The South Bank has a long-established history of entertainment stretching back to the Middle Ages, but it wasn’t only the theatres and ale houses that drew the crowds. It was also the centre for a lot of mischief, including pleasure gardens, prostitution and bear baiting.
London’s oldest existing map actually shows the bear pits in the Bankside area. Published by Braun and Hogenburg, in 1572, the stunning map is available to view online and gives a truly fascinating, colourful glimpse of an old London now consigned to history.
The South Bank inevitably shifted its focus to a more legal and socially acceptable industry and the many mud flats and shallow banks were converted into working docklands.
County Hall was opened in 1922, which opened that whole section of the riverside to the public, and it was during the Festival of Britain in 1951 that the whole area was renamed South Bank. All the good stuff quickly followed, with the Southbank Centre, the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre becoming cultural stalwarts of the area.