What's The Oldest Building In Southwark?

By M@
What's The Oldest Building In Southwark?

Series exploring the most venerable buildings in each London borough.

See also: Camden, Islington.

The London Borough of Southwark extends much farther south than might be realised. Its southern tip scratches the edge of Crystal Palace Park. But it is the small area traditionally known as Southwark, south and west of London Bridge, which contains the oldest buildings. Here we find two contenders for 'Southwark's oldest'.

Southwark Cathedral

Southwark actually has three cathedrals. The Roman Catholic St George's and the Greek Orthodox St Mary's are relative newcomers compared with the ancient Cathedral Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie, better known as Southwark Cathedral, next to Borough Market.

Christian worship on the site goes back at least 1,000 years. The cathedral as we know it was begun in the mid-13th century after an earlier version burned down (in what was probably London's worst ever disaster).

According to Historic England, some fabric of the building remains from before that horrific fire, with more from the reconstruction. By and large, however, the cathedral today is a Victorian rebuild, with elements from earlier centuries surviving here and there. To say this is a 13th century building would be pushing things a bit far.

Winchester Palace

Image Mike Peel, creative commons.

Around the corner, next to the Golden Hinde, stands an essentially original piece of medieval London. One great wall of the Bishop of Winchester's Palace, including the tracery of a rose window, looms awkwardly next to Pret a Manger.

The structure survives from the 14th century, resting on foundations of still greater antiquity. It doesn't date back quite so far as Southwark Cathedral, but if you're looking for a stand-alone piece of masonry without heavy restoration, then this might just count as the borough's oldest.

Other old stuff

The cathedral and remains of the palace far outdate anything else in the borough (or the Borough), but a few other hoary structures can be found.

The George Inn, off Borough High Street, has been dubbed Shakespeare's Local. It was certainly trading during the Bard's time in the capital. Parts of the building date from the 16th century, though much of the place, London's last remaining coaching inn, is of later reconstruction.

The George Inn, Southwark.
The George Inn.

Parts of the tower to St Mary Magdalen in Bermondsey are thought to date from the 15th century, although most of what we see is 17th/18th century. Likewise, a few bricks and blocks from medieval times are incorporated into the church of St Mary in Rotherhithe, though this is predominantly an 18th century structure.

It should also be noted that the oldest written reference to London, on a 2nd/3rd century Roman slab, was found in Southwark in 2001.

All images by the author unless otherwise stated.

Last Updated 08 November 2022

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