Waterloo & City line
WATERLOO to BANK
1 1/2 hours
The Waterloo & City Underground line is actually a true railway. It was proposed, built and operated by a railway company in order to offer a convenient connection between the Waterloo mainline terminal and the City of London. As it would cross densely built areas, only an underground line was reasonable. It opened in 1898 and was purchased in 1907 by the railway company that operated the Waterloo terminal.
The line could not be connected with the train main line in Waterloo because the trains leave from platforms elevated above the street level, as was usual in the mid-19th century. There is actually no possibility to connect the line with any other line and any heavy equipment or replacement carriages need to be hauled via a special lift into the underground shaft.
The line remained owned by the railway company and later by British Rail until 1994, the year when it was transferred to the London Underground network.
Routing note: There are many routes through central London and I have allocated each attraction to a specific train or underground line in order not to repeat myself too often. Obviously, as the walk passes Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral, you can visit them and this would add to the time estimate given above.
This walk connects in Waterloo to Waterloo network walk 1. It will also connect there with Bakerloo Line walk 1, with Jubilee Line walk 5 and with Northern Line walk 9. It connects in Bank with DLR network walk 1. It will also connect there with Central Line walk 7 and with Northern Line walks 10 and 11.
The underground station opened for the Waterloo & City underground railway shuttle in 1898. It was then extended as true Underground lines were built: Bakerloo line in 1906, Northern line in 1926 and Jubilee line in 1999. The location of the platforms and the length of the corridors is such that you could argue for three separate stations: the Northern and Bakerloo lines are located at the western end of the train terminal, the Waterloo & City platform in the middle and the Jubilee line at the eastern end. I accordingly use a picture of the entrance closest to the Waterloo & City platforms.
The Waterloo & City platform gives an unusual feeling because it is single track with rather short trains compared to typical Underground stations.
Exit the underground station through the main formal entrance of Waterloo train terminal. It is signposted either as Victory Arch or as “exit number 5” in the terminal.
I comment at length on the train terminal in my Waterloo walk 1. For the purpose of this walk, it is enough to mention the exit you are using, built as a sort of victory monument after World War I. Although called the Victory Arch, it actually commemorates the railway staff killed during the war. It is a good example of late Edwardian bombast making use of Renaissance elements like pediments and balustrades on a strictly symmetrical basis
Going down the stairs, you see in front of you a railway viaduct. Turn L following the viaduct arches.
Cross York Road and follow the viaduct in Concert Hall Approach
Next L Belvedere Road
R into Jubilee Gardens, walk to the riverside walkway
This green space was landscaped when buildings used in a 1951 exhibition were demolished. There is not much to see except grass and a few larger trees transplanted here in 2012. It is actually not advisable to develop the park much because it is extremely heavily used in summer by tourists relaxing and snacking before or after their London Eye experience.
R along the river Thames following the signposted Thames Path.
The path crosses under Hungerford railway bridge with its two pedestrian walkways, passes the Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall.
The Royal Festival Hall is a big, squat concrete building that does not look very impressive from the riverfront. It is important for historical reasons as it was the first prestige building to be opened after the post-World War II financial difficulties. It opened in 1951 as a property of the Greater London Council and is now a separate institution. The architect’s concept was to create a completely new type of cultural centre, without the very British tradition of separating carefully the different classes of visitors according to how expensive their seats were. He also wanted to avoid any reference to post-classical bombast and the first visitors were overwhelmed, saying they felt transported into a future world.
In due course, some features had to be simplified, such as the greenery on the balconies overlooking the riverside. It is now a lively bar and restaurant but part of the balcony is accessible for casual visitors and this is definitely worth enjoying. The view centres on Charing Cross train terminal and the massive Strand hotels, which gives a more monumental feeling than in other places on the South bank.
The core of the building is a very large concert hall which is comparable to a shoebox, the typical shape for such venues until the 1970s. The acoustics were not fully satisfactory although they have improved somewhat after expensive refurbishment in 2007. The sound is described as being somewhat dry and stifled, so that concerts involving the voice are usually given elsewhere. Apart from the large hall, there is a large flexible space at the back of the building used mostly for performances and “open house” type of programming.
The colour scheme inside is an acquired taste, particularly where the carpets are concerned. I also was never impressed by the staircases. I find them awkward and confusing. Have a look at different levels and you will discover hidden corners with bars or shops.
The smaller concrete building near the Royal Festival Hall is Queen Elizabeth Hall. There is a very nice fountain between both buildings. When it is turned on, water curtains rise and fall in unexpected patterns and children daring a go will gleefully get drenched from time to time. Queen Elizabeth Hall was built in 1977 for concerts where a huge hall is less appropriate, such as chamber music. The two auditoriums are downright plain and ugly, but acoustics are excellent.
The building is a good example of the Brutalist style popular in the 1960s in Britain. It involves using concrete without cladding (therefore “brut”) and avoiding frilly decoration such as columns, pediments and scrolls. The lobby has a bar offering some views towards the river and is worth a short look for the elaborate ceiling. There was originally a much larger lobby wrapping all around the main auditorium, but large parts of it have been closed off as being of no particular use.
A third building is also part of the arts complex. To reach Haywards Gallery, you walk between the Royal Festival Hall and the Queen Elizabeth Hall past the fountain. The gallery opened in 1968 and the architecture is very similar to that of Queen Elizabeth Hall as the architects worked together. The main difference is that the gallery feels a bit more like a construction game with vertical blocks and the hall like a flat structure. One of my pictures is funny, you might see the face of a monkey or robot.
I have never been inside the gallery, it houses exhibitions on contemporary art and admission charges are not low. The building is a bit awkward to reach and not very visible, so that planners hesitate about how to use it efficiently.
Continue on the riverside walkway. You will certainly notice underneath Queen Elizabeth Hall a long, gloomy concrete space with graffiti. In the 1970s, such locations were actually thought to be convenient passages away from the rain, but they attracted the wrong sort of denizens. The graffiti comes from a time in the 1980s when this was the core of the streetboarding scene in London when this was still an avantgarde activity copied from the USA. Most of the walkway has been fenced off for years for security and hygienic reasons and there are commercial interests pushing for it to be converted to restaurants and shops.
The path now crosses under Waterloo Bridge. You will find more details about the bridge in my London Bridge walk 1. You also pass the film showing room of the British Film Institute located directly under the bridge. The BFI is a public archive that started in 1933 to collect films and later television features in a manner comparable to the British Library. It owns a film theatre where it shows films of artistic or topical interest that get little room in commercial theatres and has a very faithful following.
The path then passes the National Theatre.
The theatre is one of the most prominent companies funded significantly with public money in Britain. I have never attended performances (being a foreigner, I have difficulties with the special accent and speed of theatrical English). The building is very imposing and quite controversial. It was opened in 1977 and the plans are by Sir Denys Lasdun, who was influenced by Le Corbusier. Typical for his style are slanting shapes and receding terraces. It is a special type of brutalist architecture.
If you can save a few minutes, I recommend you have a look inside the building as there is a large lobby accessible independently of performances. The layout is utterly confusing, even more so than at the Barbican Centre, an other cultural building from the same period. But there are many unexpected lines of view berween the different levels, staircases and pillars that make it somehow fascinating. Strangely enough, I got to like the building, but I needed to go there several times before feeling comfortable with it.
Continue along the river Thames until you reach a green space. You pass first a large, ugly office building and reach the green space shortly thereafter. The Bernie Spain Gardens are worth a short detour. The part nearest to the river is mostly grass and is used a lot by tourists. The rear part is more interesting. On the western side, there is a row of brick houses that are actually murals faking real houses. There are a number of shops but what I like more is the unusual street furniture out of wood. The garden itself is a central grassy bowl with a rim of bushes and flower beds. It is away from the tourist bustle and therefore a sort of oasis on this walk.
Follow again the river Thames passing the OXO Tower Wharf. The tower gets its name from the shape of the windows at the top of the pointed tower. It is an example of shameless commercial behaviour: there was a warehouse here in the 1930s where a food manufacturer stored inter alia beef stock cubes sold under the Oxo brand. The local authorities did not allow advertising on the façade and the tower was built in such a manner as to go around the ban.
The warehouse was demolished in the 1970s but the tower had become a landmark and the ground was purchased by the borough council in 1984 in order to safeguard it. It is now owned by a social entreprise that rents the ground and first floor studios to artists. It is definitely worth climbing the stairs in order to look at their work although they obviously cater to more affluent clients. There is also a restaurant higher up and the rest is luxury flats. Interestingly, as the building is not listed, only the ownership structure guarantees that it is left standing.
The riverside walkway then passes a big concrete building that you cannot really see from below. It then crosses under Blackfriars road bridge. The subway is improved by two interesting pictures showing the bridge inauguration. I comment in detail on the bridge in my Blackfriars walk 5. There are actually three bridges, the road bridge, the red pillars of the former train bridge and the present train bridge. After the third bridge, you pass the conspicuous south bank entrance of Blackfriars train station, a rare case of a train station extending all the way above a tidal river.
The riverside walkway then passes a residential estate and a smaller pub building before reaching the garden in front of Tate Modern. I comment on this particular museum in my Jubilee line walk 6. The garden in front of the museum is mostly grass. What makes it pleasant and unusual are the rows of birch trees, the black and white bark making a nice contrast to the grass and to the dark red bricks of the building.
Just after passing the Tate Modern, cross the Thames on Millenium Bridge.
The bridge got its name from being planned to open in the year 2000. It did open, but it swayed in an uncomfortable manner and had to be closed for two years before engineers were sure that no accident would happen. Modern computers can plan for bridges to sway slightly on purpose or within specific tolerance, but the innumerable tourists might have got nervous. 19th century architects realised that some bridges swayed when a famous accident happened in France: a bridge collapsed into the river Loire, drowning many soldiers who were being marched across it.
The bridge had to be very thin in order not to impede navigation and is therefore a suspension bridge. You can see the anchoring of the cables clearly at the south end of the bridge. Very similar bridges were built in many cities, including the optical trick of a staircase sinking below the bridge level at one or both ends.
From the bridge, you have a limited view west because of the massive Blackfriars bridges. The most conspicuous building is the Charing Cross office complex. The view east shows primarily the somewhat chaotic jumble of mid-rise buildings in the City with landmark towers being actually further away. You can see some of Tower Bridge, but Southwark Bridge in the foreground is more conspicuous. To be honest, the best views are those towards both ends of the bridge.
The view towards the south end is dominated by the massive shape of Tate Modern, a former power station. The view towards the north concentrates primarily on St Paul’s Cathedral, the dome of which is exactly in the axis of the bridge. This was done on purpose as lines of view towards St Paul’s have a special role in London. A large aluminium sculpture at the end of the bridge will give you an interesting frame for the dome. I have many pictures of the bridge and this view as all my visitors from overseas insisted on taking it.
Before crossing the road in front of you, you will see on your left a large brick building with a courtyard, a magnificent grand staircase and a sparkling gilded iron gate. This is a venerable English institution, the College of Arms. I do say English although it is also competent for Wales because Scotland has an other institution, the delightfully named Court of the Lord Lyon. The college was founded in 1484; the present building is partly from the 17th century but much of it was rebuilt in the 1950s. If you feel you are entitled to a coat of arms due to some exalted ancestry or if you are a company intending to ennoble your production of mouth-water and knickers with a coat of arms, this institution is where you will need to go. Be warned that it is not really cheap.
Opposite the college of arms, you may notice a small church, St. Benet’s Paul’s Wharf. It was built in 1670; it is modest but pretty with very baroque scrolls of flowers above the windows. Opening times are very limited and I don’t think there is much to see inside. Benet is an old name for Benedict, but is amusing if you speak French as a “benêt” is a simpleton.
Ahead all the way to St Paul’s Cathedral.
I comment on the cathedral itself in my District Line walk 11, but the best view of the dome is from where you are. When architect Wren designed the cathedral in the 1670s, he had in mind the huge dome of St Peter’s in Rome and the impressive dome of the Val de Grâce built by Mansart in Paris for Louis XIV, the arbiter of good taste in Europe at the time. Wren’s innovation was to set the dome on top of a high cylindrical drum, which you can be thankful for as this provides the “rooftop” viewing gallery. There are actually many more layers between the level of the nave and the golden cross at the top of the dome.
In front of the cathedral R into Festival Gardens.
The gardens were landscaped in 1951 on the occasion of the “Festival of Britain”, the celebration that also led to the National Festival Hall being built. The ground was rubbish left after World War II bombs had destroyed the office buildings that were located here. The concept of the main garden is simple, a rectangular lawn recessed into the ground and enclosed by a flower border, plus an alley of trees around the garden. I never really fell in love with the garden because of the traffic along it.
Keep to the north side of the gardens (not along the busy road) and walk towards a small church tower standing by itself.
The tower is the only rest of the church of St Augustine’s Watling Street, built in 1683 but destroyed by bombs during World War II.
Ahead Watling Street
Cross Queen Victoria Street and continue ahead into a passage between office buildings called Bloomberg Arcade
L Walbrook (a narrow street)
The large building to your left is used as headquarters for a financial information company. Check locally whether the Mithraeum located in the basement is accessible. This word refers to the structure shown on my picture; at the time, it was freely accessible above ground near the adjacent crossroads. It is one of the best known Roman ruins in London. The lines of stones and bricks show the outline of a small roman temple where soldiers worshipped this oriental God. The site is very important for archeologists because they found here a number of important documents written on wooden tablets and preserved in marshy ground. Such funds are exceedingly rare.
You must imagine the soldiers sitting on straw-covered benches on either side of the central alley and looking towards an altar at the end of the room. They would also recline on the benches for ritual meals. The religion was popular with soldiers because it involved a complex hierarchy of involvement in mysteries, a structure they were familiar with and that stressed comradeship. But we know very little about the beliefs as they were never really put in written.
Nearly opposite the Mithraeum, you pass a church, St Stephen Walbroook. It is one of the many City churches built in the 1670s on designs by Christopher Wren and is considered one of his best designs, with the dome being a miniature version of St Paul’s. Architects particularly admired the transition between the four-sided crossing of the naves and the round dome using eight columns. Note that the dome does not rely on walls at all, only on the columns. This is made possible by the fact that the dome is actually in wood covered with decorative plaster, not in stone. This was a fire hazard but the church was lucky.
The other peculiarity is the altar in the middle of the church under the dome. It is by Henry Moore and the smooth shapes in white marble complement elegantly the general scheme of the church. But using a sculpture as an altar is an unusual practice that led to a special appellate tribunal being constituted to discuss this point of theology; it is one of only two instances in history of this tribunal being required. It is called nicely the “Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved”.
The route ends at the large crossroads at the end of this street. There are several buildings of interest here such as Mansion House and the Bank of England, but I comment on them elsewhere (see for example my DLR walk 1).
The station for the Waterloo & City trains is actually located deep underground close to Mansion House and not close to Bank. It was therefore called City until 1940. Because of the considerable traffic at rush hour, access was not through a lift as you would expect; steep, very long inclines were provided instead and emerged into the concourse built under the Bank crossroads for the Northern and Central lines who opened both in 1900. The DLR platforms opened in 1991.
The long, steep incline caused frequent complaints and overcrowding in the corridor caused safety concerns, so that a so-called “travolator” was installed. It was an American novelty and the British authorities were very concerned about it being dangerous, very expensive and unreliable. It only opened in 1960 after 30 years of discussions. It is very popular nowadays with advertising companies because the specific shape of the corridor makes it possible to test “immersive” advertising using the ceiling as well as the wall. The word “travolator” is British English; other countries use the wording “moving walkway”. There are only two “travolators” on the London Underground network, in Waterloo and in Bank stations.