Borough High Street Recollections – Part 2

Above: View looking north in Borough High Street from a point just north of Borough Underground Station. The tower of Southwark Cathedral is partly hidden by buildings standing on the island site. The tall office block, now called Tower 42, stands in the City.

Calvert’s Buildings [West]

Just south of the island site on the west side of the street is the entrance to Calvert’s Buildings. The exact age of the building is not known but it is probably around the 18th century. It was, at one time, the site of a medieval inn and it still has a timber-framed building that can only be glimpsed through the ornamental iron railings.

Field and Sons [West]

Immediately south of this building is a Georgian building, at No 54, which was once a shop on the ground floor. It was used by an estate agent called Field and Sons which had been established in 1804 – the oldest independent estate agent in London. Some of the inns lining Borough High Street have photographs in their latter days with a signboard showing the name Field and Sons who were acting as estate agents for selling the property. The name of ‘Field and Sons’ is still to be seen on the building but, of recent years. the name over the door is now Dexters. Times change, even for estate agents!

Maidstone Buildings [West]

Also on the west side of Borough High Street (but further south) is a turning called Maidstone Buildings. It is lined by large elegant buildings that were probably built as hop warehouses. In recent times they have been redeveloped as apartments and now have security gates across the entrance from the street.

Christopher Inn [East]

Today’s pub stands on the site of an ancient Southwark inn – the Christopher Inn, at No 121. During the 1980s, the pub had been called the Grapes. How long either side of that date it had been known as the Grapes is not known. The pub is on the ground floor of a Georgian building whose elegant three-storey facade faces onto Borough High Street. The old yard on the south side has been known as Kentish Buildings since at least the mid-1900s. The name probably referred to the fact that the yard led from Borough High Street to large hop warehouses on land behind (to the east of) the pub. The yard has a separate address to the pub – of No 123 Borough High Street.

Premier Inn [East]

Further down, on the east side of the street, is now a Premier Inn. The entrance was once the yard of the Spur Inn – a coaching inn during its final days. The yard and surrounding buildings were in a very poor state until about 2015 when the whole site was developed on behalf of Guy’s Hospital. The site of the ancient inn became a Premier Inn and beside the pavement, new shops were created, one of them taken by a mini-Tesco.

Newcomen Street [East]

Walking further south, the turning on the left is Newcomen Street. It is part of a crossroads, in fact, with Union Street on the west side. On the south corner of Newcomen Street is an entrance to an old yard beside which are Victorian warehouses, once used to store hops. They have been converted for use as small commercial premises. The warehouses stand on the old site of the old Marshalsea Prison which was finally demolished, providing the land on which the warehouses now stand. Because of the shops in Borough High Street (to the south of Newcomen Street) the very large warehouses are not visible as you walk down the street.

Fry’s Timber [East]

In the 1960s and remaining until probably the 1980s was a small timber shop on the south corner of Newcomen Street called Fry’s. The shop was long a narrow, extending back along Newcomen Street. There were no glass windows. At night it just had wooden roller shutters. When the shop was open, the whole frontage was accessible to the public and it had popular sizes of timber in the shop. That shop was where the shopkeepers for the company were based. If a customer had a request for a large amount of timber or timber of an unusual size, they were taken across Borough High Street to a much larger timber yard in Union Street. Fry’s had several timber yards because, although the shop at Newcomen Street was quite small, the company was very large indeed. Very often, in the 1960s, when timber was delivered, it was stacked on the pavement of Borough High Street, outside their small shop. Such a practice probably would not be allowed these days. At the north end of Redcross Street today, near the junction with Union Street, is a Travis Perkins depot which is on land that was part of a Fry’s timber yard.

Mermaid Court [East]

On the east side of Borough High Street, to the south of Newcomen Street, is a curious turning called Mermaid Court which is entered on foot or by a vehicle under a building that is probably either Georgian or Victorian. On the south side of Mermaid Court used to be a shop selling tiles, called Langley London Ltd. The company opened in 1920 at Nos 163-167. The company sold other commodities including roof tiles and electrical goods. The roofing business was eventually sold in 1999 and the ceramic tile business was sold in 2000. Those responsible for running the company then diversified into an altogether different business – becoming financial brokers and dealing with shareholders.

Blue Eyed Maid pub (East)

Further south, also on the east side of the street, the next turning is Chapel Court – because at one time there was a chapel standing in the alleyway. In early times the court had been the site of an inn-yard called the Blue Maid Inn. That is probably why the pub standing on its south corner, at No 173, has a similar name. The pub is Victorian and is unlikely to have been anything to do with the earlier inn.

John Harvard Library [East]

A new lending library opened in a newly erected building in the 1980s. It was named after John Harvard who had lived in the street before emigrating to America when in 1637 he sailed with his wife to Massachusetts. At the rear of the lending library is a local studies library containing all the material collected by the Metropolitan Boroughs of Bermondsey, Camberwell and Southwark over the years. The library reopened in 2009 after a major Lottery funded refurbishment.

Nettlefold and Moser [West]

Walking south as far as the junction with Marshalsea Road, on the west corner was an enormous shop called Nettlefold and Moser. They stocked just about every tool used in the building trade that was ever made. You could walk into that shop and whatever you requested, they would have one. Builders from far and wide knew the shop and used it regularly. The shop probably closed down in the 1980s and a new development stands on the site. One possible problem for customers was that there was no parking allowed outside the shop. For a builder, buying heavy goods, that was no doubt a difficulty.

St George the Martyr [East]

The elegant church of St George the Martyr stands on the corner of Borough High Street and Great Dover Street.

Borough Underground Station [West]

Borough Underground Station is on the south corner of Borough High Street with Marshalsea Road.

Borough Post Office and Sorting Office [East]

Walking a short distance south of the busy crossroads, was the Borough Post Office. Around the back was a very large parking area for vans that collected the mail because there was a large sorting office also on-site, known as the SE District sorting Office. That post office – a Crown Post Office – closed in 2007. A smaller sub-Post Office was then opened in Great Dover Street. The building is still standing empty.

Further details on – SE District Sorting Office

The Trinity pub [West]

Opposite the Borough Post Office site is a large pub, built in the half-timbered style. Many pubs looking like this one were built all over London. It stands at No 202-206 Borough High Street. The pub’s name had been St George’s Tavern until 1889 when the name was changed to the Hole in the Wall but nobody seems to know why. Its name was changed in 2014 to The Trinity. It was acquired by Fullers in 2019 and given an impressive refurbishment.

Car Spraying Company [West]

In either Lant Street or Great Suffolk Street (which are both turnings off the west side of Borough High Street) was a company just a very short distance from Borough High Street that used to respray motor cars in the 1960s and 1970s. The space in which they worked was quite cramped and to prevent the walls from being covered in spray paint, one wall had water constantly running down it to catch the spray particles. It was an unusual sight and seldom seen these days.

Southwark Police Station [East]

At No 323, nearly at the southern end of Borough High Street, stands a Police Station. This point of the street was once known as ‘Stones End’ because it was at the southern end of Southwark. It was here that the roadway formed of stone sets ended. People described it as ‘where the stones ended’ because the continuation was just a rough track. There is a plaque explaining this on the wall of the Police Station and, near the opposite side of the road, is a turning called Stones End Street.

Further details on – Stones End, Borough High Street

Borough High Street ends where it joins onto Newington Causeway – at the crossroads formed with Borough Road to the west and Harper Road to the east.


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