On this side of the bridge, only one thing stays the same.
Then and now, from Roman outpost to last-ditch defence against invaders, from sanctuary for pleasure-seekers and libertines to the crucible of rave culture, this was always Londinium’s wild side. The city limit with an outlaw spirit.
The place where ancient highways converged and adventures started and ended on a beer-soaked inn-lined high street. Where strong local ale revived saddle-sore travellers and set pilgrims’ tongues wagging. Where the Bishop of Winchester made the law and the law said, anything goes.
If it was frowned upon over the river, it got the nod over here. Playhouses where genius flourished, and a few pence bought standing room at a Shakespeare premiere. Streets fit to bust with market hawkers and ‘Winchester Geese’, combing the crowds for trade. A fair like no other, with conjurors, prizefighters, flying men and dancing dogs that drew all of London. And prisons around every corner to welcome all those who made a bit too merry.
This was the Liberty of the Clink: London’s garden of earthy delights, imagination and dissent, refuge for rebels, nonconformists and ne’er-do-wells. And a haven it has remained, for London’s greatest outdoor market, legendary nightclubs that couldn’t get a look-in across the river, sensation-seekers, bon viveurs and upstart startups.
The Liberty of Southwark will give licence to the new custodians of this tradition. Take your places, impresarios, creators and contravenors.
The Liberty lives on.