18th and 19th Centuries - New Roads and Bridges

As trade increased in the 18th century and goods imported and exported throughout the world from the docks in London, traffic congestion into and out of the City of London had increased and causing problems. One of the first casualties in the need to improve traffic flow were the houses and shops on London Bridge. The width on the bridge available to accommodate all traffic was only about 12 feet and this narrow space combined with crowds attracted to the shops, animals being herded over the bridge and carts over-laden with goods resulted in a very slow and often tortuous progress across London Bridge. For centuries, many people had chosen to entrust a waterman to ferry them across the river quickly rather than to embark upon a slow bridge crossing. By Act of Parliament, all buildings on the bridge were demolished between 1758 and 1762 greatly increasing the width of the bridge available for traffic. This was followed by the banning of Southwark Fair in 1762/63. Already, the market held on the west side of Borough High Street three or four times a week had been banned in 1755 a result of the City of London's successful petition to Parliament for its closure due to the great increase of coaches, carts and other carriages passing. In the same year however the church-wardens of St Saviours initiated a new marketlocated on land to the south west of the church called the Triangle. This has been the site of a market ever since with the traditional wholesale fruit and vegetable market now supplemented by the very popular organic and gourmet retail market and the opening of speciality food and drink shops in the surrounding streets.

Southwark Street 1865

Southwark Street 1865

Westminster Bridge became the second bridge across the Thames in London in 1750. This impacted on the Borough by the building of a road that linked the new bridge via Westminster Bridge Road to Borough High Street. This new road was called Borough Road and ran across what were then the open marshy fields and pastures of St Georges Fields.

Blackfriars Bridge was the next bridge to be built in 1769. The crossing place was decided upon by the Fleet ditch which was to become the approach road on the North Bank. On the Southwark side a new road was built through the open fields of Paris Garden, now called Christchurch after the parish church, and St George's Fields. Several road schemes were drawn up but it was decided to build one new wide road due south from the bridghead to intersect with the road that led from Westminster Bridge to Borough High Street. The new road was named Great Surrey Street, later renamed Blackfriars Road, and the intersection where the roads met became St George's Circus. An obelisk was erected here in 1772 bearing an inscription and the City of London's coat of arms. A few years later the parish of St Saviours pressed for another road to ease congestion at the north end of Borough High Street and ultimately Union Street developed which joined two existing roads together leading from Borough High Street into a new road that led into Blackfriars Road.

Southwark Bridge was built in 1819 and the building of Southwark Bridge Road from the bridgehead cleared away courts and alleys that had developed an infamous reputation in the area in the proximity of the bridgehead. It had been proposed to continue the road down to St George's Circus but St Georges Fields had by now become densely built upon and it was not practicable. Southwark Bridge Road was therefore built to intersect with Union Street and it was then originally intended to curve round, much like Marshalsea Road today, to Borough High Street. However this would have necesitated cutting through the alleys and courts of The Mint, and the developers were too faint hearted to tackle this. Instead the road was built continuing along its existing line to just north of Elephant and Castle. In 1831, a "new" London Bridge was opened which was located 100 feet west of the medieval bridge. After serving London for 600 years, the medieval bridge was finally demolished, judged as too narrow, ravaged by time and restrictive to the passage of ships on the river.

Southwark Street was built by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1864 and not only served as a thoroughfare that eased traffic between Blackfriars Road and Borough High Street, but also, underground, created a conduit for pipes carrying sewage, water and gas. Marshalsea Road, running from Southwark Bridge Road to Borough High Street through the Mint,opened in 1888.

Stephen Inwood,A History of London. (1998) MacMillan
Leonard Reilly and Geoff Marshall, The Story of Bankside.(2001), London Borough of Southwark
Sir Howard Roberts and Walter H. Godfrey (eds), Survey of London, Vol 22(1950)
Ida Darlington,Survey of London, Vol 25 (1955)
Edward Walford,Old and New London: Volume 6(1878), downloaded from www.british-history.ac.uk Date accessed: 07 July 2011.