The South Bank and Waterloo area bulges with fascinating histories, of people, buildings, transport, institutions, events, murders and more. We can't tell all these stories ourselves, but scroll down this page for links to a wealth of fascinating stories, which we hope to build over time.
THE ROMANS IN WATERLOO
The earliest evidence of habitation in the area was discovered when County Hall was being constructed on the south bank of the Thames in 1910. The wreck of an ancient ship was found by workers, buried in the silt. It was made of oak and had been built by the Romans who settled in these islands in 55 BC. Click here for more.
The South Bank has always been a place of entertainment, from Elizabethan times onwards. On Easter Monday 1768 former cavalry officer Philip Astley and his wife Patty created a new forum for public pleasure - the circus - by bringing together a cornucopia of entertainments - trick horse-riding, acrobats, clowns and more - in one place for an afternoon's entertainment. Their first site was Halfpenny Hatch, where Roupell Street now sits, and that story is told here. So successful were they, however, that within a year they had earned enough to build Astley's Amphitheatre, in Westminster Bridge Road. Read more here.
WHO WAS GABRIEL?
The name Gabriel has been a presence on the South Bank for over 200 years. Christopher Gabriel was a maker of woodworking planes from the 1770s, but from around 1812 his sons changed the business to importing and selling timber and in 1815 took a long lease on the site now called Gabriel's Wharf. The business was extremely successful, and Christopher Gabriel's grandson, Thomas, rose to become Lord Mayor of London in the 1860s, and was made Sir Thomas Gabriel. Although the company closed the wharf in 1919 the name continued and the craft shops and restaurants that now occupy it can take inspiration from how a small timber yard grew and left a permanent name on the South Bank. As for the Gabriel family, its name continued with singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel, who is Sir Thomas's great-great-great nephew!
Some of the best known historic streets in Waterloo are in the Roupell Street Conservation Area, built in the 1820s and 1830s by John Roupell. But the name Roupell descended into scandal in the 1850s, with a story of forgery, embezzlement, parliamentary disgrace and deportation to Australia for his grandson William. Read more here.
THE LONDON NECROPOLIS RAILWAY
By the mid 19th century the population of London was growing so fast that there was a severe shortage of cemetery space for the dead. This led to the creation in 1854 of Brookwood Cemetery near Woking and of the London Necropolis Railway from Waterloo to take funeral mourners and the deceased there (and bring the mourners back). The surviving building dates from 1902, to replace one gobbled up by Waterloo Station’s expansion. and has a grand arch entrance for 'first class' funerals (there was a separate entrance round the back for less affluent deceased). The Necropolis Railway stopped operating in 1941, after serious bomb damage. If you are interested in the history of both the building and the Railway, click here to learn more.
Here, from 1903, is a wonderful image of Waterloo's Public Library, in what is now the Waterloo Action Centre building. The bookshelves, desks and newspaper stands may have disappeared, but the columns and arched windows are unmistakeable for anyone who has attended a meeting or dance class there - hushed silence replaced by raised voices or Rock & Roll!
The first local library was housed in Hawkstone Hall, Waterloo Rd., built as a memorial for Rowland Hill, the first pastor of Surrey Chapel in Blackfriars Road, and an early and important advocate of vaccination. A significant benefactor was John Noble, who was passionate about temperance, education and free public libraries, and he funded the new library on Baylis Rd. opened in 1893 by Princess Christian, Queen Victoria's daughter. The library remained there until 1967 when it was moved to a 'temporary' site in Lower Marsh. In 2016 it moved into the Oasis Centre on Kennington Rd. Over the last 140 years the Waterloo Library has had four homes, but for grandeur it's hard to beat the interior shown here!
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE FIRST WATERLOO BRIDGE?
Many people know that the previous London Bridge now sits over a man-made lake in Arizona, USA. Click here to find our what happened to the first Waterloo Bridge.
WATERLOO BRIDGE (THE SECOND)
It takes a knowing eye to see a similarity between Waterloo Bridge and the iconic British red telephone box. And yet the elegant curves of the bridge bear a strong likeness to the curved roof of Giles Gilbert Scott's telephone box, because he was responsible for the design of both. To read more about the bridge click here. To see a film on why it is also often called 'The Ladies Bridge', click here.