Above: Looking into the yard of the Spur Inn, with the half-timbered wall of the old entrance.
Until the 19th century, the Borough High Street was lined with ancient inns. This was also true for the streets that it joins (at the northern end of London Bridge) like Gracechurch Street and Bishopsgate. People on the move, by stagecoach, could stay while visiting London. Several Southwark inns date back to the 14th century. From the 17th century onwards they continued in use as coaching inns until they nearly all went out of business in the 1840s due to the coming of the railways.
Today the Borough High Street is a shadow of its former past. King’s Head Yard still has the pub from the original inn and the narrow street follows the original line – in width and in length – of the original inn. Many of you will know the George Inn but that relatively large yard is only a fraction of its original size. The hostelry is the remaining pub from that ancient inn.
The Tabard Inn, made famous by Geoffrey Chaucer in his ‘Canterbury Tales’, written about 1386, has completely vanished. Only the original yard, now a turning off Borough High Street called Talbot Yard, remains as a reminder of the original site.
There are several other turnings off Borough High Street whose names linger on as reminders of other inns extending along the entire length of the street. One turning, in particular, remains from the days of the Spur Inn. The site of this one is on the same side as the George Inn but further south, between 127 and 131 Borough High Street.
At the time of writing , there is a high arch, in a really poor condition, leading to some office buildings at the back. It is in such poor condition that you would hardly give the entrance from Borough High Street a second look as you pass by. However, it contains a remarkable remnant from the days when the Spur Inn was being used as the London terminus of a stagecoach route running south to towns in Kent and Sussex.
As you look into the arch, examine the wall on the right-hand side. You will see old brick-work skilfully laid within beams of wood. There are two fragments of a half-timbered wall which have listed status and are estimated to date from the 16th century.
Above: Looking at the half-timbered wall at the entrance again but this time looking from the old yard towards Borough High Street
The sad state of the walls and adjacent buildings will not continue for much longer. Within a year or so this part of the high street is up for redevelopment. Whether any of the remains of the arch or of the wall will be kept is unknown. What is to be seen at the moment is a unique survival on the high street from when the ‘coach and four’ of the 17th and 18th centuries was the de facto mode of long-distance travel.