The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Borough: Southwark
County: Greater London
Region: Greater London
Nation: England
Ceremonial County: Greater London
Traditional County: Surrey
Postal County: London

The Borough or Southwark(e) (pronounced SUTH-'k, with the 'th' voiced as in 'this') is the area of London immediately south of London Bridge and part of the larger London Borough of Southwark. It has been called The Borough since the 1550s, to contrast it with the neighbouring City, but now mainly to distinguish it from the larger area.

The name is currently under some threat of redefinition as the London Borough of Southwark's policy is to rebrand the area - thus the area around the Tate Modern gallery and the Globe Theatre is now referred to by the historic name of Bankside, while the area to the east of Borough High Street is part of the so-called Pool of London area. The council wishes to reserve the name Southwark to the larger area of the London Borough of Southwark. Therefore what was once known simply as Southwark now needs further clarification, as in "Historic Southwark" or The Borough. The placement of Southwark tube station by Blackfriars Road south of Blackfriars Bridge may complicate the matter even more.



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 Londinium owing its importance to its position as the endpoint of the Roman London Bridge. Two Roman roads, Stane Street and Watling Street, met at Southwark in what is now Borough High Street.

At some point the Bridge fell or was pulled down. Southwark and the city seem to have become largely deserted during the so-called Dark Ages. 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 in and around 886 AD the Bridge was rebuilt and the City and Southwark restored. Southwark was called 'Suddringa Geworc' which means the 'defensive works of the men of Surrey'. It was probably fortified to defend the bridge and hence the re-emerging City of London to the north. This defensive role is highlighted by the use of the Bridge as a defense against King Swein , his son King Cnut and in 1066, against King William the Conqueror. He failed to force the Bridge during the Norman conquest of England, but Southwark was devastated.

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

During the Middle Ages, 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. An important market - later to become known as the Borough Market - was established there some time in the 13th century. The area was renowned for its inns, especially The Tabard, from which Chaucer's pilgrims set off on their journey in The Canterbury Tales.

Post 1500

After many decades' petitioning, in 1550, Southwark was incorporated into the City of London as 'The Ward of Bridge Without'. It became the entertainment district for London, and it was also the red-light area. In 1599, William Shakespeare's Globe Theatre was built on the South Bank in Southwark, though it burned down in 1613. A modern replica, also called the Globe, has been built near the original site. Southwark was also a favorite area for entertainment like bull and bear-baiting. 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 painting of Southwark Fair (1733).


In 1844 the railway reached Southwark with the opening of London Bridge station.

In 1899 Southwark was incorporated along with Newington and Walworth into the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark, and in 1965 this was incorporated with the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell and Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey into the London Borough of Southwark.

Places in Southwark

External links

Last updated: 05-06-2005 05:57:49
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04