The southern suburbs
Introduction

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Centre for Metropolitan History

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Author

Edward Walford

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1878

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1-8

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'The southern suburbs: Introduction', Old and New London: Volume 6 (1878), pp. 1-8. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45261 Date accessed: 29 July 2014.


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LONDON.

THE SOUTHERN SUBURBS.

CHAPTER I.

INTRODUCTORY.—SOUTHWARK.


Frontispiece

"Superat pars altera curæ."—Virgil.

Introductory Remarks—Geological Observations—Earliest Mention of Southwark in History—Its Etymology—Southwark as a Roman Settlement—Old London Bridge—Knut's Trench—Reception of William the Conqueror by the Natives of Southwark—The Civic Government of Southwark—Its Annexation to the City—An Icelander's Account of Old London Bridge—The Story of Olaf's Destruction of the Bridge—Hyma sung on the Festival of St. Olave.

Having now completed our survey of the West End and of the northern suburbs of London, it will be necessary for us again to take in hand our pilgrim staff, and to make a fresh start, with a view of reconnoitring that large and interesting district which, though it lies on the southern bank of the Thames, forms, and has formed for centuries, an integral part of this great metropolis. We will therefore do so without further delay, and only ask our readers to accompany us mentally to London Bridge, from the south end of which it is our purpose to commence our peregrinations, which in this, the concluding volume of the work, will be mainly confined to the metropolitan and strictly suburban districts in the county of Surrey; for we have not forgotten the promise with which we set out on our wanderings, to confine ourselves to those regions, be they greater or smaller in extent, from which can be seen "the glimmer of the gilded cross of St. Paul's."

The district which we are about to traverse, though not equal in its reminiscences to the City of Westminster, will be found on examination to be full of antiquarian interest. In St. Saviour's Priory Church, in Bermondsey Abbey, in the old "Tabard" Inn, in the Globe and other theatres on Bankside, in the archiepiscopal palace at Lambeth, in the once royal palace at Kennington, in the Mint and the old Marshalsea, we shall find a rich mine of archæological wealth, and one which it will take a long time to exhaust. At Deptford we shall again meet with our old friends, Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn; at Greenwich we shall see our Tudor kings and queens in the midst of a splendid court; on Blackheath we shall meet Wat Tyler and his rebel bands; at Newington Butts we shall witness the cavalcade of the Canterbury Pilgrims, as they wend their way along the old road into Kent; at Kennington we shall find the Black Prince "at home," and perhaps witness the execution of some of the Scottish rebels; at Dulwich and Camberwell we shall drop in and make the acquaintance of Edmund Alleyn, the "player" and friend of a certain "Will Shakespeare;" while a little nearer home, at Stockwell, we shall find a veritable "Ghost," scarcely inferior to its rival of Cock Lane; at Clapham we shall find Mr. Wilberforce and the Evangelicals busy in founding the Bible Society; in St. George's Fields we shall spend a day with the inmates of New Bedlam, and try to cheer them with our presence; and then mentally transport ourselves to the same spot in the days of Lord George Gordon and his riots, to witness their bonfires. We shall "assist" at the founding and opening of the Surrey and Victoria Theatres, and take our stand by the side of Mr. Astley when, supported by Ducrow, he first encloses his riding-school. We shall peep in and hear a sermon from Rowland Hill, in his well-known chapel in the Surrey Road; spend an evening in the Surrey Zoological Gardens; and then look in at Lambeth Palace, to witness the records of the "Lollard" prisoners, and make acquaintance with Archbishops Chicheley, and Cranmer, and Parker, and Laud. Thence, having glanced in at the Museum of the Tradescants, we shall make our way to Faux or Vaux Hall, and take a view of the old place before it was turned into "Gardens." Thence we shall walk on to Battersea, and shake hands with Lord Bolingbroke before he goes forth into exile, and reconnoitre sundry clusters of old houses, both in that village and in Wandsworth and Putney. There we shall try and arrange our visit so as to come in for the annual contest between Oxford and Cambridge for the blue riband of the London waters; then, crossing the river, we shall make a halt at Fulham in order to investigate at leisure the mansion which for so many centuries has been the residence of successive Bishops of London. Turning then back, in a north-westerly direction, it is our intention to make a perambulation of Hammersmith, so rich in literary and religious associations, and we shall conclude our wanderings with a brief visit to the grave of Hogarth, the painter and moralist, in Chiswick churchyard.

It is just possible, indeed, that we may be led to go even a little further afield in search of subjects of interest, past and present; but if such should prove to be the case, we shall not forget that it is London and London life with which we have to deal, and that where London has extended its social life into the suburbs we must follow it up. At all events, we shall take good care not to leave any street or any house unexplored which can have an interest for the readers of "Old and New London."

With these few words of preface, we will commence our journey at the point where London Bridge abuts on the east end of the "Ladye" Chapel of St. Saviour's. And here we cannot do better than repeat the words which we employed on first starting from Temple Bar: (fn. 1) —"Southwark, a Roman station and cemetery, is by no means without a history. It was burnt by William the Conqueror, and had been the scene of a battle against the Danes. It possessed palaces, monasteries, a mint, and fortifications. The Bishops of Winchester and Rochester once lived here in splendour, and the locality boasted its four Elizabethan theatres. The 'Globe' was Shakespeare's summer theatre, and here it was that his greatest triumphs were attained. What was acted there is best told by making Shakespeare's share in the management distinctly understood; nor can we leave Southwark without visiting the 'Tabard' inn, from whence Chaucer's nine-and-twenty jovial pilgrims set out for Canterbury—
'The holye blissful martyr for to seek.'"

Hitherto, as our readers are aware, we have been concerned with those portions of our great metropolis which lie to the north of the Thames, and within the boundaries of the county of Middlesex; but the moment that we cross London Bridge we find ourselves in another county—that of Surrey—so called from South-rey—i.e., the south side of the river.

If we were to travel far into the interior of this county we should come upon scenes very unlike what we have seen in Middlesex; but the limits of our present pilgrimage will scarcely carry us so far afield as to the borders of the chalk formation which fringes the basin of clay and gravel which underlies the whole of London south, as well as London north, of the Thames.

There was a time, some two thousand years ago, when the whole of the district now covered by Southwark and Lambeth, and most of the adjacent district, as far south as the rising grounds of Brixton, Streatham, and Clapham, was little more than a dull and dreary swamp, inhabited by the bittern and the frog, and when painted savages roamed and prowled about the places which are now not only busy thoroughfares, but the marts of foreign commerce. But this change was the work of very many ages.

In the early Saxon times there is no notice of any large town being situated here; but a tradition of Bartholomew Linsted, or Fowle, the last prior of St. Mary Overie, as preserved to us by Stow in his "History of London," tells us that the profits of the ferry—for before a bridge spanned the Thames a ferry had existed here—were devoted by the owner, "a maiden named Mary," to the foundation and endowment of a convent or house of sisters, which was afterwards converted into a college of priests; and that these priests built a bridge of timber, which in the course of time was converted into a bridge of stone.

Maitland, in his "History of London," refuses to believe this tradition, which, if it be true, would carry back the date of the foundation of St. Mary Overie's to a period far anterior to any historic notice of Southwark; but whether we accept it in its entirety or not, at all events the legend must be regarded as fair evidence of the early establishment of a religious house at this spot, and of the bestowal of the proceeds of the ferry for its support.

The earliest mention of Southwark by name in history is in A.D. 1023, when the Saxon chronicle tells us that Knut, and Egelnoth, Archbishop of Canterbury, with some other distinguished persons, carried by ship the body of Alphege, saint and martyr, across the Thames to "Suthgeweorke," on its way to its resting-place at Canterbury. In "Domesday Book" the name appears under the form of "Sudwerche."

It is generally said that Southwark was never fortified till quite a recent period. How, then, did its name, "wark" or "werke," arise? Is it the same word as in bulwark? A fortress built by the Earl of Mar, in Scotland, is called "Mar's wark or werke;" and possibly the same word is embodied in the word "Southwark."

Mr. Worsaae, in his "Account of the Danes and Norwegians in England," refers to the possession by those peoples of Southwark, the very name of which, he adds, is unmistakably of Danish or Norwegian origin. "The Sagas relate that, in the time of King Svend Tveskjæg, the Danes fortified this trading place, which, evidently, on account of its situation to the south of the Thames and London, was called Sydvirke (Sudvirke), or the southern fortification. From Sudvirke, which in AngloSaxon was called Sud-geweorc, but which in the Middle Ages obtained the name of Suthwerk or Swerk, arose the present form—Southwark. The Northmen had a church in Sudvirke, dedicated to the Norwegian king, Olaf the Saint." It is stated that the name of Southwark has been spelled in no fewer than twenty-seven different ways in old writings.

We shall not attempt to invade too far the domain of learned antiquaries, and waste our readers' time and patience by a long disquisition on the question whether the natives of Southwark, twelve hundred years ago—as a portion of the inhabitants of the county of Surrey—were descendants of the Regni or the Cantii, the Atrebates or the Bibroci. It is enough for us to know that the men of Surrey were among the tribes conquered by the legions of Julius Cæsar, and that having belonged at one time to the kingdom of Mercia, and at another to Kent, Surrey became after the Conquest part and parcel of the territory of the son-in-law of William, the powerful Earl of Warrenne, and that, lying so near to the chief city of the kingdom, in spite of the fluvius dissociabilis, the Thames, it was gradually absorbed into the great metropolis, of which it became a suburb in the strictest sense, even before it was formally "annexed" to London.

As already indicated, the low flat tongue of land bounded on three sides by the Thames in the bend which it makes between Greenwich and Vauxhall, was doubtless originally overflowed by the tide, and formed a large marsh extending to the foot of the slight eminences which bound its fourth side upon the south. It is almost certain that this space was banked in artificially by the Romans, so as to secure it against being overflowed; and Roman remains, which have been dug up in St. George's Fields and elsewhere about Southwark and its neighbourhood, are sufficient proofs that the Romans formed there a settlement of some kind or other. Indeed, as Ptolemy tells us that London was in the territory of the Cantii, it has been inferred—though somewhat too hastily—that the original London stood on the south of the river; but this theory is generally rejected as being contrary to evidences of various kinds. It is far more probable that Ptolemy wrote with an imperfect knowledge of the geography of so distant and unimportant a place, and confounded the two sides of a distant river. No doubt, however, from very early times there was on the south side a suburb consisting of dwelling-houses connected with the city by a ferry, where the great Roman road of the Watling crossed the Thames.

The history of Southwark up to the period of the Norman Conquest is obscure and uncertain; but there is no doubt that the place was inhabited by the Romans, for Charles Knight tells us that "clear vestiges of Roman dwelling-houses have been found, not only in Southwark, but here and there along the bank of the river as far east as Deptford."

It has been asserted that there was no bridge between London and Southwark as early as the tenth century, because we are told that in A.D. 993 Anlaf, the King of Norway, sailed up the river as far as Stane (Staines); but this inference is by no means to be accepted as certain, for we learn from William of Malmesbury, and from the "Saxon Chronicle," that in the very next year there was a bridge here which obstructed the flight of Sweyn's forces, when he attacked London and was repulsed by its brave citizens. Again, little more than twenty years later, when Knut attacked London, there certainly was a bridge of one kind or another, which formed an obstacle to the advance of his ships up the river; and in order to avoid this obstacle (according to the Saxon Chronicle), he dug on the south side a trench, through which he conveyed his vessels to a point "above bridge." It is curious that in the accounts of these transactions which have come down to us there is no actual mention of Southwark by name; and yet there must have been some "werke" or defence, at all events, at the entrance of the bridge. Again, in 1052, Godwin, then in rebellion against Edward the Confessor, came with his fleet to Southwark, and passing the bridge without any opposition, proceeded to attack the king's vessels which lay off Westminster, though further hostilities were averted by an offer of peace.

Perhaps it was the error of Sweyn in getting his fleet foul of London Bridge which made his son Knut go so laboriously to work with the waters of the Thames on his invasion in 1016, the story of which shall be briefly related in the words of the "Saxon Chronicle:"—"Then came the ships to Greenwiche, and, within a short interval, to London, where they sank a deep ditch on the south side, and so dragged their ships to the west side of the bridge. Afterwards they trenched the city without, so that no man could go in or out, and often fought against it; but the citizens bravely withstood them."

There have been several persons who have raised sceptical doubts about this history; but the honest historian, Maitland—who loved to get to the bottom of all such statements, and who set himself to discover proofs of Knut's trench—tells us that this artificial water-course began at the great wet-dock below Rotherhithe, and passing across the Kent Road, continued in a crescent form as far as Vauxhall, and fell again into the Thames at the lower end of Chelsea Reach. As proofs of the historic truth of this hypothesis, he brought forward the great quantities of hazels, willows, and brushwood, pointing northwards, and fastened down by rows of stakes, which were found at the digging and clearing out of Rotherhithe Dock in 1694, as well as numbers of large oaken planks and piles, found also in other parts on the Surrey side of the river.

Southwark, very naturally, figures in the chapter of English history which immediately follows on the Battle of Hastings. As soon as he had won the battle, we read that William marched upon London, where the citizens had declared Edgar Atheling king of England. On reaching Southwark, which then was an inconsiderable suburb—though not wholly unfortified, as may be gathered from its name—the Conqueror was so roughly handled by the sturdy citizens of London, that though he repulsed them by the aid of some five hundred horse, and laid the suburb in ashes, he found it necessary, or at all events prudent, to retire, and accordingly marched off in a westerly direction.

Southwark is mentioned in history as far back as A.D. 1053, and was a distinct corporation governed by its own bailiff until 1327, when Edward III. made a grant of it to the City of London, whose mayor was thenceforth to be its bailiff, and to govern it by his deputy. "Great inconvenience having been found to arise from its affording a refuge to offenders of various kinds," the City was ordered to pay to the royal exchequer the sum of £10 annually as a fee-farm rent. In this charter Southwark is called a "villa," which may mean anything from a town down to a village; but if we take the term in the latter sense, it must have been a tolerably large "village," for it had no less than four churches: viz., St. Mary's (a chapel of the great conventual church of St. Mary over the Rie); St. Margaret's (where the Town Hall lately stood); St. Olave's; and, lastly, St. George's; to say nothing of the hospital of St. Thomas, two prisons (namely, those of the King's Bench and the Marshalsea), and also the houses of several prelates, abbots, and nobles.

Some time after this, however, the inhabitants recovered their former privileges; but in the reign of Edward VI. the Crown granted the district to the City of London for a money grant of a little less than £650; in consideration of a further sum of 500 marks, it was "annexed" to the said City, and by virtue of the same grant it continues subject to its Lord Mayor, who has under him a steward and a bailiff; and it is governed (or rather represented in the councils of the City) by one of its aldermen, whose ward is styled by the name of "Bridgewithout." The property granted to the City on the above occasion is regarded as specially liable to the repairs and maintenance of London Bridge. By this incorporation, however, Southwark did not cease to be part and parcel of the county of Surrey. From this arrangement certain lands were exempted, such as Southwark Mansion and Park, which belonged to the king.

According to the "Penny Cyclopædia" (1842), this ward appears never to have been represented in the Common Council, nor do the inhabitants now elect their aldermen. The senior alderman of London is always alderman of this ward, and on his death the next in seniority succeeds him. He has no ward duties to perform, so that his office is little else than a sinecure. The City of London appoints a high bailiff and steward for Southwark; but the county magistrates of Surrey exercise jurisdiction in several matters.

"It is curious to observe," says Mr. Robertson, in his "Lecture on Southwark," "that London was first indebted to Southwark for its bridge; that the first bridge was built by the priests of the monastery in Southwark; that the Bridge-house was in Southwark, and not in London; that the revenues for the maintenance of the bridge were not derived from London, but from the southern side of the Thames; and although land could not have been difficult to obtain close to the bridge, the expensive experiment was resorted to of building houses on the bridge—literally, on the Thames."

The earliest description of London Bridge, singularly enough, is given by an Icelander, who lived in the middle of the thirteenth century, and may be found quoted by the Rev. James Johnstone, in his "Antiquitates Celto-Scandicæ" (Copenhagen, 1786, 4to), in connection with the Battle of Southwark, which was fought in 1008, in the luckless reign of Ethelred II., surnamed the "Unready." It runs as follows:—

"They (i.e., the Danish forces) first came to shore at London, where their ships were to remain, and the city was taken by the Danes. Upon the other side of the river is situate a great market called Southwark—Sudurvirke in the original—which the Danes fortified with many defences; framing, for instance, a high and broad ditch, having a pile or rampart within it, formed of wood, stone, and turf, with a large garrison placed there to strengthen it. This the king, Ethelred, . . . . attacked and forcibly fought against; but by the resistance of the Danes it proved but a vain endeavour. There was at that time a bridge erected over the river between the City and Southwark, so wide that if two carriages met they could pass each other." This structure King Olave and his Norsemen destroyed by rowing their ships up close to the bridge, and making them fast to it by ropes and cables. With these they strained the piles so vigorously, aided by the strong flow of the tide, that the piles gave way, and the whole bridge fell. "And now it was determined to attack Southwark," continues the Icelander; "but the citizens seeing their river occupied by the enemy's navy so as to cut off all intercourse that way with the interior provinces, were seized with fear, and having surrendered the city, received Ethelred as king." In remembrance of this expedition, thus sang Ottar Suarti, in a sort of rhythmic prose, which reminds one of Macpherson's "Ossian:"—

"And thou hast overthrown their bridges, oh! thou storm of the sons of Odin! skilful and foremost in the battle. For thee it was happily reserved to possess the land of London's winding city. Many were the shields which were grasped, sword in hand, to the mighty increase of the conflict; but by thee were the iron-banded coats of mail broken and destroyed.

"Thou, then, hast come, defender of the land, and hast restored to his kingdom the exiled Ethelred. By thine aid is he advantaged, and made strong by thy valour and prowess; bitterest was that battle in which thou didst engage. Now, in the presence of thy kindred, the adjacent lands are at rest, where Edmund, the relative of the country and of the people, formerly governed.

"That was truly the sixth fight which the mighty king fought with the men of England, wherein King Olaf, the chief himself, a son of Odin, valiantly attacked the bridge at London. Bravely did the swords of the Volsces defend it; but through the trench which the sea-kings, the men of Vikesland, guarded, they were enabled to come, and the plain of Southwark was full of his tents."

The story of the destruction of London Bridge by Olaf is thus told in Southey's "Naval History of England," with all the details of historical narrative:—"Among them (i.e. Ethelred and his forces) came a certain king Olaf (perhaps the same who had been baptized in this country): he brought with him a strong fleet; and, with the aid of these Scandinavian ships, the King of England resolved upon attempting to re-take London from the Danes. The fleet was of little use unless it could pass the bridge. But this, which was of wood, wide enough for the commodious passage of two carriages, and supported upon trestles, had been strongly fortified with towers, and a parapet breast high; and at its south end it was defended by a military work, placed on what the Icelandic historian calls the great emporium of Southwark. This fortress was of great strength, built of wood and stone, with a deep and wide ditch and ramparts of earth. A first attack upon the bridge failed; for the Danes had manned it well, and defended it bravely. Grieved at his repulse, Ethelred held a council of war, to deliberate in what manner they might hope to destroy the bridge; and Olaf undertook to make the attempt with some of his ships, if the other leaders would join in the assault. Causing, therefore, some deserted houses to be pulled down, he employed the beams and planks in constructing projections from the sides of the ships, under cover of which, when they were laid alongside the bridge, the assault might be made: a contrivance intended to serve the same purpose as those machines which, under the names of 'cats' and 'sows,' were used in sieges. He expected that the roofing would be strong enough to resist the weight of any stones which might be thrown upon it; but in this expectation he had calculated too much upon the solidity of his materials, and too little upon the exertions and activity of the defenders; and when, with the advantage of the flowing tide, the ships had taken their station, stones of such magnitude were let fall upon them, that the cover was beaten in; shields and helmets afforded no protection; the ships themselves were shaken and greatly injured, and many of them sheered off. Olaf, however, persisted in his enterprise. Under cover of such a bulwark, he succeeded in fastening some strong cables or chains to the trestles which supported the bridge: and, when the tide had turned, his rowers, aided by the returning stream, tore away the middle of it, many of the enemy being precipitated into the river. The others fled into the city, or into Southwark; and the Thames was thus opened to the fleet. The south work was then attacked and carried; and the Danes were no longer able to prevent the Londoners from opening their gates and joyfully receiving their king."


SOUTH END OF OLD LONDON BRIDGE, WITH SHOT TOWER AND ST. OLAVE'S CHURCH, IN 1820.


THE BRIDGE-FOOT, SOUTHWARK, IN 1810

Such, according to ancient story, were the martial feats of King Olaf, or Olave, upon the water; but for his more pious and peaceful actions on land, which caused the men of Southwark to venerate his memory, it is needful only to turn to the church which bears his name, at the south-eastern corner of the bridge, and of which we shall speak presently. It was, in reality, one of the two southern landmarks and boundaries of the old bridge, the Church of St. Saviour's, at the south-western corner of the bridge, being the other.

The author of "Chronicles of London Bridge" gives the following version of part of a Latin hymn from the Swedish Missal, sung on St. Olave's festival in his honour:—
"Martyred king! in triumph shining!
Guardian saint! whose bliss is shrining!
To thy spirit's sons inclining
From a sinful world confining,
By thy might O set them free!
Carnal bonds around them twining,
Fiendish arts are undermining,
All with deadly plagues are pining;
But, thy power and prayers combining,
Safely shall we rise to thee. Amen."

Footnotes

1 See Vol. I., p. 9.