Survey of London: Volume 25, St George's Fields (The Parishes of St. George the Martyr Southwark and St. Mary Newington). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1955.
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CHAPTER 1: BOROUGH HIGH STREET, BLACKMAN STREET AND NEWINGTON CAUSEWAY
The Roman settlement in Southwark, like the mediaeval borough, was concentrated in the neighbourhood of London Bridge, but scattered Roman finds, mainly burials, in St. George's Fields, Newington, and on either side of Tabard Street, support the geological evidence that in the first centuries of the Christian era the whole of Southwark was considerably higher and dryer than it became later. (fn. n1) If this is so, both building and road-making were more possible at that time than at any later period until the area was thoroughly drained during the first quarter of the 19th century.
It is generally agreed that the bridge built by the Romans was roughly on the same site as the mediaeval London Bridge, i.e. about 180 feet east of the present bridge, and that the bridge approach, which formed the London end of Stane Street, lay a little to the east of the line of Borough High Street as far as the site of St. George's Church. Recent finds of traces of a Roman road below King's Head Yard (by Miss Kathleen Kenyon in 1946), (fn. 2) and of a Kentish ragstone pavement of Roman date below Talbot Yard (reported by Mr. Margary in 1952) (fn. 3) reinforce this view. There is some indication that this road was built on piles, suggesting that even during the Roman occupation the area was liable to flooding.
Both the author of the introduction to Roman London (fn. 1) and Mr. I. D. Margary in Roman Ways in the Weald (fn. 4) have conjectured, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that Stane Street (the road from Chichester), whose route has been plotted with reasonable certainty as far as Kennington, continued in a straight line from Kennington Park Road to the site of St. George's Church. The fact that Newington Causeway swings westward from this line was thought to be a mediaeval deviation until the discovery in 1952, during some roadworks there about 300 yards north of the Elephant and Castle, of a section of metalled road some 4 feet below the existing surface and resting on the gravel sub-soil. This, in the opinion of Mr. W. F. Grimes, was of Roman date, and it appeared to be an indication that the Roman road, instead of running in a straight line, followed the same curve as the mediaeval and modern road. It was, therefore, thought worthwhile to seek some explanation in the surface levels and the geology of the district to account for the deviation. The material lay to hand in the Council's sewer records, (fn. 5) for, when the systematic drainage of the area was carried out by the Surrey and Kent Sewer Commissioners under an Act of Parliament passed in 1809 (see p. 54), a large number of sections were drawn showing ground levels. A comparison of these levels shows that the three highest points were at the Elephant and Castle, near St. George's Church and in the middle of St. George's Circus where the obelisk formerly stood. Between the obelisk and Newington Causeway the surface level sloped down 4 or 5 feet forming a slight hollow, while on the east of the road there was a slope down of between 8 and 9 feet. The slope was as marked along the roads as on the unbuilt ground between them. (fn. n2) Reference to geological sections drawn from borings (fn. 6) made at various points during the last 100 years, showed a marked rise in the level of the gravel sub-soil along the line of Newington Causeway from the west and a deep depression to the east of it. There is documentary evidence for the existence up to the beginning of the 19th century of a marsh known as "Stewfen," between Newington Causeway and Great Dover Street (see p. 82) and the geological sections show that in places in Rockingham Street, Falmouth Road, and Devonshire Street (now Avonmouth Street) there were up to 18 feet of mud plus 14 feet of peat and 4 feet of made ground above the sand and gravel sub-soil. The evidence now available is insufficient to determine whether the deposit of peat and mud was made before or after the Roman occupation, but the presence of either a bog or a sharp declivity in the surface level affords a sufficient explanation of the curve of the road away from the straight line. It is probable that even in Roman times the line of Newington Causeway was the only route through St. George's Fields that could have been made into a firm road without the use of piles. (fn. n3)
Most of the evidence set out above was reviewed by T.A. Codrington in an article on "London South of the Thames," published in 1915 (fn. 3), but the conclusions he reached were not entirely compatible with it. For example, the existence of the hollow in the gravel and clay strata in the neighbourhood of Rockingham Street makes unlikely the route he suggested for the original Watling Street—leaving the line of the Old Kent Road a little south of St. Thomas à Waterings (see p. 121) and crossing Newington Causeway just north of the turnpike (near Keyworth Street). Nor does there seem to be any firm basis for his suggestion that the Lock Stream (p. 121) drained St. George's Fields. Rocque's maps do not show the stream crossing the road near the Elephant and Castle, and the slight rise in the level of the ground there makes such a crossing improbable. On the other hand, when the ground up to Newington Church was flooded, as, for example, on the occasion described by Stow in 1555, the water came from the direction of Lambeth and remained on the west side of Newington Causeway until it ebbed back into the river.
During the late Mediaeval and Tudor periods St. George's Bar or Stones End, approximately where Borough Road now joins Borough High Street, marked the end of the paved road from London Bridge and of Southwark proper. In the time of John Stow it had houses on both sides as far as this point. Newington Causeway, which does not appear to have been so named until the middle of the 18th century, (fn. n4) was built up on the east side by 1746 (see Plate 53). The west side was developed with the rest of St. George's Fields at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries.
The development of the part of Borough High Street in St. George's parish is much like that of the northern half, an account of which has been given in Bankside. (fn. 7) Many of the buildings were inns for the use of travellers between London and the coast. Later, tenements were built on either side of the inn yards which gradually became narrow courts and alleys. On the west side the tenements backed on to the Bishop of Winchester's Park and were bounded on the south by the maze of narrow streets known as the Mint (see Chapter 3) on the site of Suffolk House. On the east side the prisons, the Marshalsea, King's Bench, County Gaol, and House of Correction (see Chapter 2) occupied much of the area, but the ground between was closely built up. Behind the tenements and at a distance of about 300 feet from the street frontage was a ditch; beyond the ditch the ground lay open until the second half of the 18th century. In 1622 the City Corporation granted (fn. 8) an acre of ground lying between Borough High Street and Long Lane, on condition that the lessee, William Smith, enclosed it so that it should no longer be used for the deposit of refuse from the King's Bench. Sir John Lenthall, Marshal of the King's Bench, later acquired this lease and planted an orchard on the ground. (fn. 9) By 1698 it had been made into a bowling green, and a second green had been formed adjoining it on the north. (fn. 10) Collier's Rents were built on the bowling green near Long Lane by John Collier (fn. 9) before 1746. The whole of this area at the rear of the premises in Borough High Street between Mermaid Court and Collier's Rents, which suffered severe air raid damage during the 1939–45 war (see the aerial view on Plate 13), has recently been cleared and is now occupied by the extension of the London County Council Tabard Garden Housing Estate. In excavating in order to lay a drain, approximately along the line of the old ditch, considerable deposits of pottery were found. The section behind Layton's Buildings (on the site of the King's Bench) consisted of: 2 feet 6 inches of hardcore and brick rubbish; 2 feet of heavy unglazed 19th century pottery, sugar loaf moulds, mixing bowls, and storage bins; 2 feet 6 inches of dark soil, small brick and tile rubbish, oyster shells, and mid-18th century delft fragments; 2 feet of very dark soil with green, yellow, and red glazed pottery, and pipes of 1620–90 date; 3 feet of dark wet soil, with traces of gravel, sand, and oyster shells and, at the bottom of this layer, fragments of 2nd century Roman pottery.
Southwark Fair (Plate 1b), sometimes called Our Lady Fair because it was held at the time of the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was granted to the City of London in 1462 by a charter of Edward IV, together with the right of holding a court of pie-powder there. (fn. 11) The wording of the charter suggests that the fair was then already a well-established institution. The continuator of Stow's Survey of London (fn. 12) describes the ceremonial of the opening of the fair in the time of Charles I as follows—
"The Lord Maior and the Sheriffes ride to S.Magnus Church in their Scarlet Gownes lined, without their cloaks, after dinner at two of the clocke; and there the Aldermen meet the L. Maior: when evening Prayer is ended, they ride thorow the Faire, till they come unto St. Georges Church, and then ride further to Newington Bridge, or to St. Thomas of Waterings to the Stones that point out the Liberties of the City (if it bee so their pleasures) and they then returne backe againe unto the Bridge-house, where they refresh themselves with a Banquet. Then returning over the Bridge, the Aldermen take their leave of the Lord Maior and depart the next way every one unto his own house. After all this is done, & the Lord Maior brought home: his Officers have a supper provided for them by the Bridge-Masters."
The booths and stalls erected for Southwark Fair spread from the main street near St. George's Church into the alleys and courts and on to the bowling greens, and the period of the fair was gradually extended from three days to fourteen. During the Commonwealth the authorities tried to suppress it and among the Overseer's Accounts for St. George's Parish (fn. 13) there are many entries between 1656 and 1660 of fines for "Abuses and Misdemeanours" in fairtime. Players, dancers, victuallers, mountebanks, proprietors of puppet shows, clockwork shows, etc., all had to pay their fines, but the fair went on.
On the night of 22nd September, 1689, a fire broke out in a stationer's shop opposite the King's Bench. (fn. 14) It quickly caught and consumed the wooden booths on the west side of the street and then spread to the east side where "the Buildings, being Timber for the most part, and generally old, with many intricate Alleys running backward, the Flame, driven on by the Wind raged extremely." The Common side of the King's Bench was burnt, as were the Falcon and Half Moon Inns and some 180 houses. The fire was in fact nearly as disastrous as the one which had devastated the northern part of the street thirteen years earlier (see Bankside (fn. 7)).
When it was rebuilt, Borough High Street and its courts and alleys were little less congested than before. (fn. n5) In 1733 a woman was pressed to death in the crowd in Mermaid Court during the fairtime. (fn. 15) During the 18th century the fair got more and more rowdy. The City Corporation continually tried to limit its duration and extent, but it was not until 1762, when the bailiff was ordered to cease proclaiming it, that the fair came to an end. (fn. 16)
Many of the houses built after the 1689 fire were still standing in the early years of this century (Plate 3), and a few remnants have survived even the destruction of the 1939–45 war, which in this area was particularly heavy (see Plate 13).
No. 177 (formerly 128) retains its 17th century wooden staircase, though little remains of the rest of the original building, which has been occupied in turn by tea dealers, grocers, woollen drapers, a government contractor, and now by a firm of drawing instrument manufacturers. There has been an inn with the sign of the Half Moon (Plate 2a) at No. 183, since at least 1550 (fn. 17), when the property belonged (as it still did until the 1920's) to Jesus College, Cambridge. Tenements in the rear have from time to time been rented by hop and seed factors, livery stable keepers, and others. In 1728 coaches left the inn every week for Blechingley, Croydon, East Grinstead, Godstone, Lingfield, and Oxted (fn. 18). The inn was pulled down in 1919 and the site is now covered by the premises of Moons Motors, Ltd.
Angel Court (or Place) is called after an inn of that name which was used in the time of Henry VIII for the confinement of prisoners (see p. 12). The tablet on the rear of No. 209 Borough High Street, just south of Angel Place, refers to the rebuilding of the premises, previously known as the Black Bull, by John and Sarah Reeve in 1677 and again by John Hicks in 1818. The property was granted to St. Thomas' Hospital in 1568 (fn. 19) and has remained in its possession ever since.
No. 215, near St. George's Church, survived until 1903, when it was pulled down for the widening of Long Lane. Its wooden staircase with its turned balusters and carved string and handrail is illustrated on p. 3. The house was occupied by cheesemongers during the first half of the 19th century, of whom the last were the firm of Purdue and Twiddy. They were succeeded by Messrs. Barker and Nelson, who used the premises as a "mourning warehouse."
The best known of the inns on the west side of Borough High Street in St. George's Parish was the Catherine Wheel (Plate 4b), which stood almost exactly opposite the Half Moon Inn on the site of the present No. 136. It is not marked on the 1542 plan (Plate 1a), though it is listed in the survey of Southwark Manor of 1555. John Strype described it in 1720 as "very large and well resorted unto by Coaches, Waggons and Horsemen." From the time of Elizabeth I the premises have belonged to St. Thomas' Hospital (fn. 18). The inn was pulled down circa 1870.
The part of Borough High Street south of St. George's Church was known until 1889 as Blackman Street. Strype describes it in 1720 (fn. 20) as "broad, but the Buildings and Inhabitants not much to be boasted of; the End next to Newington hath the West side open to St. Georges Fields being rather a Road than a Street." Just over a century later Blackman Street is described in the text accompanying Tallis' Views as "a broad, open street, principally consisting of well supplied tradesmen's shops. Its thoroughfare is very considerable, it being the leading road to the south of England." The 1542 plan (Plate 1a) shows the Swan Inn, which gave its name to Swan Street, just south of St. George's Church on the east side of Blackman Street (see p. 105).
There is in the possession of the Society of Antiquaries an elaborate pictorial plan of the Unicorn Brewhouse or Inn which formerly stood at the point where Trinity Street now joins Borough High Street. (fn. n6) The plan, part of which is reproduced on Plate 12, shows the numerous tenements built in the inn yard and on the ground adjoining. John Strype described the inn in 1720 (fn. 20) as "very neat and fine, being adorned with carved Figures, and sundry sorts of Birds stuft, and set about, as if they were alive, with a small Ship, such as are hung up in great Halls." Unicorn Court is marked on the 1761 edition of Rocque's map but had disappeared before the end of the century.