Blackfriars Road

Blackfriars Road, a notable thoroughfare in London, serves as a vital artery connecting the city’s rich past to its dynamic present. This road, stretching from the southern vicinity of Blackfriars Bridge to St George’s Circus, stands as a testament to London’s ever-evolving urban landscape. Its significance in the historical and cultural context of London is undeniable, making it a subject worthy of exploration.

Early History and Development

The origins of the name ‘Blackfriars’ date back to the 13th century, deriving from a Dominican priory that once stood in the area. The Dominicans, known for their black cappa or cloak, were colloquially referred to as the ‘Black Friars’. Blackfriars Road itself was established in the 1760s, reflecting the urban expansion of London during this period. Its early development was marked by residential and commercial growth, laying the foundation for its future significance.

Architectural Evolution

Initially, Blackfriars Road featured Georgian architecture, characterized by symmetry, proportion, and elegance. This style was prevalent in the residential buildings and smaller commercial structures that lined the road.

As the 19th century progressed, Victorian elements started to appear. The area saw the construction of larger, more ornate buildings, often with Gothic or Neo-Classical influences, reflecting the era’s industrial prosperity and architectural trends.

The latter half of the 20th century saw the rise of modernist architecture, with buildings featuring simpler, cleaner lines and the use of new materials like concrete and steel.

Notable Buildings in Blackfriars Road

The Former Blackfriars Road Railway Station

The Blackfriars area has seen significant changes since the arrival of the railway in 1864. Operational in the 19th century Blackfriars Road Station was a vital part of London’s expanding railway network. Although the station closed, the original façade has been preserved. The structure has been repurposed, integrating it into new developments while maintaining its historical character. The preserved façade stands as a reminder of the area’s industrial past, especially the era when railways were revolutionizing urban transport.

One Blackfriars

One Blackfriars was conceptualized as part of London’s initiative to revitalize the South Bank area. The design aimed to create a landmark reflecting modernity and luxury while respecting the historic fabric of the district. One Blackfriars is now known as one of London’s most exclusive addresses.

Designed by the renowned architectural firm SimpsonHaugh and Partners, its distinctive vase-like shape was inspired by a Scandinavian glassware set owned by the lead architect, Ian Simpson.

The construction of One Blackfriars began in 2013, following years of planning and design refinement. The building reached its full height in 2017 and was completed in 2018. Its construction involved cutting-edge engineering techniques, particularly in achieving the glass façade that gives the building its shimmering appearance.

The Royal Circus Theatre / Surrey Theatre

The Royal Circus buildings played a pivotal role in London’s theatrical history. Robert William Elliston, a prominent theatre manager in the early 19th century, chose this site for his theatre after the destruction of Drury Lane. At the theatre he presented adaptations of classic dramas, contributing significantly to the evolution of London’s theatre scene.

The Royal Eye Hospital

The Royal Eye Hospital was founded in 1857 by John Zachariah Laurence with the assistance of Carsten Holthouse. It opened with two beds in a house in St George’s Circus, Southwark, under the name of the South London Ophthalmic Hospital. It was enlarged in 1860 by the addition of an adjoining house and changed its name to the Surrey Ophthalmic Hospital, the first in a series of name changes. In 1863 it became the Ophthalmic Hospital, in 1869 the Royal South London Ophthalmic Hospital, and on Thursday 15th December 1892, on the opening of a new enlarged hospital building still in St George’s Circus, was named the Royal Eye Hospital.

The hospital was opened by His Royal Highness The Duke of York (accompanied by the Duke of Cambridge), and the opening ceremony was held at the neighbouring Surrey Theatre.

A stone commemorating the opening can still be seen in Blackfriars Road, at the north end of McLaren House.

The hospital was badly damaged by bombing in May 1941 as part of World War II forcing the closure of the In-Patient Department, and it did not re-open in-patient treatments at the site until December 1944.

In 1948, the hospital joined the newly-formed NHS. The hospital ceased to admit in-patients in 1976 when the Royal Eye Hospital Ward opened in the new St Thomas’ Hospital ward block. The out-patient department closed in 1980. The hospital buildings were taken over for administrative use first by Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Area Health Authority and then by Lewisham and North Southwark Health Authority.

The Royal Eye Hospital drawing from St Georges Circus

Albion Mills

Built between 1783–86 near Blackfriars Bridge, it was the most advanced industrial building of its time and the first to incorporate the newly invented Boulton & Watt double-acting rotative engines. It was seven stories high and founded on a raft measuring 160 × 120 ft, resting on the Thames alluvium at an average depth of about 9 ft below ground level. This construction represented an early example of a partially buoyant raft foundation, a notable engineering feat for its time.

Samuel Wyatt, the architect and builder of the Albion Mill, was also the principal promoter of the project. His involvement was extensive, as he devoted much attention to the mill as one of his major works. Many of Wyatt’s letters related to the mill have survived, providing insights into its construction and operation. After its destruction by fire in 1791, Wyatt proposed schemes for rebuilding it, illustrating the mill’s importance in his career and the industrial history of London.