The Borough of Southwark was formed in 1965 when local government in London was reorganised. It is situated on the south bank of the River Thames, just opposite the City of London on the north bank. It was formed from the three former Metropolitan Boroughs of Bermondsey, Southwark and Camberwell. Since the 16th Century the area has been known as 'The Borough'.

Population change

1966: 304,140 people
1998: 230,500 people

The Borough of Southwark boasts a long history because it was in this area that the first crossing over the River Thames was built. From this crossing a community developed on the north bank, becoming the City of London. Southwark, on the south bank, developed as a slightly underprivileged partner to its wealthier neighbour. It housed unsavoury activities such as dirty industries and play houses, that were forbidden within the walls of the City.

The riverfront has always been important in the Borough and until the middle of the 20th century it was filled with busy wharfs and warehouses. In the 1960s and 1970s Southwark's docks and wharfs closed, along with London's other riverside industries, leaving empty buildings and urban decay. During the 1980s and 1990s Southwark saw massive regeneration, leaving its riverfront as a lively destination, for both Londoners and tourists. Bankside powerstation was turned into Tate Modern, Warehouses at Butlers Wharf became glamorous private flats.

By the end of the century tourism had become an important activity for the borough, which has nearly 1,500 listed buildings, 2620 shops and restaurants and one of London's most historic ecclesiastical buildings in Southwark Cathedral. Its 19th century Borough market was run down as a wholesale fruit and vegetable market but found a new lease of life as a farmers market for organic produce. Southwark also was the site of one of London's earliest indoor shopping precincts. This was built at Elephant and Castle during the 1960s as part of a plan to turn the area into 'the Piccadilly of south London'.

Away from the riverfront, Southwark in the 20th century also saw important public housing initiatives, including the mammoth Brandon Estate near Elephant and Castle. By the end of the century Southwark owned more council housing than any other London borough. Its population is one of the most diverse in London with 40% coming from a minority ethnic background.

Bookmark with:

  • What are these?