Old Barge House Alley, SE1

Courtyard in/near Southwark, existing between 1507 and now

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Courtyard · Southwark · SE1 · Contributed by The Underground Map

This is an article about Old Barge House Alley.

Before the streets of London were constructed of durable materials they were so pot-holed and ridged that travelling along them could often be a hazardous business. Apart from this, the movement of traffic about the City was thoroughly disorganised – farmers driving herds of cattle to market were a constant obstacle and accidents were a frequent occurrence. Although the problem was not so much volume of traffic, as it is today, travelling only a short distance in the chaos took a long time. The Thames offered an escapement route and those who could afford to hire a sculler and oarsman travelled in relative comfort and at reasonable speed. In those days all the major activities were centred reasonably close to the River and only a short walk away from the innumerable jetties along the waterside. Royalty and noble lords built their houses close to the Thames with easy access to private stairs where they boarded their luxurious barges.

The Monarch owned barges for different occasions, just as the Queen today travels in a style of coach fitting of the event. The barge-house, conveniently situated about mid-way between the Tower and Westminster was where the King’s barges were moored. It was located alongside Barge House Stairs, approximately on the site of the present jetty, and here the Royal Barge Master attended to maintenance and preparation for state occasions. The barge-house was probably in existence before the reign of Henry VIII and survived until the mid-17th century when it was left unattended and eventually rotted away.

There is still a discernible alley here today although it has now taken on a form more likened to a yard and is filled with lock-up shops, ranging from a sandwich bar to a jewellers. There are also shops of florists, milliners, hairdressers and many more, all situated alongside Gabriel’s Wharf. It is an unimaginable venture back in time to remember this area as jungle of high gloomy warehouses closely sited along the waters edge. In the wildest of dreams one would not have envisaged that in the passage of years this place would be half way along the road to becoming a tourist attraction. At the northern end of the Alley a riverside walk has been laid out and to the east there are pleasant gardens of shrubbery with seats dotted here and there. There are plenty of reminders of the old barge house in this area: Bargehouse Street is still here, and as though determined that the name shall be preserved, a new building is named Barge House Crescent.

Citation information: The alleyways and courtyards of London: O – The Undergroun

The 1750 Rocque map is bounded by Sudbury (NW), Snaresbrook (NE), Eltham (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1750 map does not display.

The 1800 mapping is bounded by Stanmore (NW), Woodford (NE), Bromley (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1800 map does not display.

The 1830 mapping is bounded by West Hampstead (NW), Hackney (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Chelsea (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1830 map does not display.

The 1860 mapping is bounded by Brent Cross (NW), Stratford (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Hammermith (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1860 map does not display.

The 1900 mapping covers all of the London area.

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Southwark is the area immediately south of London Bridge, opposite the City of London.

Southwark is on a previously marshy area south of the River Thames. Recent excavation has revealed prehistoric activity including evidence of early ploughing, burial mounds and ritual activity. The area was originally a series of islands in the River Thames. This formed the best place to bridge the Thames and the area became an important part of Londinium owing its importance to its position as the endpoint of the Roman London Bridge. Two Roman roads, Stane Street and Watling Street, met at Southwark in what is now Borough High Street.

At some point the Bridge fell or was pulled down. Southwark and the city seem to have become largely deserted during the Early Middle Ages. Archaeologically, evidence of settlement is replaced by a largely featureless soil called the Dark Earth which probably (although this is contested) represents an urban area abandoned.

Southwark appears to recover only during the time of King Alfred and his successors. Sometime in and around 886 AD the Bridge was rebuilt and the City and Southwark restored. Southwark was called ’Suddringa Geworc’ which means the ’defensive works of the men of Surrey’. It was probably fortified to defend the bridge and hence the re-emerging City of London to the north. This defensive role is highlighted by the use of the Bridge as a defense against King Swein, his son King Cnut and in 1066, against King William the Conqueror. He failed to force the Bridge during the Norman conquest of England, but Southwark was devastated.

Much of Southwark was originally owned by the church - the greatest reminder of monastic London is Southwark Cathedral, originally the priory of St Mary Overy.

During the Middle Ages, Southwark remained outside of the control of the City and was a haven for criminals and free traders, who would sell goods and conduct trades outside the regulation of the City Livery Companies. An important market - later to become known as the Borough Market - was established there some time in the 13th century. The area was renowned for its inns, especially The Tabard, from which Chaucer’s pilgrims set off on their journey in The Canterbury Tales.

After many decades’ petitioning, in 1550, Southwark was incorporated into the City of London as ’The Ward of Bridge Without’. It became the entertainment district for London, and it was also the red-light area. In 1599, William Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was built on the South Bank in Southwark, though it burned down in 1613. A modern replica, also called the Globe, has been built near the original site. Southwark was also a favorite area for entertainment like bull and bear-baiting. There was also a famous fair in Southwark which took place near the Church of St. George the Martyr. William Hogarth depicted this fair in his engraving of Southwark Fair (1733).

In 1844 the railway reached Southwark with the opening of London Bridge station.

In 1861 the Great Fire of Southwark destroyed a large number of buildings between Tooley Street and the Thames, including those around Hays Wharf, where Hays Galleria was later built, and blocks to the west almost as far as St Olave’s Church.

In 1899 Southwark was incorporated along with Newington and Walworth into the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark, and in 1965 this was incorporated with the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell and Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey into the London Borough of Southwark.

Southwark tube station was opened on 20 November 1999 as part of the Jubilee Line Extension.

The original plan for the Extension did not include a station between those at Waterloo and London Bridge; Southwark station was added after lobbying by the local council. Although it is close to Waterloo, not near the Bankside attractions it was intended to serve, and its only rail interchange is to London Waterloo East mainline station; the passenger usage matches those of other minor central stations. It does however get over double the traffic of nearby Borough station and around triple Lambeth North.

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