England get thrashed at the Ashes. England fail to qualify for the World Cup. Man. Utd. knocked out of Europe. Is it all going horribly, terribly wrong? Don't despair, do something - make a statement to the world, after all, it's a time for laughter, fun, jocularity, jovial banter and getting smashed out of your head (and it must be better than a Hugh Cornwell gig, said he, knowingly). Let us show what makes Britain grate! It's the first christmas pub crawl!
We are gathered here today to honour the role Southwark has played in the development of this fine city of ours. In the process of this discovery, is it not fitting and proper that a few flagons of finest foaming are sunk in honour of good ol' Southwark?
Southwark has played a major role in the history of London since Claudius & some Roman drinking buddies built a settlement here in 43 A.D. The name, Southwark comes from South Warke or work. In those days, there was no virtual reality to amuse the people so they got pissed, held orgies, threw people to the lions and, oh yes... built London Bridge. The site of the bridge was redeveloped several times and it was the only one over the river until 1750 (presumably to prevent too many South East Londoners getting across to the cultured Northern regions of London). Southwark became the main Southern entrance to London and the terminus for coaches when London bridge was too narrow to carry them into the city. This meant that it soon 'livened up' as taverns, inns and other 'hostelries' sprang up to cater for the needs of thirsty travellers, merchants, soldiers, pilgrims and various London football fans (and West Ham supporters). One pub, 'the Tabard' became famous in Chaucer's 'A Canterbury Tale'.
'In Southwark at the Tabard as I lay, Ready to wende on my pilgrimage, To Caunterbury with ful devout corage, At night was come in-to that hostelrye, Wel nyne and twent in a companye'I know people, today, who speak like that after a few jars but don't realize it.
Southwark fair, which began in 1402, was, for a while, one of the great annual English fairs. Held in Borough High St., it lasted for two weeks and is recorded in both Pepy's and Evelyn's diaries. Evelyn records seeing monkeys dancing on ropes, a weight lifter and an Italian female rope-dancer who 'all the court went to see'.
As the middle ages wore on, the entertainment became more dubious (and this was before Arsenal football club was formed). The street beside the Thames (still called Bankside) became a main centre of alehouses, brothels and bear-baiting. As is natural for these sort of places, they soon came under the control of the Bishops of Winchester who lived in their nearby palace. God bless 'em, those pious souls. Alas, the church-sponsored whore-houses were closed in 1546 by Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries but the Virgin Queen had them reopened at a later time.
The area 'got culcha' in Elizabethan times with pleasure gardens, pubs and theatres springing up. Famous theatres in and around Bankside included the Rose (1587 - the year Elizabeth had Mary, Queen of Scots, executed), the Swan (1596), the Globe (1599 - where Shakespeare was playwright, player and shareholder) and the Hope (1614).
Most of medieval Southwark was destroyed in the fire in 1676 (10 years after the Great fire of London) - including most of the hostelries... it is. perhaps, fitting that we give an extra sup in memory of those long departed hostelries.
Although a lot of the inns were rebuilt and flourished during the coaching era, (Thomas Dekker described it, in the 17th Century, as 'a continued ale house with not a shop to be seen in between') the fair was closed by the Corporation of London in 1763 and the inns further declined with the coming of the railway (in the 19th century). They have now all but vanished - the Tabard was a storehouse for the railway by the mid-1900s...what would Chaucer have said? 'Oh Balles to it'?
Luckily for us, however, some watering holes still exist. Surely it is time for us to try and recreate some of the area's (in)famous history by getting well pissed together. The best way known to mankind of achieving this is through the medium known as a pub crawl (to Southerners that is, Northerners call it 'another midweek night before going home to stick ferrets down the trousers').
Let us begin at:
As we head for the next watering hole (at about 10min, the longest walk we have to make), we walk through the Hay's Galleria and past the brilliant sculpture, 'The Navigators' by David Kemp. Out we go into Tooley St (the name is a corruption of 'St. Olaves St. after the nearby church), the childhood home of the founder of Harvard University, and into Borough High St. where Guy's Hospital can be glimpsed through the forest (a 'Half-pint screamer' badge for anyone looking for trees). The hospital was founded in 1725 by Thomas Guy who bought the tract of land opposite what was then St. Thomas's hospital in St. Thomas St. Tommies left in 1871 but Guy's flourished. The poet John Keats qualified, though never practiced, as a doctor there - often walking in from his Hampstead home. The hospital suffered from 2nd World War bombing but was rebuilt - the tower block that now houses the School of dentistry being completed in 1963. There were 894 beds (this is pre-Trust status).
After such a cultural experience, just down the road is...
After circumnavigating the Globe, we proceed to the next tavern via Borough Market (the oldest Fruit & Veg. market in London) which is a successor to the one that caused a nuisance in 1276 by spreading onto the southern end of London bridge.
Here we find two pubs almost alongside each other and close by the railway bridge to Waterloo & Charing Cross:
Turning left (after falling through the doors) we find ...
Just down the road now is Clink Street which can be eerie at the best of times with it's deserted Victorian warehouses. We must not falter from our quest, however, because right is on our side and the evil forces of darkness cannot overcome our god-given desire to have bottoms like the rodents that are numerous in this area. The street was the site of the notorious Clink prison which was, in the 16th Century, the bishops of Winchesters' prison where both Catholic & Protestant prisoners of faith were held. It is the origin of the expression 'in the clink' and is first mentioned in 1509. It was burned down in the Gordon riots (2nd June 1780 - a petition against the repeal of anti-Roman Catholic legislation). At one time, no less than seven prisons existed in Southwark, many of them known to Dickens but largely demolished in the 19th century.
The penultimate (4 syllable word...and so late in the crawl) pub,
As we now wander down Clink St. and into Pickfords wharf we notice, if our eyes are still open, a rose window which is all that remains of the Winchester palace, home of the bishops for 500 years.
'I just love that dirty water' 'Oh London, you're my home'
Just thought I'd put that in.
Le crawl est fini. Past the aforementioned cathedral and up the steps to the bridge and then to the station where we weary travellers will wend our way back to the fleshpots of London. Hopefully, we are all poorer, wiser & more pissed than we were a few hours before.