Episode 46: Beer, The Bard, and Historic Buildings of Bankside

Join London tour guides Hazel Baker and Stephen King as they discuss the wonderful history of Bankside; the area around Borough Market. 

In this episode we discuss beer, brewing, trading and also drinking it. Stephen shares some of his favourite historic pubs with links to literary greats such as Shakespeare and Chaucer.

Learn how special effects caused The Globe Theatre to burn to the ground, how Borough’s marked history begins with the Romans and the highlights of Southwark Cathedral.

Get to know more about the history of Bankside. Listen now.

Show Notes:

Hazel Baker: Hello and welcome to London Guided Walks London History podcast. In the coming episodes, we will be sharing our love and passion for London, its people, places and history in an espresso shot with a splash of personality. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Hazel Baker, founder of London Guided Walks, providing guided walks and private tours to Londoners and visitors alike. 






Stephen King

Long time London resident, qualified Westminster Tour Guide, delivering tours in Westminster, Borough and hopefully soon Clapham. Big into history and the hidden bits of London. Also very keen on Victorian fossil hunters and vaguely developing a tour on this to. Has been known to make a big detour for good ice-cream

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Hazel Baker: Thanks for joining us, Stephen. I’m really excited about this one, but I’ve got a first question for you; you’re a City of Westminster guide and yet you’re going to be talking about the history of Bankside. Explain yourself. 

Stephen King: Well I have undertaken a city of Westminster course, which lasts a year at a university of Westminster. It was great fun and I really love Westminster. And I do do a range of Westminster tours as well. But working in Bankside, I’d just fallen in love with the area. It’s an absolutely fascinating gem of London. 

Hazel Baker: It really is. I mean, he’s got something for everyone hasn’t it? 

Stephen King: It totally does. I mean, most people know Bankside because of the amazing Borough Market. And that is one of the main draws to the area. But once you get beyond Barra and some wandering the back streets of that area, you’re just. Always uncovering something new, something amazing. And the links with the whole history of London. 

Hazel Baker: It’s really the Romans that started it all for us isn’t it? 

Stephen King: Absolutely Hazel. So if you imagine Julius Caesar lands down in about 50 AD down in Kent, he comes up to London. We actually imagined he actually crossed the Thames at where Chelsea bridges at the moment. He doesn’t actually stay around very much. And then. Disappears. But then the Romans were to properly invade a couple of decades later.

They build an amazing castle down at which is just outside Sandwich. And then they build a road straight up the old Kent Road and up on Borough High Street. So Borough High Street is a Roman road. Borough High Street has been there for almost 2000 years. It’s where the junction of Stain street, which comes up from Chichester and the road up from Dover and, Sandwich, which is the famous Watling Street, and so they meet it where the Saint George, the Martyr church is at the bottom Borough High Street.. And what you’ve got to imagine is during Roman periods, the Thames was very different to what it is. Today, the Thames river was a lot wider. There weren’t walls that we see along the Thames now. It was a lot of Marshy, and so the Romans built the road up through Borough High Street. 

Where Borough High Street is now, that was a bit of a raised dry land. And then they built London bridge.  London bridge remained the only fixed crossing across the river Thames in London. For again, for a little under 2000 years. The Romans originally built a wooden bridge that leads across the Thames to where the City of London is today. And that was very significant. And that’s why borrowed was basically the gateway into London for all those years. The other important fact about Borough is that as opposed to the city, the city was all about the establishment city was all about money. It was all about regulations. The other side of the river, South London was always a bit more unregulated. It was where the stuff that may be the good citizens of the city didn’t want in the city. They wanted it, but they didn’t want it in the city. To be frank, they didn’t want it that far away from the city either. They wanted it close to hand. So that is really that kind of juxtaposition of the city and Borough. 

Hazel Baker: We’re talking about Bankside, as Steven said, if you’ve been to Borough Market, if you’ve walked along, maybe the Southbank from the Tate Modern, and you then walk to Borough Market, well, this is the Bankside that we’re talking about and we’ll share some photos with you as well.

So I’ve come up with a number of Bs Steven that we can talk about, Bankside. And I thought the first one that we could talk about is beer.

Stephen King: Hazel beer is central to the story of Bankside. We know that beer has been brewed in a Bankside since at least the time of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, he refers to getting quite drunk on Southwark ale in his time.

One of the most important places in Bankside for beer was the Anchor brewery. And you can still, as you walk along the riverside, you can see the Anchor pub on the waterfront. But behind that, there was an absolutely massive brewery. That had a long history of being in Bankside and you can see it’s now gone. It’s replaced with some quite nice social housing, but at the time it was one of the largest breweries in the world. It  was a visitor attraction; German princes would come and visit the famous Thrales Brewery on Bankside. And it has a long connection. There’s so much history there.

Interestingly enough, for the Thrales brewery, whereas there was where the phrase ‘horsepower’ was first invented. So they had a steam engine to pump water up to get enough water for the beer, making beer. And I needed to describe how powerful this steam engine was. And that’s where the phrase horsepower was first invented, but you could see the evidence of beer all around Backside because the other, the other aspect is if you ever wanted the difference between a beer and ale was very much used without hops.

While beer was used with hops, it was a foreign invention we got from the Flemish. Hops brought a bitter taste. It originally wasn’t wasn’t very popular, but because it preserved the alcohol longer, it then took off. And if you look around in the evidence all around Bankside, you can find where the hop exchanges were.

Like I said, this was where the hop was being brought up from Kent. And you can see in the architecture all the little hop exchanges that happen, then there’s a, there’s actually a massive hop exchange in Bankside interestingly enough, that that massive Hop Exchange was a good idea.

But it completely failed because it turned out the farmers didn’t want to sit in a big room, discussing prices with each other. They wanted to do all their deals in side rooms and in secret, basically because they thought they could get the better price. So there’s this absolutely enormous building of the Hop Exchange in Borough.

But after about three years, it completely failed because nobody wanted to use it. Because they were very wary about coming in and talking about how they were doing their deals in public. So, but again, you just see it. And the other thing that Borough has in spades is wonderful pubs.

So many interesting pubs with such history in their hair. 

Hazel Baker: Have you got  any particular pubs that you’d like to share? 

Stephen King: Oh, well yes! The classic pub for everybody having to visit Bankside has to go to, is of course the George Inn which is London’s only remaining gallery.

In. So if you go there, you are standing only about, well only a fragment of it remains for the very important fragment for the George Inn remains. And if you go there, you can get the sense of what a Georgian galleried pub. It looks amazing. There’s a whole book about it as well; Shakespeare’s local. There’s no evidence that Shakespeare ever went to the George Inn. There’s no evidence he ever did not go to the George Inn either! It’s nice to imagine that possibly Shakespeare did hang out there, but certainly that the pub that no longer remains, which is next door, is the White Hart. And again, we certainly know that Shakespeare did frequent the White Hart. And of course the pub that no longer remains on the other side, the end of a Tabard Inn, we know Jeffrey also went there, but of the remaining pubs, you’ve got some wonderful ones, got The Globe, which of course paired in various movies (including Bridget Jones).

You’ve got the Southwark Inn, which claims to have a series of cells. Underneath, in the old prison cells, you can have a drink in the basement of that. Here’s a little story Hazel, that’s not actually true. If you look at the old maps although Bankside had lots of prisons in their hair where the Southwark in there was never actually a prison there, but they’re, they’re old storage places, but they are very atmospheric. If you go to the, do you ever go into the Southwark Inn, can go underground there, but then there’s just so many other amazing pubs with amazing landlords as well. 

So if you ever get into the King’s Head pub, you’ll get hijacked by the landlord who will show there’s an amazing painting on the wall of his pub, of the old London bridge, where it still had houses on and actually the landlord is in that painting. He had himself painted into that, which covers the entire wall of his downstairs pub. So yeah, they’re just so many in there.

Hazel Baker: We’ll put details about these pubs in the show notes. Also, for our silver and gold patrons, I’ve also done a little video of walking around Bankside where you get to see a lot of the places that we’re talking about, including these pubs and the Globe Theatre and the Rose Theatre. Simply go to londonguidedwalks.co.uk/podcast and click on episode 46 and all the information, including how to become a patron and get behind the scenes and exclusive content will be there.

And you touched on another of my B words, which was The Bard.. 

Stephen King:

The Bard. Yes. Shakespeare has a strong association with Bankside. What we know about Shakespeare is surprisingly fragmented. But we certainly know that the original theatre he was associated with in London was in Curtain Road, which is to the North of the city.

Cause again, the city didn’t want theatres. In the city, they thought theatres were lewd places where various things could happen. And so, they wanted them outside the city, the odour of the theatre, the curtain had a disagreement with his landlord. So they basically took it down, put it into crates, shipped across the river and built it again on Bankside.

And so we know at the end of the 16th century, it went up there on the Bankside, in the 1590s. And then that is where Shakespeare writes some of his best plays. In Bankside we have plays being premiered. We have Hamlet then premiered in 1600, Othello in 1604, King Lear 1605 and Macbeth in 1606. And it just goes on. 

But then the bad news happened in 1613. There is a production of Henry the eighth, probably one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays. And what they’re always doing in these places is great special effects to make the audience go ‘wow’. And so they let a cannon off in a Henry VIII. It’s a great effect, the roof lights up, there’s a fire going on the roof. The audience actually thinks this is amazing. This is one that’s special effects. It’s not amazing. The roof has caught light. And so the entire theatre burns down 16, 13, but the audience, thankfully, although the audience was packed in here they did get out.

There is one, there’s one story of a man whose trousers are burned, but nobody’s actually killed. The building burns to the ground. They then rebuild it fairly quickly, but the story goes that this does impact on, on Shakespeare quite badly apparently. And he dies actually back in his hometown as Stratford upon Avon for a few years after this event.

So actually if you go to the wonderful building on the Riverside, just next to the Tate Modern, which is the wonderful Wanamaker, a re-imagining of the, of the theatre. It is very authentic. It’s a very authentic building. It is open to the air. So if you go to a performance and you’ve got the cheap tickets and you’re standing there in front of the stage, you will get wet if it rains.

I’ve only ever paid for the slightly more expensive tickets and sat down. So I’ve got a roof over my head, but yeah. You have to bring, you know, bring a cushion or get a cushion because they are hard seats. They are too close to the seat you’re sitting on. And the roof is pre 1613. Roofing is a thatched roof because after 16, 13, they actually put tiles on the roof.

So it’s amazing if you do go to the globe theatre while I’m, I know you have, but I’m saying to visitors to the globe theatre when it’s open again it’s absolutely an amazing place because the history there is so authentic. They’ve got far better fire regulations as well, by the way!

Hazel Baker: Yeah, that’s a good tip about taking a cushion. I must admit to the first time I went well, let’s just say I remembered to take a question the second time. I also liked getting a seat with a back. Cause, you know, you do, especially with Shakespeare, it’s quite long sometimes. And you just want to relax a little bit, especially if you’re sitting next to a complete stranger, you can’t lie back and put your arms up on the side.

Like you, you kind of normal 30. So I like to get one of the seats that I’ve got the toolbox at the back. So that’s another top tip for you there. So even if you haven’t done that on. Yeah, it’s amazing. Isn’t it to think of, ‘Oh, let’s do a special effect’ and then actually burning the whole theatre down.

You really can’t. I can’t imagine it. And they do some really good tools in there as well. We have a number of volunteers who work at Shakespeare’s globe, who would come on our tours.

You’ve done it again. Steven you’ve hit on another B. So you’ve had beer and the Bard, my third one for you was historic buildings. What historic buildings are there to seem Bankside. 

Stephen King: Bankside has such a rich history which is another way of saying actually some of the important buildings have been knocked down and built on top of but actually if you do go around there, you will sell stuff. Fail historic. So just to touch on the globe theatre, one of the things that I, I love doing on my tours is taking people to the original site of the globe theatre which was largely demolished to allow the building of the brewery.

As we referred to earlier South Wales brewery kind of. Encroached onto, and the, actually there’s a story of the, of the wife of Mr. Swales talking about a fact that ruined next to the brewing. Could we get it pulled down? So you know unfortunately the globe theatre is largely built on as well by the entrance to the Southwark bridge as well.

But the Rose theatre, which was the, which predates the globe. By a, by a number of years actually was right next door to the globe. And interestingly enough, we know quite a bit of the history of the globe theatre by the archaeology that happened at the Rose theatre. Again, that currently closed big refurbishment going on there, but it is an archaeological site and you can hopefully in better times go and visit it again.

So there’s the evidence of what was there of kind of standing up buildings is a word that you can really appreciate, I suppose. The jewel in the crown is Southwark cathedral, which is right next door to Borough Market and is a wonderful building. And again, so much history. If you go into Southwark cathedral, I’ve done tools for about an hour around.

Southwark cathedral. And you know, you’ve barely scratched the surface. You’ve got the old Roman road. You can see evidence of that there. You could see fragments of the medieval building as well. And of course the later addition, so you’ve got graves there, one of choices, best friends, Gower is buried there and we can see his tomb there so much history.

And of course there’s a lovely monument to Shakespeare. In that where he’s holding a little bit of lavender in his hand as they, they, they always place a little bit of laboratories, hand and some wonderful stained glass windows. But again, the history is, is, is layer upon layer. So some of the trials that marry the first hat against some of the Protestants monitors as it were during that period would take place.

In Southwark cathedral. There’s a wonderful story about Charles Dickens. Everybody’s got a ticket story and the bar’s got loads to them. Dickens ringing the bells at Southwark cathedral, but interestingly enough, it has changed over the years. So the actual main building of Southwark cathedral now. Yeah.

The Georgians thought it was a good idea to have the cathedral without a roof for about 30 years, which means the main fabric of the building was in terrible condition and say the Victorians, thankfully. Rebuilt a large amount of the cathedral, but in a very tasteful way. And you’ll notice if you ever go to the oil ends of court.

You’ll notice it looks a lot like the inside of the Southwark cathedral, because it was the same architect who did it, but saying that there are still a lot of very historic elements of it. And of course you, you, you, can’t not mention it as well, Harvard there’s a, there’s a Harvard chapel in the cathedral, which again, shows that link between John Harvard who grew up.

In Bankside his father actually worked both in the market, but he also owned an Inn on Barra high street. And it was Harvard who went across to America and was the foundation of Harvard university. Although, interesting Harvard actually didn’t live very long in America he died less than two years after arriving, but he donated his books, which was the founder of the library and the founder of the university, 

Hazel Baker: There’s so much to discover for Bankside, and you can attend Stephen’s Bankside Tour called Borough Market & Beyond. If you can’t wait that long, then Steven is doing a virtual Clapham Common virtual tour. He’s going live on Monday 15th of March at 7:00 pm GMT. And you can buy your tickets and I’ll add those into the show notes. Don’t worry. If you’re listening after that date, we also have a pay and play version where you can watch it in your own time. 

That’s it for now. I really hope you enjoyed listening to the history of Bankside; the beer, the bard and historic buildings of Bankside with the lovely Stephen King.

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