History Hunters

Inns of London

Nelson Real

In 1981 a chapter in Southwark history was closed, most of the buildings of what were once one of the biggest and most important breweries in Europe were finally demolished and with them a slice of London’s past was gone. Located at the southern end of London Bridge was what is now known as Borough High Street, it has always been the most important land route into the city from those coming from the Southeast of England and by consequence in an earlier age from the Continent. This lead to a huge number of “inns” establishing in this place to serve all the travellers and coaches into and out of London, nowadays there is only one “inn” left ‘The George’ made famous by Dickens, but all the courtyards in the High St are probable entrances for the old travellers “inns” that were put out of business by the dawn of the railway and the emergence of London Bridge Station. “Inns” meant beer so it is not strange many breweries established around Southwark, to brew beer you need Hops that stopped being imported from the Continent and started to be grown in Kent and picked up mostly by local Southwark people. Southwark became the centre of the Hops trade, the old Hops warehouses are nowadays mostly converted offices or luxury flats, and while there are still reminders in some building facades, the most potent reminder of the importance of this trade is the Hop and Malt Exchange in Southwark who curiously was never much used by the Hops traders as most companies conducted business from their warehouses and offices nearby. Many of these Hops were bought by the two most important breweries in Southwark, Courage Brewery in Horselydown who runs parallel to Tower Bridge Rd and the Anchor Brewery in Park Street the original site of the buildings demolished in 1891 and the older of the two, both breweries merged later but we will leave that for now.

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The Innkeepers' Hall. (Diana Briscoe)

Anchor brewery was established in the 17th century by James Monger as a small brewery, the site of the brewery between Deadman’s Place (which got its name from being the last resting place of many bubonic plague victims) and Globe Alley was leased to James Monger and was part of the estate of Sir Matthew Brend, which included the Globe Playhouse, the site of which is thought to be located beneath the existing Anchor Terrace. James Child towards the end of the century owned the
brewery which was passed on to his son in law, Edmund Halsey who was an MP from 1722 until he died 1728. His daughter inherited the business but as she was married to a lord and a brewery was not a suitable business for a man of such position, Halsey nephew Ralph Thrale took over the brewery, during these successive ownerships the brewery kept being extended. Henry Thrale the son of Ralph Thrale and the inheritor of the brewery became Dr Johnson friend, the famous lexicographer and compiler of the first English language dictionary, their friendship became so strong that Dr Johnson moved in with the family in their quarters at the brewery site. The firm was bought by Mr Barclay, a member of the banking family, after Thrale’s death and a partnership offered to John Perkins the manager of the brewery during the Gordon riots, which according to accounts of the time saved the brewery from destruction by pacifying the rioters with beer and then calling the troops to quell them. Under their ownership the brewery became’ Barclay, Perkins & Co.’ and with their acumen one of the biggest in Europe despite almost burning totally to the ground in 1832. The rebuilding took place quickly and it was so impressive that it became a visitors site and a list of well known names of the century graced the pages of its visitors book, amongst them Von Bismarck, one of the Bonaparte’s, Garibaldi and most infamously the Austrian Marshall Von Haynau known as the ‘woman flogger’, who once it was discovered by the brewery workers was visiting the site started to be pelted with bales of hay by the workmen and pursued along Bankside, he seems to have been found in a dustbin attached to a pub, from where he was saved by the police from the workmen and the local mob that had gathered. Part of the complex rebuilt after the fire still existing is Anchor Terrace in Southwark Bridge Road, built for senior members of staff and later used as offices for the brewery, nowadays a listed building and beneath it probably where the old Globe Theatre used to stand. The company merged with Courage in 1955 the old competing brewery from downstream and finally in 1981 the site was demolished.

As the site was being earmarked for demolition the window of opportunity to explore it archeologically once demolished was taken and it became the site of some of the biggest and most important finds in Southwark, from part of the foundations of the Globe Theatre to Roman finds and even finds traced back to the Neolithic Period. Out of some of the conclusions allowed by the findings of the digs is the possibility of tracing the thought location of the old Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to the site next to and beneath Anchor Terrace.

History of the Globe Theatre and entertainment during the period in Southwark features many famous sites:

  • Bear Gardens
  • Paris Gardens
  • Stew Houses regulated by Winchester Palace and Cross Bones Cemetery
  • Other Theatres
  • James Burbage, Edward Alleyn, Globe Fire, Shakespeare

There have been a number of Medieval finds including:

  • Part of a Garden for Winchester Palace ( DeadMans Place)
  • Channels for the Mill Ponds in Bankside

And Roman finds:

  • Clay and timber buildings (probably residential)
  • Stone Building
  • Maybe 2 storeys shop
  • Revetment Park St
  • Roman Industrial activity (Blacksmiths and Bronze casting)
  • Ditches (land drainage for settlement)
  • Park ST 28 possible jetty to demonstrate land reclamation
  • Roman Warehouse (Portsmouth City Museum)

And even Prehistoric finds:

  • Leaf shaped arrowhead
  • Large structure, postholes probable roundhouse
  • Late Neolithic tools
  • Flint axes
  • Scraper
  • Finely worked knife blade

History Hunters’ photos from Inns of London: