a stone’s throw away! You definitely feel like you’re in a woodland far-far away from the hustle and bustle that London brings. Every corner of the woodland provides a treasure trove of secret pathways, ponds and plants, so you feel like you’ll discover something new every time. It does have the feeling you’re in a fairytale land as every part of it is magical.

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Woodland Wonders
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Pretty Pond
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Always Find Something New!
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Stepping into Paradise
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Funky Chairs
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Picnic Areas
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Pond Life

If ever there was a way to end a walk, our final stop is a fitting finale and the perfect piece de resistance. Right on the edge of Russia Dock Woodland sits Stave Hill which was added in 1985 by the LDDC, and is an artificial grass hill made up of waste material and rubble.

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Stairs Leading up Stave Hill

At the bottom of Stave Hill you’re greeted with a kind of stairway to heaven, and I have to say I didn’t just walk up them, I ran up them as I was so excited about the view I was about to experience.

Once you get to the top the view is awe-inspiring and you aren’t short of iconic landmarks to see across the skyline, how many can you spot?!

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Spot the Landmarks!
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Looking Across the Skyline

As you pan across the 360 degree viewing tower, you get a birds-eye view of Russia Dock Woodland which demonstrates how big it really is!

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View of Russia Dock Woodland

On the opposite side of the view down the stairs, sits a unique perspective of Canary Wharf with the trees sitting in front of it.

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View of Canary Wharf

On the hill sits a cast bronze map of the former docks, designed by Michael Rizzello. When you’re up there all you can hear is the birds tweeting and the sound of the winds breeze, adding to the peaceful feeling you’re immersed in.

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Michael Rizzello Map

Well what a truly special way to end the walk, I have to say the view from Stave Hill is up there with another of my favourites in Hampstead Heath. What makes Russia Dock Woodland and Stave Hill so different is that if you didn’t stumble across them, you’d probably never know they were there, I certainly didn’t! This is one of my more longer walks which takes a few hours to do, so give yourself plenty of time!

Thanks for joining me on my walk, I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I did walking it! In the meantime, you can catch me on Twitter and Instagram and don’t forget to sign up to my blog too and have a read of my other walks! 🙂

Sources: (not the food sauces)

All photos taken by London Wlogger. © Copyright 2018

Tower Bridge: History of Tower Bridge

Southwark.Gov: History of Southwark Park

Hidden London: History of Canada Water

Hidden London: History of Greenland Dock

Southwark.Gov: History of Russia Dock Woodland

The Conversation Volunteers: Info about Stave Hill

Clapham Common to The Albert Bridge: Ponds, Parks and Picturesque Views

A warm welcome to you, and thanks for joining me on another walk around London! Throughout my walks of the capital I’ve explored many parks, and today I shall be exploring two of South London’s most wonderful natural spaces. My walk begins in Clapham Common takes me via Battersea Park before ending along the Thames at the splendid Albert Bridge.

I’ll admit I’d never actually been to either Clapham Common or Battersea Park before this walk, so for me it was even more exciting to do!

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Clapham Common to The Albert Bridge

My journey starts in Clapham Common which dates back to the late 17th century when the recreational area was used for horse racing and cricket. It wasn’t until the 1760s when a wealthy local resident by the name of Christopher Baldwin led an initiative to improve the Common by leveling it off and filling in its ditches and planting trees.

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Clapham Common

During the 19th century the Common was managed by a group of local trustees who continued to level it out and plant trees. As late as the 1920s sheep were still grazing on the Common, though it was now becoming a well-known area of leisure for people within the suburb which was growing both in size and wealth.

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Football Picthes on Clapham Common

However, in the 1860s Commons in London were at risk of being sold to developers as new legislation meant they could be purchased for the benefits of the public. In 1877, the Metropolitan Board of Works bought Clapham Common from its Manorial Owners with its aim to be ‘free and unenclosed forever’!

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Clapham Common

Both the board and its successor, the London County Council, continued to make improvements to it and in 1890 they responded to public demand to build one of the largest and best surviving Victorian bandstands in the country.

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Clapham Common Bandstand

During the First World War troops would be trained in digging trenches on the Common. Whilst in the Second World War the site was used for big events and housed an anti-aircraft battery, with bomb shelters being dug within it.

Sports facilities and entertainments continued on the Common after the War with the London County Council and its successor, the Greater London Council, making improvements to it. The Common was the venue for the International London Horse Show from 1954 to 1985. However, by the 1990s local residents became unhappy with the large scale concerts and other events which they thought were unsuited and damaging the local recreational space. Since 1971, the Common has been owned and managed by the London Borough of Lambeth.

Today, it’s 220 acres of wonderful grass areas, the lovely Mount Pond, many football pitches, and is one of London’s most famous Commons. I did love standing by the pond, with all you can hear is the sound of the birds and the wind, truly the definition of peaceful!

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Mount Pond
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Mount Pond
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Mount Pond

Opposite the Bandstand you’ll find the very popular and convenient La Baita, which in Italian means ‘the hut’. This cafe serves authentic Italian cuisine with sandwiches and drinks offered too. The perfect way to sit there and enjoy the Common on a sunny day.

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La Baita

Outside Clapham Common you’ll find the pretty St. Barnabas Church which was erected in 1897.

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St. Barnabas Church

It’s now time to continue my walk through Clapham Common and along the main road to Battersea Park.

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Leaving Clapham Common

Along my walk I go past Battersea Park train station, and this rather vintage railway bridge!

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Entrance to Battersea Park

Back in 1843 property developer Thomas Cubitt and the local vicar, the Honourable Reverend Robert Eden, reported to Queen Victoria’s Commison on improving the Metropolis. In 1846 an Act of Parliament was passed which gave to the authorisation of a formation of a park on part of Battersea Common and Battersea Fields.

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Scrubs of Battersea Park

A year before in 1845 architect James Pennethorne produced a preliminary layout of the park, but it wasn’t until 1854 when the main developments of the park took place. The park was formally opened to the public by Queen Victoria in 1858.

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Like with Clapham Common, the park was used during the First World War. Allotments were laid out in the park, an anti-aircraft station was set up on the croquet field, and a clothing depot was installed on one of the cricket fields. The park was also used during World War Two for an allotment, a piggery, an experimental radio station, and the running track became an anti-aircraft gun site. Today, the 200 acre park is managed by Wandsworth Council.

It’s not just Clapham Common that has a beautiful and picturesque pond, as Battersea Park has this amazing one too!

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Every pond should have somewhere to enjoy its splendour, and next to it you can relax in this riverside cafe!

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It’s only when you walk through the park that you find out how vast it is! Also the hidden gems within it keep appearing with more ponds and pathways filled with trees.

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Near the northern side of the park sits the Festival Gardens that were designed by Russell Page. In 1951 they were transformed into the ‘Pleasure Gardens’ as part of the Festival of Britain which celebrated the British industry, arts and science to promote the feeling of recovery after the World War.

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Festival Gardens Today

The event was intended to be a one-off year exhibition, but the fun fair remained there as a permanent attraction until it closed in 1974.

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One of the eye-catching features within the park is this cool metal structure!

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At the end of Festival Gardens you find the distinctive and rather amazing structure of the Peace Pagoda. Regular London Wlogger readers will remember another Pagoda appearing in Victoria Park in one of my previous walks!

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Peace Pagoda

The construction of the Peace Pagoda actually relates to the unlikely town of Milton Keynes in the UK. Back in 1978, the Reverend Gyoro Nagase arrived in England from Japan to assist with the construction of the first Peace Pagoda in the UK in Milton Keynes. Now you might think, it’s very random for a famous Japanese religious monument to be in Milton Keynes, but there is logic behind it! Back in the seventies when the new town of Milton Keynes was being developed, one of the planning advisers had visited Sri Lanka where he saw a Peace Pagoda. It was proposed to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation who loved the idea, and it remains there today.

In 1984, Reverend Gyoro Nagase moved to London to assist with 50 volunteers and Buddhist monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order to construct the Peace Pagoda in the park, and its amazing structure was completed in 1985.

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View from the Pagoda

To get to my final destination today I need to take a walk along the side of the Thames, and the view across it is simply stunning from the Peace Pagoda. You can tell I enjoyed taking videos on this walk!

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A famous place for morning joggers and dog walkers, I walk along the side of the river to reach The Albert Bridge!

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Located over the River Thames connecting Chelsea on the north bank to Battersea on the south bank, the Albert Bridge was designed and built by Rowland Mason Ordish in 1873. However, it proved to be structurally unsound, so between 1884 and 1887 Sir Joseph Bazalgette incorporated design elements of a suspension bridge to it.

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Two concrete piers were added to it to further strengthen it in 1973, which means today the bridge is an odd hybrid of three different design styles! For six years after it was opened it became a toll bridge, though this was unsuccessful and the charge was lifted.

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End of the Bridge with the Old Tollbooths

The bridge was given the nickname of ‘The Trembling Lady’ as it had the tenancy to vibrate when large numbers of people walked across it. The entrance sign to warn troops from the nearby Chelsea Barracks is still there today.

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Today, there are still traffic control limits over it to prolong its life, making it the least busy of London’s bridges. The bold colouring of the bridge was painted on it in 1992 to make it more visible for ships, and I think you’d find it hard to miss it! At night the bridge is illuminated with 4,000 bulbs, and with Grade II listed status it’s one of the capital’s riverside icons.

The view from it you can imagine is amazing! On one side you can see the Chelsea Bridge, and on the other is Battersea Bridge.

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Across the Thames with Chelsea Bridge in the Distance
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Other side is Battersea Bridge

I couldn’t think of many nicer places to end a walking adventure of London! I’ve taken a trip through South London to visit a famous Common, Park and Bridge, and seen how the first two played their part in both World Wars. Hope you had a great time reading my walk, and please share your thoughts below! Whilst I have you here, you can give me a follow on TwitterInstagram and Facebook, and don’t forget to sign up to my blog too!

I’ll see you next week!

Sources: (not the food sauces)

All photos taken by London Wlogger. © Copyright 2017

History of Clapham Common – Clapham Common Management Advisory Committee 

History of St Barnabas Church – British History Online

History of Battersea Park – Historic England

History of the Festival of Britain – Historic UK

History of the Peace Pagoda – Battersea Park History 

History of The Albert Bridge – Transport Trust