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London’s Low Line

Bankside’s Low Line is London’s response to New York’s High Line. Instead of walking along the top of railway viaducts this takes one along the bottom of the many viaducts that populate the area south of the Thames.

It may come as a surprise that the Low Line if you’ve not heard of it, actually began life back in early 2015. Its not had a lot of publicity so far. The aim of the Low Line is to present a continual series of places of interest whether they be art galleries, cafes, museums, sculptures, history, or just plain industry.

The idea has interested others and there is talk of introducing similar schemes from London Bridge towards Bermondsey and Blackfriars down towards the Elephant (as well as extension of the current scheme to Waterloo) and opening up more hidden areas of London.

There is a short guide to the Low Line & what can be seen, however its not exact and a bit out of date. One of the answers it does not give is where does the Low Line actually begin? And where exactly does it go? Its not exactly helping people to find the beginning, the end – or even the middle of the Low Line! There are signs and markers on the various pillars along the railway viaducts but one really needs to be in the know to find these easily.

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The Low Line’s start can be found just outside Borough Market in Park Street

Where does it actually start? The guide shows it as beginning at St Thomas Street and going through Borough Market – but is this where it starts? There are no signs at St Thomas Street, London Bridge station, or in Borough Market itself to indicate the Low Line – so where does it begin exactly?

Borough Market is full of railways (four different lines) yet one would not think so. When the extensions to the railway were proposed the scheme involved demolishing historic market. There was enormous opposition to the notion the market should suffer this fate. Amazingly the railways reconsidered their proposals and built the new viaducts through the market in such a way one barely even notices them. To find the Low Line one must find the bit of railway viaduct that doesn’t exactly hide itself from the market.

This bit is in Park Street on the west side of the Borough Market. This side road leads off by the Market Porter Inn and past Neal’s Yard to the railway bridge at the bottom. The arch is lit in blue (the Low Line’s house colour) and the first Low Line markers can be found here thus this is its start.

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Park Street bridge where the Low Line begins – the Take Courage building can be seen

I have done a map specially to show the Low Line where exactly it goes and where it ends. A larger size can be seen by clicking on the image below. Its only a basic walking route map using Open Street mapping, it doesn’t list many of the points of interest along the way. What’s more is it shows my appalling graphics skills very well!

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A simple basic guide to the Low Line. (Yes I know my graphics skills are poor!) Click on image for larger version

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The ‘Take Courage’ building in Redcross Way/Park Street – seen from a train on the viaduct

Although the route is a little messy currently with works on the east side of Redcross Way, the building on the west side has a ghost sign ‘Take Courage’ (referring to a popular beer of the old days.) Further down the Wilcox Works (a sign over the window says W. H. Wilcox & Co Ltd) has two of the now recognisable Low Line markers.

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The former works belonging to W.H. Wilcox and Co. Ltd

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Ghost sign under the railway bridge by Redcross Street

Its straight across Southwark Street and towards what is known as Crossbones Graveyard. I don’t see any markers along here (the Low Line apparently goes via Southwark Street even though there is a marker under the viaduct in Redcross Street – there’s nothing to denote which way it goes – confusing!) The Low Line guide says ‘Here the Low Line comes close to Bankside’s famous Medieval burial ground – Crossbones.’

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Crossbones Graveyard with Shard in background – the huge sign has now alas gone

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Railway viaduct – possible new course for the Low Line from Southwark St – O’Meara Street

I expect the Low Line will eventually follow the course of the viaduct alongside Southwark Street (if and when the land does become accessible to the public) but for now take Southwark Street and turn left into O’ Meara Street or alternatively continue past Crossbones to Union Street then back up O’ Meara Street.

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O’Meara Street , the Shard, the railway, and another Wilcox’s building!

The Church of The Most Precious Blood is on the south side of the viaduct. Its now a historic and listed building. There is an excellent Marian shrine outside the church right by the railway arches. From here a gateway on the north side of the viaduct leads to Flat Iron Square. Alternatively one can gain this location by going back down to Union Street and then the main entrance off there to Flat Iron Square (or another one that can be found in Southwark Street.)

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Flat Iron Square – with a Low Line marker on the left

From Flat Iron Square the route goes straight across Southwark Bridge Road into America Street. There isnt a lot to see in this street, its still quite industrial and rather explains the small pocket garden that has been put down here.

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The metal box garden in America Street

The metal skip garden is a concept that’s becoming popular in London as people try to introduce various types of small pocket gardens to enhance the local environment. This garden has been here more than a year contrary to what some claim.

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Junction of America and Great Guildford Streets. My preferred route is that on the left

At America Street the route goes either of two ways. The Low Line guide says go the northern route, which is a pretty long way round. I’d say the southern route (Great Guildford Street) because it takes one through the arches where one can view a pair of historic pictures. The Metal Box Factory, which is mentioned in the guide, can now be viewed from the southern route as recent redevelopment has enabled a viewpoint to the factory.

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Old picture in Great Guildford Street showing the Barclay & Fry premises

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Union Street heading westwards to Ewer Street

Onto Union Street and there’s a different view of the Metal Box Factory. This vista was opened up recently after redevelopment work. Its not the same as the one which can be seen from Great Guildford Street.

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The sculpture by 90 Union Street entitled Raw King and Queen is by Sokari Douglas Camp. She is a skilled metallurgist/welder and is noted for her excellent sculptures made of steel.

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The Metal Box factory as seen from Union Street. This vista was opened up recently

If one decides to go the long way round they will get a different view of the Metal Box Factory with Barclay and Fry’s huge  ghost sign on the wall. Carrying on this way one comes into Southwark Street and then after a distance its left into Lavington Street and then left again into Ewer Street.

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Metal Box Factory view in Great Guildford Street

At Ewer Street one can pass through the viaduct to view the small plot of garden commemorating the Ewer Street burial ground. On the opposite of the road there is a plaque set in the pavement as a memorial to the twenty or so people who died in WWII when bombs hit the air raid shelter here and demolished it.

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Ewer Street air shelter where a bombing raid killed many in 1940

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Looking across the road from the Ewer Street memorial plaque to the burial ground

From Ewer Street is the longest continual section of the Low Line. It actually looks like some service road (which it essentially is.) There’s not a lot to see however. There’s an Irish drink house and restaurant known as Mc & Sons mid way along here (its main entrance is in Union Street however the rearwards entrance off the Low Line is open most times.) At the far end are some sports/keep fit clubs.

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Ewer Street actually continues alongside the viaduct through the gap seen on the far left

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Night time view east down Ewer Street with the Shard quite dominant

Look back and the Shard makes itself ever present as it almost always does anywhere along the Low Line. For this reason some may prefer to do the Low Line west to east to take in the views of the Shard. I prefer that option in the evenings when the Shard is likely to look quite colourful as the sun sets. Daytimes it really doesn’t matter either way.

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Every which way but loose? Three different ways the Low Line goes from Great Suffolk Street!

The route at Great Suffolk Street is perhaps the most confusing bit of the Low Line. Three different directions, following the numerous railway viaducts and bridges through the area. Above the streets trains trundle through their junctions en route to different parts of Southern England on clearly defined routes.

For people walking below its much more confusing. What the guides do NOT tell you is that all three routes have Low Line markers and information signs yet there also is no easy way to do all three different routes without retracing or doubling back on one’s steps. Further the Low Line also extends from here as far as Southwark Street (the top end of Burrell Street) but that section isn’t even mentioned in the guides.

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The bottom end of Old Union Yard Arches in Surrey Row

To the south (behind the above photograph) is Old Union Yard Arches. One can either walk straight down there and back up to Union Street or take a loop down Great Suffolk Street as far as Surrey Row and then walk backup through Old Union Yard.

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Corten Head outside the Africa Centre in Old Union Yard

The Old Union Yard is at least shown on the guides. There are various restaurants and then the Africa Centre further down. The sculpture outside the centre is entitled Corten Head, another example on the Low Line of Sokari Douglas Camp’s work.

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The top end of Union Yard Arches at Union Street

Part Two covers the sections north and west from Great Suffolk Street (Dolben Street to Blackfriars Road/Burrell Street.)

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