04 April 2011

Geography/History Lesson - Southwark

Despite the fact that I am off to Portsmouth tomorrow and am going 'home' to Edinburgh on Thursday, I really needed to get out of London today. So I hopped onto the DLR (Docklands Light Rail - basically the same as the Tube except that it operates primarily overground since it goes through the 'docklands' - an area built over the Thames) and went east to Greenwich. Technically, Greenwich is located in 'Greater London', but it has a distinct 'towny' character and it is easy to forget that you are still in the city. I first visited Greenwich during my Dad's last visit in March and found it so charming that I thought it would be the perfect destination for my 'staycation'.

Greenwich is famous for its maritime history, being home of the Greenwich Meridian (GMT anyone?), Wren's Old Royal Naval College, National Maritime Museum, and the Royal Observatory. The Cutty Sark, one of the few remaining 19th century tea clipper ships, is in dry dock just outside of the Old Royal Naval College, but is currently undergoing extensive renovation (due to damage sustained during a fire in 2007) and is scheduled to reopen in 2012. In medieval times, Greenwich would have been considered quite far outside of London and it is for this reason that Greenwich Palace was the preferred palace of Henry VIII (Mary I and Elizabeth I were both born there). The Palace no longer remains, since it fell into disrepair after the Tudor period and was demolished during the Restoration, but is commemorated in the palatial architecture of the Old Royal Naval College, which stands on the site.

Old Royal Naval College - originally designed as the Greenwich Hospital for injured/old mariners

The Painted Hall. It was originally a dining hall, but was later reused as a picture gallery because it was considered too grand for eating in

Memorial to US Seamen

Lord Horatio Nelson's body was brought here on its way to St. Paul's

The Chapel

Before living in London, I assumed that everything that one associates with the UK's capital was located in 'London'. But upon moving here, I learned that this is not the case. In fact, the actual area of 'London' is only 1 square mile in area. It is known as 'the City' (City of London) or 'the Square Mile' and is located in the middle of central London. In Roman and medieval times, this area was London. Everything else that now makes up the rest of the 32 boroughs of modern London was 'outside'. Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and Big Ben? In the City of Westminster.

The Boroughs of London (Source)

I live in an area of London called Southwark (pronounced suth-ark). As you can see from the above map of London's boroughs, it is 'south of the river'. If you mention to someone from central London (north of the river, that is) that you live in Southwark, they tend to adopt a somewhat pitying expression and make a remark along the lines of 'oh, you live south of the river'. It really isn't bad down here, especially now that the borough is in a period of regeneration, and I can only imagine that the common perception of it stems from its rather colorful past.

As the borough immediately south of the city of London, Southwark is one of the oldest in modern London. In the medieval period, it was actually located in Surrey and, therefore, was outside of the jurisdiction of the City of London. This meant that the 'fun activities' that were banned in the City flourished in Southwark. As my tour guides at the Globe Theater have described it on the two occasions I've visited, 'Southwark was a haven for whores and criminals.' Yup, that's my home! It boasted a disproportionate number of jails, bear-baiting pits, and taverns. The famed Clink Prison (origin of the phrase 'in the clink'), Marshalsea, and King's Bench prisons were all located within walking distance of each other. In fact, the ruins of the Marshalsea Prison, where Charles Dickens' debtor father was imprisoned, are within 5 minutes walk of my flat. As for taverns - the Southwarkians liked to get their drink on. Borough High Street, which connects to London Bridge (the only bridge from London to the south up until 1729), had no less than 23 pubs and taverns along its .75 mile stretch. When theaters were banned in the City in the late 16th century, the famed Rose, Globe, and Swan theaters were established on Southwark's South Bank. All three theaters were utilized and frequented by William Shakespeare.

Southwark Cathedral

Borough Market

Shakespeare's (rebuilt) Globe Theater

Other interesting facts about Southwark:
  • John Harvard, founder of Harvard University, was born in the area. 
  • Charles Dickens lived in the area as a child while his father was imprisoned in Marshalsea Prison and based his Little Dorrit on his experiences. 
  • Chaucer's pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales set off on their journey from The Tabard Tavern - a real tavern (now gone) that was located on Tabard Street. 
  • A church has existed on the site of Southwark Cathedral for over 1,000 years

What? This is not Southwark - me at the Cross Country AGM with the KCL Presidents
 Enough procrastination! Back to working on my dissertation. (I promised not to stress over Navy entrance requirements/exams/future life plans, but never said that I wouldn't do the same over my dissertation!) I just found a UN database of counter-terrorism laws organized by country! I haven't been this excited since I discovered Early English Books Online's (EEBO's) database of plague literature! Joy!

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