London’s Low Line (Part 2)

This is the second part of the Low Line article. As I mentioned in the previous post, the Low Line route at Great Suffolk Street is perhaps the most confusing part. Three different routes along the numerous railway viaducts – the official Low Line guide is quite incomplete when it comes to finding one’s way about this part of Southwark. We start back at the top end of Old Union Yard.

The official Low Line guide only shows one route which is to the left from Old Union yard under the railway bridge (and thats not even the one I take!) It advises a walking route from Union Yard to Scoresby Street via a bit of Union Street and then taking a back route up a side road (marked ‘Hotel Access Only’) this leads round the rear of the Union Street buildings and into Gambia Street. (This access route might look like some dodgy service road but in fact its the correct route – just ignore the service vehicle/large waste bins and look for the Low Line markers!)

If you haven’t seen part one you may have not seen the map I created specially for the Low Line. Here is it again below (this is the low-res version however. The above link retrieves the high res version.)

Link to the original Low Line guide. However its not complete – that’s why I did my own, rather amateurish, version!


The junction of Union Street and Great Suffolk Street. Head north from here

That recommended route means one misses out on the other two options so its a case of retracing one’s tracks at some point to see these. As a matter of fact the un-marked route (this is not on the guide) through the Great Suffolk Street area has more markers and plaques plus other elements of the Low Line (such as huge lit up letters or numbers reflecting the tube, Tate, and bridges) so clearly is the more important route.


View through the Great Suffolk street arches with a Low Line marker on the left

From Old Union Yard its therefore back up Great Suffolk Street and beneath the other railway arches along here. One isn’t really missing anything by not taking the recommended Union Street/access road/Gambia Street route for its quite short. The alternative via Great Suffolk and Dolben Streets is longer yet there’s considerably more to see.


Daytime view at Great Suffolk Street. The first bridge seen is actually the road bridge discussed

Some will notice there are four railway bridges high above Great Suffolk Street. Only three are actually for trains. The fourth (at a somewhat lower level) is a road bridge which once gave access to a huge railway depot. This formerly served trains bringing in goods from Continental Europe and was known as the Grand Vitesse Depot. In its later years it became solely a stabling depot for trains, and now its Network Rail offices and a railway training school, as well as providing vehicular access to the Waterloo East to London Bridge lines for instances where work may be needed on the tracks.


Looking the other way from Great Suffolk Street down Dolben Street

The northwards Low Line route heads up Great Suffolk Street before turning left into Dolben Street (formerly George Street.) The pub on the corner is a popular venue and there are wooden seats along Great Suffolk Street and a circular one opposite the pub. In Dolben Street is a marker and a plaque under this next railway arch.

Notice the unusual arched doorway beneath the railway – unusual because the door is arched at both top and bottom! At the point of separation of the two routes in Dolben Street, the buildings here are of interest – Thompson House and the small building next door. Look for the blue plaque on the small building – this tells us this is the site of the former house where Mary Wollenstonecraft once lived.


Gambia Street with Thompson House and on the wall the blue plaque commemorating Mary Wollenstonecraft

As I have mentioned, the route splits and one goes left via Gambia Street (and thus back to Union Street.) It also splits yet again and runs along Scoresby Street to Southwark tube station. The other is via Chancel Street towards Burrell Street and seems to be a fairly new addition.

If one continues along Great Suffolk Street itself they will soon come to the Tate Modern, another place hugely recommended especially as its in itself a place of architectural merit. Its various galleries have constant art interest and the views from the observation level are splendid.


Plaque in Gambia Street

We now venture down Gambia and Scoresby Streets. This bit of Gambia Street is essentially new and explains its somewhat different appearance. There has always been a road here however the pedestrianisation apparently is to stop rat runs in the area. Walk down here and onto Scoresby Street, by the Blackfriars Wine Bar.


Scoresby Street with the railway viaduct heading towards Waterloo. Gambia (and Union Street) are off to the left

There are plaques under the arches over Gambia Street (and a turn to the left on the far side of the viaduct leads into the aforementioned service road, thus completing the loop around the area back to Union Street.)


This service road at the end of Gambia Street is the Low Line (marker seen at left) leading back to Union Street

The railway viaduct from London Bridge to Charing Cross is at its most prominent along Scoresby Street (as it is most of the way to Waterloo East.) No need to work out where the Low Line goes because it is obvious. There are the usual Low Line markers on several of the arches, as well as the usual sort of places one will find resident within each of the different arches.

At the far end can be found the final plaque by the former entrance to Blackfriars Road station, almost right opposite Southwark tube station.

Its said in the guides the Low Line ends at Isabella Street however there’s no trace of plaques or markers beyond Blackfriars Road station as I have checked this. There is one marker under the bridge on the tube station side of the road however this is usually hidden and doesn’t really help with regards to Isabella Street.


The far end of Scoresby Street where the Low Line currently ends. This location was once Blackfriars Road station

The Low Line guides make no reference to any of the locations in Isabella Street (apart from a tentative indication that its on the route) so we must consider the site of Blackfriars Road by Southwark tube station as currently the most westwards extent of the Low Line.


Interesting buildings in Chancel Street

From here its back to Dolben Street and the Wollenstonecraft plaque. Take the left hand route which leads up Chancel Street. The markers/plaques were not put up on this section until possibly early summer 2017 and once again the Low Line guides have not been updated.


Treveris Street’s signs under the arches

On the right hand side is an old baths, now residences, however the signs denoting the baths still exist and the buildings next door are of architectural interest too.


The junction of Chancel and Treveris Streets. Notice the Low Line plaque and the tree!

The railway viaducts pass behind these buildings but re-emerge by Treveris Street. A Low Line plaque is on the corner and behind a tree there’s a ghost sign. Its for the Sun Insurance Company and dates from probably the fifties. The sign can be missed because of this tree. However the enduring condition of the sign can be attributed to the tree shielding the old paint from the harsh rays of the sun.


Close up of the Low Line plaque and tree, showing the well hidden ghost sign


Burrell Street looking west with Low Line marker on the wall

Continuing up Chancel Street the viaducts remain prominent. At the top one comes to Burrell Street. Turn right underneath the arches (which are numbered in huge lit up numerals as can be found at the other arches in the immediate area) and then turn left into the other section of Burrell Street. There are markers en route and a plaque right at the far end by Southwark Street. This is the furthermost extremity of the Low Line towards Blackfriars Bridge – for now.


Burrell Street leading towards Southwark Road. Sampson House (to be demolished) is straight ahead


Burrell Street sign and the final Low Line plaque

On the left,underneath the railway bridge, leading towards Stamford Street is the huge artwork ‘Poured Lines’ by Ian Davenport. Its said to be one of the biggest paintings in Britain with dimensions of 48m (157ft) length and 3m (10ft) height.

To the right on Southwark Street is Kirkaldy’s Works. Its where David Kirkaldy installed a huge testing machine in 1865 designed to test the strength of iron and steel. Of interest outside the premises on the walls are the different statements such as ‘Facts not opinions.’ These indicate the clear aim of the works. To test and demonstrate facts about various things, rather than accept opinions which were not always correct.


Kirkaldy’s Testing & experimenting Works seen from the rear


Kirkaldy Works – Facts not opinions

The current works to redevelop the land around the viaducts north of Southwark Street means the Low Line will not be extended to Blackfriars station until the Ludgate and Sampson House sites are cleared and the new development is built – meaning we are looking at a few years ahead before the Low Line can be extended further towards the Thames.


When the huge Sampson House comes down the viaducts behind here will be at their most visible in years

At the time of writing the Ludgate House site has been now been cleared and the much larger Sampson House is due to be demolished later this year. When the new site is finished there will be a particular focus on culture with the provision of a new square and people will be able to walk through the viaduct arches from Southwark Street/Blackfriars Road to the Tate Modern.

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