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Exploring the Secret Side of Southbank at The Ferryman’s Seat

Last Updated on 13th December 2019 by Sophie Nadeau

London’s Southbank is chic, trendy, and home to a multitude of bars, restaurants, pop-up shops, and of course, Shakespeare’s Globe. But what you may not know is that there’s also a secret side of the Southbank that many pass by each day and yet few know about. For, lodged in the side of a chain restaurant, somewhere between a small alleyway and amidst all of the modernity there are traces of London’s much older past, including that of the Ferryman’s Seat…

Exploring the Secret Side of Southbank at The Ferryman's Seat, London, England

Exploring the Secret Side of Southbank at The Ferryman’s Seat

Head to the shores of the Thames and you can expect to find plenty of junk that’s washed up from the river. Over three millennia of human inhabitation will do that to a busy and bustling city. But, in reality, this is a case of one man’s trash being quite literally another’s treasure and you never know what you might find next; Victorian brooches, some Roman artifacts, and even Woolly Mammoth remains have all been known to turn up in the Thames.

Once upon a time (as far back as the 1750s), London Bridge was the only way to cross the River Thames on foot. In order to reach central London, ferrymen (also known as ‘wherrymen’) would transport goods, livestock, and people to-and-fro across the muddy waters.

While the ferrymen were waiting for passengers, they’d perch on small stone seats to save their legs. In 1628, as many as over 2,400 ferrymen were recorded as working on the river. Of course, all of this changed with the construction of more bridges in London, and thus resulting in the forgotten job of the ‘London wherrymen’. Indeed, all that remains today of this once thriving industry is the Ferryman’s seat…

Visit the Ferryman’s Seat in Southwark

Today, just above the River’s wall, on a modern and paved alleyway, a glimpse of the city’s rich past can be found in the form of a rather unremarkable slab of slate, which is widely thought to be the last surviving ferryman’s seat in the city.

Housed on a street named ‘Bear Gardens’ for the fact that it was the site of the last bear-baiting pit in the UK capital, today, no one knows quite old the seat is. Instead, it has been transferred from each building that has been situated on site and likely dates back hundreds of years. The nearest tube stations are London Bridge and Southwark.

If you want to see the Ferryman’s Seat for yourself, then make sure you don’t accidentally miss it while walking by in Southwark! The flint’s exact location is between Pizza Express and the Real Greek Restaurants. And alhough there’s not much to see when you’re actually there, a visit to the Ferryman’s Seat can easily be incorporated into this self-guided walking tour of London!

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