Saxon and Norman

It was during the Saxon period that Southwar was first mentioned in historical sources. The burhof suthringe gewruche, which translates as the defensive work of the men of Surrey, was listed in the burghal hidage, a document produced around the early 10th century and probably compiled by Alfred the Greats son, Edward the Elder. A burhwas a fortified town, strengthened by such means as stone walls, ramparts, timber revetments and ditches and the burghal hidagelists the burhs throughout Wessex and South East England that formed a defensive network created by Alfred the Great to repel the Vikings.

Alfred the Great created theburhin Southwark in 886 AD and this ancient status accounts for the alternative name of simply The Borough that has endured for centuries. Perhaps taking advantage of the fortified positions, Saxon mints were located in burhs, Southwark included, and among the coins that are in collections today from the Southwark Mint are those struck in the reigns of Ethelred the Unready and Edward the Confessor and the Vikings Cnut and Harthacnut.

Aethelred II penny struck
at Southwark Mint


Page from a 13th century Abbreviatio (abridgement)
of Domesday Book. Date: c.1240kr.)
(The National Archives UK Photostream on Flickr)

That Southwark, suthringe gewruche,was included in the burghal hidage, points to the strategic importance of the area, not the least because it protected the Southern approach to the bridge that crossed over to London. Although Winchester was the capital of England at this time, Alfred the Great had resettled the former Roman city for the protection the Roman walls afforded against the Vikings and the need to strengthen these fortifications was the reason Southwark was also resettled at this time. It is not thought the Southwark settlement in Saxon times was very large and the fortifications probably consisted of ditchworks and timber ramparts. The Roman bridge had long disappeared, but a Viking saga tells of how in 1016 a bridge at London prevented the Viking Cnut from sailing westwards along the Thames. To overcome this, Cnut dug a ditch on the southside around the bridgehead and dragged his boats along this ditch, a task that would have been aided by the marshy nature of the land, and possibly he cut canals to link existing water streams.

After winning the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror marched north to London but was repelled by the people of London who supported Edgar Atheling as King of England. William the Conqueror and his knights, prevented from entering London retaliated by burning the settlement of Southwark to the ground before turning west to cross the river at Wallingford and entering London from the West. He maintained Winchester as the capital of England, and it was only in the reign of Henry I (1100-1135) that London became the capital permanently.

The Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 and Southwark appears in this as sudwerchewhich means (defensive) works of the South. It stated the value of what the king owned was 16, and recorded a harbour and monastery, the latter possibly being the origins of todays Southwark Cathedral. The entry shows that no one effectively owned Southwark as there is no one overlord of the area and the King, the Bishop, Earl Godwin, and the people of sudwerche variously received the taxes and tolls of the area. The Domesday Book shows the situation is further complicated as entries for 11 manors in North East Surrey showed they owned property in Southwark where, in some cases, rents were paid for in herring. That there was no direct overlord and the area came under different jurisdictions was to become a pattern for the history of Southwark, and contributed to the independent nature, at times seemingly anarchic, of both place and people.

Martha Carlin, Medieval Southark. Hambledon Press (1996)
Leonard Reilly and Geoff Marshall,The Story of Bankside. London Borough of Southwark (2001)
Bruce Watson, Saxo-Norman Southwark: a review of the archaeological and historical evidence, The London Archaeologist, Autumn 2009, Vol 12, No. 6.
E Walford, Old and New London, Vol 6 (1878) Accessed from British History Online ( accessed May 2011
H E Malden (Ed), A History of the County of Surrey Vol 4, (1912). Accessed from British History Online ( accessed May 2011
Ida Darlington (ed), Survey of London, Vol 25.(1955), Accessed from British History Online ( accessed May 2011 accessed May 2011