[ London ] A Historic Walk Through Southwark

After our special visit to the Gordon Museum, we went on a historical tour of the Southwark area of London. I think the coolest thing of these kinds of walks is that you get to see the city in your own pace and you get to know bits and pieces of the city or history of things that you’ve heard so often but unaware of its origin. Southwark is…

south of the Thames River, an area that was considered “out of bounds” and a sort of “paradise” for things that were not allowed in the city of London. It used to be a sort of a place where travelers would stay before making an early start to go across the London Bridge to London (you could not enter or leave the city after a certain hour),. It was also like a stop-over for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury (referenced in the fictional Canterbury Tales by G. Chaucer). In more modern times, it was a warehouse district where goods for trades were deposited here before dispatch. So this part of the city has a lot interesting sides to it.

Our first stop was a bar not too far from the college building we were in earlier. This bar is special because of the crest above the front door – that crest used to be on the old London Bridge.


Then we made our way to the Borough High Street. There are several “boroughs” or districts in London. The first of which is the “borough” in Southwark and hence the name “Borough High Street” for the main street here and the “Borough Market” which we will visit in another post. The Borough High Street used to be packed with traveler’s “inns” that housed travelers in and out of the city. Although most of the original “inns” are gone now, you could still see alleys like this that show you this was once the entrance leading into an inn. the wood planks on the walls were used to protect the mud brick wall from carriages that bumped into it or scraped it.

There used to be an inn called the Queens Head Inn here. You can still see the path that horse-drawn carriages took. What was significant about this place was that the Inn used to be owned (actually he inherited) by a man named John Harvard. He decided that managing an inn was not the business for him so he sold the inn and took his fortune to America. This was the man who donated money to the university that we now call the Harvard University.

Along the Borough High Street, there were still bits and pieces of some inns preserved and transformed.

In the Elizabethan time, theatre troops would perform in the “courtyard” area of an inn or a bar so that they could collect money from people as they enter the courtyard to see what was the performance about.

Later on the theatre troops thought the bars and inns were taking way too much of what they earned and they had little to pay the performers. So the idea of building one’s own theatre came about. So the first theatre was called… The Theatre. It had galleries like this bar (you could see similar things in the Globe Theatre as well). The names of seating area in theaters like “gallery” and “stalls” that we are so familiar with nowadays pretty much have their origin from this tradition.

Walking on to another street, this magnificent building used to be a place where traders in the brewing industry traded hop (called the Hop Exchange). The building is now an office complex.

We made our way to the famous Borough Market. This busy market is best known as a food market. It probably started in the 13th-century with the amount of trade going on in the area. So it has quite a bit of history. Now you can get all kinds of interesting food here but keep in mind it’s a bit of a tourist attraction so expect the prices to be a bit high (maybe) and the crowd on weekends!

Part of the Borough Market under the bridge.

The cathedral that was built because a city couldn’t be called a city without a cathedral. The nearest ones to the area before that time were too far away so people just decided to build one half way in between. This is supposedly a pretty church. We didn’t go inside but our guide highly recommended it.

Southwark in its old days has its interesting reputation for being the “fun place to be”. So prostitution was no exception and was huge here. The ironic part was that among all the craze stood the palace of a bishop. A holy man, the Bishop of Winchester, turned a blind eye on the activities that went around in his territory because some said  he was receiving some money from the brothels.

Apparently another famous place that has the origin for a word that is often used to refer to a prison is the Clink Prison. This used to be the place where people who did bad things (or things that the bishop didn’t approve of) got thrown into. They were not given food and were basically left to die there. The cage hanging outside of the prison was where they used to put the dead, rotten bodies of prisoners to show the public this is what happens if you do bad things. Now this place is a museum that tells you all the history of this notorious prison.

We walked along some streets and found ourselves in front of the Financial Times building. We were there because directly opposite from this building was the place where the original Globe Theatre from Shakespeare’s time once stood.

Our last stop of the walk was pass the new reconstructed Globe Theatre and Tate Modern.

As there were no tube stations nearby really, we decided to walk across the Millennium Bridge to go to the tube station on the other side of the river. The dome in the distance is the famous St. Paul Cathedral. A magnificent building that managed to survive the bombardments during they world wars.

That completed our special excursion of the day!


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