Tag Archives: Southwark

The Winchester Geese


Further to recent postings on  “Southwark” and on “The Stews, Animal-Baiting Arenas and Play-Houses of Southwark” …

Many of the stews of Bankside in Southwark were licensed by the Bishops of Winchester, such that  the prostitutes who worked in them  came to be known as “Winchester Geese”.  When they died, they were interred, with the other “Outcast Dead”,  in an unconsecrated burial ground now known as  “Cross Bones Graveyard”, on Redcross Way.  The graveyard remained in use up until the nineteenth century.

A “Museum of London Archaeology Service” monograph describes in detail the findings of recent archaeological excavations at the site.


One of the excavated skeletons, of a  nineteenth-century woman,  aged only around sixteen to nineteen,  exhibited pathological indications of advanced syphilis.  Research undertaken for an episode of the BBC television series “History Cold Case” in 2010  indicated  that this skeleton was likely to be that of one Elizabeth Mitchell, who is recorded as having been admitted to nearby St Thomas’s Hospital suffering from the running sores all over the body symptomatic of advanced syphilis, and as having died there, on 22ndAugust 1851, aged nineteen.


Having recently been at least temporarily spared from “development”, the site, which is owned by Transport for London,  is currently in use as a community garden of remembrance (under the auspices of the Bankside Open Spaces Trust).  It is generally open  between 12-3 on weekdays.  Regular vigils for the dead are also held here, at 7:00 pm on the 23rd of every month.

The Stews, Animal-Baiting Arenas and Play-Houses of Southwark


Further to last week’s posting on “Southwark” …

Historically, Southwark was a so-called “liberty”, free of many  of the regulations governing life in the City across the river.  Over time it  became one of the poor places in which it, the rich City, attempted to locate  – and forget – some of its more “undesirable” buildings, industries and activities (including – in the numerous “stews” – prostitution; animal-baiting; and the performance of stage plays; all of which attracted large and unruly crowds).


The first “stews” were founded in Bankside  in  the early twelfth century (the word “stew” meant originally a fish pond, subsequently a public bath-house, and eventually a brothel).  They lay between the Thames to the north, Bank End to the east, what was then Maiden Lane and is now Park Street to the south, and Cardinal’s Cap Alley to the west, on land owned either by the Bishops of Winchester, who had built a palace on nearby Clink Street in c. 1144, or by the Prioresses of Stratford Priory.   Ordinances for their governance had to be put in place as long ago as 1161, under Henry II (*).   Tax records from the fateful year of 1381 show that there were seven open  at this time; further records from the later 1400s, that there were eighteen at this time.  The stews were temporarily closed in 1505 by the first Tudor King, Henry VII, after an outbreak of syphilis, although most re-opened within the year.  They were supposedly permanently closed in 1546 by Henry VIII, who wished Bankside “no more to be used as a common Bordell[o]”, although most if not all re-opened after Henry’s death in 1547.

There were twenty-two in operation in Bankside in 1546, namely, the “Antelope”, “Barge”, “Bear”, “Bell”, “Boar’s Head”, “Bull’s Head”, “Cardinal’s Hat”, “Castle”, “Cock”, “Crane”, “Cross Keys”, “Elephant”, “Fleur de Lys”, “Gun”, “Hart”, “Hart’s Horn”, “Horseshoe”, “Lion”, “Little Rose”, “Rose”, “Swan” and “Unicorn” (the infamous “Holland’s Leaguer” in Paris Gardens opened during the reign of the first Stuart King, James I,  in 1603).  Their more-or-less precise locations have been established by painstaking historical work involving a wide range of source materials (including a Tudor mural depicting Edward VI’s coronation procession in 1547, in which they all appear in the background).

Readers interested in further details are referred to E.J. Burford’s estimable “Bawds and Lodgings – A History of the London Bankside Brothels”, published by Peter Owen in 1976 (and republished as “The Bishop’s Brothels” by Robert Hale in 2015).

(*) Some of the ordinances were concerned with the welfare of the working girls, for example “no brothel-keeper to prevent his whore entering or leaving the premises at will” and “quarterly searches of every brothel must be carried out to ensure no woman is imprisoned there against her will … ”.  Others, though, restricted their rights, for example “all whores to wear some agreed garment indicating their profession” (and “no whore to wear an apron”).   Still others were concerned with public health, for example “no brothel-keeper to let any whore work on his premises if he knows she has ‘the burning sickness’”.  Or with public order, for example “no whore to entice any man into the brothel by pulling on his coat or any other item of clothing”, “no whore to throw stones at passers-by or pull faces at them for refusing to come in” and “no whore to chide with any man and make a fray”.

Animal-Baiting Arenas

The first animal-baiting arena on Bankside was probably built either in the late fifteenth century or the early sixteenth.  The last would appear to have closed down sometime in the late seventeenth century or the early eighteenth, after the opening of a new  venue in Hockley-in-the-Hole in Clerkenwell (note, though, that the barbaric practice of animal-baiting was not actually outlawed until  as recently as 1835).  Henry VIII is known to have witnessed a bear-baiting at Paris Gardens, from a barge moored offshore, in 1539.  In succeeding Stuart times, the actor Edward Alleyn and theatrical impresario Philip Henslowe, having just been jointly  appointed “Master Overseer and Ruler of the Bears, Bulls and Mastiff Dogs”, announced sometime in 1604: “Tomorrow being Thursdaie shall be seen at the Bear-gardin on the bankside a great mach plaid by the champins of Essex who hath challenged all comers whatsoever to plaie v dogges at the single beare for V pounds and also to wearie a bull dead at the stake and for your better content shall have pleasant sport with the horse and ape and whipping of the blind beare”.

At one time or another, there were six animal-baiting arenas in operation in Bankside.


The first play-house on Bankside was “The Rose”, built in 1587, the second, “The Swan”, built in 1595, the third, The Globe”, built in 1599, and the fourth, “The Hope”, built in 1614.

“The Rose” was originally built  by Philip Henslowe to a fourteen-sided design in 1587, subsequently rebuilt to a less regular design in 1592, and demolished in 1606.    The site is currently conserved in the basement of  Rose Court in Park Street, and marked by a Corporation Blue Plaque on the outside of the building.  Christopher Marlowe’s plays were first performed here.

“The Swan” was built in 1596, decayed by 1632, and last recorded in 1634. Ben Jonson’s lost play “Isle of Dogs” was performed here in 1597, drawing such criticism for its “seditious and slanderous” content that the author was temporarily thrown into – the  first Marshalsea – prison!

“The Globe” was built by the theatrical impresario Cuthbert Burbage in 1599, using some materials salvaged from his father James’s “The Theatre” in Shoreditch, after the expiry of the lease on that latter property.  According to the Shakespearean scholar Steve Sohmer, it opened on June 12th, 1599.   It was burnt down in a fire on June 29th,  1613, after sparks from a theatrical cannon set some  thatch  alight during a performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry the Eighth”. It was rebuilt in 1614, but fell into disuse after the performance of plays was banned by an Act of Parliament forced through by the Puritans in 1642, and it  was demolished, by order of the Puritan City authorities, on April 15th,  1644.  A plaque marks its site, on Park Street.  This was “Shakespeare’s (own) play-house, and the venue where many of his plays were first performed”.

“The Hope” was built as a bear-baiting arena cum playhouse by Philip Henslowe in 1614, the year after the original “Globe” burned down.  Its use as a playhouse was short-lived, however, as one of the players, Ben Jonson,  complained that it was “as durty as Smithfield and as stinking every whit”.  It was closed down in 1653, and pulled down in 1656.

Readers interested in further details are referred to Julian Bowsher’s “Shakespeare’s London Theatreland”, published by Museum of London Archaeology in 2012.



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Shakespeare (Edmond) (d. 1607) - Copy

Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Southwark (Henry VI Part II)

Southwark Cathedral (2) - Copy.JPG

Southwark was first  recorded as Sudwerca in the “Domesday Book” of 1086.  It takes its name from the Old English “suth”, and “weorc”, meaning defensive work or fort, in reference to the Roman defences south of the river.  (Note that there is also evidence of pre-Roman here, on Horselydown Eyot).  It was also referred to historically as Suthriganaweorc, meaning the defensive work or fort of the men of Surrey.  The area was unaffected by the Great Fire of London in 1666, the southward progress of which across the river was halted at a gap in the buildings on London Bridge that formed a natural firebreak.  However, it suffered its own Great Fires in 1212 and in 1676.  The Great Fire of 1212 reportedly killed thousands of people, many of them trapped on London Bridge.  According to a near-contemporary account: “An exceeding great multitude of people passing the Bridge, either to extinguish or quench it, or else to gaze at and behold it, suddenly the north part, by blowing of the south wind, was also set on fire, and the people which were even now passing the Bridge, perceiving the same, would have returned, but were stopped by the fire.”   The fire badly damaged the recently-built bridge, leaving it only partially usable for years afterwards, and necessitating a partial rebuild.  It also damaged  Southwark Cathedral, necessitating a partial rebuild.  Some of the masonry  used in the rebuilding of the cathedral  was salvaged from the fire debris and shows signs of fire damage.

Historically, Southwark was a so-called “liberty”, free of many  of the regulations governing life in the City across the river.  Over time it  became one of the poor places in which it, the rich City, attempted to locate  – and forget – some of its more “undesirable” buildings, including prisons (*); industries, including tanning; and activities, including prostitution, gambling, animal-baiting, and the performance of stage plays, all of which attracted large and unruly crowds.

(*) The Borough Compter, Clink, King’s Bench, Horsemonger Lane, first and second Marshalsea, and White Lion.

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The surviving part of the wall of the second, nineteenth-century, Marshalsea Prison, where Dickens’s father was incarcerated for debt, forms the northern boundary   of the churchyard of St George the Martyr.


The Great Fire of London (Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, 1666)


On this fateful day in 1666, Samuel Pepys in his diary:

“ …  Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire … in the City.  So I rose, and slipped on my night-gown, and went to her window; and thought it to be … far enough off,   and so went to bed again … .  … By and by Jane comes and tells me that … the fire …  is now burning all down Fish Street, by London Bridge.  So I made myself ready … and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places … ; and … did see the houses at  that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side of the end of the bridge … .  So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant … , who tells me that it begun … In the King’s bakers in Pudding-lane, and hath burned  St Magnus’s church and most … of Fish-street already.  So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and … there saw a lamentable fire.   …  Every body endeavouring to remove their goods, and …  bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one … stairs, by the waterside, to another.   … Having staid, and in an hour’s time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and … the wind mighty high and driving it into the City, and everything, after so long a drought, proving combustible … : I to White Hall, … and did tell the King [Charles II] … what I saw; and that, unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down [to create fire-breaks], nothing could stop the fire.  The King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor [the singularly ineffectual Thomas Bloodworth]” and command him to … pull down  [houses].  At last met my Lord Mayor … .  To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman ‘Lord, what can I do?  I am spent: people will not obey me.  I have been pulling down   houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’”.

And John Evelyn wrote:

“This fatal night … began that deplorable fire, neere Fish-streete … : … I … with my Wife & Sonn … went to the bank side in Southwark, where we beheld that dismal spectacle, the whole Citty in dreadfull flames … and … consumed … from the bridge … down to the three Cranes, & so returned exceedingly astonishd, what would become of the rest”.


Celebrating Sir Francis Drake



On this day in 1586, Sir Francis Drake was feted in the Middle Temple on his return from the New World – where he had been busy “privateering” (plundering Spanish possessions).

Drake is also famous as  the first person to circumnavigate the globe, between 1577-80, aboard the “Golden Hind(e)”.  On April 4th, 1581, Elizabeth I visited his ship, which had been “drawn into a creek … at Deptford as a perpetual memorial for having circuited round about the whole earth”, and “consecrated it with great ceremonie, pompe and magnificence eternally to be remembered”; and knighted him.  The ship  remained at Deptford for about 100 years, until it started to disintegrate and had to be broken up.  A  plaque on the water-front there marks the site and commemorates the event.  There is a modern reconstuction of it  in St Mary Overie Dock in  Southwark.


Bear-baiting  in Old London

A Medieval depiction of bear baiting

On this day in 1623, John Chamberlain wrote in a letter to Sir Dudley Carleton:

“The Spanish Ambassador is much delighted in beare baiting: he was the last weeke at Paris garden [in Southwark], where they shewed him all the pleasure they could  … and then turned a white [polar] beare into the Thames, where the dogges baited him swimming, which was the best sport of all”.

The Swiss visitor Thomas Platter had written of the practice of bear-baiting earlier, in 1599:

“Every Sunday [!] and Wednesday in London there are bear-baitings.  … The theatre is circular, with galleries … for spectators, [and] the space … below, beneath the clear sky, … unoccupied. In the middle of this place a large bear on a long rope was bound to a stake, then a number of English mastiffs were brought in and first shown to the bear, which they afterwards baited … .  [N]ow the excellence … of such mastiffs was evinced, for although they were much … mauled by the bear, they did not give in, but had to be pulled off by sheer force … .  The bears’ teeth were not sharp so to they could not injure the dogs; they have them broken short.  When the first mastiffs tired, fresh ones were brought in … .  When the bear was weary, another one was supplied … .  … When this bear was tired, a … bull was brought in … .  Then another powerful bear … .  Lastly they brought in an old blind bear which the boys hit  with … sticks; but he knew how to untie his leash and … ran back to his stall”.

And Henry Machyn, in 1554:

 “The sam day at after-non was a bere-beyten on the Banke syde, and ther the grett blynd bere [whose name was Sackerson] broke losse, and in ronnyng away he chakt a servyng man by the calff of the lege, and bytt a gret pesse away, and after by the hokyll-bone, that with-in iii days after he ded”.

The barbaric practice of animal-baiting began at least as long ago as the Middle Ages: the oldest record of the royal office of “Master of the Bears” is from 1484, during the reign of the last Plantagenet King, Richard III.

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The old  animal-baiting arenas on Bankside in   Southwark eventually closed down in the late seventeeth century, although  at the same time new ones opened up Hockley-in-the-Hole in Clerkenwell, “the home of low-caste sport.  Animal-baiting was only finally outlawed, under the “Cruelty to Animals Act”, in the early nineteenth century, in 1835.


“This Woodden O” (Shakespeare’s “Globe”)

3 - Sam Wanamaker at The Globe, Southwark, in 1947 - Copy

According to the Shakespearean scholar Steve Sohner, on this day in 1599, the original  “Globe” – “Shakespeare’s (own) play-house, and the venue where many of his plays were first performed” – was opened in Southwark.    The original “Globe”  was  built by the theatrical impresario Cuthbert Burbage, using some materials salvaged from his father James’s “The Theatre” in Shoreditch, after the expiry of the lease on that latter property.  It   was later burnt down in a fire in 1613, after sparks from a theatrical cannon set some thatch alight during a performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry the Eighth”; re-built in 1614; fell  into disuse sometime around 1642, when the performance of plays was banned, by order of the Puritans; and was finally demolished in 1644, again by order of the Puritans.

4 - Wanamaker's reconstructed Globe

Also, on this day in 1997, Sam Wanamaker’s reconstructed “Globe” was officially opened by the Queen.


William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

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William Shakespeare was born on or around this day in 1564, and died on this day in 1616.

Although he was born and died in Stratford-upon-Avon, he spent almost the entirety of his productive working life in London, and in truth is much more a London than a Stratford figure. He arrived in London  sometime between 1585 and 1592,  and  lived in the parish of St Helen, near  “The Theatre” and the “Curtain” in Shoreditch, in 1596; in the Liberty of the Clink in Southwark, near   the “Globe”, in 1599; and in Silver Street, near  the  “Blackfriars”, in 1604.

As Peter Ackroyd put it in his marvellous “Shakespeare – The Biography” (Chatto & Windus, 2005), “Shakespeare did not need to address London directly … ; it is the rough cradle of all his drama”.  However, as Hannah Crawforth, Sarah Dustagheer and Jennifer Young suggest in their thoughtful and thought-provoking “Shakespeare in London” (Bloomsbury, 2014), he may have indirectly referenced the violence of Tyburn in “Titus Andronicus”; the political machination of Whitehall in “Richard II”; the class distinction of the Strand in “Romeo and Juliet”; the legal machination of the Inns of Court in “The Merchant of Venice”; the religiosity of St Paul’s Cathedral in “Hamlet”; the madness of Bedlam in “King Lear”; the misery of imprisonment for debt in the King’s Bench Prison in Southwark in “Timon of Athens”; the strange new world of the “cabinet of curiosity” on Lime Street in “The Tempest”; and the rich variety and cosmopolitanism of one of the first true World Cities in the form of an ever-present back-drop.  Moreover, he did set one of his most famous scenes in London, in Ely Palace: that in “Richard II” in which John of Gaunt utters the immortal words:

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

3 - Sam Wanamaker at The Globe, Southwark, in 1947

4 - Wanamaker's reconstructed Globe

5 - Wanamaker Playhouse (inside reconstructed Globe), a model for the Blackfriars Theatre.JPG


“Shakespeare’s own play-house” (The Globe)

1 - Sam Wanamaker at the site of the Original Globe in 1947

On this day in 1644, “The Globe” was demolished by order of the Puritan City authorities (and the site redeveloped by Sir Matthew Brand or Brend). The play-house had originally been  built in 1599 by the theatrical impresario Cuthbert Burbage, using some materials salvaged from his father James’s “The Theatre” in Shoreditch, after the expiry of the lease on that latter property.  It had then burnt down in a fire in 1613, after sparks from a theatrical cannon set some thatch alight during a performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry the Eighth”, and been rebuilt in 1614, before falling into disuse sometime around 1642, when the performance of plays was banned by an Act of Parliament forced through by the Puritans (reading, in part: “It is … thought fit, and Ordained, …  That, while these sad … Times …  do continue, Public Stage Plays shall cease, … instead of which are recommended … the profitable and seasonable considerations of Repentance, Reconciliation, and Peace with God, which probably may … bring again Times of Joy and Gladness to these Nations”).

“The Globe” was “Shakespeare’s (own) play-house, and the venue where many of his plays were first performed”.

2 - Wanamaker's reconstructed Globe.jpg


The Theatre (1576)


On this day in 1576, the actor and theatrical impresario James Burbage leased the land on which he later built London’s first play-house, known simply as “The Theatre”, in Shoreditch.  In 1599, sometime after the twenty-one year lease ran out, the building was disassembled and reassembled in Southwark – as “The Globe” – by James’s son Cuthbert Burbage.


The buried remains of “The Theatre” in Shoreditch came to light during archaeological excavations in 2008.