A walking tour of historic Southwark

Every district of London has its own identity. From upmarket Chelsea to the more working class areas of the East End. Southwark which as its name suggests is on the South bank of the river Thames was long seen as a rather disreputable area, home to theatres such as Shakespeare’s globe, the clink a notorious medieval prison and the barber surgeons of St. Thomas hospital.

Effigy of Shakespeare reclining in Southwark cathedral
Sculpture of William Shakespeare in Southwark cathedral

 The George InnThe gables of an old inn decorated for ChristmasLast weekend I visited my son Richard in London and we met other members of our history walking group for a stroll round the London borough of Southwark.  I thought I would share a few of our photos and offer some suggestions for places to visit if you are in the area.

Part of the difference between Southwark and the districts to the north can be explained by the great fire of London.  In 1666 the great fire  which broke out in Pudding Lane destroyed thousands of houses and over a hundred churches. This meant that much of the city to the north had to be rebuilt.  Fortunately, Southwark escaped as the fire did not cross the river. You can still find pockets of old buildings. The pub in the photo above has been associated with the Tabard Inn where Chaucer’s pilgrims assembled before their trip to Canterbury.

By contrast we met by Canon Street station close to the London stone.

The London Stone

The London stone behind glassThere are many theories about the origins of the London Stone. It is carved from limestone and some people think it was brought over by the Romans and placed to mark the centre of the city by London bridge. London Bridge which is close to the site of the original Roman bridge was the lowest crossing of the river Thames. Part of the London Stone is now preserved in the wall of a building in Cannon Street. London bridge itself has been replaced by a modern  box girder structure which we crossed to reach Southwark. The previous bridge was bought by an American and is now in the Arizona desert.

The Old Operating theatre museum

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As a former nurse I am always interested in medical curiosities. St. Thomas hospital  was founded by Dick Wittington when he was mayor of London. The old operating theatre  now forms part of a museum. It says something for the reputation of the area that of 19 wards in the original hospital 4 were for the treatment of venereal disease. To find out more click here the old operating theatre

Southwark cathedral

We passed the vast Borough market one of the oldest fruit and vegetable markets in London and on to Southwark Anglican cathedral. Although the church has only been a cathedral since 1905 the building dates from the 13th century and is mainly gothic in style.  it is free to visit. To find out about visiting times or what’s on Southwark cathedral

The Golden Hinde

A replica of Drake’s ship the golden Hinde is moored close to the cathedral. She was the first English ship to circumnavigate the globe in 1579-1580.

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We passed the clink prison formerly the property of the Bishop of Winchester and possibly the oldest British prison. It is now a museum.https://www.clink.co.uk/

One of the towers of the old bankside power station now the Tate Modern. #Southwark

Returning along the river bank we  saw the former bankside power station which now houses the Tate Modern art gallery.

What draws most tourists to Southwark is the association with William Shakespeare, he established his famous globe theatre in Southwark. This theatre has been reconstructed with the help of Sam Wannamaker the American film director and is open for tours, workshops and performances. His daughter, the actress Zoe Wannamaker is still heavily involved.

We returned to the North bank and St. Paul’s cathedral across the Millennium Bridge designed by Sir Norman Foster. This was the first foot bridge across the Thames to be built in modern times.

Crossing the Millenium foot bridge to St.Paul's cathedral #Southwark.

 

Notes for tourists

Use this link to check availability and prices for hotels Check for hotels here

To find prices for theatres and other attractions ticket Master theatres and attractions

If you would just like to enjoy a budget bus sightseeing tour of all the major tourist attractions Megabus offer one of the cheapest options I could find.

These links will give you a discount if you are a member of top cashback. The site is free to join. If you are not a member and you book through my link I get a small commission.

This post was a bit longer than usual as you can tell there was a lot to see in Southwark. As always I would love to hear your comments.

Author: Anne Fraser

Hi, I am Anne, I am a retired nurse from Bristol in South West England. I am married with five grown up children, four boys and a girl , a grandson and a cat. I like History, travel and reading. I hope to connect with other people with similar interests.

6 thoughts on “A walking tour of historic Southwark”

  1. I like Southwark on the few times I’ve been but I’ve usually just briefly walked around/through it and not paid all that much attention. I’m looking forward to when I can hopefully another day trip there so I can keep of all these places in mind and actually visit them and be a tourist again! I hadn’t even come across the Clink before, how awful! I had no idea it was a museum so I’d love to check that out. Very nicely covered. I hope Richard is doing well 😊
    Caz xx

    1. Thanks Caz. Richard actually lives in Elephant and Castle which is part of the Southwark diocese so he is not a tourist any more. I had not appreciated the effect of the Great Fire that everything the other side of the river is post 1666. I need more time to see it all.

I would love to hear from you.