Southwark and its Relationship with the City

When we say that the City of London lies on the north side of the Thames – meaning the northern end of London Bridge – and that Southwark is on the south side of the Thames – at the southern end of London Bridge – that is not entirely true. This information may come as rather a surprise but you only have to walk around at the southern end of London Bridge to see the evidence right in front of your eyes.

From very early times Southwark has been ‘joined’ to the City of London in the form of a bridge. The Romans built a wooden bridge between Londinium and a small settlement that was clustered around the southern end of the bridge. Borough High Street started as a Roman road constructed as a causeway across the marshy land to the south of that bridge. A more permanent stone bridge – old London Bridge – was constructed between 1176 and 1209 which lasted for nearly 600 years.

In 1328 Southwark came under the jurisdiction of the City of London to overcome the problem of criminals, fleeing from the City and escaping arrest in the Borough (meaning the Borough of Southwark). In 1550 the City was granted full control of Southwark. It became the twenty-sixth ward – called ‘Bridge Ward Without’ to distinguish it from ‘Bridge Ward’ (later ‘Bridge Ward Within’ at the foot of London Bridge inside the City). Even today, people who live or work in and around the Borough High Street describe it simply as ‘The Borough’. The locality is never called ‘The Borough of Southwark’.

The northern end of what is now part of the London Borough of Southwark is no longer part of the City of London in the sense of being one of the City wards. Bridge Ward Without marked the City’s area of control in Southwark – including the three manors of the Guildable Manor, King’s Manor and Great Liberty. The Court of Aldermen in the City appointing an alderman but there were never any members of the Court of Common Council elected there because the three Courts Leet of the Manors in Southwark fulfilled that representative role. The concept of Bridge Ward Without declined by Victorian times and the name has no meaning today.

The story does not end there because if you take a walk around the land at the southern end of today’s London Bridge, you will notice a street name with the City of London coat of arms inscribed on it. Nearby stands Colechurch House – a rather ugly concrete office block named after ‘Peter of Colechurch’, the architect for the first stone London Bridge. Peering through the glass doors, you will see a City of London coat of arms on the window. The street nameplate and the office block both indicate property related to the City of London. The building has long been mooted as a potential project by developers but has been entwined in a complex ownership structure that is only now beginning to unwind. Of recent times, the City of London Corporation has appointed JLL to advise on the sale of a 150-year long-leasehold interest in Colechurch House at 1 London Bridge Walk, SE1. Times are, indeed, changing around this area which is only a stone’s throw from London Bridge Station.


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