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Southwark CathedralLondon
London Bridge
London SE1 9DA
TfL Fare Zone 1

 

Crammed in amongst buildings and railway lines and the approach road to London Bridge is the ancient and historic Southwark Cathedral. It is situated on the south side of the River Thames squeezed in between the Borough Markets and St Mary Overie Dock.

The Dock is home to the replica Golden Hinde galleon and is only a street away from the western side of the Cathedral buildings. The Cathedral’s little graveyard abuts the Markets.

The first Church
The Cathedral is built on the site of a Roman villa and part of the villa’s mosaic pavement can be seen in the floors of the north and south Choir aisles. In 1977, a well was found in the Choir containing the statue of a Roman god dated to the 4th century. Between 852-67 AD it is believed that St Swithin, Bishop of Winchester, set up a College of Priests on the site.
 
Proof that a church existed is an entry in the Doomsday Book of 1086 which states that a ‘monasterium’ was present and a ‘tideway where ships are moored’ probably refers to the St Mary Overie Dock. During the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) the religious house was granted Rights and Privileges to profit from the unloading of goods arriving by ship at this wharf. At this time there was no bridge over the river and everything was carried by water.
 
William the Conqueror
After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William the Conqueror replaced all the Anglo-Saxon Bishops and aristocracy with French Norman knights and Bishops.
 
The church passed into the care of Odo, Bishop of Bayeaux. In 1106 a new church, St Mary Overie (over the water) was built and it was served by the Regular Canons of St Augustine. They were required to minister to the sick and needy of the area and the hospital they built was St Thomas’s. This famous hospital still serves the people of the area.
 
Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester, built his London palace just a few minutes’ walk away from St Mary Overie. This ensured the continuing patronage of the church by the Bishops of Winchester for the next 500 or so years. The ruins of Winchester House with its beautiful rose window have survived and can be seen in nearby Clink Street.
 
Priory Church damaged by Fire
In 1212 a disastrous fire swept Southwark and badly damaged the Priory church and the hospital. Very little of the Norman church survives in the present Cathedral but an internal Norman archway can be seen in the north aisle of the Nave and some blind arcading in the south aisle of the Nave.
 
The See of Winchester came to the rescue once again and c.1215 Peter des Riches oversaw the rebuilding of the Priory in the new Gothic style. It was one of the first Gothic buildings to be built in London and Southwark Cathedral is the only surviving Gothic building left in the City. Today, the Choir, Sanctuary, Aisles, Retro-choir, lower Tower and western bays of the Nave survive from this time.
 
A Royal Wedding
The rebuilding was finished by 1283 but disaster struck again in 1390 when a second fire damaged the building. Thirty years later Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, assisted with the repairs and a royal wedding took place in the Priory in 1424 when Henry Beaufort’s niece, Joan, married King James I of Scotland.
 
15th & 16th Century Additions
Collapse of the nave roof in 1468 led to the vault being rebuilt in wood. There were 150 carved and painted wooden bosses incorporated into the roof and some of them can be seen remounted on the ceiling of the tower space and at the west end. The magnificent altar screen which separates the Choir from the Retro-choir was built in 1520 by Bishop Richard Fox.
 
History
Big changes came with King Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1598 the Priory church and buildings were handed over to the Crown. The remaining 12 canons received a pension in return for the loss of their living. An Act of Parliament turned the Priory church into the Parish Church of St Saviour, Southwark.
 
During the religious persecution of the Protestants during the reign of Queen Mary I, Bishop Stephen Gardiner of Winchester set up an Ecclesiastical Court in the retro-choir. He sentenced seven men to be burnt at the stake for heresy including Bishop John Hooper of Gloucester and John Rogers of London.
 
After Gardiner’s death the retro-choir was used as a bakery and pigsties, and some of the Priory buildings became the Southwark Delft Pottery and were used to manufacture starch. In 1614 the parishioners of St Saviour’s took matters into their own hands and bought the church from the Crown. They renovated the church and had the Right to appoint their own clergy.
 
St Saviour’s Parish Church
Southwark and Bankside were the home of Elizabethan entertainment. People crammed into the open air theatres, bear and bull-baiting pits, the inns and taverns, gambled and enjoyed the services of the local prostitutes. Several theatres including The Rose Theatre, the Swan and The Globe Theatre were erected on the river bank at the end of Clink Street.
 
William Shakespeare and the other famous playwrights and actors of his day worshipped at St Saviour’s and half the actors named on Shakespeare’s First Folio appear in the church’s Register. Other worshippers included many members of the City of London Livery Companies.
 
19th Century Restoration
The church remained in a dilapidated state for a long time and in the 19th century it was almost demolished. What a tragedy that would have been! Luckily the parishioners, led by the enthusiastic architect George Gwilt, voted to restore the eastern part of the choir, aisles and retro-choir of the old church.
 
The nave roof was unsafe and in 1831 it was removed and the nave remained open to the elements for seven years. Eventually a temporary roof was erected and in the 1860s poor St Saviour’s suffered its last indignity with the building of a railway viaduct almost over the top of it.
 
South London had undergone a population explosion and by the end of the 19th century the Winchester Diocese could no longer afford to care for the poor and disadvantaged populace of South London. The parish was transferred to the Diocese of Rochester.
 
In 1890 it was decided to establish a new Diocese at Southwark to better look after the South London masses. The Prince of Wales laid the foundation stone for a new Nave which blends beautifully with the old church. In 1897 St Saviour’s became the pro-cathedral of South London.
 
Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie
The new Diocese of Southwark was created and in 1905 St Saviour’s became the ‘Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Saviour and St Mary Overie’.
 
Memorials
The William Shakespeare Chapel and John Harvard Chapel commemorate two very important Southwark residents.
 
- Sam Wanamaker
Beside Shakespeare’s monument is a memorial honouring Sam Wanamaker CBE (1919-1993), the great American actor and director.
 
- Marchioness Disaster
In the south aisle of The Nave is the Marchioness Disaster memorial. A tribute to 51 people who drowned when the River Thames cruise boat ‘Marchioness’ sank on the night of 20 August 1989, just near the Cathedral.
 
- St Andrew’s Chapel
In the retro-choir is the Chapel of St Andrew dedicated to the victims of the modern ongoing tragedy of HIV related disease and AIDS. A communion service is held for them every Saturday and a memorial book of names is nearby.
 
There are many architecturally beautiful cathedrals in Britain but Southwark has a very special feel to it. It is quite small and the soaring Gothic interior is light and airy. The whole building blends beautifully together even though we know that the Nave is relatively modern.
 
The Cathedral feels welcoming and is obviously well patronised by the locals who come in to escape the noise and bustle of the world outside. The building is crammed full of colourful and interesting monuments and memorials both ancient and modern.
 
The Cathedral Mission is to be Relevant to Modern Life
In keeping with its mission to be relevant to modern life, the cathedral has two choirs, the traditional men and boys and a Girl’s choir. One or both of the Choirs sing at Evening Prayer services most days. For all information relating to Cathedral events and special services go to their excellent website.
 
Facilities
The Cathedral has a shop, a visitor centre, toilets, a restaurant, lending library and conference rooms.
 
Disabled Access
Accessible
 
Contact & Further Information
Telephone   +44 (0)2073 676 700
Mail   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Getting There
A good way for getting to Southwark Cathedral, visit TfL Journey Planner. 
 
The Cathedral is well served by Mainline and Underground Rail and buses.
The Cathedral website has very good Web: 'how to find us" directions
 
Google Maps - Southwark Cathedral