Climbing Southwark Cathedral’s Tower
This week I had the treat of a special tour of Southwark Cathedral. Not only was it an evening event, where the interior was candlelit and magical, but I also got to climb the tower. Something not usually open to the public!
So if you’re feeling up to it, join me on my ascent to the top of Southwark Cathedral’s Tower.
Short History of Southwark Cathedral
There’s been a church on this site for well over 900 years with a mention of a ‘minster’ in the Domesday book of 1086.
It’s been a priory, known St Mary Overie (literally, ‘over the river’) then after the dissolution of monasteries became a stage for local actors. William Shakespeare’s brother, Edmund is even buried here!
Original 13th Century Columns from the priory of St Mary Overie. These are behind a door not usually open to the public.
Skipping forward to the 1820s, the church building was in dire need of repairs and was at one point ready to be totally demolished. Thankfully the architect George Gwilt managed to save major parts and the church known as St Saviour’s Church became southwark Cathedral in 1905.
The Cathedral hosts occasional photography events when the interior is candlelit and you can pay to take as many pictures as you like. The next scheduled event is in April and you can buy tickets here.
The first door gave us fair warning…
On the way up to the Tower we walked through very narrow passageway at the triforium level. It provided a fantastic view of the coffered ceiling and decorative bosses.
Our climb coincided with the bells ringing out and I don’t know if you’ve even been close to church bells when their pealing, but it’s seriously loud.
“Visitors unacquainted with ringing are kindly requested NOT TO TOUCH the BELL ROPES”
As with any historic building, the dates are a little fiddly. According to Historic England; the lower stages (attributed to Henry Yvele) and dating from the 14th Century, while the upper stages of the tower date from the 14th-15th Centuries.
The Tower pinnacles date from later, built by George Gwilt Jnr. 1818-27.
After squeezing through the tiny door at the top, what seemed like all of London appeared before us.
I was reminded of the drawing by Claes Visscher from 1616.
Image in the public domain in wiki commons
You can see the tower of St Mary Overie in the foreground, South of the River. But the thing that dominates the view (even after losing its spire to lightning) is St Paul’s Cathedral.
And the same is true for our current view (although we gaze at Wren’s version, not the Medieval one).
Today you have the bright lights of the City and huge buildings that loom over the Tower like the Shard.
Want To Know Southwark’s Saucy Secrets?
With its strong connections to the brewing industry, Shakespeare and Chaucer, Southwark has a raucous history and was always the place Londoners went for a good (if immoral) time.
On my 90 minute walking tour you’ll discover the real history in a place littered with tourist attractions and hear the incredible (true) stories of Londoners and visitors that made Southwark their home. We’ll spot some of the remaining Medieval and Elizabethan relics that are hidden in plain sight as well as tales of sex, secrecy and scandal.
See upcoming dates and book below!