The surprising histories of Borough’s street names

The street names around Borough Market have unusual histories behind them. From medieval brothels to Dicken’s villains, Bankside continues to surprise.

Borough and Bankside have a range of interesting street names some of them incredibly historic. Close to the Globe Theatre on the river is Cardinal Cap Alley, a rather dark medieval joke. The alleys name refers to the Cardinal Cap brothel one of the many medieval and Tudor brothels of Bankside, the joke being that this is where the Cardinal left his cap. Rose Alley by the site of the old Rose Theatre marks not the theatre, but the adjoining brothel, both of which had strong links with the actor Edward Alleyn, contemporary of Shakespeare and founder of Dulwich College.

Credit: Hazel Baker

The ruins of the Bishop of Winchester’s palace stand close to Borough Market and Park Street shows the edge of his garden, which was clearly quite large. Old Borough names such as Dirty Street are being resurrected in the new Borough Arches development. However, we may have a long wait for the return of Cock Steps which led to the river behind Southwark Cathedral (see earlier reference to brothels for probable origin).  

The19th Century saw a craze for renaming streets after Dickens’ characters, with interestingly road naming being a county not a local borough responsibility. Some are familiar, like Copperfield Street, some less familiar like Qulip Street, renamed in December 1892 rather oddly after the terrible baddy from The Old Curiosity Shop.  Weller, Doyce, Clenham street all take their names from Dicken’s characters. Sadly Dick Swiveller, Pleasant Riderhood and Mr Wopsle do not have a street named after them.

Credit: Hazel Baker

Grotto Court refers to the Georgian pleasure ground that once stood here, which thankfully will soon become the entrance for a new green space for Borough.  Suffolk Street refers to the grand palace which stood at the end of Borough High Street, where Queen Mary and her new husband King Philip of Spain once stayed. 

A wander through the streets of Borough and Bankside will always uncover a host of history and I hope that you will be able to join me on a tour some day soon to uncover this fascinating history. 

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