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Southwark, or the Borough, is an area of south-east Londonmarker in the London Borough of Southwarkmarker, situated 1.5 miles (2.4 km) east of Charing Crossmarker.


Southwark ( , locally also ) is the area of London immediately south of London Bridgemarker. It will have the United Kingdom's tallest building in 2012, Shard London Bridgemarker.

It has been called The Borough (pronounced )since the 1550s, to contrast it with the neighbouring Citymarker, in later years to distinguish it from the larger Metropolitan Borough of Southwarkmarker and now to distinguish it from the much larger London Borough of Southwarkmarker. The core area of the Borough is virtually coterminous with the Guildable Manor.

The Cathedral precinct and the Borough Market are often misleadingly described as being in Banksidemarker and the Tooley Street area up to the St Saviour's Dockhead is also mistakenly described as part of Bermondseymarker, whereas they have always been part of Borough.

Manors and vestries

From the Norman period manorial organisation obtained through major lay and ecclesiastic magnates. Southwark still has vestiges of this because of the connection with the City of London. In 1327 the City acquired from Edward III the original 'vill of Southwark' and this was also described as "the borough". However, even at that period the term "Southwark" was used to describe much else on the Surrey bank of the Thames. References are made to both Bermondsey and Lambeth as being "in Southwark". It seems that the informal name for the original settlement arose to avoid confusion, the earliest reference to it as 'Guildable Manor' is in 1377.

The neighbours to this were then:

(West of High Street)

Bishop of Winchester's 'Liberty of the Clink'

The Hospitaller's 'Wyldes' (later 'Paris(h) Garden')

Bermondsey Priory's (later an Abbey) 'west socne' (from taq 1550 'The King's Manor')

(East of High Street)

Archbishop of Canterbury's (from taq 1550 ' The Great Liberty ')

Bermondsey Manor

and two sub manorsSt Thomas (Hospital precinct); Earl de Warenne's (defunct from 1399)

In 1536 Henry VIII acquired the Bermondsey Priory properties and in 1538 that of the Archbishop. In 1550 these were sold to the City. From 1550 to 1899 it formed part of the City of Londonmarker as the Ward of Bridge Without but was not included in the representative system at Guildhall.

However, Elizabethan Poor Laws placed statutory burdens onto Parishes and this created a civic authority which at first ran alongside and eventually displaced manorial authority which was essentially tenurial. In Southwark these parishes did not exactly coincide with the Manors:

Southwark parishes from mediaeval period:-

St Margaret's (merged into St Saviour's 1539)

St Mary Magdalen, Southwark (merged into St Saviour's 1539)

St Olave

St George the Martyr

St Thomas (Hospital precinct)

St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey

Civil parishes and District Boards of Works

The process of local authority development was that secular administration in the parishes were placed into 'vestries' i.e. a lay council originally meeting not in the church but in a robing room. The arrangement then became formalised when the Metropolis Management Act 1855 divided civil administration from religious (i.e. Church of England) observance and franchises. The Act created a Metropolitan Board of Works as a local government federation for what then was regarded as greater London out of parts of Middlesex, Surrey and Kent. Their previous parochial authorities were then given the status of 'Civil Parishes' out of the preceding organisations. Where the previous vestry parish was considered too small these were grouped together as 'District Boards of Works '. These sent representatives to the Metropolitan Board.

For Southwark these bodies were as follows:-

St Saviour DBW - St Saviour's and its daughter parish of Christchurch (previously ' Parish Garden') with part of St Thomas. The St Saviour's parish included ' the Clink '.

St Olave's DBW - St Olave's and its daughter parish of St John, Horsleydown with part of St Thomas (Hospital precinct). In 1899 this was given the status of a 'Civil Parish'.

St George the Martyr

The neighbours to these Southwark parishes were now:-St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey; Lambeth; St Mary, Newington (Walworth).

These and other parishes in Kent, Surrey, Middlesex and Essex were put into the new London County Council created in 1889. In 1900 the London Government Act was to merge the various Civil Parishes and DBWs into ' Metropolitan Boroughs of London ' effectively giving to the metropolitan area municipal corporations on a par with those in the provinces and the City.

The St Saviour DBW and St George the Martyr districts and the neighbouring St Mary, Newington (Walworth) became the 'Metropolitan Borough of Southwark. However, the St Olave's DBW was merged with St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey and the Rotherhithe district to become the 'Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey' which meant that the eastern side of Borough High Street was in 'Bermondsey' creating a confusion as to the delineation of both 'Borough' and 'Bermondsey' which lingers on today over forty years after the anomaly was resolved by the 1964 reorganisation which merged the two Metropolitan Boroughs.

Much of the area around the Tate Modernmarker gallery and the Shakespeare's Globe is now referred to by the historic name of Banksidemarker, which was part of the Liberty of the Clink, rather than 'the Borough' but was part of Southwark because within the parish of St Saviour.


In common with much of the south bank of the Thames, The Borough has seen extensive regeneration in the last decade. Declining light industry and factories have given way to residential development, shops, restaurants, galleries and bars. The area is in easy walking distance of the Citymarker and the West Endmarker. As such it has become a major business centre with many national and international corporations, professional practices and publishers locating to the area.The massive supertall skyscraper, London Bridge Towermarker, nicknamed 'The Shard' is under construction at London Bridge Stationmarker.

To the north is the River Thames, London Bridge stationmarker and Southwark Cathedralmarker. Borough Marketmarker is a well-developed visitor attraction and has grown in size. The adjacent units have been converted and form a gastronomic focus for London. Borough High Streetmarker runs roughly north to south from London Bridgemarker towards Elephant and Castlemarker. The Borough runs further to the south than realised; both St George's Cathedral and the Imperial War Museummarker are within the ancient boundaries, which border nearby Lambethmarker.

The Borough is generally an area of mixed development, with council estates, major office developments, social housing and high value residential gated communities side by side with each other.


Early history

Southwark is on a previously marshy area south of the River Thames. Recent excavation has revealed prehistoric activity including evidence of early ploughing, burial mounds and ritual activity. The area was originally a series of islands in the River Thames. This formed the best place to bridge the Thames and the area became an important part of Londiniummarker owing its importance to its position as the endpoint of the Roman London Bridgemarker. Two Roman roads, Stane Street and Watling Streetmarker, met at Southwark in what is now Borough High Streetmarker. Archaeological work at Tabard Street in 2004 discovered a plaque with the earliest reference to 'London' from the Roman period on it.

Londinium was abandoned at the end of the Roman occupation in the early fifth century and both the city and its bridge collapsed in decay. Archaeologically, evidence of settlement is replaced by a largely featureless soil called the Dark Earth which probably (although this is contested) represents an urban area abandoned.

Southwark appears to recover only during the time of King Alfred and his successors. Sometime about 886 AD, the 'burh' of Southwark was created and the Roman City area reoccupied. Southwark was referred to as 'Suthringa Geweorc' in the Burghal Hidage, meaning the 'defensive works of the men of Surreymarker'. It was probably fortified to defend the bridge and hence the re-emerging City of Londonmarker to the north. This defensive role is highlighted by the use of the bridge in 1016 as a defence against King Sweyn and his son King Cnut by Ethelred the Unready and again, in 1066, against King William the Conqueror. He failed to force the bridge during the Norman Conquest of England, but Southwark was devastated.

Southwark appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Sudwerc(h) and Sudwerche. It was held by several Surreymarker manor. Its Domesday assets were: The Bishop Odo of Bayeux held the monastery (the site of the Cathedral), the 'tide-way' - which still exists as St Mary Overy dock; the King owned the 'church' (probably St Olave's) and its 'tidal stream' (St Olave's Dock); the dues of the 'waterway' or mooring place were shared between the 'King' and Earl Godwin; the King also had the 'toll' of the strand; and the 'men of Southwark' had the right to a 'haw and its toll'. Southwark's value to the King was £16.

Much of Southwark was originally owned by the church—the greatest reminder of monastic London is Southwark Cathedralmarker, originally the priory of St Mary Overy.

During the early Middle Ages, Southwark developed and was one of the four Surrey towns which returned Members of Parliament for the first commons assembly in 1295. Southwark remained outside of the control of the City and was a haven for criminals and free traders, who would sell goods and conduct trades outside the regulation of the City Livery Companies. In 1327 the City obtained control from Edward III, of the manor next to the south-side of London Bridge ' the town of Southwark' (called latterly 'Guildable Manor', i.e. the place of taxes and tolls). The Livery Companies also ensured that they had jurisdiction over the area. An important market occupied the High Street from some time in the 13th century, which was controlled by the City's officers—it was later removed in order to improve traffic to the Bridge, under a separate Trust by Act of Parliament of 1756 as the Borough Marketmarker on the present site. The area was renowned for its inns, especially The Tabardmarker, from which Chaucer's pilgrims set off on their journey in The Canterbury Tales.

Post 1500

After many decades of petitioning, in 1550 Southwark was incorporated into the City of London as 'The Ward of Bridge Without'. However, the Alderman was appointed by the Court of Aldermen and no Common Councilmen were ever elected. This 'Ward' was constituted of the original 'Guildable Manor' and the properties previously held by the church, under a charter of Edward VI, latterly called the 'King's Manor' and 'Great Liberty' manor. These manors are still constituted by the City under a Bailiff and Steward with their Courts Leet and View of Frankpledge Juries and Officers which still meet - their annual assembly being held in November under the present High Steward (the Recorder of London). The Ward and Aldermanry were effectively abolished in 1978, by merging it with the Ward of Bridge. These manorial courts were preserved under the Administration of Justice Act 1977. Therefore, between 1750 and 1978 Southwark had two persons (the Alderman and the Recorder) who were members of the City's Court of Aldermen and Common Council who were elected neither by the City freemen or by the Southwark electorate but appointed by the Court of Aldermen.

Just west of the Bridge was the 'Clink Liberty' manor, which was never controlled by the City, technically held under the Bishopric of Winchester's nominal authority. This area therefore became the entertainment district for London, and it was also the red-light area. In 1584, Southwark was given its first playhouse theatre, The Rose. The Rose was set up by a famous local businessman, Philip Henslowe, and it soon became a very popular place of entertainment for all classes of Londoners. Both Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, two of the finest writers of the Elizabethan age, worked at the Rose.
In 1599, Shakespeare's Globe Theatremarker was erected on the Banksidemarker in the Clink Liberty, though it burned down in 1613. A modern replica, also called the Globe, has been built near the original site. Southwark was also a favourite area for entertainment such as bull and bear-baiting. The impressario in the later Elizabethan period for these entertainments was Shakespeare's colleague Edward Alleyn, who left many local charitable endowments, most notably Dulwich Collegemarker.

On 26 May 1676, ten years after the Great Fire of Londonmarker, a great fire broke out, which continued for 17 hours before houses were blown up to create fire breaks. King Charles II and his brother the Duke of York were involved in the effort.

There was also a famous fair in Southwark which took place near the Church of St George the Martyr. William Hogarth depicted this fair in his engraving of Southwark Fair (1733).

Southwark was also the location of several prisons, including those of the Crown or 'Prerogative Courts', the Marshalseamarker and King's Benchmarker prisons, that of the local manors courts e.g. Borough Comptermarker, The Clinkmarker, and the Surrey county gaol originally housed at the 'White Lion Inn' (also called informally the 'Borough Gaol') and eventually at Horsemonger Lane Gaolmarker.

One other local family is of note - the Harvards. John Harvard went to the local parish free school of St Saviour's and on to Cambridge. He migrated to the Massachusettsmarker Colony and left his library and the residue of his will to the new college, named after him as its first benefactor. Harvard Universitymarker maintains a link, having paid for a memorial chapel within Southwark Cathedral (his family's parish church), and where their UK-based alumni hold services. John Harvard's mother's house is in Stratford upon Avon.


The Great Fire of Southwark, 1861.
In 1838 the first railway for the London area was created, planned to run from Southwark at London Bridge stationmarker to Greenwich only.

In 1861, another Great Fire of Southwark destroyed a large number of buildings between Tooley Street and the Thames, including those around Hays Wharf, where Hays Galleria was later built, and blocks to the west almost as far as St Olave's Church.

The first deep level London 'tube' underground line was 'The City and South London Railway', now the City Branch of the Northern Line, opened in 1890, running from King William Streetmarker through Boroughmarker to Kenningtonmarker. Southwark, since 1999, is also now serviced by Southwarkmarker and London Bridge stations on the Jubilee Line.

Having been part of Surrey, Southwark became part of the County of London in 1889. In 1900 it was incorporated along with St Mary, Newingtonmarker alias Walworthmarker into the Metropolitan Borough of Southwarkmarker, and in 1965 this was in turn incorporated with the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwellmarker and Metropolitan Borough of Bermondseymarker into the London Borough of Southwarkmarker.


  1. The limits and borders of the Southwark Manors are outlined in “Report of the Royal Commission on Municipal Corporations: London and Southwark” HC 239, p3 n (1837), xxv. The Parliamentary boundary was extended from the three City Manors to include the Clink and Paris Garden liberties in 1838
  2. References in the Parliamentary Rolls describe it as "in Southwark". en Bermondeshey en Southwark entry 1381- 82 referring to location of a tenement in Rotuli Parliamentorum III, 130: and in John Stow's Survey of London II, 142, 66-68 he describes St Mary Magdalen Church, Bermondsey as lying in the borough of Southwarke
  3. p31, Inwood, Stephen, A History of London (1998, Macmillan) ISBN 0-333-67154-6
  4. Surrey Domesday Book

External links

Town Crier London Borough of Southwark {Peter Moore}

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