The Birth of the Liberty
The Bishop of Winchester is granted sole authority over The Liberty of the Clink. He comes up with a creative approach to impose order on the Liberty, whilst also making a modest profit from previously forbidden activities – collecting rents and fees from both illicit and legitimate businesses, as well as fines from those who were caught breaking his new rules.
Henry of Blois holding his bishop’s crosier and ring in the Golden Book of St Alban’s, 1380 © The British Library, Cotton Nero D.VII f.87v
An Irritation to the Authorities
The presence of hawkers beside the bridge, on land owned by the crown, provides stiff competition to the City of London’s markets and causes considerable irritation to the authorities. As a result, its citizens are banned from crossing over to Southwark to buy “corn, cattle or other merchandise”.
The Bridge-Foot, Southwark
Humours of the Fair
Edward IV grants a Royal Charter to the Southwark Fair, subsequently held annually in September. Kentish farmers converge on the area to trade their produce and livestock. The fair also attracts strolling players and entertainers – as well as pickpockets and ‘Winchester Geese’.
‘Southwark Fair’ by William Hogarth (engraving after painting), January 1733. Originally called ‘Humours of the Fair’.
Bridge Without Ward
Most of Southwark’s somewhat lawless manors are incorporated as ‘Bridge Without Ward’. The Liberty of the Clink, however, retains its independence, as well as its reputation for ‘lax’ morals.
Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
The Globe Theatre is built. Theatres came to the area for the same reason so many other enterprises from the fringes of society did – because they were forbidden in The City. And so Shakespeare’s plays come to be written and performed not in Oxford, Cambridge or Stratford, but in riotous Southwark.
Theatrical performance in the days of Shakespeare. Hand-colored woodcut
A group of merchants from the congregation of St Saviour’s Church, known as 'The Bargainers’, buy the church from King James I for £800. The church provides a stage for many of the actors and dramatists involved in the work of Shakespeare.
St. Saviour’s Church, Southwark, London by
George Sidney Shepherd. Image courtesy of Karen Taylor Fine Art
When parliament declares that the market south of London Bridge would be forced to close, local residents petition to start a new market away from the high street, and independent of the City. Parliament agrees. Parishioners raise £6,000 to purchase a nearby area called The Triangle. Borough Market has found a new home.
View from The Shard to railway triangle near Borough Market
An Affront to London
After 300 rowdy years, Southwark Fair is abolished. The lively, crowded and at-times unruly event, which had eventually come to last a fortnight each September and occupy much of the high street, was banned as ‘an affront to London’.
An illustration taken ‘Life in London‘
What the Dickens?
John Dickens, father of Charles, is imprisoned in Marshalsea debtors prison. While the rest of his family live there with him, Charles boards with friends. He would later feature the prison as a setting in Little Dorrit, and the Borough area in Oliver Twist.
By 1769, the Crossbones graveyard had become a pauper’s cemetery, servicing St. Saviour's parish. At the time of its closure in 1853, it held the mortal remains of an estimated 15,000 people – many of whom were women and children.
Liberty No More
The Liberty of the Clink is abolished when the Local Government Act 1888 merges all remaining liberties into surrounding counties. However, The Liberty becomes part of a new county of London created within the metropolitan area.
Seminal nightclub Shoom, later credited as one of the birthplaces of the modern dance music scene, opens for the first time at the Fitness Centre on Southwark Street.
Sacha Souter – donning a large straw hat – on the dancefloor at Shoom© Dave Swindells
The Outlaw Spirit Lingers
As the nascent rave scene exploded during the late 80s and early 90s, culminating in the second ‘Summer of Love’, the warehouses in Clink Street and its surrounding Liberty continued to play host to illicit parties. Right up until the Millenium, the nearby wharves were occupied by artists’ and musicians’ short let studios.
Andrew Newman dancing at Shoom© Dave Swindells
The Liberty Lives On
Opening Summer 2024 for the next generation of Liberty-Seekers. A new cultural quarter designed by leading architects Allies and Morrison. A place for living, business and derring-do. Take your place, Creators & Contravenors!