Back after an extended hiatus with a fairly brief excursion just south of the Thames but as you can see from the title there’s quite a bit packed into this short space. Inevitably that includes more Shakespeare and Dickens but we’ve also got Geoffrey Chaucer, Francis Drake and John Keats in the mix along with a (literally) cracking legend.
Starting point for today is on Bankside, just to the east of Southwark Bridge and we kick things off by heading eastward along Clink Street towards the Clink Prison Museum. This area was once the site of Winchester Palace, built in 1144 for Henry of Blois, brother to King Stephen, which contained within its grounds two prisons; one for men and one for women. The name ‘Clink’ which eventually became a synonym for houses of incarceration in general seems to have been attributed to the prison here in the 14th century. One suggested derivation is the of the sound of a blacksmith’s hammer closing the irons around the wrists or ankles of the prisoners. Alternatively it could come from the Flemish word ‘klink’ meaning ‘latch’ (on a jail door for instance). The Clink suffered several attempts to destroy it during medieval times, principally during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 and Jack Cade’s rebellion of 1450, both of which resulted in its rebuilding. The latter rebuilding survived until 1780, when Lord George Gordon, dissatisfied with the favours granted upon Catholics during the ‘Papists Act’ assembled The Protestant Association and broke into The Clink, releasing all of the prisoners before burning it to the ground. Today, all that remains of Bankside’s once most notorious prison is the stonework of Winchester Palace that has been preserved within The Clink Prison Museum.
At the end of Clink Street we take a right into Stoney Street and then a left down Winchester Walk which leads into Cathedral Street at the western end of Southwark Cathedral. It is believed that there was a community of nuns living on the site of the cathedral as far back as the 7th century and by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 this had developed into a some form of church. In 1106 the church was ‘re-founded’ by two Norman knights as a priory, whose members lived according to the rule of St Augustine of Hippo. The church was dedicated to St Mary and later known as St Mary Overie (‘over the river’). Perhaps the most famous resident of the priory was the court poet John Gower who lived there at the start of the 15th century and was a friend of Chaucer whose Canterbury Tales begin in Southwark (more of that later). When Henry VIII dissolved the Monasteries in 1539 the church became his property, and he promptly rented it back to the congregation. It was re-named St Saviour’s, though the old name remained in popular usage for many years. Shakespeare was a resident of the parish of St Saviour’s and his brother Edmund who also lived in the parish died in 1607 at the age of 27. A payment of 20 shillings was paid for his burial (possibly by William) at St Saviour’s “with a forenoone knell of the great bell”. His ledger stone is situated in the Cathedral Choir. In 1611 during the reign of James I a group of merchants from the congregation, known as ‘the Bargainers’, bought the church from the king for £800. Having gone through as series of repairs and alterations in the 17th and 18th centuries and a major restoration in the 1820’s St Saviour’s Church became Southwark Cathedral in 1905. The diocese which it serves stretches from Kingston-upon-Thames in the west to Thamesmead in the east and Gatwick Airport in the south. It has a population of two-and-a-half million people, served by over 300 parishes.
On leaving the Cathedral we continue north on Cathedral Street through Winchester Square and past Pickfords Lane down to the river and the replica of Sir Francis Drake’s “Golden Hinde“. The original was the vessel on which Drake and his crew circumnavigated the globe during 1577-1580 (though it was called “The Pelican” at time of departure). A fleet of five ships in all sailed south to the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa before crossing the Atlantic to Brazil then traversing the straits of Magellan to reach the Pacific. By then the other ships had been either lost or returned to England the way they came leaving the Golden Hinde to complete the round trip alone via the East Indies and the Cape of Good Hope. In the 17th century, the original Golden Hinde which had been kept at the Deptford dockyard rotted and was broken up. 400 years later naval architect Loring Christian Norgaard was commissioned by The Golden Hinde Limited of San Francisco, a company formed by two other Americans, Albert Elledge and Art Baum, to design a replica. All components were handcrafted using traditional techniques and materials from the 22 cannons to the furniture and the hinde figurehead and in 1973, the new The Golden Hinde was launched. After crossing both the Atlantic and the Pacific in the 1970’s the ship completed a “second circumnavigation” in the 1980’s (this time with the aid of the Panama Canal) before being retired here to St Mary Overie Dock in 1996 to operate as a museum.
Beside the ship, and I have to confess to never having properly noticed this despite passing this way umpteen times, is a plaque commemorating the Legend of Mary Overie (her that Southwark Cathedral was once named after if you were paying attention earlier). It’s a cracking story so I make no apologies for copying it out (almost) in full here.
“Legend suggests that before the construction of London Bridge in the tenth century a ferry existed here. Ferrying passengers across the River Thames was a lucrative trade. John Overs who, with his watermen and apprentices, kept the “traverse ferrie over the Thames”, made such a good living that he was able to acquire a considerable estate on the south bank of the river. John Overs, a notorious miser, devised a plan to save money. He would feign death believing that his family and servants would fast out of respect and thereby save a day’s provisions. However, when he carried out the plan, the servants were so overjoyed at his death that they began to feast and make merry. In a rage the old man leapt out of bed to the horror of his servants, one of whom picked up a broken oar and “thinking to kill the Devil at the first blow, actually struck out his brains”. The ferryman’s distressed daughter Mary sent for her lover, who in haste to claim the inheritance fell from his horse and broke his neck. Mary was so overcome by these misfortunes that she devoted her inheritance to founding a convent into which she retreated.” (see above).
After that diversion we retrace our steps to the Cathedral and skirt round the north side via Montague Close before ascending the steps up to where London Bridge meets the west side of Borough High Street and from here we head south down to Borough Market. Borough Market is reputed to have existed in one form or another for around 1,000 years since, roughly, 1014 the date used as the basis for the Market’s millennium celebration. This was a prime location for a market at the time due to its position at the southern end of London Bridge—for centuries, the only route across the river into the capital. The market incurred the wrath of the authorities across the river by undercutting the City of London’s own traders such that in the 1270s the City forbade its citizens to go to Southwark to buy “corn, cattle, or other merchandise there”. As a consequence, over the course of the following three hundred years, the market fell increasingly under the aegis of the City thanks to a series of royal charters, culminating in 1550 with Edward VI selling Southwark to the City for around £1,000. As London grew in size and stature, the bedlam on Borough High Street began to arouse significant opposition within the corridors of power and in 1754 a bill went before parliament declaring that as “the market obstructs much trade and commerce”, it would have to cease trading by 25th March 1756. Residents of Southwark then began petitioning to be allowed to start a new market, independent of the City and a second act was passed through parliament declaring that the parishioners of St Saviour’s could acquire land away from the main road and set up a market of their own, and that this market would “be and remain an estate for the use and benefit of the said parish for ever”. The market expanded rapidly in the 19th century becoming a major hub of the wholesale fruit and vegetable trade. The present buildings were designed in 1851, with additions in the 1860s and an entrance designed in the Art Deco style added on Southwark Street in 1932.
By the latter date it is estimated that 1,750,000 bushels of fruit and vegetables were sold here from 188 pitching stands let to 81 different wholesale companies, with a further 203 stands in the uncovered periphery manned by farmers from the Home Counties. Borough Market’s days as a vital wholesale hub were ended in part by the construction of New Covent Garden market in Vauxhall in the 1970s, but mainly by the relentless growth of the supermarkets which, by killing off independent greengrocers, destroyed the ecosystem in which fruit and vegetable wholesaling had thrived. The market’s renaissance into its present incarnation was inspired by the boom in artisan foods which kicked off in the 1990’s. A regular specialist retail market started on a monthly basis at the end of the decade, swiftly becoming a weekly occurrence and then the six days a week operation that exists today. In the process BM has reinvented itself as possibly the most well-known food market in the country and a tourist hotspot. We traverse the market by way of Bedale Street and Rochester Walk before returning to Borough High Street via some more of Stoney Street.
Historically the east side of Borough High Street has been associated with coaching inns, many of which dated back to the medieval period. There were once 23 in total with their own courtyards surrounded by multi-tiered galleries. Many of the yards still remain and retain the names of the inns to which they gave access. However of these only Kings Head Yard and George Inn Yard are still home to eponymous hostelries. The George Inn in its current form dates back to 1676 when it was rebuilt following a fire that destroyed the 1542 original. It is the last surviving galleried coaching inn in London. Naturally enough it claims both Shakespeare and Dickens as former regulars though since it gets a reference in Little Dorrit the latter at least should be conceded with good grace.
Both White Hart Yard and Talbot Yard are now pub-free. The latter however was once the site of the Tabard Inn from whence (as we learned earlier) Chaucer’s pilgrims set off on their way to Canterbury in April 1386.
Bifel that in that season on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
The Tabard was also burnt down in the 1676 fire and it too was rebuilt, though renamed the Talbot, hence the name of the yard. The Talbot, like most of the other coaching inns, failed to outlive the coming of the railways and was demolished in 1873. The plaque below was unveiled by Monty Python’s Terry Jones in 2003.
Opposite Talbot Yard is the St Saviours Southwark War Memorial with its bronze sculpture designed by Philip Lindsay Clark who won the Distinguished Service Order in WW1.
Next we take a brief excursion away from Borough High Street to the east looping round Newcomen Street, Tennis Street and Mermaid Court. On our return we find ourselves opposite Maya House which since 2007 has been embellished by Ofra Zimbalista’s climbing Blue Men.
Continuing south on the east side we arrive at Angel Place another of London’s misnomered alleyways. You wouldn’t get many angels down here unless they were caught very very short. It is however the site of the old Marshalsea Prison (as we alluded to in the post before last) where Dickens’ father was incarcerated and which features heavily in Little Dorrit. Part of the old prison wall is still standing on one side of the alleyway and there is somewhat low-key memorial in the form of illustrated pages from the novel.
Across from Borough tube station, on the corner of the High Street and Great Dover Street stands the church of St George the Martyr. This is believed to be the third church on this site and was built in a Classical style to the designs of John Price between 1734 and 1736. Several of the major City Livery Companies and the Bridge House Estates gave their support to the project and their arms decorate the nave ceiling and some of the stained glass windows. The rather blingy ceiling painting of gilded cherubs breaking through a clouded sky accompanied by texts on a ribbon was created by Basil Champneys (1842 – 1935) in 1897. Champneys was principally an architect and designed a number of college buildings in Oxford and Cambridge.
On the north side of the church Tabard Street cuts through from the High Street into Long Lane which we follow east as far as Crosby Row. Here we head back north to reach Guy’s Hospital, the third and final member of the triumvirate of major central London hospitals following St Barts’ and St Thomas’ (though it should be noted that Guy’s and St Thomas’ are twinned as a single NHS Trust). The hospital dates from 1721, when it was founded by philanthropist Thomas Guy (1644 – 1724), who had made a fortune from the South Sea Bubble and as a publisher of unlicensed Bibles. It was originally established as a hospital to treat “incurables” discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital and the first hospital building was situated just to the south of St Thomas Street. This was soon complemented, in 1738, by the construction of a courtyard known as the General Court with an east wing. In 1780 a west wing comprising the chapel, the Matron’s House and the Surgeon’s House was added on the other side of the courtyard. The site was then extended to the south in 1850, the new buildings being named after one of the governors, William Hunt, who had made a bequest of £180,000 twenty years earlier. All of these buildings now form part of the Guy’s Campus of Kings College London which also incorporates a further group of buildings erected yet further south in the early part of the 20th century. These include Henriette Raphael House opened in 1902 – the first purpose built nurses’ home in London; the Hodgkin Building, named after Thomas Hodgkin, the demonstrator of morbid anatomy and best known for the first account of Hodgkin’s disease and Shepherd’s House, completed in 1921. Guy’s Campus sits to the west of the Great Maze Pond, which is the street that cuts through the extended hospital site. All medical services are now provided in the new buildings on the east side which were mostly constructed in 1974, including the 34 storey Guy’s Tower and 29 storey Guy’s House. The former, now dwarfed by the Shard, was for a brief time the tallest building in London and for a much longer time the tallest hospital building in the world.
We follow Great Maze Pond past the modern hospital buildings down to Collingwood Street where we turn left and then left again into the heart of Guy’s Campus. Having completed a circuit of the main campus we cross over Collingwood Street and go through the colonnade that runs between the two courtyards of 1850. In the eastern courtyard is a round-hooded Portland stone alcove which was originally part of, and is one of the surviving fragments of, the old London Bridge that was demolished in 1831. It now houses a statue of John Keats who studied at Guy’s Hospital from 1815 to 1816 to become an apothecary. (And whom some waggish student has inducted into the festive spirit). In the western courtyard is a statue of William Morris, 1st Viscount Nuffield, another major benefactor of Guy’s Hospital. Continuing north we arrive in the General Court with the brass statue of Thomas Guy by Peter Scheemakers standing in the centre upon a pedestal with bas-reliefs of “Christ Healing the Sick” and the “Good Samaritan”.
We exit the hospital grounds onto St Thomas Street and complete today’s journey by heading west back towards London Bridge. On the way there is just time to pause for a look at (but not inside) the Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret which is housed in the attic of the early eighteenth-century church of the old St Thomas’ Hospital. The original timber framed Herb Garret was once used to dry and store herbs for patients’ medicines and in 1822 an operating theatre was included. Predating anaesthetics and antiseptics, it is the oldest surviving surgical theatre in Europe. So perhaps worth a visit another time.