Southwark has a long and varied history dating all the way back to the Roman occupation.
Its rapid growth was due to its location at the other end of London Bridge – the only bridge over the Thames for centuries. It remained the only part of the south side to be settled right up until the mid-1700s.
Travellers would all have to enter the City through the long roads leading up from Kent, and it became a lodestone for inns, taverns and every other noisy pursuit. Its location outside the City walls gave it a modicum of independence so brothels, bear-baiting pits and theatres all congregated to service the sinful locals.
Some of these inns later gained a national fame, like the popular White Hart in Shakespeare’s Henry VI. This was also mentioned in Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers. Another favourite pub was The Tabard, where Chaucer sent his twenty-nine pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales. The only old inn to survive to this day is the George Inn, built in 1677.
Southwark eventually merged into the rest of central London when Westminster Bridge was built in 1750. This was quickly followed by Blackfriars Bridge in 1769, and buildings spread out along Bankside and Borough.
Southwark Cathedral dates back to the 9th-century AD, when the Bishop of Winchester erected a church on the site. That burnt down in a blaze, and was rebuilt by Augustinian monks in 1106. That lasted for another hundred years, before succumbing to more flames. The building that we see today is late 14th-century.
Its relatively small stature (for a cathedral) resides in its original role as a parish church – it only gained cathedral status in 1905.
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