After the invasions and warfare of Saxon times, the Norman conquest brought peace and stability to London. During this period, the city of London grew and prospered and, relatively, so too did Southwark, for Southwark’s growth was reliant upon its wealthier neighbour across the river. Joining these two disparate and unequal settlements was London Bridge, the famous and long-lived medieval bridge, lined with houses and shops, had been completed in 1209 during the reign of King John. For centuries it was the only bridge over the Thames so many people travelled through Southwark on their way to London. As in Roman times, commercial enterprise initially grew in Southwark to meet the needs of these travellers. In early medieval times, most of Southwark belonged to Bermondsey Abbey situated a mile or so to the East. Henry I had granted the lands to the Abbey but the land around the bridgehead remained in the hands of the Crown as it was important strategically and militarily. Later this area became known as the Guildable Manor.

The Augustinian Abbey, St Mary’s Priory, was founded in 1106 and was the foundation for what eventually became Southwark Cathedral eight centuries later. There is a tradition that Mary, the ferryman’s daughter, had founded a nunnery on this site which was maintained by money raised from the ferry. St Mary’s Priory soon became known as St Mary’s Overie possibly a contraction of ‘St Mary’s over the River ‘. It was a duty of the Augustinian monks to care for the sick and poor and a hospital dedicated to St Thomas the Martyr was founded within the priory. The priory suffered a terrible fire in 1212 causing great loss of life and destroying most of the buildings, hospital included, and a new hospital was built on the opposite side of the approach road to the river which has evolved directly into the present day St Thomas’s Hospital now situated on the south side of Westminster Bridge. In the early 1200s, the Priory built a parish church for the local residents dedicated to St Mary Magdalen, an interesting choice of saint given the area’s notoriety as a red light district.

As London became more important, both as a seat of government and centre of commerce, it was necessary for both ecclesiasts and laymen from other parts of the country to visit London regularly. It soon became apparent that it would be more convenient for regular visitors to own their own houses close to London and both prelates and laymen from the South and South East England established residences in Southwark for its proximity to London as land in the city itself was becoming scarce. Beaulieu Abbey and Waverley Abbey were amongst those religious houses that set up town houses in Southwark, but it was the Bishops of Winchester who were to own the largest manor and to have the most influence. Henry of Blois, King Stephen’s brother, was the incumbent Bishop of Winchester who bought the land and accompanying manorial lordship from Bermondsey Abbey in the 1140s. Sounding remarkably modern, he described how he had made the purchase as he and his predecessors had experienced much inconvenience through lack of a permanent residence when in London on royal and other business. Other sources state that it was Bishop William Gifford who bought the land and built the Palace in 1107.

The Palace of Winchester was just west of the dock at St Mary Overie and the grounds extended west along Bankside with the largest part of the estate comprising fields and pastures to the south, "On the southside was a great park and gardens: on the Northside flowed the Thames beneath a noble river terrace". Today’s Park Street is named after the park attached to the Palace. Crops gown on Palace land during the early years included barley, rye, wheat, peas and beans and grain and the Palace ground its cereal in its own mill run on tidal power. Later an orchard was established, and produce grown in 1251 included apples, peaches, nuts, beans, cabbage, parsley and saffron. The estate kept livestock and grew vines. Surplus produce was sold and part of the land was tenanted. As the area was marshy and prone to flooding, the bishops carried out intensive land drainage involving ditches and sluices, embanking and quay building. Bankside, running along the river and named after the embankment, was first mentioned in 1218 and became infamous for its taverns and brothels, or stews   Though within the Bishop of Winchester's estate, the stews had been transferred to leaseholders, or alienated, but they were still under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester. The whole area between Bankside and Maid(en) Lane became known as 'The Stews' and the three pike ponds that bred fish commercially for the table were known as stew ponds after the brothels although it has been suggested the fish ponds came first and the brothels were named euphemistically after them.

The Palace of Winchester had its own prison, a very unpleasant place which was mostly beneath the water level and where irons were used, and was used to imprison those who had transgressed the laws of the manor including prostitutes. It became known as ‘The Clink’, presumably an onomatopoeic word derived from the noise made by the manacles, and in time the area just east of 'The Stews' became known as the Liberty of the Clink. The Kings Bench and the Marshalsea Prisons, both belonging to the Crown, were also established during medieval times further south along Borough High Street. The name Clink Street still remains today, as does just one wall of Winchester Palace that bears an intricate rose window. Thomas Beckett was a guest at Winchester Palace and had given a sermon at St Mary's Priory just before his final fateful journey to Canterbury in 1170.

The manor of the Bishops of Winchester extended roughly to where Tate Modern is today and the land that extended from there to roughly where the Oxo Tower is today, was granted to the Knights Templar by Bermondsey Abbey. When the Templars were disbanded in 1324 the land passed to the Hospitallers, the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. The manor lay mostly below water level and despite drainage ditches the area remained marshy for several centuries. The manor’s early name was Wideflete or the Wiles which means willows, a tree that likes a damp habitat. By 1420 the manor had become known as Parish Garden which in turn became Paris Garden. Due to the marshy nature of the manor it remained largely uninhabited but the Hospitallers exercised a right that had been granted to them by Pope Innocent III to offer sanctuary to felons. In 1420 John, Duke of Bedford, who held the farm in the manor, drew up regulations that those seeking sanctuary had to abide by. These regulations included the need to register, to swear an oath not to cause harm to the sanctuary, to keep the statutes and not to leave without licence. The entry fine was 4d and anybody committing a crime would be committed to the Kings Bench Prison. There is no record describing how the system of sanctuary worked before these regulations, but by reason that they were drawn up at all implies it was lawless and anarchic. The last known reference to anyone claiming sanctuary was in 1506.

Many of the town houses built in the middle ages for visiting dignitaries were set back from the road and separated from the road by a row of shops with a gate leading off the road and in between shops for entry. Near the bridgehead there was a food market three or four days a week. The approach road that led to the bridge, Long Southwark (today’s Borough High Street), was lined by thriving shops that sold meat and other foodstuffs, saddlers, joiners, tailors and chandlers. Great inns, situated in courtyards behind shops, were established that provided accommodation and refreshment to travellers, and this is still a recognisable feature in the street. It has been estimated that there were 12 of these inns in Borough High Street in 1381. The most famous of these is the Tabard (later the Talbot) immortalised by Chaucer, where the Pilgrims started out on their journey to the shrine of Thomas a Beckett in Canterbury and served by the host Harry Bailey:

The Tabard occupied the front courtyard of a townhouse with garden and stables owned by the Abbot of Hyde. Whilst prosperous town houses and inns lay behind some shops, behind other shops were more squalid and overcrowded alleys home to the poorer population that included labourers, widows and craftsmen.
The manors of Winchester Palace (The Clink Liberty) and Paris Garden both claimed privileges which made them virtually autonomous, though were governed by the law of the land for serious offences. This was a source of annoyance to the City of London as they were unable to impose their own jurisdiction over Southwark, and in addition to the lords of the manor, both the officers of the crown in Surrey and the officers of the Marshalsea and Kings Bench Prisons claimed jurisdiction over parts of Bankside and the Borough. The City of London was now self governing and trades and crafts were highly regulated by the guilds who were alarmed by the rise of Southwark and their freedom to work outside the guilds’ regulations and undercut guild members. Londoners were forbidden to go over the bridge to Southwark to buy bread and other goods at a cheaper price and bring the produce back to London. It became the aim of the City of London to bring Southwark under its control.

The City complained to the King that criminals fled to Southwark after committing a crime and where the City’s officers had no powers to arrest. Southwark's proximity and weaker administration made it an attractive haven for felons, not only for individual criminals but also to large gangs of miscreants who would storm over into the City trom Southwark to commit robbery, violence, rape and looting and then retreat back over the bridge where the City's officers were unable to pursue them. Whilst the law-abiding people and officers of Southwark would not have condoned such behaviour, neither would they accept their independence from the City of London being compromised. In 1327 the City petitioned the king for jurisdiction to pursue criminals into Southwark and in response the King granted them the tolls of the Guildable Manor, the area around the bridgehead. It was not until 1444 that London was granted criminal jurisdiction of the Guildable Manor, but somehow, in practice, the City did not fully exercise the rights of jurisdiction they had gained. Perhaps the area was too small for them to have any effect as it would have been very easy for felons to cross over to another manor that fell outside of the City’s jurisdiction, to the Liberty of the Clink, to Paris Garden, or to the Great Liberty further east in Bermondsey. The bailiffs and officers of the manors and the County of Surrey certainly showed no co-operation in apprehending fugitives on the City’s behalf.

Though the City had made slight incursions into controlling Southwark during the Medieval period, most of their attempts to impose their jurisdiction were either unsuccessful or did not translate into practical application. At the beginning of Tudor times, there was a patchwork of sometimes conflicting administration for the area and still largely in the hands of the church in one form or another.

  “Southwark for the most part pursued its accustomed way, unruly and unruled.?
  (David Johnson, Southwark and the City)

Martha Carlin, Medieval Southwark.  (1996) Hambledon Press
Graham Dawson, The ‘Great’ Houses of Medieval Southwark.  London Archaeologist, Summer 2010, Vol 12, No. 9
Stephen Inwood, A History of London. (1998) MacMillan
David Johnson, Southwark and the City. (1969) OUP
Leonard Reilly and Geoff Marshall, The Story of Bankside. (2001), London Borough of Southwark
Gillian Tindall, The House by the Thames. (2006), London
E Walford, Old and New London, Vol 6 (1878) Accessed from British History Online ( accessed 15.05.2011
Ida Darlington, Survey of London, Vol 25, (1955), Accessed from British History Online ( 15.05.2011) - accessed 5 June 2011 - accessed 3 June 2011  - accessed 26 May 2011

Great cheere made our Host us every one,
And to the supper set he us anon:
And served us with victual of the best.
Strong was the wine, and well to drink us lest*.

Boss 2
Boss 4
Boss 3

Medieval bosses from the roof of St Mary Overie, now displayed on a wall in
Southwark Cathedral