The Streets of Southwark


Post-Medieval Centuries


By the time of the late fifteenth century the name of Southwark Field had changed to St George's Fields, after the Church of St George the Martyr at the south end of Borough High Street, within the parish of which the fields were located.


Although St George's Fields was never legally defined as a "Common", it was in effect common land and was treated as such. This means that although the land was part of the local manor, the King's Manor, and although much if it belonged to Bridge House Estate (the City Corporation responsible for building and maintaining London Bridge), many people held land within it under lease, on which they could grow crops. This gave them certain common rights over the fields as a whole, such as grazing animals when the gates were thrown open after harvest at Lammas on 1st August. At St George’s Fields the rule was one horse and two cows for each acre held, the animals being marked with the Bridge House mark to prove their right to be there. This situation continued right up to the time of Enclosure at the start of the nineteenth century, when common rights were finally extinguished.


St George’s Fields and Gerard’s Herbal


One of the most important books published during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes by John Gerard. It first appeared in 1597, and a second expanded edition was published in 1636. Working in central London, Gerard almost certainly made field trips to St George’s Fields in search of wild flowers. Several times he mentions St George’s Fields as a good place to find plants like Hedge Hog Grass, Burre Reed, Arrow Head or Water Archer, White Saxifrage, Water Drop Wort and Horse Tail. This suggests that although much of the history of the fields is of a seemingly depressing place, there would also have been times when it was beautiful and a home for wild marshland plants.


English Civil War Lines of Communication


During the English Civil War a fortified line, called the Lines of Communication, was constructed around London to defend it against any Royalist attack. Built between 1642 and 1643, it consisted of a series of 23 fortifications linked by ramparts in the form of earthworks and ditches. The whole project was a massive undertaking by voluntary labour of perhaps 20,000 people organized by the City and its livery companies.


At St George’s Fields there were two forts: one close to the present junction between Borough Road and Newington Causeway, and the second at the site of The Dog and Duck Tavern, where the Imperial War Museum now is. The rampart between these two forts would have had to cross right through the middle of St George’s Fields, perhaps even right through the site of LSBU. Unfortunately, the fortifications were demolished 1647 and no trace of them exist today in our area.



Civil War Forts


Civil War Forts and Lines of Communication. Detail of the map drawn by George Verture in 1738 showing the Southwark section with the forts numbered 21 and 22 which would have straddled St George's Fields. Fort 23 at the right of the map was on the Old Kent Road.


Lambeth Road, King James II, Queen Mary and their flight from London.


King James II was the last Catholic King of England, Scotland and Ireland. The second son of Charles II, he succeeded to the throne in 1685. However, because of his Catholicism, he was deposed in 1688 during the Glorious Revolution when the Protestant William of Orange was invited by English Parliamentarians to England to become King. James and his Queen consort Mary of Modena were forced to flee.

The location of the Horseferry at Lambeth made it a significant escape route for anyone obliged to flee London without having to risk going through the City centre to reach London Bridge, and this was the option chosen by James and his Queen, Mary of Modena. On the night of 9-10 December 1688 Queen Mary, fearing for the life of her baby son, left Whitehall Palace for the last time, clutching her six-month old son, James Francis Edward. Accompanied by two nurses and two male attendants, the small group took a coach to the Horseferry at Millbank, from where they crossed over to Lambeth. According to one of her companions, St Victor, who wrote a Narrative of the Escape of the Queen of England, it was a dark, stormy night and the crossing was terrifying. After spending an hour sheltering from the rain under the walls of an old church, a coach and horses was found at a nearby Inn, and so during the early hours, the Queen with her child and companions were carried along Lambeth Road and across St George’s Fields on their way to Gravesend, from where they escaped by ship to France.


A day later, on the night of 11 December 1688, James II followed his Queen and also took the ferry across the Thames. But he was spotted in Kent and taken back to London. He was, however, permitted to escape once more, and on 23 December he took a ferry downstream to Gravesend, and from there fled to France.

These dramatic flights of King James II and Queen Mary in 1688 illustrate how a single road crossing extensive marshes like those of Lambeth and St George’s Fields could achieve real importance as a link between strategic points.