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Survey of London: Volume 22, Bankside (The Parishes of St. Saviour and Christchurch Southwark). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1950.

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In this section


(i) General History of the Southwark Manors and Liberties

Southwark, the south "wark" or fort of the City of London, has had a long and complicated history. There was a settlement there in Roman times though it appears to have been confined to the district immediately adjoining the river crossing or bridge. The volume on Roman London issued by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments describes it as an "unfortified settlement of fairly prosperous houses" occupying rather less than 15 acres. (fn. 1) Remains of tessellated pavements have been found in Borough High Street (1830), in King's Head Yard (1879–80), on the south side of St. Saviour's Church and in Southwark Street (1820), and other smaller finds have been made from time to time. Recent excavations in King's Head Yard, Borough High Street, have been largely unproductive.

Figure 1:

Hyocaust flue found near Red Cross Street

The Victoria County History of Surrey suggests that Southwark was a place of importance in the Anglo-Saxon period. It was burnt by William the Conqueror in 1066 and the entry in Domesday Book gives evidence that the conflict of divers jurisdictions and ownerships typical of Southwark history up to the end of the 19th century had already begun in 1086—

"The Bishop himself has in Sudwerche one minster (monasterium) and one tide-way (aque fluctum) King Edward held it on the day he died. He who had the Church held it of the king. From the dues of the stream (de exitu aquae), where ships used to come alongside (applicabant), the King had two parts, earl Godwin the third. But the men of the Hundred, both French and English, testify that the Bishop of Bayeux commenced a suit concerning these tolls with Randulf the Sheriff; but he, understanding that the suit was not being justly conducted to the King's advantage, withdrew from the suit. But the Bishop at first gave the church and the tidal stream (fluctum) to Adelold, then to Ralph in exchange for a house. The Sheriff also denies that he had ever received the King's precept or seal concerning this thing. The men of Southwark testify that in the time of King Edward no one took toll on the 'strande' or in the water street (vico aquae) except the King: and if anyone committing a trespass there should be questioned, he made fine to the King. If, however, he should escape unquestioned to the jurisdiction of him who had sac and soc, he (the lord) was to have the fine from the accused.... What the King has in Southwark is valued at 16 pounds." (fn. 2)

Figure 2:

Roman vessel from Park Street

During the 13th century a number of ecclesiastical dignitaries acquired or built town houses or inns in Southwark, mostly in or near what is now Borough High Street, probably because it was easily accessible to Westminster by water and to the City by the bridge. The area was, however, lowlying and marshy and it was not until the end of the 16th century that any extensive effort was made to drain and develop it. In the Middle Ages most of the land west of Borough High Street and the group of buildings round St. Mary Overy Priory and the Bishop of Winchester's House, consisted of pasture and meadow land interspersed with many small streams and planted with willow trees. An earth wall surrounded the manor of Paris Garden and there were several water mills along the river bank (see p. 95).

Southwark, because it was a comparatively undeveloped area near to the City and yet outside the close organisation of its civic life, tended from early times to be a place of refuge for the dispossessed and outcast; for fugitives from justice or from persecution at home or abroad; for masterless men and unlicensed artisans and traders. Rebels and reformers, from Wat Tyler in 1381 to the Chartists in 1848, found it a convenient meeting place. Both the King and the City authorities made frequent attempts to ensure that law and order were maintained there, but their efforts met with only limited success. In 1405, the bailiffs of Southwark were ordered to make proclamation forbidding any man "to make unlawful assemblies within the town and suburbs of Suthewerk, to go armed girt with a sword or arrayed with other unusual harness... lords, great men, knights and esquires of good estate... excepted." (fn. 3) It is noteworthy that in 1528 Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, in a letter to Wolsey, refuted accusations of misdemeanours within his diocese with the remark "except at Southwark... there is as little known crime as within any diocese in the realm." (fn. 4)

Many refugees from Flanders and Holland settled in Southwark in the 16th and 17th centuries, and perhaps partly on this account, it became one of the strongholds of non-conformity in London. Of the early meeting houses, those of the Independents in Deadman's Place (later Park Street) (see p. 93) and of the Baptists in Zoar Street are most notable.

Fishing is frequently referred to as a local occupation in records relating to Southwark as late as the 18th century, while brewing and the hop trade have continued as the main trading interests of the area up to the present day. In the 17th century glasshouses were established in the neighbourhood of Bankside, mainly by foreigners, and in the 18th century several iron foundries were set up there. The Phoenix Gas Works on the site of the new Bankside Power Station was one of the earliest to be established in this country and continued to operate for over a century.

(ii) London Bridge

London Bridge may be said to be the raison d'être for Southwark, though it is conceivable that a ford across the river and perhaps a small settlement on the south side preceded the bridge. Dio Cassius, the Roman historian, writing long after the event, refers to a bridge at or near the site of London at the time of the invasion of Britain by Aulus Plautius in A.D. 43. Even if this statement is not strictly accurate it is fairly conclusive evidence that there was a bridge during the Roman occupation, a conclusion which is supported by the discovery of the remains of stout oaken piles with iron shoes in the river bed near the site of the mediaeval bridge in close proximity to a large quantity of coins, pottery, and other objects of Roman date.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contains a number of references to the bridge in the 10th century, when it formed a formidable obstacle to the Danes in their attacks on London. The nursery rhyme "London Bridge is broken down" had its origin in a Norse Saga of this period.

In the 11th and 12th centuries the bridge was several times damaged by fire, flood or frost and in 1169 Peter, the Bridge Master, chaplain of St. Mary Colechurch, carried out a complete rebuilding of the bridge in elmwood. A few years later he started to build a new bridge in stone. The whole work of construction, a formidable and novel enterprise at that period, took more than thirty years, and the stone bridge, when completed, lasted for over six centuries. For an account of its long and chequered career reference should be made to the monograph by Gordon Home. (fn. 5)

A good view of the old bridge with the houses on either side and the gateway at the Southwark end is given on the part of Visscher's view of London reproduced as the frontispiece to this volume.

In 1756 the Common Council of the City of London obtained power by Act of Parliament to purchase and remove all the houses on or near the bridge. A temporary wooden structure was erected while the repairs and alterations to the old bridge were carried out. All the houses had been removed by 1762.

New London Bridge was built from the designs of John Rennie, who drew the general plan, and of his son Sir John Rennie, who made the working drawings. The first pile was driven in 1824 and the bridge was opened in 1831. It stands 180 feet west of the old bridge and the consequent alteration of the approaches made great changes in Southwark (see p. 9). (fn. 6) The narrow arches and wide starlings of the old bridge had made its passage by boat a dangerous and difficult feat. The wider arches of the new bridge enabled far more shipping to pass upstream, and also greatly increased the scour of the river, making it essential for the embankments to be strengthened.

Two remnants of the old bridge remain in Southwark, the coat of arms from the southern gateway, now on a modern building in Newcomen Street (Plate 26b), and a stone alcove, dating from the alterations in the 18th century, in the courtyard of Guy's Hospital (p. 42).

(iii) The Manors of Southwark

Southwark in mediaeval times comprised 3 manors, the Gildable, the Great Liberty, and the manor of Bermondsey Abbey, of which the Bishop of Winchester's liberty and the manor of Paris Garden were offshoots.

(1) The Gildable Manor was a small district at the southern end of London Bridge, with its southern extremity the point at which Stoney Street and Borough High Street join. It was probably in origin the king's fee in Southwark. (fn. 2) It appears to have become merged in the Borough of Southwark which was granted to the City of London for an annual farm of £10 in the time of Edward III and confirmed in 1406 by Henry IV. (fn. 7)

(2) The Great Liberty Manor lay to the east of Borough High Street and extended southwards as far as Tabard Street and the Old Kent Road. It lay mainly in the parishes of St. Olave and St. George, which are outside the scope of this volume, but it included the portion of the east side of Borough High Street which is now within the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark, i.e. the section between St. Thomas' Street and Newcomen Street (see Chapters 1–3).

It is probable that this manor was granted to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th century. (fn. 2) In 1349, the king confirmed a grant for life made by the late Archbishop, John Stratford, to his chamberlain, William atte Fen, of the bailiwick and custody of the archiepiscopal liberty of Southwark, with power to seize, levy fines, issues and amercements, waif and stray, extreats and chattels of felons and fugitives, and to execute writs and other mandates of the king. (fn. 7) In 1538, the liberty was surrendered to the king by Thomas Cranmer. (fn. 4) It remained in the hands of the crown until 1550 when, in addition to other property, "the manor and borough of Southwark, with all their rights, members, and appurtenances... late parcel of the possessions of the Archbishop of Canterbury" were granted to the City of London by a charter of Edward VI. (fn. 8)

Bermondsey Abbey

(3) The Abbey of St. Saviour's, Bermondsey, founded in 1082, held the manor of Bermondsey granted by William Rufus, and a hide of land in Southwark granted by Henry I. Part of the land in Southwark appears to have been granted to the Bishop of Winchester in the 12th century, for, in 1189–90, the Pipe Roll records the payment of £6 out of the revenues of the bishopric to the monks of Bermondsey for the service of land at Southwark. (fn. 9) This land became known as the Bishop of Winchester's Liberty or the Clink Liberty. The remainder of the hide of land lay mainly in the parish of St. George, though part was in St. Margaret's parish. In 1550, Edward VI, by the charter mentioned above, granted to the City of London "all that our lordship and manor of Southwark... late pertaining to the late monastery of Bermondsey... and all messuages, houses, buildings, barns, stables, dove-houses, ponds... orchards, gardens... meadows... commons, wastestreet,... services, court-leet, view of frank-pledge, waifs, estrays, free warren and all other rights... in Southwark." (fn. 8)

In addition to this property, the Abbey of Bermondsey held a hide of land called Withiflete, which afterwards became the manor of Paris Garden (see Chapter 18).

Domesday Book does not mention Southwark as a borough, but places it within the hundred of Brixton. If, however, Professor Maitland was correct in identifying the "Suthringa" of the document he terms the Burghal Hidage of circa A.D. 900 with Southwark, it must have had burghal status before the Conquest. It was certainly referred to as a borough in the Pipe Roll for 1130–1, and burghal payments were made throughout the reign of Henry II through the sheriff. (fn. 2) In 1251 Henry III directed the Sheriff of Surrey to make inquisition by jurors from within and without Southwark, as to the customs of their town. The jurors reported a list of tolls worth £10 a year which were included in the sheriff's farm of the county and stated that tolls were demisable by the king to any farmer who paid £10 a year to the sheriff. (fn. 10) Thereafter the bailiwick was farmed out to various bailiffs. In 1326 Edward II issued a proclamation that whereas "malefactors after their offences flee to Suthwerk and elsewhere... out of the city, because the ministers of the city cannot attach them there, the king wills that in cases where any evil-doers in the city fleeing to Suthwerk shall be freshly pursued, the bailiffs of the franchise shall be... intendent to the capture of the evil-doers." (fn. 3) In the following year, Edward III granted the town of Southwark to the City of London for the accustomed farm, in order that such malefactors might more readily be brought to justice. In practice this meant little more than allowing the City to appoint the bailiff instead of the king doing so. It is clear from confirmation and extensions of this grant in 1406 and 1444 that the City had no judicial rights within the manors owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bermondsey Abbey. Even after the grant of the Great Liberty Manor and the King's Manor to the City in 1550, the mayor and corporation, though they held courts in the borough and appointed an alderman of Bridge Ward Without, to have rule over it, did not have complete authority in Southwark. It still came under the county organisation for some matters, and the Surrey justices held sessions concurrently with the city officials, in the Town Hall on St. Margaret's Hill, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. In his evidence given before a Royal Commission in 1854 George Corner, then prothonotary of the Borough Court, stated that the City's interference in the civic life of Southwark had become purely formal. The City held three Courts Leet for the manors at which the constables were sworn in and also "quarter sessions every quarter, at which nothing is done because they have no alderman to sit to hear cases, therefore there are no commitments for trial at the quarter sessions. The grand jury are summoned, but merely to be discharged." (fn. 11) The Recorder of the City of London stills holds yearly Courts Leet for the King's Manor, the Great Liberty Manor and the Gildable Manor, usually at the Polytechnic, Courage's Brewery and the Borough Market Office respectively. Juries are empanelled and paid, and the Recorder's speech is reported in the press, but no business is done. The Court Leet of the Clink Liberty was discontinued circa 1850.

In Southwark, as in other areas, the duty of lighting, paving and watching the streets devolved up to the 18th century on individual householders, under the general supervision of the vestry or manorial court. The arrangement can never have been very satisfactory in St. Saviour's Parish with its several overlapping authorities, and in 1786 an Act (fn. 12) was passed "for paving, cleansing, lighting, and watching the Streets, Lanes, and other publick Passages... within the Manor of Southwark, otherwise called The Clink." The commission established under this and subsequent Acts continued in existence until 1856. The appearance and method of paving of Clink Street, Horse Shoe Alley, Rose Alley and others in the neighbourhood have altered little since that period. In 1812 the Clink Paving Commissioners ordered sixty cast-iron street posts to be made by Messrs. Bishop & Co., and in 1813 they also bought a number of posts made from guns. (fn. 13) Many of the former, with the inscription "Clink 1812," and a few of the latter still survive.

Figure 3:

Street post in the Clink Liberty. Sketch by F. A. Evans

It may be noted here that the site of Guy's Hospital and the premises to the west of it in St. Thomas' Street, though originally in the parishes of St. Olave and St. Thomas, were made part of the Borough of Southwark by the Local Government Act of 1899, though the remainder of St. Olave's parish, and of the parish of St. Thomas which had been united with it in 1896, were incorporated in the Borough of Bermondsey.

(iv) The Parishes and Churches

According to tradition it was St. Swithin, Bishop of Winchester from 852–862 A.D., who first established a religious house in Southwark. Domesday Book states that Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Earl of Kent, held one "monasterium" in "Sudwerche" which had been held by the king in the time of Edward the Confessor. It was not, however, until 1106 that the order of Regular or Austin Canons was established at St. Mary's, Southwark, otherwise known as St. Mary Overy or Over the Water. The founders or refounders at this date were William Pont de L'Arche and William Dauncey, though William Giffard, Bishop of Winchester, who first built Winchester House on Bankside, is said to have been responsible for the building of the nave of the church. (fn. 2)

St. Mary Overy

Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, early in the 13th century, built a small church of St. Mary Magdalene against the wall of the priory church to serve the needs of laymen living in the immediate neighbourhood, but the church of St. Margaret, which stood on the site of the later Town Hall in Borough High Street, was the parish church for most of the northern part of Southwark throughout the Middle Ages (see p. 10). St. Margaret's was granted to the priory by Henry I. By the Act of Parliament of 32 Henry VIII the parishes of St. Margaret and St. Mary Magdalene were united and the priory church of St. Mary Overy became the parish church under the new name of St. Saviour's. By the same Act it was provided that the parishioners should "yearly elect six or four able persons, dwelling within the precinct of the said parish, to be churchwardens." (fn. 14) They were to be "a perpetual and able body in the law by the names of wardens of the parish church of St. Saviour in Southwark" and were "to have and enjoy" all the lands and other possessions of the respective parishes, and also those of the Perpetual Guild or Fraternity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the church of St. Margaret.

The illuminated charter of incorporation of the Wardens is preserved in the church, as are the very fine series of parish records which have been freely drawn on in the compilation of this volume. The Wardens are still responsible for the administration of the parish endowments and charities. They have, since the passing of the London Government Act of 1899, been elected by the Council of the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark. Their duties in connection with the church were transferred to the Rector's Warden and People's Warden by the same act. (fn. 14)

Christ Church was made a separate parish in 1670, but again the normal parish organisation did not develop. The church was built and maintained by the trustees appointed under the will of John Marshall, and they have retained control of the endowments and the right of presentation to the living. An account of the church is given on pp. 101–107.

A detailed survey of the church of St. Saviour's has not been included in this volume, partly because it would make the book too bulky and partly because a number of books have been written on it, whereas the topography and architecture of the rest of the district have been much less adequately dealt with. (fn. n1) The church is, however, so intimately connected with the development of the parish that a brief account of its history is included here. Several of its monuments to famous parishioners are also illustrated (see Plates 5, 6, 7). The greater part of the 12th century church was destroyed by fire early in the 13th century, but the rebuilding was at once put in hand and was continued throughout the century. Peter des Roches is said to have been responsible for the choir, the Lady Chapel and part of the nave. The church was again damaged by fire in the time of Richard II. In 1424 the existing seven bells were re-hung in the tower and an eighth was added. In the 15th century, also, Cardinal Beaufort repaired the east and south sides of the south transept. The roof of the nave fell in 1469 and was rebuilt in wood, together with that of the north transept, under Prior Burton. (fn. n2) Circa 1520 the reredos was erected by Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, and a large window was made in the gable above it.

After the dissolution of the priory, the church and rectory were leased by Henry VIII to the parishioners at an annual rent of £50, and the lease was renewed from time to time until 1614 when the buildings were purchased from James I by 19 "bargainers" or trustees for £800. (fn. 14)

In January 1555, the north-east corner of the Lady Chapel was turned into a spiritual court for the trial of certain preachers and heretics. The court was presided over by Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London. The stained glass in the windows of the Lady Chapel commemorates seven Protestant martyrs, six of whom were tried there, and all of whom were subsequently burnt at the stake. (fn. 15)

It may be noted that the chapel was used as a spiritual or consistory court until comparatively recent times.

In August 1559, the Wardens decided to let out "the old chappell be hynd the chanesell" for the benefit of St. Saviour's School. The first tenant was John Wyat, a baker, who later assigned his rights to John Peycoke of the same trade. In 1576, following complaints about the condition of the chapel, the Wardens made a formal inspection and found swine and horse dung there "with other odyous fylthynes." John Peycoke was forced to surrender his lease, but obtained a new one in 1579. In 1602 Henry Willson was granted a lease "of the Bakehouse parcell of the churche" and five years later he agreed to the removal by the Wardens of the tomb of a "certain Oade" to another part of the church. (fn. 3) Willson's lease was not renewed when it ran out and the chapel was again used for church purposes. (fn. 16) Perhaps the Wardens were affected by the revival of church ritual and seemliness which took place at this time and which has become identified with Archbishop Laud.

In or about 1615 galleries were set up in the north and south transepts and in 1618 a screen and gallery were erected in place of the old rood loft between the nave and the choir. Minor alterations were made to the interior of the church in the 18th century but by the beginning of the 19th century the fabric was so greatly decayed that a proposal was made for the destruction of the entire building except the tower. Fortunately less drastic measures were adopted and George Gwilt was entrusted with the restoration of the clerestory and triforium in 1821. During the course of this work the church of St. Mary Magdalene was demolished. The two transepts were restored by Robert Wallace in 1830 but the nave was allowed to decay beyond repair and it was taken down in 1838 and replaced by what has been described as "a mean and flimsy" structure. (fn. 15) In the meantime the London Bridge Committee proposed to destroy the Lady Chapel in order to widen the road but the chapel was saved by the protests of the parishioners headed by Dr. Sumner, Bishop of Winchester.

In 1877 St. Saviour's, Southwark, with other South London parishes, was transferred from the diocese of Winchester to that of Rochester. An extensive restoration of the fabric was undertaken under the direction of Sir Arthur Blomfield and the present nave was erected in 1890–97. In the latter year the church became a pro-Cathedral. In 1905 it was formally constituted the cathedral of the newly formed diocese of Southwark. (fn. 15)


  • n1. See inter alia, The history and antiquities of the parish of St. Saviour's, Southwark, by M. Concanen and A. Morgan, 1795; The history and antiquities of the parochial church of St. Saviour, Southwark, by the Rev. J. Nightingale, 1818; The history and antiquities of the collegiate church of St. Saviour's, Southwark, by the Rev. W. Thompson, 1904; Southwark Cathedral, by George Worley, 1905; V.C.H. Surrey, IV, 1912, and the East London volume of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, 1930.
  • n2. One of the wood bosses still preserved in the church has a rebus of Prior Burton, three burrs on a tun.
  • 1. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. Roman London, 1928.
  • 2. Victoria County History of Surrey.
  • 3. Cal. of Close Rolls.
  • 4. Cal. of L. and P., Henry VIII.
  • 5. Old London Bridge, by Gordon Home, 1931.
  • 6. London Past and Present, by Wheatley & Cunningham, 1891.
  • 7. Cal. of Patent Rolls.
  • 8. W. de Gray Birch, The historical charters … of the City of London, 1887.
  • 9. The Great Roll of the Pipe … 1189–1190, 1844.
  • 10. Munimenta Gildhallae Londiniensis (Rolls Series), pt. II.
  • 11. Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the existing state of the Corporation of the City of London …, 1854.
  • 12. Local Act, 26 Geo. III, c. 120.
  • 13. Minutes of the Clink Paving Commissioners at Southwark Town Hall.
  • 14. The Corporation of Wardens of the parish of St. Saviour, Southwark, by R. T. Baines and L. M. Langston, 1913.
  • 15. Southwark Cathedral, by George Worley, 1905.
  • 16. Vestry Minute Books of St. Saviour's.