Right next to Lambeth Palace is an old church, and it’s possible to climb up its 131 stone steps to stand on the roof for some fantastic views across the Thames to Parliament.
The church of St Mary’s at Lambeth dates predates the Norman Conquest, and the current building is hardly much younger, dating from 1337, and apart from repairs, the 12th century clock tower is still the original one.
The church is the oldest structure in the Borough of Lambeth, except for the crypt of Lambeth Palace itself, and its burials and monuments are a record of 950 years of community history.
It was damaged by WW2 bombs, and in 1972, the church was closed to parishioners, and shockingly for such an old building, earmarked for demolition. A few years later, the Diocese of Southwark however granted a lease to the Garden Museum who now occupy the main building.
While you can visit the museum, it’s a bit thin as a venue, and the £10 admission fee seems steep for what’s there.
Much more interesting is the tower, which you can climb up. You can also skip the rest of the museum and pay just £3 for the tower on its own.
Like all good medieval towers, the entrance wasn’t designed for regular use, so you have to duck down quite low to get inside, and then it’s a decent solid climb all the way to the top.
A very narrow spiral staircase runs up the tower, with a rope wrapping around the centre to give you something to hold on to. That is especially useful if people are coming the other way and you have to pretty much hang onto the rope to leave enough space for the others to pass by.
Eventually though, a slightly breathless person can emerge through another tiny door onto the roof of the clock tower for spectacular views across Lambeth and Westminster.
It’s not a particularly high tower, by modern standards, but its location right next to the Thames gives some pretty impressive vistas to admire. You’ll struggle to get a better photo of the Palace of Westminster anywhere else, even if Big Ben is shrouded in a black veil at the moment.
You can also peer down into the private grounds of Lambeth Palace right next to the church or watch the road traffic going over Lambeth Bridge and the tourists down below.
Of course, having got up here, you need to face the long narrow staircase back down, and remember to duck as you go out again.
It’s a surprisingly little known attraction, and its location gives it a unique perspective over this part of London.
The tower is open when the Museum is open, but closes one hour before the Museum’s closing time. In inclement weather the tower may be closed for safety reasons.
The Garden Museum is open Open Sun–Fri 10.30am – 5pm, and Sat 10.30am – 4pm
Closed on the first Monday each month, and over Christmas.
Location map and local interesting places
- 1] Garden Museum clock tower
- 2] Wooden setts in the road
- 3] A 17th century prison doorway
- 4] The Great Storm tree
- 5] SOE Memorial
- 6] King Edward VI
- 7] Mary Seacole Statue
- 8] South Bank Lion
- 9] Leake Street
- 10] The flowering of the English baroque
- 11] Modern Marriage