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The South Bank is an area of Central London, England located immediately adjacent to the southern bank of the River Thames opposite the City of Westminster. It forms a long and narrow section of riverside development within the London Borough of Lambeth and the London Borough of Southwark where it joins Bankside. The pedestrian embankment is the Queen's Walk.
South Bank developed much more slowly than the north bank of the river due to adverse conditions, and throughout its history has twice functioned as an entertainment district, separated by a hundred years of use as a location for industry. Change to the current use of the area began in 1917 with the construction of County Hall at Lambeth replacing the Lion Brewery, its Coade stone symbol was retained and placed on a pedestal at Westminster Bridge and is known as the 'South Bank Lion'.
In 1951 the Festival of Britain redefined the area as a place for arts and entertainment. It now forms a significant tourist district in central London, stretching from the Blackfriars Bridge in the east to Westminster Bridge in the west. A series of central London bridges connect the area to the northern bank of the Thames Golden Jubilee and Waterloo Bridge.
The south bank of the River Thames was slower to develop than the north bank, alongside the City of London and the Westminster, because sunlight favours the north bank and the deep channel of the Thames was alongside it. During the Middle Ages the south bank developed as a place of entertainment outside the formal regulation of the City of London on the north bank; this included theatres, prostitution and bear-baiting.
By the 18th century the more genteel entertainment of the pleasure gardens had developed. The shallow bank and mud flats of the south bank were ideal locations for industry and docks. The south bank went on to develop as an industrial location in a patchwork of private ownership, with the riverside cut off from the public access.
There was a shift in use when the London County Council required a new County Hall, which was built between 1917 and 1922 on the south bank near North Lambeth's Lower Marsh. The construction of County Hall returned the first section of river frontage to public use. This was extended eastwards in 1951 when the Festival of Britain caused a considerable area to be redeveloped.
It was renamed 'South Bank' as part of promoting the Festival. The legacy of the festival was mixed, with buildings and exhibits demolished to make way for Jubilee Gardens, whilst the Royal Festival Hall and The Queen's Walk were retained as part of the Southbank Centre. During the years following the festival the arts and entertainment complex grew with additional facilities, including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and other arts venues opened along the river such as the Royal National Theatre.
The South Bank stretches two square miles (5 square kilometres) along the southern bank of the River Thames. The western section is in the London Borough of Lambeth and the eastern section is in the London Borough of Southwark where it joins Bankside.
The South Bank is a significant arts and entertainment district. The Southbank Centre comprises the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and The Hayward Gallery. The Royal National Theatre, the Imax super cinema and BFI Southbank are located adjacent to the east, but are not part of the centre.
County Hall is no longer used as the seat of London government and has been converted to house the London Marriott Hotel County Hall, Sea Life London Aquarium, the London Dungeon and the London Film Museum. It contains the Jubilee Gardens and is the location of the London Eye. The OXO Tower Wharf is located towards the eastern end of South Bank, and houses Gallery@Oxo, shops and boutiques, and the OXO Tower Restaurant run by Harvey Nichols.
Cultural organisations situated near to the South Bank include The Old Vic Theatre which has been under the artistic direction of Kevin Spacey since 2003, the Old Vic Tunnels which operates under the artistic direction of Hamish Jenkinson, and the Young Vic which specialises in giving opportunities to young actors and directors. The Florence Nightingale Museum is situated close by, next to St Thomas' Hospital.
Part of the Southbank Centre under the Queen Elizabeth Hall is known as the undercroft, and has been used by the skateboarding community since the early seventies. Originally an architectural dead-spot, it has become a landmark of British skateboarding culture. The size of the under-croft has been reduced in recent years and was supposed to be returned to original size. This now seems unlikely and the future of the whole space is completely unsure at present with campaigns for its future survival being fought by the Long Live Southbank campaign. Part of the Southbank Centre has been turned into shops looking out over the river.
Part of the success of the area as a visitor attraction is attributed to the high levels of public transport access. Several major railway terminals are within walking distance of the South Bank, on both sides of the river, including Waterloo, Charing Cross and Blackfriars. The London Underground has stations on or near the South Bank, from west to east, at Westminster, Waterloo Station, Embankment, Blackfriars Station and Southwark.
The development of the new Thameslink Blackfriars station, which has access from both the southern and northern side of the river, prompted the additional named signage 'for Bankside and South Bank'. Accessibility to the north bank is high with connections made, from west to east, over the Westminster, Golden Jubilee, Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges. The river is utilised as a means of transport with piers along the South Bank at the London Eye, Royal Festival Hall and Bankside.
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