Pavement Poetry on the South Bank

I regularly walk along the South Bank in the early morning, jostling with the joggers training for the marathon and construction workers on their way to Sea Containers House.

As well as appreciating that sunrise seems to be getting earlier in giant strides at this time of year [early March, when I took the photos], I also spotted four paving slabs with poetry carved into them on the riverside walkway. Three are by the Royal Festival Hall, the fourth is the other side of Hungerford Bridge up towards the London Eye.

I’ve not been able to find anything out about their origins – given how cracked they are, I’d say they’ve been there for some time – so if you do know, please do leave a comment under one of my photos.

Here are the pavement poems:

Pavement poetry, South Bank: A Woman of Fashion 1777 - Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Must though in justice,
Declare that the grass,
Which worn by our feet,
Is diminish’d apace,
In a little time more will
Be brown and as flat
As the sand of Vauxhall,
Or as Ranelagh mat.

From A Woman of Fashion 1777
Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Pavement poetry, South Bank: Remembrance of Collins - William Wordsworth

Glide gently, thus forever glide,
O Thames! That other bards may see
As lovely visions by thy side
As now, fair river! Come to me.
O, glide, fair stream! Forever so
Thy quiet soul on all bestowing,
Till all our minds forever flow
As thy deep waters now are flowing.

William Wordsworth
Remembrance of Collins

Pavement poetry, South Bank: A London Fog 1822 - Henry Luttrell

First, at the dawn of lingering day,
It rises of an ashy grey;
Then deepening with a sordid stain
Of yellow, like a lion’s mane.

From A London Fog 1822
Letters to Julia
Henry Luttrell

Pavement poetry, South Bank: The Waste Land - T. S. Eliot

The river sweats
Oil and tar
The barges drift
With the turning tide
Red sails
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Drifting logs
Down Greenwich reach
Past the Isle of Dogs.

From The Waste Land. T. S. Eliot.

02 April 2014 Update

A friend writes,

Mary, just saw your post on Sparkly about the poetry slabs on the South Bank. They have been there since the early 80’s and I think there used to be more. The GLC (where I worked in the early 80’s) put them up I think as a step towards brightening up the South Bank which was a bit down at heel then. I often used to see them but had not realised they had survived.

17 October 2014 Update

LM got in touch by email to say,

I just happened across your blog post from march this year about the poem paving slabs along the south bank. The reason I was searching information about them was because me and my mum were walking down there recently, we spotted them and she remembered that her dad had been a part of the team at the GLC who chose the poems in the 80’s. He loved poems and would recite these off by heart – it was a real passion of his. I would love to find out if someone has a comprehensive list of the original poems that were put there, but as the post mentions, that information may be lost.
I would also like to thank you as we had only found 3 of the paving slabs, so its lovely to find the missing one! The TS Eliot was one of granddad’s favourites I am told, and that’s the one that was missing. Thank you in advance for any help! It really is amazing who you can find on the internet.

18 February 2016 Update

J J Fielding contacted me on Twitter to let me know about this:

Sat 5 Mar 2016-Thu 28 Apr 2016
The Poetry Library

Accompany Poetry Librarian Chris McCabe as he leads a tour exploring the centuries of poetic activity in this area of London.

…. including these pavement poems!

Details and booking available on the South Bank Centre website.

April 2024 Update

I’ve been cc’ed in on an email exchange where E Levy explains:

They were actually the initiative of artist Brian Yale, who worked in the GLC Architects Department between 1968 and 1986, where I also worked. Brian discussed the project and the involvement of (Sir) John Betjeman – and I saw the paving stones soon after they were installed. A photograph of one of the poems appears on Brian’s Flickr site:…

Brian, in a publication accompanying an exhibition featuring his work in 2001, recalls that after the completion of the project on the South Bank, the ‘Poems on the Underground’ scheme started and says “the lady who organised it, in an interview I read, very kindly acknowledged that she had been influenced by the little known, as she put it, set of poems along the Embankment. A very happy consequence I feel.”

The photo is beautiful.