18th and 19th Centuries Local Administration

Matters of jurisdiction in Bankside and Borough were still confused at the end of the 18th Century, perhaps even more so with the introduction of Paving Commissions and with increasing development and population. Some were canny enough to take advantage of the lack of clarity: James Hedger of the Dog and Duckwas refused a licence by the Surrey Justices in 1787 so applied instead to the City of London Justices who granted him one. It was clear that towns throughout Britain had outgrown their medieval boundaries and a Commission was appointed to make recommendations as to how to proceed. The Commission produced a report in 1837 that dealt only with the problem of Southwarksaying that the Charters had been granted to the City of London in medieval times and 1550 "with the view of completely incorporating Southwark within the rest of the City of London; but this intention has been very imperfectly carried into effect ... and in fact the Corporation take no charge of the Borough in many important particulars." For example, before the creation of the Metropolitan Police, at a time when the population was rising rapidly in a place of overcrowding and poverty, the City only provided three officers to police the whole area. The Metropolitan Police were founded in 1829 and Division M established to police the area of Southwark. The City were also not interested in the justice process when criminals were caught, fewer and fewer quarter sessions were held. The Commission however felt the City of London was aware of the shortcomings to its administration and would wish to reform themselves rather than having reform imposed upon it. Nothing happened.

In the wake of the quarter sessions not sitting, the burden again fell on the manorial courts in particular the Kings Manor Court as its area included the overcrowded and sub-standard housing of St Georges Fields. Despite the drainage works of earlier in the nineteenth century, what drainage had been installed was inadequate. Dustmen had to be bribed to take away the rubbish that was allowed to pile up in unpaved courts and alleys. There was not enough provision made for drinking water and, as an example, one group of 40 houses where a total of 340 people lived shared just one standpipe. It was an area of day to day rowdiness and violence, juvenile thieves, pickpockets and prostitutes.

The middle classes who had once lived in the larger houses had moved out to less violent and more pleasant areas as the building of the railway had made it possible to travel daily to the centre of London for their work. Their once grand houses were now used as lodging houses filled, according to the jurors of the Kings Manor Court with the poorest and the lowest class tramps, rag-pickers, drunken sailors, professional thieves Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Charles Booth, when compiling his poverty survey map, described St Georges Fields as the centre of the greatest mass of poverty and low life in all London. The jurors of the Kings Manor Court made representations to various bodies in the hope of improving the insanitary and squalid conditions and, while they had limited success such as the introduction of paving in some courts, met in the main with indifference.

At last the administration of London saw some reform by the passing of the Metropolitan Management Act 1855. This gave more powers and duties to the vestries, for example a Medical Officer of Health had to be appointed. Crucially, the Metropolitan Board of Works was established that oversaw and undertook those essential projects concerning the provision of infrastructure that cut across parishes. It drew three nominated members from each of the vestries and its responsibilities included management of sewerage, prevention of floods, building of new main roads, creation of parks and the maintenance of the fire brigade. In 1888 the Local Government Act took reform further. This created County Councils and the London sprawl became the County of London administered by the London County Council which took over those areas of responsibility that previously the Metropolitan Board of Works had looked after. The LCC also took over the power of the local justices in the quarter sessions. Historically this was momentous for Southwark as now all administrative ties with Surrey were severed.

Whilst the City of London was now a part of the County of London, legally under the authority of the LCC, the City saw itself as autonomous and independent which made it difficult for the LCC to exert is authority. This autonomy was attractive to many people in Southwark, most notably those living in the wealthier parts along the river, in particular St Saviours, Christchurch, St Olaves, St Thomas and St Johns Horsleydown, these last three parishes lying mostly east of London Bridge and Borough High Street. The rationale behind these vestries thinking was that, as commercial areas, they had a greater affinity with the City of London than the working class areas lying geographically just to their south. However the motives were also financial as they did not want to pay the Poor Rate and other rates that subsidised the poorer parts of Southwark. For example, whilst St Saviours and Christchurch made the major contribution to the Poor Rate, only approximately 9% of outdoor relief was received by residents of these two parishes with the balance going to those living in St Georges and Newington (the area further south leading to the Elephant and Castle). There was a plan to clear the working class residential areas in the commercial areas of North Southwark and to turn them into commercial areas, thus putting more pressure on housing in the poorer areas such as St Georges with displaced tenants.

The City smiled and agreed to the notables of Southwarks plan to become integrated into the City of London, but when the matter came before consideration in Parliament, the City did not add their sponsorship to the Bill. As the richer parts of Southwark did not wish to be burdened by the poorer parts, neither did the City of London wish to be burdened by the liability of the financial responsibilities of Southwark, an obligation they had now been avoiding for centuries. In the event, the three Members of Parliament representing Southwark opposed the Bill which was defeated when it was voted upon.

In 1899, in what was to be the last piece of major legislation for a while that reformed the administration of London, the London Government Act created 28 boroughs replacing the vestries and the two boroughs of Southwark and Bermondsey came into existence. This divided the area of Southwark, not as some had hoped along a north/south divide but on an east/west divide so the richer areas within the Metropolitan Borough of Southark, that is St Saviours and Christchurch, were now a part of the same administrative unit as the poorer area of St Georges that they had previously sought to be free of. The newly formed boroughs took over those responsibilities formerly administered by the vestries, running in tandem with the LCC. As Surrey had lost all jurisdiction over Southwark in 1889 with the creation of the LCC, the City of London now lost all jurisdiction over Southwark though still owning a lot of land and property within the Borough.

Stephen Inwood,A History of London. (1998) MacMillan
David Johnson,Southwark and the City.(1969) OUP