The Late Queen’s Connection with London’s South Bank

Research Focus

In a special edition of Research Focus marking the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September, LPG Research Group volunteer Fran Martin reminisces about the Queen’s connection with London’s South Bank.

The queue for the Queen’s lying-in-state at Westminster Hall snaked along the aptly named Queen’s Walk, the promenade along the southern bank of the Thames which runs from Lambeth Bridge to Tower Bridge. The walk forms part of the Jubilee Walkway, created to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, and runs past monuments marking her numerous jubilee celebrations: the Jubilee Gardens, created to mark the Silver Jubilee and transformed in 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee; and the Golden Jubilee Bridges either side of the Hungerford Railway Bridge. Just a few months before, I had eagerly photographed a passing Platinum Jubilee bus! The Golden Jubilee Bridges – opened by the Queen’s cousin, Princess Alexandra, in 2003 – provide a lovely walk between the south and north banks, offering some of the most stunning views of the Thames in London.

The Queen’s Queue along the South Bank
© Bex Walton (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Images of Queen Elizabeth II became a familiar sight on the streets of London after her passing, as we paid our respects with signs in shop windows, floral tributes, and displays at venues across the capital. On the South Bank, memories of the Queen were everywhere.

The Southbank Centre itself – the largest arts centre in the UK and one of the nation’s top visitor attractions – is inextricably connected with the Queen. The Royal Festival Hall was opened in 1951 by her father, King George VI, as part of the Festival of Britain, which was intended as a tonic after the war years and a symbol of hope for the future. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh attended the first concert in the Hall on 3 May 1951 and were frequent visitors in the years that followed. The Queen was a fan of jazz and her first solo engagement at the Royal Festival Hall was a jazz concert on 14 July 1973. The Queen Elizabeth Hall was built with the smaller Purcell Room and opened by the Queen in 1967, with a concert conducted by Benjamin Britten. She also opened the Hayward Gallery – a landmark of Brutalist architecture – in 1968.

Parks at the Heart of The Queen’s Lying-In-State

Green spaces such as Green Park and St James’s Park were a focal point for floral tributes following the death of the Queen, but some of London’s most famous parks became logistical hubs too for those queuing to pay their respects at Westminster Hall.

  • Southwark Park – the queue had its ‘entrance’ here, with wristbands distributed to those joining
  • Archbishop’s Park – home to staff wellbeing tents and first aid stations
  • Victoria Tower Gardens – the end of the queue, with zigzag lines snaking through to the Hall entrance

All along the Queen’s Walk, the inescapable sight of the London Eye looms overhead, beautifully lit up at night since its opening as part of the Millennium celebrations in 2000. The twinkling lights complement the gentle buzz of passers-by, both locals and tourists, soaking up the autumn glow. Who doesn’t feel a hint of dismay as the clocks go back and the darker evenings beckon? Yet the splendour of the South Bank at night reminds us of the beauty of the changing seasons. This area of London, which has witnessed scenes of such profound sadness just weeks ago, also shows us the comfort of history and legacy. Just as the tenacity of those waiting in the Queen’s Queue inspired us, the rich history and culture of this area of London can offer us a glimmer of comfort in the wintry nights ahead.