defining BOROUGH

Exploring the past and present of the first London borough to emerge outside of The City by Joe Campbell

here’s a quick challenge for you: can you name where Borough starts and where it finishes? When speaking of Borough, are we just talking about Borough High Street, or are we going all the way down to Elephant & Castle? What about Borough Road, that leads into north Lambeth? It’s certainly tricky, but lets take a look at what we do know about Borough.

According to various sources, the area known as Borough gets its name from a time when it was literally the only borough outside of the City of London. At this time, during the 16th and 17th centuries, it lay outside the reach of London’s law and therefore became somewhat of a playground, famous for its more wild culture. It was the place where fun and entertainment thrived, stocked full of inns and theatres, as well as its fair share of debauchery.

the shard borough dusk aerial landscape london

The Shard towers over Borough and the rest of Southwark. © The View from The Shard.

In this respect, Borough is relatively unchanged! There are still many great pubs to be found, including The Gladstone Arms (better known as The Glad) and The Lord Clyde, both of which have managed to resist the changing pub trend of overpriced food and little atmosphere. There are also a number of pub-turned-hostels too, whose ancestry can be thought of as the traditional ‘inn’. Right around the corner from Borough tube station is the Dover Castle Hostel and a little bit further out, next to Waterloo station, is The Walrus Bar & Hostel.

Outside of London’s West End you would be hard pressed to find a place with a wider choice of theatres, too. Of course closer to Waterloo are our beloved Vic’s, both Old and Young, as well as the National Theatre. All within a relatively short walk of Borough though are Shakespeare’s famous Globe Theatre, the intimate, under-the-arches Union Theatre, the quirky and off-beat Menier Chocolate Factory, the Southwark Playhouse, a studio theatre with a focus on new and up-and-coming works, and the Unicorn Theatre, the UK’s leading theatre for children and teenagers.

“In November aerial footage of London showed a thick blanket of fog covering the city, with just the tip of the Shard breaking the dense atmosphere.

For anybody with even the slightest interest in quality food, the place to visit is undoubtedly the famous Borough Market. Borough has a long history of food markets and traders, as far back as the 11th century merchants would set up shop at London Bridge selling grain, fish, vegetables, meat and livestock. During the 13th century, traders were relocated to what is now Borough High Street, and the market in one shape or another has existed there ever since. Borough Market now has over 100 stalls selling a variety of exquisite British and international produce, all of which are held to the highest standards by a panel of impartial experts. If you are in any doubt as to the market’s history, the blue plaque marking it as London’s oldest fruit and veg market is a testament to its longevity.

Although Borough Market is perhaps the oldest landmark in the area, the most famous is now surely the one that can be seen from miles away: The Shard. The colossal glass obelisk started its construction in March 2009 and was completed in November 2012, and its observation deck ‘the View from the Shard’ was opened to the public in February 2013. Standing at 1,016 feet high, The Shard is the tallest building within the European Union and was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. Contained within its pyramidal tower are offices, restaurants, the Shangri-La Hotel and a retail arcade. In very early November aerial footage of London showed nothing but a thick blanket of fog covering the city, with just the tiny tip of the Shard breaking the seal of the dense atmosphere.

shakespeares globe london borough olympic torch relay

The famous Olympic Torch passed through Borough when it visited Shakespeare’s Globe in 2012. Photograph by Amy Murrell.

With its fantastic transport links and historical features, Borough’s popularity as a place to live continues to rocket. Period houses, converted flats, warehouse conversions and riverfront apartments provide a diverse range of homes for interested parties that cater to a range of budgets, bearing in mind of course that Borough still suffers/benefits from the same over-inflation that is the case with most of London, depending on your viewpoint.

Whether you live in Borough, work there or are just visiting though, its huge array of beautiful restaurants, cafes, pubs, theatres, galleries, studios and boutique shops mean there is never a shortage of things to do. So although we may not be able to properly define the parameters of Borough, we can certainly define it as the beating heart of Southwark.

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  • a capital CHRISTMAS Highlights this year in and around London's centre
  • four winter TALES Previewing the winter season at The Globe, where four of Shakespeare's late, great plays will be performed by candlelight
  • Entertainments Listings Winter 2015/16 season listings
  • building a BETTER BODY The road to a healthier you starts here
  • sally ARMY Soup, Soap and Salvation
  • LIFE in abundance Recent reports and sightings have shown that life in our famous Thames is thriving
  • defining BOROUGH Exploring the past and present of the first London borough to emerge outside of The City
  • the grey lady: A GHOST STORY A 'haunted' house on Borough High Street is unremarkable in every other respect

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