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About South Bank London

The official fan page for South Bank, the cultural heart of London. Find out more at www.southbanklondon.com THE HISTORY OF SOUTH BANK Looking at all the buildings on South Bank is like looking at a 3D timeline of the area’s history. From the Edwardian Baroque of County Hall to the Brutalism of National Theatre, and the rustic charm of old industrial warehouses like OXO Tower Wharf, to new developments yet to be built, you could literally chart the different decades from the 1800s to the present day. But why were these buildings built here, and how did the area become what it is today? Check out our timeline below for to learn the origins of our organisations then enjoy them for yourself. PRE 1800s: In the pre and early 1800s the South Bank of London was practically deserted. Cut off from the river by the great expanses of the River Thames, it was only accessible to ferrymen shuffling back and forth across the current. The land itself was marshlands, not suitable for building on and certainly not somewhere people went to relax and soak up an exciting atmosphere. 1810s: One of London’s best and most popular theatres was also opened in this period. The Old Vic was established in 1818 and was known under a couple of different names such as the Royal Coburg Theatre and the Royal Victoria Theatre. The theatre was badly damaged in the Second World War but in 1951 it got Grade II listed status. Whilst under the management of Laurence Olivier it became the National Theatre until the NT moved to its current location on the riverside. The Old Vic remains hugely popular and is currently under the directorship of Hollywood legend, Kevin Spacey. 1830s: As the industrial revolution kicked into gear, the South Bank of the river became an industrial port and multiple wharves, tanneries, waterworks and leadworks began springing up across the area. One of the most notable factories to appear on the South Bank was the Lion Brewery that stood where Southbank Centre is today. Other works included the Coade Artificial Stone Manufactory who made the South Bank Lion which remains on the South Bank today. 1850s: With the peak of the industrial revolution came the arrival of the railways and for South Bank this meant London’s busiest station was built on their doorstep, Waterloo. Back in the 19th century the railways were noisy and dirty making the South Bank an oppressive and unpleasant place to be. Soot from the engines would rise into the air from Waterloo and fall onto the streets below. EARLY 1900s: The first half of the 1900s was a tumultuous time with two World Wars wreaking devastation on the capital. Understandably, people lost their way and it was difficult to feel confident in a united identity as the face of the city was continuously changing. A new building that appeared on the river front was County Hall. Built between 1911 and 1933 County Hall had lots of different functions but most famously served as the seat of the London County Council and later the Greater London Council, which was famously disbanded by Margaret Thatcher. The building then faced a questionable future. At one point it was suggested that the London School of Economics would relocate there. Nowadays, it still serves multiple functions and houses many of our attractions including the 5* Marriott Hotel, the Sea Life London Aquarium and, most recently, the London Dungeon. Although the Imperial War Museum has been around since 1917, the museum on Lambeth Road has only been there since 1936. The 1966 extension houses the library, art store, and document archives while the 1980s redevelopments created exhibition space over five floors. The first stage created 8,000 m2 of gallery space of which 4,600 m2 was new, and the second provided a further 1,600 m2. The final phase, the Southwest Infill, was partly funded by a £12.6 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and provided 5,860m2 of gallery space and educational facilities over six floors. The Imperial War Museum is currently going under more refurbishment work and will reopen in July 2013 with a Horrible Histories: Spies exhibition. 1950s onwards: Following the end of the Second World War, the South Bank needed a bit of facelift and it was felt the country needed a pick me up – something to reinstall their faith in the nation. And so the Festival of Britain was born. It was the brainchild of Herbert Morrison and sought to demonstrate Britain’s different innovations in the world of science, technology, arts and industrial design. Such a great festival needed a great space to hold it and therefore the Royal Festival Hall was built, a bastion of new design. The Royal Festival Hall retains its legendary status today hosting many of the country’s biggest cultural events. Closed to non-ticketed guests until the 1980s, the patrons then created an open door policy to better reflect its original festival mentality and this remains the case. It is often referred to as London’s living room. 1960s and 1970s: The ‘60s and ‘70s saw the arrival of some more drastic architecture on South Bank, built in a style known as Brutalism. The first of two projects was the Queen Elizabeth Hall, which opened in 1967. With its war bunker-like blocks it was voted the ugliest building in Britain by Daily Mail readers of the day. However, it is now lauded as an example of post-modern architecture and is often seen as the forerunner to other big European projects such as the Pompidou Centre in Paris – hailing the idea of bringing the inside out. An extra addition was the Hayward Gallery which originally specialised in sculpture. 1970 saw the arrival of a new theatre in the South Bank area – the Young Vic. Originally part of the National Theatre, the aim of the new theatre was to create more accessible productions which offered high quality but at a low cost and in an informal environment. The theatre was refurbished from 2004 – 2006 providing new foyer spaces and two studios. The Queen Elizabeth Hall got a sibling in 1976 when the National Theatre was built on the other side of Waterloo Bridge. It was designed by Denys Lasdun and Peter Softley and was moved from its previous location at the Old Vic whilst under the stewardship of Laurence Olivier. It comprises of three theatres, the first and largest being the Olivier theatre which was modelled on the ancient Greek theatre at Epidaurus. The middle theatre is the Lyttleton Theatre, and finally the smallest of the three is the Cottesloe Theatre which is currently under refurbishment and has been replaced, temporarily, by The Shed a space for new innovative productions. 2000: The new millennium saw the arrival of possibly South Bank’s most iconic attraction, The London Eye. The giant ferris wheel designed by Marks Barfield Architects was built of celebrate the new millennium and, like its cousin the Millennium Dome, was only supposed to be there temporarily – until 2005. However, it proved so popular with Londoners and tourists alike that it has remained on the riverfront ever since and will stay until at least 2025. 2007: The National Film Theatre was initially opened in a temporary building (the Telekinema) at the Festival of Britain in 1951 and moved to its present location in 1957, replacing the Thameside restaurant on the site. Subsequently, Southbank Centre expanded its buildings to meet the National Film Theatre from the south, while the Royal National Theatre now occupies the area to the north-east. On 14 March 2007, the National Film Theatre was relaunched as BFI Southbank in considerably enlarged premises, taking over space that had been used by the Museum of the Moving Image. In addition to the three pre-existing auditoria, the complex now includes a studio, a médiathèque, gallery space, a shop, and a bar and restaurant run by Benugo. After being closed for a few years for refurbishment, the Southbank Centre also reopened anew in 2007 with more pleasant riverside areas, and a new thoroughfare lining Hungerford Bridge. Both areas now feature a multitude of new cafes, restaurants and shops to compliment Southbank Centre’s excellent cultural programme. THE FUTURE You would have thought they’d be tired of construction work but Southbank Centre are already planning their next project – The Festival Wing, a new atrium style development regenerating the run down areas around the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward gallery, making them more accessible and welcoming. There are also developments continuing at the National Theatre with the Cottesloe Theatre currently being refurbished. Additionally the Imperial War Museum is closed to the public for refurbishment until July when they will half-reopen with a Horrible Histories: Spies exhibition.

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  • Great to hear so many stories about South Bank this morning on the Robert Elms programme, BBC Radio London. Listen now --> https://bbc.in/2QrJ1tu

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