South Bank, London

Here’s the South Bank seen from the Victoria Embankment on the North Bank.

South Bank near Blackfriars Bridge – Tate Modern, The Shard, One Blackfriars, South Bank Tower

Here you see the modern blocks, with the older wharves in front. The low red building towards the right is Oxo Tower Wharf, formerly a factory making OXO cubes, now a place with workshops for jewellers, a restaurant and various cafés. The building was designed for the Liebig Extract of Meat Company by Albert Moore in the 1920s. It was derelict in the 1970s. In the 1980s the Coin Street Community Builders saved it from demolition and with great determination gradually renovated it in stages over the next twenty years.

The tall tower on the right is the South Bank Tower, a residential block. Its height was increased recently, adding about a third on top. You can see the “seam” on the building, and I have shown it in the drawing on the right of the tower. One Blackfrairs is the asymmetrical tower in the middle, mostly residential, and completed last year.

Here is work in progress.

Here’s a map.

Street map. The arrow shows the sightline of the drawing.

There is a building to the South West of Blackfriars Bridge, labelled “HM Customs” on the map. This is next to Oxo Tower Wharf, on the river front in the centre of the drawing.

HM Customs and Excise were there from 1987, when the building was called “New Kings Beam House”. In an early part of my career they were a client of mine. This was the 1980s. I remember stepping over mud in my nice business shoes, and picking my way between derelict buildings with my briefcase, feeling rather conspicuous. After this hazardous journey, I was always glad to see the uniformed commissionaire at the door of New Kings Beam House. He was, of course, in full Customs uniform, with a white shirt and gold buttons. The entrance was from Upper Ground then. The meetings were in bright offices overlooking the river, fully carpeted and quite unlike the offices of any other of my government clients. HM Customs and Excise merged with the Inland Revenue in 2005 to form “Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs” (HMRC). They must have moved out of the building around then. It was refurbished in 2011, and is now called “Sea Containers House”, with a hotel and the offices of media and marketing companies.

This drawing took about an hour drawn leaning on a stone pillar on the Victoria Embankment. Phthalo Blue (W&N), Burnt Umber (DS) and a bit of Mars Yellow (DS) and Perinone Orange (DS).

I put more information about Sea Containers House in this post: From Oxo Tower Wharf. In the 1980s there were the gold spheres on top of the pillars facing the river. These have since vanished from the riverside façade.

Sea Containers House about 2010, showing the golden spheres. Note also the height of the Tower behind, which is now much higher, and is called South Bank Tower.

When I was sketching, I thought I could see one of them, hidden at the back. You can see it in the drawing, between the Oxo tower and South Bank Tower. Intrigued, I went looking for it later, and found a view of it from Upper Ground. It’s very odd that they kept that one, and discarded all the others.

Here is what Sea Containers House looks like now, from the North side of Blackfriars Bridge, March 2020. No golden spheres on this side. And see the increased height of the South Bank Tower behind.

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