At the southern end of London Bridge is a curious piece of sculpture rising up out of the debris that was once Tooley Street before they decided to build an even bigger station.

The ‘spike’ looks as if it could fall on someone’s head at any moment, and designed to add to London’s pointless architecture alongside Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth and the Trinity Buoy Lighthouse.

[T]hus proving that in the 21st century we can still add to the London landscape some pretty useless pieces of street furniture. Speculation about the purpose of a 52ft high Portland stone leaning tower dubbed ‘The Spike’ abound, for no plaque indicates its purpose.

It could serve as a giant sundial except at 19.5 degrees pointing south-west it’s likely to get the time wrong.

It could be a prototype for the Shard close by if it leaned at a precarious angle.

As everybody knows London Bridge once served the useful purpose of not only conveying the public across the river but to display the heads of traitors which had been liberally dipped in tar to aid preservation. The first to try out this novel way of deporting one’s cranium was William Wallace, who it is thought was also the guinea pig for being hung, drawn and quartered. A useful plaque serves to show the spot of his dismemberment in Smithfield.

Could The Spike be the furthest south the plague advanced?

Or the maximum distance your London cabbie is prepared to go ‘Sarf of The River.

Unfortunately, The Spike’s purpose seems to be far more prosaic.

Southwark Council intended for it to be part of a gateway to the borough incorporating a visitor and information centre. The official title is ‘The Southwark Gateway Needle’ and it tilts at 19.5 degrees pointing down to an exact location.

Following that trajectory downwards, it arrives at the riverside’s opposite bank and the church of St. Magus The Martyr. This was where the medieval London Bridge crossed the river.

I can’t see it. There are lots of angles on the thing but the only one that could be 19.5 degrees is that from the vertical. Surely if the needle is pointing anywhere it’s into the sky? But if you follow its front face down you surely would be a long way underground before you reached the riverside.

Photo: Southwark Needle, London SE1 by Christine Matthews (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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