Southwark, as engraved by Wenceslaus Hollar in the 1660s. Courtesy Yale Center for British Art.
Southwark Fair by William Hogarth. Courtesy Yale Center for British Art.
Southwark and the South Bank
Southwark, opposite the City across London Bridge, had been a thriving community even in Roman times. Although it lacked the great merchants who lived north of the river, it was in many other ways essentially a southern extension of the old medieval heart of London itself, with a broadly similar industrial and retail economy. Local industries included fishing, brewing and glassmaking.
Medieval Southwark had been divided into three independent manors but in 1550 their jurisdiction was ceded to the City of London. The London Corporation's control remained looser in Southwark than north of the river, however, and the justices of the peace of Surrey also exercized some jurisdiction. This relative laxity made Southwark attractive to unlicensed tradesmen and establishments like the bear gardens and theatres -- including Shakespeare's Globe -- that established themselves on the south bank of the Thames in the Elizabethan period. Although in the seventeenth century the theatres gradually moved north of the river, Southwark retained its lively annual fair, featuring puppet shows and other outdoor theatrical entertainments.
Southwark was divided for ecclesiastical purposes into the parishes of St Saviour's and St Margaret's; the former church survives as Southwark Cathedral. An influx of Protestant refugees from the continent during the late sixteenth century may have contributed to the area's later reputation as a comunity with strong puritan and non-conformist traditions.
To the east the activities of London's port had a similar stimulative effect on the south bank of the river as on the north. But to the west Lambeth Marsh impeded development until the eighteenth century, although a few boat building and timber yards, as well as potteries and a glass works, spread along the river bank from early Stuart times. Beyond the marsh, across from Westminster, stood Lambeth Palace, the main London residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury.