Above: View looking north in Borough High Street while standing on the pavement near the entrance to the George Inn. The HSBC bank stood on the island site. To the right is the old entrance to Borough Market. The old girder Borough Market Bridge can be seen carrying the railway across the street. Beyond the bridge is the pale brown No 1 London Bridge which is a large office block, built in the 1980s at the southern end of London Bridge on the east side.
Walking down Borough High Street for more than half a century, one notices many changes. After such a long time, it is also surprising how much you forget. Borough High Street joins onto the southern end of London Bridge. That too has had some changes since the 1960s. This imaginary walk will start at the southern end of London Bridge and continue until Borough High Street meets up with Newington Causeway. Places being described will be labelled on the ‘east’ or ‘west’ side of the street [in square brackets] for ease of locating them.
Since the 1960s, London Bridge has been rebuilt. The old bridge was taken down in thirds – first the eastern side, then the western side and finally the middle of the bridge. The external blocks of masonry were carefully numbered before being dismantled and then shipped to America. They were used for the external covering of a bridge at Lake Havasu City, in Arizona. The new bridge was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II in March 1973.
No 1 London London Bridge [East]
On the east side of the bridge had been a large 1930s building, in use by the Egg Marketing Board. The building was rather ugly and was demolished in the late 1970s. It was replaced in the early 1980s by a very large office block that was arguably even more ugly. Called No 1 London Bridge, it is a curious design with a single leg supporting the NW corner of the building with a large overhang of the upper floors. It is too overbearing for the area and detracts from the line of far more modest buildings nearby. It was erected when the north side of Tooley Street was under the control of the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) when no planning consent was required by any other local authority.
Tooley Street [East]
When the medieval London Bridge was in existence, Tooley Street met Borough High Street at a T-junction. When the 1831 bridge was built, Borough High Street not only had to be realigned but it also had to have a slope to meet with the new bridge which was almost level and raised well above the Thames at high tide. This meant that Tooley Street also had to be altered with a ramp being added to the western end, called Duke Street Hill.
At the top of Duke Street Hill, a second roadway leads into the forecourt of London Bridge Station. That roadway would have been laid out in the 1830s. The station opened in December 1836. At the western end is a curious curved wall beside an abutment supporting the old girder railway bridge. Built into the abutment is Findlater’s Corner with a shop and a clock that has not shown the correct time for decades.
Further details on – Findlater’s Corner
Barrow Boy and Banker pub[(West]
Just before you get to Southwark Cathedral, on the west side of the street, there is a large pub with the unlikely name of Barrow Boy and Banker. Its name, of course, alludes to the Borough Market nearby. The pub opened in 1996 in converted Victorian premises.
Southwark Cathedral [West]
A short distance south of the end of London Bridge is Southwark Cathedral, standing in its extensive churchyard. When old London Bridge (the one with houses on it) was in existence, Borough High Street ran further to the east – to align with the old bridge which was on a different site from today. When the 1831 road bridge was constructed, the new site was slightly to the west of the old one. The roadway had to be realigned with the result that many buildings near Southwark Cathedral were demolished to make way for the the realignment. This included the demolition of a chapel that was at the eastern end of Southwark Cathedral. The result has been that Borough High Street runs closer to the cathedral site than it did before 1831.
Borough Market Bridge
This old girder bridge remains from when it was first built and still carries trains travelling between London Bridge Station in the east and Charing Cross and Cannon Street in the east. In 2011 a new railway bridge was put in place to carry an additional two tracks on the south side of the old one. This increased the capacity of the railway tracks from four to six and meant that many more trains could be brought into service, alleviating one of the main bottle-necks on the system in Southwark.
Borough Market [West]
The old offices for Borough Market stand on the west side of Borough High Street, to the south of Bedale Street. Borough Market was for wholesale distribution of fruit and vegetables. As one market trader once put it, “This was designed as a horse and cart market” and by the 1980s it was certainly showing its age. It had been declining for years because access by greengrocers who came there with their vans and lorries to buy produce was becoming a problem. Wholesale traders were down to single figures and everyone thought that the market would cease trading. A brilliant plan was put into operation whereby the wholesale market continued, with a farmers market for the public being inaugurated. In addition, office space was created along with commercial units for restaurants and other purposes. With the combined income from the diverse uses, the Borough Market was able to become financially viable once more. In short, it is a grand success story. A new all-glass structure now sits under the new railway bridge, affording more space for traders.
A Row of Shops [East]
Facing Borough Market are a row of shops situated between the railway bridges and St Thomas Street. Several of them have changed hands over the years.
Post Office – For many years leading up to the 1970s, one of the buildings was a Post Office. Its entrance was beside the pavement and it was a long narrow building. The hustle and bustle up to the 1970s in the Borough meant that this Post Office was always busy. The long building hid a secret that few people walking up and down Borough High Street ever noticed.
It was during the 1980s that the narrow post office building was demolished. Leaving a large gap between the pavement and a very tall stone building. The wall had been there all the time but, due to the Post Office in front of it, few people ever noticed the tall building behind it. The enormous stone building had been part of the old St Thomas’s Hospital that stood in St Thomas Street until the middle of the 19th century. When the hospital relocated to Lambeth, this vast block stood empty for some time. A new Post Office was created within the western end of the block with a new entrance from Borough High Street – on the west side of the stonework. The Post Office remains in use and the large stone building has been in use for some years as offices for British Transport Police (BTP).
Stephenson’s – A hardware store that stood in Borough High Street was Stephenson’s. It stood in the row of shops that are on the east side of the street, between the railway bridge and St Thomas Street. The shop sold mainly tools as well as hardware – like screws and nails. Peter Stephenson owned it. He was an interesting man. As well as running the shop, his hobby was photography. He took black-and-white film which he developed and processed before printing large photographs of about 20 by 30 inches. Whether he was religious is not known but one of his favourite pastimes was to take pictures inside Southwark Cathedral. One particular picture became his obsession. He realised that, on the longest day of the year, the sun shone on a particular part of the choir. When he had successfully produced the picture, he was showing it to someone and he explained that he was particularly pleased with the result because it had taken three years to produce what he was after. He had been ready to take the picture one year but it was cloudy so, he had to abandon his efforts. The following year was very sunny but, just at the vital moment, a train was held at a red light on the nearby viaduct, casting a shadow over the scene and the moment was lost. The third year had been a success – with brilliant sunshine and no obstructions on the railway tracks. Such was his dedication to his photographic hobby.
St Thomas Street [East]
This street derived its name from St Thomas’s Hospital standing on its north side.
Shops and Inns [East]
Walking down Borough High Street from St Thomas Street is a motley collection of mainly food outlets and cafes. The shops are interspersed by gaps of narrow streets that once formed the entrance to yards of large inns – some of the Southwark coaching inns that had been in use during the 18th and 19th centuries, having derived from ancient inns. There is little to attract the eye and the general effect is of the mundane.
Southwark Street [West]
Leading off to the west of Borough High Street is the equally wide Southwark Street. The elegant Hop and Malt Exchange is to be seen near the junction of the two thoroughfares.
The Island Site
Borough High Street at this point has a curious feature of an almost triangular piece of land on which there were large commercial premises, including a Nat West bank which closed many years ago. It was probably operational until just after the millennium.
At the southern end of the island-site is a war memorial. On the wall nearby is a second bronze Great War memorial to those who died while serving as soldiers who had previously worked in the hop trade. The hop trade was once one of Southwark’s most important sources of employment until about the 1970s or the 1980s when it went into rapid decline.
W H & H LeMay Hop Factors [East]
This unusual building stands just north of the George Inn, on the same side of the road. Henry and Herbert Le May were Hop Factors – that is to say, they were dealers in hops which were brought to The Borough in the autumn each year to be sold at the Hop and Malt Exchange. The hop trade was a significant part of Southwark’s commercial past until the early 1970s. In Victorian times there were endless warehouses in the area storing and dealing in hops. The ornate building in Borough High Street is Grade II listed.
George Inn [East]
Mention must be made of the George which is opposite the island site, on the east side of Borough High Street. In 1676, Southwark suffered a disastrous fire, destroying all the famous inns along with many shops and houses. The George Inn was one of the buildings to be destroyed. It was rebuilt soon afterwards and a small part of the original galleried inn is still in use as a pub and restaurant.
See also – George Inn, Borough High Street
The description of Borough High Street will continue with Part 2.