Bradshaw says ‘..The old inns in the Borough, with their wide, rambling staircases, and wooden galleries round the inn-yards, are pleasant reminiscences of the ancient days of coach and wagon traffic, and must not escape observation..’.
London Bridge was the only river crossing into the City until Westminster Bridge was built in 1734-50. Borough High Street, which leads to the bridge, was therefore the entry point into the City from the south (Portsmouth), and the continent (via Dover), and so the Coaching Inns were large and plentiful. There were 23 such Inns including The King’s Head, The White Hart Inn, The George, The Tabard, The Queen’s Head, and The Catherine Wheel. (The position of all these inns can be found on the Ordnance Survey Map of 1895 here, map no.VII 86.) While many of the Inns were established in Mediaeval times, or perhaps before, a devastating fire swept through Southwark in 1676 and so the inns described here were mainly rebuilt at that time. It was the establishment of London Bridge Station in the 1830s and the rapid growth of the railways in 19C which challenged coach travel. The Inns fell into disrepair and were generally demolished by the end of the 19C.
I started in St Thomas Street with The Grapes. The terrace was built in 1819 and the pub was originally two houses – so a pub rather than a coaching inn.
Round the corner on Borough High Street The King’s Head dates from 1881 and replaced an earlier inn on the site – Roman remains have been found here in the past! However, this site also says that the yard was almost entirely destroyed during WWII, so is this inn a reconstruction? And why 1881 on the sign?
The White Hart is renowned as the headquarters of Jack Cade in 1450. It was rebuilt after the fire of 1676 and finally demolished in 1889. The tradition of the site as a hostelry continues with The Heeltap Bar and Restaurant. The Heeltap backs on to The George Inn Yard where the new building discretely copies the shape of the old galleried inn.
The George Inn was also rebuilt after the fire of 1667 and today is the only remaining galleried coaching inn in London, although the south side alone remains from the original building. The coach network to and from The George (and other Inns) was extensive – Gravesend, South East London, Dover, Brighton and so on, and several times a day, and night. The yard was also used as a goods depot and eventually came under railway ownership. The Inn was partly demolished but in 1937 the remains of the building were gifted to the National Trust although the land remains in railway ownership.
The first mention of The Talbot in Borough High Street was in 1306 when it was known as The Tabard and the Abbot of Hyde lodged next door. It was famous as the inn where Geoffrey Chaucer, knight, and nine-and-twenty pilgrims lodged on their journey to Canterbury in 1383..’. It burned down in the fire of 1676 but was rebuilt and renamed The Talbot in 1677. The buildings were finally demolished in 1873 and it is remembered today as an opening called Talbot Yard.
John Harvard, the founder of Harvard University, was born in 1607 in Southwark and educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. His family had been in the area for at least a century and his father, Robert Harvard, was a prosperous businessman, owning a butchery near Southwark Cathedral and The Queen’s Head Inn. By 1637 John’s entire family was dead, and he and his wife emigrated to America. He died within a year but bequeathed his library and half his considerable fortune to the founding of a university. The Inn continued as a business until 1895 at 105 Borough High Street and then became a railway depot. Apparently part of the cellars are still in place.
St Christopher’s Inn is at the narrow entry into Kentish Buildings and was formerly called The Grapes.
The Spur Inn was not entirely burned down by the 1676 fire and the remains of a timber-framed building can be seen in the entrance to the yard. However, by 1848, trade disappearing, it ceased as an inn. The Blue Eyed Maid (what a lovely name!) escapes me so far.
And finally, The Catherine Wheel Inn stood opposite the church of St George the Martyr but was demolished in 1870. It was apparently the symbol of the Knights of St Katharine of Mount Sinai and suggested to travellers a safe passage.