Borough of Southwark


  • Southwark
  • the Borough
  • Borough of Southwark

Street/Area (default name)

  • Borough of Southwark

Maps & Views


from A Topographical Dictionary of London and Its Environs, by James Elmes (1831)

Borough of Southwark, the, is a considerable part of the British metropolis, which may be considered as consisting of the city of London, the city of Westminster, and the borough of Southwark, with their respective suburbs. Southwark, or, as it is more familiarly called, the Borough, lies entirely on the south side of the Thames, and in the county of Surrey. It consists of the parishes of St. Olave, St. Thomas, St. Saviour, St. George and St. John, and for its geographical extent, and for the number and respectability of its inhabitants, is inferior to few cities in England.

It is mentioned by some authors, that Southwark was known as a place of trade with the Romans, before London, which arose from it. The earliest known account of this borough is in the reign of Edward the Confessor, about the year 1053, when Earl Godwin arrived there without opposition, and passed London-bridge, in order to engage the royal navy, consisting of fifty ships of war, then lying off Westminster!

Southwark was governed by its own bailiff till 1327, when the mayor of London was constituted bailiff of Southwark, and empowered to govern it by his deputy. Some few years after this, the inhabitants recovered their ancient privileges; but in the fourth year of Edward VI. the crown made a second grant of it to the City for a valuable consideration, and it became a nominal ward under the title of Bridge Ward Without. That part of the Borough of Southwark which is subject to the city of London, is called the Borough Liberty, and is under the government of a high bailiff and other offices. [See Borough-Court.] The other division is called the Liberty of the Clink, and belongs to the Bishop of Winchester, who appoints a steward and bailiff to govern this district. The extent of this borough is from London-bridge, southward, to Newington; to the south west, almost to Lambeth; to Rotherhithe in the east; and by the Thames on the north. Its principal streets are the High-street, more commonly called the Borough, Blackman-street, Kent-street, Tooley, or St. Olave's-street, and Bermondsey-street.—[See St. Olave, St. Thomas, St. Saviour, St. George, and St. John, Southwark.

from London Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions, by Henry Benjamin Wheatley and Peter Cunningham (1891)

Southwark, Borough of, on the south of the Thames, long known as the Borough, takes its name from being originally the fortification of London on the south. Being on the high road to London from the Continent it appears to have been inhabited from the earliest times. During the Roman occupation many villas were built here for the wealthier Roman colonists. George Gwilt's Map, compiled in 1819, shows some twenty distinct finds of Roman remains about 10 feet below the present surface, and connected with villas and burial-places, and more have been discovered since. In the construction of Southwark Street evidences of dwellings built on piles (like lake dwellings) came to light.

Southwark was at the first confined to within a short distance of the river, known as the gildable manor, and was from time immemorial a borough. "The burgesses in 1356 say they had formerly a charter franchise which was destroyed by fire, they pray an exemplification of the same, and it was allowed." Bit by bit Southwark came under the City jurisdiction, but never completely so; and although made a ward—Bridge Ward Without—it was never like other wards, it conferred no citizenship on the inhabitants and gave them no privileges.1 On a vacancy in Bridge Ward Without it is offered to the senior alderman, as being in the category of an honorary dignity. [See Bridge Ward Without.] The ward has no representatives in the Common Council.

The Borough is in shape somewhat like the map of Italy, St. George's Road and Bethlem being at the toe of the boot. It lies entirely south of the Thames, having Lambeth to the west and Deptford to the east. The older borough comprised the parishes of St. George, St. John, Horselydown, St. Olave, St. Thomas and St. Saviour, exclusive of the Clink and Christ Church (Paris Garden); later on it included, as it does now, Christ Church, the Church Liberty, Bermondsey, and Rotherhithe. In 1631, during a time of scarcity, the Lord Mayor counted 16,880 mouths in Southwark, but the area then was so much smaller than it is now that it can scarcely be compared with the Southwark of the census of 1881, which showed a population of 221,946.

The town or village which had grown up in Saxon times where the Roman villas had previously stood was burnt by William the Conqueror, and little seems to have remained of it when the Domesday Survey was made. Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, then had "a monastery and tide-way in Southwark." These he seems to have acquired by somewhat sharp practice. In Edward the Confessor's time "of the produce of the port where ships resort, the King received two parts, Earl Godwin the third," but now the Bishop seems to have appropriated the whole to himself. Edward III., by a charter of the first year of his reign (1327), granted the vill of Southwark to the citizens of London who, as recited, in a petition to the King in Parliament had complained that malefactors escaped there out of the jurisdiction of the City, and prayed that such vill might be given to them. With consent of his Parliament the King grants the said vill in fee farm. The grant against which the inhabitants of Southwark petitioned in vain was confirmed in a second charter of the 11th year (1337), and in fuller terms in a third of the 50th of the same King's reign (1376). Several charters in later reigns confirmed, extended, or varied the terms of the grant, the last, which vests the entire control of the borough in the Lord Mayor and Corporation of London, being that of 5th Edward VI., 1551.1 Southwark sent representatives to Parliament from the 23d of Edward I., 1296.2

Southwark, from the earliest times, was the chief thoroughfare to and from London and the southern counties and towns, including Canterbury and the cities of the Continent. This is sufficient to account for the large number of inns, such as the Bear at the Bridge foot, the King's Head, the Talbot or Tabard of Chaucer's "Canterbury Pilgrims" [see Tabard], and the White Hart, which was the headquarters of Jack Cade during his brief occupancy of the City and Borough (1450). Cade's inn was destroyed in the great Southwark fire of 1676, but was rebuilt, and it was at this White Hart that Sam Weller was first introduced to a world of admirers. The inn was cleared away in 1889.

The Duke of Hamilton of the time of Charles I., while knocking for admittance at an inn gate in Southwark, about four in the morning, was arrested by a party of soldiers searching for Sir Lewis Dyves.

He told them a very formal story of himself and his business, which at first satisfied them; but they observed that as he took a pipe of tobacco by them, he burned several great papers to fire it, whereupon they searched him, and found such papers about him as discovered him.—Burnet's Memoirs of the Dukes of Hamilton, p. 384.

Some of the inns bore odd signs. Andrews, in Anecdote History of Great Britain (1794), mentions that "in the borough of Southwark is a sign on which is inscribed The Old Pick-my-toe." Mrs. Piozzi, who long dwelt in the Borough, wrote in the margin, "So it is: I knew the sign and was probably then the only person who could have guessed the derivation." The figure represented the ancient statue of the Roman slave seeking for the thorn in his foot.1 In the 16th century there were here many town houses of persons of importance, such as abbots, priors and others. There were Suffolk House, by St. George's Church, for Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and his wife, the Princess Mary; and Winchester House for the Bishops of Winchester. West of the latter place were playhouses, bear and bull baiting circuses, and stews or licensed brothels.

In the old poem of "Cock Lorell's Bote," printed by Wynkyn de Worde in the reign of Henry VIII., the Bankside, Southwark, is called "The Stewes Banke." They were of very old standing. As early as the reign of Edward I. there was an ordinance of the City providing—

That no boatman shall have his boat moored and standing over the water after sunset; but they shall have all their boats moored on this [the City] side of the water that so thieves or other misdoers may not be carried by them under pain of imprisonment: nor may they carry any man or woman, either denizens or strangers, unto the Stews [of Southwark] except in the day-time under pain of imprisonment. Liber Albus, B. iii. pt. ii. p. 242.

Southwark had also an unenviable celebrity for its prisons. These prisons were the King's Bench (Queen's Prison), the Marshalsea, the White Lion, the Borough Compter, and the Clink, or prison of the Clink Liberty, as the Manor of Southwark was of old called. [See those names.] "I live," said Mr. Highland, member for Southwark, speaking in the House of Commons, June 6, 1667,—"I live amongst prisoners. In three prisons near me there are above one thousand prisoners."2 Taylor, the Water Poet, thus refers to these prisons:—

Five jayles or prisons are in Southwark placed,
The Counter, once St. Margarets church defaced,
The Marshalsea, the Kings Bench and White Lyon
Then thers the Clinke, where handsome lodgings be,
And much good may it do them all for me.

It is pleasanter to remember that the first English Bible printed in England was "Imprynted in Southwarke for James Nycolson," 1536. Southwark being the last stage towards London was necessarily the chosen resort of reformers, disturbers, and lovers of change. Godwin and his sons made incursions in 1052. Simon de Montfort was here in 1264 during the Barons' Wars; attempts were made to take him by surprise at his lodgings, but they failed. In 1554 Sir Thomas Wyatt found his way to Tower Hill through Southwark. In 1666 Colonel Thompson and 2000 of people gathered here "for King Jesus."

A great change was made in the appearance of Southwark when George Dance the younger, R.A., "Clerk of ye City's Works" at the end of the last century, laid out the Bridge House estate of the Corporation in St. George's Fields. Since then changes have been continuous, and very little of the old-fashioned character of the Borough is now left. [See also Bankside, Barclay and Perkins's Brewery, Bear Garden, Bridge Ward Without, George (St.) the Martyr, Globe Theatre, Guy's Hospital, Hope Theatre, Horselydown, Mint, Olave (St.), Paris Garden, Rose, Saviour (St.), Thomas (St.) a Waterings, Thomas's (St.) Hospital, Winchester House.]

1 The first alderman of the ward was Sir John Ayliffe, barber surgeon, who was appointed in 1550.

1 Manning and Bray, and Brayley's Surrey; Liber Albus; Riley's Memorials; Norton.
2 Manning and Bray, vol. iii. p. 649.

1 Piozziana, p. 183.
2 Burton's Diary, vol. ii. p. 191.