The overlays that highlight 17th century London features are approximate and derived from Wenceslaus Hollar’s maps:

Open location in Google Maps: 51.505110, -0.088792


The area on the map is a very rough indication of Southwark in the 17th century, using this map from 1720 as a guide.

9 Annotations

First Reading

Terry F  •  Link

"From the 16th century until the outbreak of the Civil War Southwark was...famous as...a pleasure ground of the citizens of London, a character for which, with its privileged places and its exclusion from regulations which bound the City, it was peculiarly fitted. It contained in the 16th century rings for the baiting of bears and bulls and bowling alleys. Several famous theatres were erected in the Clink and Paris Garden Liberties after play-actors had, in 1575, been formally expelled from the City by the Corporation.

"In the period after the Restoration the town, true to its disorderly tradition, was a stronghold of faction and dissent. (fn. 81) A reason urged in 1664 in favour of a bridge from Westminster to Lambeth was that it would provide for soldiers better access to Southwark, 'the nest of fanatics' (fn. 82) ; and in 1665 most of the sectaries about London were said to be lodged in the borough. (fn. 83) "…

"By the 17th century, Southwark was the second largest urban area in England. The riverfront became increasingly important as overseas and domestic trade expanded. Landing places near the City were at a premium and new wharves and warehouses were built to accommodate the growing trade."…

Southwark theatre district of the Borough of Southwark in 1746:…

Civic and jurisprudential center of the Borough of Southwark in 1746: here were located the courts, prison (counter)…

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

The Thames at Southwark also featured "tenter grounds" for drying/bleaching sheets (see the map above), a standard feature of 17th century urban life in Holland too. See the painting, "Bleaching Ground in the Countryside Near Haarlem" by Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruisdael (Dutch, 1628/9–82)…

Bill  •  Link

Southwark, Borough of, on the south of the Thames, long known as the Borough, takes its name from being originally the fortification of London on the south. Being on the high road to London from the Continent it appears to have been inhabited from the earliest times. During the Roman occupation many villas were built here for the wealthier Roman colonists. George Gwilt's Map, compiled in 1819, shows some twenty distinct finds of Roman remains about 10 feet below the present surface, and connected with villas and burial-places, and more have been discovered since. In the construction of Southwark Street evidences of dwellings built on piles (like lake dwellings) came to light.
Southwark was at the first confined to within a short distance of the river, known as the gildable manor, and was from time immemorial a borough. "The burgesses in 1356 say they had formerly a charter franchise which was destroyed by fire, they pray an exemplification of the same, and it was allowed." Bit by bit Southwark came under the City jurisdiction, but never completely so; and although made a ward - Bridge Ward Without - it was never like other wards, it conferred no citizenship on the inhabitants and gave them no privileges.
Southwark, from the earliest times, was the chief thoroughfare to and from London and the southern counties and towns, including Canterbury and the cities of the Continent. This is sufficient to account for the large number of inns, such as the Bear at the Bridge foot, the King's Head, the Talbot or Tabard of Chaucer's "Canterbury Pilgrims", and the White Hart, which was the headquarters of Jack Cade during his brief occupancy of the City and Borough (1450).
---London, Past and Present. H.B. Wheatley, 1891.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"... the George Inn opened during the Medieval Period and shows up in the first map of Southwark made in 1543. It was frequented by Charles Dickens (who gave it a mention in Little Dorrit) and today is one of the last remaining galleried inns in the United Kingdom. It is a Grade I listed building and is a perfect place for a pint."

A gorgeous picture of The George:…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

By Josiah Child’s second marriage on 14 June, 1663 ... he returned to London and built a new brewery in Southwark.

‘Much of the beer was small and stinking, and the rest ill-tasted and unfit for the sea’ but it was good enough for the navy and the royal household.


Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

This group has heard of the George Inn, Southwark. But what’s down the many other historic alleys off Borough High Street?

Borough High Street in Southwark is ancient. Two of the most important Roman roads — later called Stane Street and Watling Street and, later still, Kennington Park Road (A3) and the Old Kent Road (A2) — converged near modern-day Borough tube station, whence commingled they pushed north to London Bridge. This bit, the approach to the bridge, is now called Borough High Street. It is pickled in 2,000 years of history. It might be London’s oldest road.

Borough High Street was noted for its coaching inns. They served as starting points for horse-drawn journeys to the south. They also accommodated people arriving in London too late to cross the bridge, which was typically closed after sundown.
A dozen such inns sprung up along the road during medieval times. Sadly, most were destroyed in a Great Fire — one specific to the Borough in 1676.

[The Great Fire of Southwark began on 26 May 1676 in a building where a man sold oil and paint. The fire spread quickly and it was only brought under control by blowing up houses to create fire breaks. However, the burned parts of Southwark were soon rebuilt. The death toll is not known but it is believed that more people died in the Great Fire of Southwark than in the Great Fire of London. --… ]

The inns were rebuilt, and most lasted into the Victorian era. By the 1880s, their trade had been erased by a force more powerful than fire — the railways. The hundreds of rooms offered by the inns could no longer find occupants. Most were torn down.
Only the George Inn remains in something like its original form. The rest are remembered in the names of the alleys which branch off from the eastern side of Borough High Street.

John Rocque’s map of 1746 shows the 11 alleys we’re about to explore. Some have changed names.

These explorations are aided by a remarkable book, The Inns of Old Southwark (1888) which was written in the final days of the old coaching inns. It contains many gorgeous and rare illustrations of these lost taverns, some of which are reproduced on the link below.

These notes are written so you can virtually venture out from your armchair. Let’s start at the northern end of the street:

1. King’s Head Yard
The King’s Head was put up after the Great Fire of Southwark and lasted more than 200 years.
The face of Henry VIII hangs over the entrance to King’s Head Yard. Don’t let the old brute put you off. This is one of the most atmospheric — and yes, often the most uric — alleyways on the high street. Still, it’s not as welcoming to the eye as in former days. As the illustration shows, the namesake King’s Head inn once filled the courtyard, with galleried buildings on either side. It was pulled down in 1885.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


The King’s Head is still there — a Victorian rebuild — and it’s one of those charming, unreconstructed pubs that still has a carpet and a free-to-hire function room. Beyond, the alley curves gently and leads through to King’s College or, with a swift volte-face, curves round into our next alley…

2. White Hart Yard
The White Hart coaching inn vanished long ago, but it has left a mighty impression on popular culture. It was in the White Hart in 1450 that Jack Cade set up headquarters, before leading his rebellion into London proper. The incident is immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2.
The inn also made an appearance in Dickens. It was at the White Swan that Mr. Pickwick first met Sam Weller.
The original pub was probably built in the reign of Richard II, whose symbol was a white hart. It was a mighty collection of buildings, comparable to a small village with rooms for 100 people.
Like so much on Borough High Street, it burned down in 1676, but was soon rebuilt. The replacement lasted until 1889.
The alley still retains a drinking den in the shape of the Coach House. This modern bar is affiliated with the George, which stands in its own neighbouring yard. Today there’s a cut-through from White Hart Yard, a communication that never existed in ye olden days.

3. The George Inn
This next yard carries no nameplate, but it’s easily the most-visited of Borough High Street’s offshoots, for it contains the world-famous George Inn.
This Grade I-listed building has stood since the 17th century, but its previous incarnations date back to medieval times. Shakespeare almost certainly drank here.
The pub was named after St. George and was, for a time, known as the George and Dragon.
As you’ll have appreciated by now, Borough once contained many pubs of this ilk, with large courtyards for horse-drawn vehicles and galleried accommodation. George is the last man standing. There is much more to say about this fine pub, and I refer you to Pete Brown’s biography of the place, called 'Shakespeare’s Local].

4. Talbot Yard
In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer's motley band set off from the Tabard Inn, which was the real hostelry that once stood in Talbot Yard. The original Tabard burned down in the fire of 1676. It was rebuilt as the Talbot, hence the current alley’s name.
Talbot Yard carries on to the east, offering a semi-obstructed view of the back of the George, before threading through the service roads of King’s College to join up with White Hart Yard and King’s Head Yard.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


5. Queen’s Head Yard
A pub of this name was first recorded on this site in 1587, and was previously known as the Crossed Keys.
The name change may have occurred during the Reformation, when symbols of Papacy (such as St. Peter’s keys) were hastily removed from pub signs in favour of something safer (not that Queens' heads were any safer in Henry VIII’s time).
The Queen’s Head was briefly owned by John Harvard, before he took off to the New World to find posthumous fame in his namesake university.
Nothing down the surviving runt of an alleyway reminds us of its presence.

6. Kentish Buildings
Finally, we reach a trio of alleys whose name does not have a direct pub connection. But it used to. This was once Christopher’s Alley, named after the 16th century Christopher Inn -- a descendant of which can still be found beside one entrance.
The alley seems to have changed names to Kentish Buildings at the end of the 18th century, in tribute to the hop trade (a hallmark of Kent) which flourished in this part of Borough.
Kentish Buildings today is not much to look at, but it is the only alley on Borough High Street where you can still find a room at an inn. The Christopher runs a hostel in the surrounding buildings, while the southern prong of Kentish Buildings houses a new-build Premier Inn.

7. Nag’s Head Yard
This one’s so obscure it doesn’t even merit a label on OpenStreetMap, which usually treats thoroughness as an extreme sport. This is yet another alley named after a pub. Known as the Horse’s Head in ancient times, it became the Nag sometime in the 17th century.
The alley today does not look promising. It’s clearly a service and parking yard for the Premier Inn.
But look again. It has retained its cart-worn flagstones flanked by stone setts, probably from the Victorian era. Meanwhile, a tall brick wall to the back of the yard is of similar vintage. It may well have stood at the same time as the forgotten pub. Sadly, the yard is gated off in the middle.

8. Newcomen Street (formerly Axe and Bottle Yard)
Newcomen Street is a real street these days, not an alley, but you should still go down it if only to see the King’s Arms pub.
The royal coat of arms above the door is a remnant of Old London Bridge. It once adorned the old Stonegate — an arched entrance to the bridge. This was demolished in 1760, but the coat of arms was rescued and placed on the pub.
Like the Old King’s Head, the pub has a lovely ‘old school’ vibe to it. According to the Inns of Old Southwark, a man called Richard Griffin died here in 1736 at the grand age of 116. His funeral featured 116 ancient pall-bearers.
Until the 19th century this was Axe and Bottle Yard, named after a local tavern. The yard has been widened and knocked through to Snowfields, but it still retains a slight kink of old.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


9. Mermaid Court
At the time of writing, the entrance to Mermaid Court sports wraparound vinyl-art that couldn’t be more out of keeping with the alley’s antiquity. But its words are inspired by the area’s history:
"Stories play,
They dance,
They sway,
On the walls of memories,
Dreams of present stay."
The artwork by Farouk Agoro speaks of historical and folk memories, and is inspired by local ‘ghost signs’, fading old adverts on brick walls visible after the demise of the businesses they promote. It’s the most notable aspect of Mermaid Court, which is a featureless cut-through to the housing behind.
I find little about the Mermaid Inn. It’s mentioned along with the King’s Arms in 1565, so was ancient. It once stood against the side of the Marshalsea Prison, before that moved a few alleyways south.

10. Chapel Court
Chapel Court is one of the few alleys that leads nowhere, unless you have business with the Diocese of Southwark headquarters.

You may be lured in by the sight of a half-timbered building. But I’m pretty sure that uPVC double-glazed windows were not the norm. The door also looks suspiciously 1980s. Little can be found online about this Frankenstein building. It seems to be a modern pastiche (using old timbers). Newspapers from 1986 advertise a “Pilgrims Medieval Banquet” on Chapel Court — a gastronomic tourist magnet. These may be its remains.
Sadly, the alley’s chief attraction, the Blue Eyed Maid pub, closed a few years ago and is now in a sorry state. This was another ancient pub, and Chapel Court was once known as Blue Maid Alley.

11. Angel Place
We pass a further short, unnamed alley, dominated by the Royal British Legion, and head into our final passage beside the John Harvard Library (spend a few minutes reading a book here, and you can claim you studied at Harvard!).
Angel Place is perhaps the most interesting of all Borough’s alleys, as it's here we find the remains of the Marshalsea Prison. This notorious jail originally stood on Mermaid Court, but moved south a few metres in the early 19th century. It was mostly for debtors who, despite their bankruptcy, still had to pay fees for their lodgings. The Marshalsea closed in 1842 and was mostly demolished.
However, Angel Place contains substantial remnants of its southern wall. You can even pass through the Marshalsea wall via an arch, into a pocket park beside St. George the Martyr church.

Excerpted from The Curious Alleys Of Borough High Street
The strange history lurking off London's oldest road -- by MATT BROWN
FEB 7, 2024…

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.