London Bridge 1682

History of Southwark

Borough Market 1860

A variation of the name Southwark was first recorded in a 10th century Anglo-Saxon document but history of this London borough dates back to prehistory. Since today’s Southwark area was originally a series of islands on the River Thames, the Romans chosen it to cross the river and built a bridge to the city of Londinium (today’s City of London) that was established in 43 BC. Due to its position, the Roman Southwark became an important part of Londinium. But after the Romans withdrew from Britain, Londinium was abandoned and the bridge that connected Southwark and Londinium collapsed.

Both Southwark and the former Roman city of Londinium are thought to have been reoccupied during the reign of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex (871-899) and his immediate successors. In the Early Middle Ages, the area of Southwark appears to have been used to defend the revived Roman City of London and the bridge leading to the City. Soon after the Norman Conquest of England, Southwark rose to prominence and returned two Members of Parliament to the House of Commons in 1295. What is today High Street, was an important medieval market which, however, was moved to its present location on the Southwark Street and Borough High Street in the 18th century to relieve the traffic congestion. Despite its relocation, the market that came to be known as the Borough Market retained its importance and is today one of London’s largest food markets.

In the late 16th century, Southwark gained its first theatre called The Rose which was very popular among Londoners. Until the construction of the Globe Theatre in the Clink Liberty in 1599, William Shakespeare worked in the Rose. Today’s Globe Theatre is a replica of the original Shakespeare’s theatre which was destroyed by a fire in 1613.

In 1889, Southwark was made a part of the County of London and in 1965, the today’s London Borough of Southwark was created. It encompasses the former Metropolitan Borough of Southwark (formed in 1900), the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell and the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey. Shortly thereafter, the Borough was connected with the City of London with the modern London Bridge which replaced an earlier bridge built in the 19th century. Several earlier bridges, however, connected the area with the City of London at or near the present London Bridge, first time during the Roman period.

The Roman bridge over the River Thames collapsed after the Roman withdrawal in the 5th century, while the Anglo-Saxon bridge that replaced it is thought to have been destroyed in the early 11th century. At least two more bridges were destroyed until the construction of the Old London Bridge in 1206. This bridge was replaced in the early 19th century but in less than a century it became obvious that the bridge can no longer accommodate heavy traffic. The modern London Bridge was built between 1967 and 1972, and was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II one year later.