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Visiting London South Bank University, Elephant and Castle, London, England: A Well Established Seat of Learning

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Outside the London Road entrance of London South Bank University.

Outside the London Road entrance of London South Bank University.

An intense study venue just south of the Thames

[This visit occurred a number of years ago.]

London South Bank University has its origins in 1892, when the Borough Polytechnic Institute was founded. In 1970, it was re-named the Polytechnic of the South Bank (after 1987, South Bank Polytechnic), together with mergers with other institutions. In 1992 it was given a charter of incorporation as a university — South Bank University. Since 2003 it has been known as London South Bank University, often abbreviated LSBU.

Thus, unlike some late 20th century British universities — such as Stirling University, Scotland — South Bank was not at its incorporation a truly 'new' university, because its foundations as a seat of learning lie in the 19th century (1).

Studies at the University are organized in seven Schools: Applied Sciences, Arts and Creative Industries, Built Environment and Architecture, Business, Engineering, Health and Social Care and Law and Social Sciences.

The South Bank Technopark is a building, opened in 1985, which, in addition to accommodating the University's administration offices, houses many high tech businesses.

The University site suffered significant bomb damage in World War Two. The London South Bank University Library recently put together a fascinating account of World War Two bomb damage records (2); the Library from time to time sponsors similar exhibits on a wide range of subjects. One of the Library's sites is in East London, at London South Bank University Havering.

HIstorically the Borough Polytechnic Institute was identified with the Borough Group of artists, particularly associated with David Bomberg (3); the Borough Road Gallery is at 103 Borough Road, and opened in 2012.

A leading academic individual associated with the University has been its first Vice Chancellor, Pauline Perry, Baroness Perry of Southwark (1931-) (4).

A mere few of the University's distinguished former students include: architect Sir David Adjaye, computer scientist and Bletchley Park historical advocate Professor Sue Black, artists Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, philanthropist Dame Norma Major, former government ministers Bridget Prentice, Joan Ryan and Shahid Malik, and many other distinguished individuals.

The University's current (2020) Chancellor is former minister and Member of Parliament Sir Simon Hughes (1951-).

Inevitably these hubpages will evidence a degree of personal perspective and I have to declare an interest relating to my own background in languages and French studies. In 1989, South Bank hosted a scholarly symposium and series of public lectures marking the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. Under the title 'A Celebration of France', a range of lectures by invited speakers looked at many and varied aspects of the legacy of this major historical event.

This leads to another observation. Interestingly — and, again, this is probably slightly subjective and personal — the redolence of the phrase 'South Bank', in reference to a seat of learning, has an at least oblique parallel in French in the phrase 'Rive gauche', which, while initially referring to the Left Bank of the Seine River, has also come to be an informal moniker both for the Sorbonne's university district and for the more loosely defined environment of scholarly activity in Paris.

While 'South Bank' in English is also sometimes used to describe the venue for a whole range of local activities, including those at London's nearby Royal Festival Hall, it is certainly the case that the English phrase 'South Bank' has come to carry a strong ring signifying arts- and culture-based activities immediately south of the Thames and the seat of learning constituted by London South Bank University (see also 'Southbank Centre' — NB, spelling — at 'Also worth seeing', below).

The photo, above, shows the University's London Road entrance at Elephant and Castle, London. Another entrance. Its Borough Road entrance, dating from the era of the Borough Polytechnic Institute, has a conspicuous, pillared frontage in buildings opened by the Duke of York in 1930..

The University's Elephant and Castle location is itself close to a number of interesting buildings and structures of historical and cultural importance (see also below at 'Also worth seeing').

I must confess to have been gripped by a sense of intensity at this seat of learning in the London Borough of Southwark.

May 11, 2020


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(1) The former Polytechnics of London have a long and absorbing history, with 19th century origins, spearheaded by Quintin Hogg and other collaborators concerned to enhance various educational facilities such as for vocational studies and libraries. Many of these Polytechnics eventually developed into university institutions; and for example, a similar institution, the East London Technical College at the People's Palace at Mile End eventually became Queen Mary University of London. See also:

(2) See also

(3) Canadians will note that one of David Bomberg's well known paintings is: 'Sappers at Work: A Canadian Tunnelling Company, 1919 (see photo, below).

(4) Having studied at Girton College, Cambridge, Baroness Perry's professional background has included service as Chief Inspector of Schools in the United Kingdom, before heading South Bank Polytechnic during its transition to University status. She subsequently served as President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, in addition to many other distinguished roles.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Sappers at Work: A Canadian Tunnelling Company, by Davd Bomberg, 1919

Sappers at Work: A Canadian Tunnelling Company, by Davd Bomberg, 1919

Sir David Adjaye at the Conference of Commonwealth Association of Architects in Dhaka

Sir David Adjaye at the Conference of Commonwealth Association of Architects in Dhaka

Also worth seeing

At Elephant and Caslte itself may be seen: the 'Elephant and Castle' statue at the Underground Station of the same name, (a corruption of 'Infanta of Castille', the name of a licensed establishment popular with veterans of the Peninsular War); the 1861 Neoclassical-style Metropolitan (Spurgeon's) Tabernacle, by W. W. Pocock, was the ministerial base of C. H. Spurgeon, whose published writings and hymns are still read and sung worldwide.

The Southbank Centre (distance from Elephant and Castle: 1.2 miles / 2 kilometres) is comprised by the Royal Festival Hall, the Hayward Gallery, the Purcell Room and the National Poetry Library.

Imperial War Museums, Lambeth Road, Southwark site (distance: 0.4 miles / 0.7 kilometres), a leading world historical resource on the history of warfare.

Southwark Cathedral (distance: 1 miles / 1.6 kilometres), Gothic and Gothic Revival structure dating from between the 11th and 19th centuries.

Tate Modern, Bankside (distance: 1.1 miles / 1.8 kilometres), Great Britain's national gallery of international modern art.

Central London has such huge numbers of visitor attractions that I will refer to only a small fraction of the principal ones; these include: Trafalgar Square; the Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster; Westminster Abbey (where Queen Elizabeth II was crowned and where Prince William and Kate Middleton were married); St. Paul's Cathedral; the Royal Albert Hall; and so many others.


How to get there

United Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Underground and train services link Heathrow Airport with Central London. Elephant and Castle Underground Station is on the Bakerloo and Northern lines. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada

Map location of the London Borough of Southwark, shown (in red) within Greater London.

Map location of the London Borough of Southwark, shown (in red) within Greater London.

Other of my hubpages may also be of interest


MJFenn (author) on May 15, 2020:

Argyle111: Thank-you for your comment.

Argyle111 on May 15, 2020:


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