Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Borough Road 1830
When Westminster Bridge was built in 1750, the second bridge in London to cross the River Thames, Borough Road was constructed to enable traffic from Kent and Surrey to access the bridge. The new road ran from Borough High Street across what were then the open marshy fields and pastures of St George’s Fields, but with the population of London growing quickly, the open land was soon built upon with often small and badly built houses. Major infrastructure occurred in the early 1860s when the London Chatham and Dover railway line was built on a brick viaduct that cut across Borough Road to take trains from the Elephant and Castle to Blackfriars, now a part of Thameslink. Borough Road Station was built on the north side of Borough Road and West of Southwark Bridge Road but was closed in 1907 and most traces of the station have now disappeared.
Dominating the road to the north east was the King’s Bench Prison built in 1758 until it was closed and demolished in the 1870s. It was replaced by Queen’s Buildings, blocks of seven storey model housing tenements that were built on the site in 1881. These were not as well designed as other model housing dwellings and blocked out the sun on every side and rendered the lower floors dark on even the brightest days. The estate suffered some bomb damage in World War II and was demolished as unfit for human habitation in 1977. The gloomy tenements were replaced by the existing more modern social housing built by Southwark Council.
Murphy House is one of three housing blocks built at the end of the 19th century by the LCC and managed now by Southwark Council. Borough Road is within the parish of St George the Martyr and there is a relief on the front of Murphy House that depicts St George slaying the dragon.
No. 62 Borough Road is a very pleasing building and was believed at one time to be the watch-house for the King’s Bench Prison. It was in fact built in 1821 by stone mason Henry Robert Hartley on land leased to him by the City of London Corporation. Until at least the 1950s, the house and adjoining yard were in use as a stone mason or builder’s yard. The building is Grade II listed and is now residential.
There are currently (2015) redevelopment proposals pending for the south east corner of Borough Road named the Borough Triangle which takes in the area bordered by Borough Road, Newington Causeway and the railway. At one stage, the former printing factory called Diary House after Charles Letts & Co who owned the premises, now offices for IPSOS MORI, and the Baptist Chapel at No. 82 were under threat of demolition but latest plans show these buildings are to be retained.
Not so lucky is No 83 which is currently home to the London School of Musical Theatre. An unusual building reminiscent of Disney castles, it has been described by Pevsner as a mixture of gothic and Scottish baronial. Designed by C Ashby Lean, it was built in 1906 for the South London Institute of the Blind. A foundation stone, laid by the Duke of Argyll on 24 May 1906, is inset into the building. It records the charity’s Patron was Lord Llangattock, a
local landowner and benefactor who had already donated land in North Camberwell for the building of the library and wash-house. By the 1980s, the building at 83 Borough Road had become a branch of Barclays Bank, and after lying empty for some years became home to the London School of Musical Theatre. Hopefully, such a unique building will escape demolition.
Located at 47-60 Borough Road is a grand neo classical building that was built in 1889 to house the factory for Day and Martin, manufacturers of boot blacking. Though more restrained, it was very similar to their previous factory in High Holborn which had burnt down. The factory in Borough Road was in use by Day and Martin until at least 1925 and a full history of the company can be found here. The building is Grade II listed and is currently used as offices by the International Transport Workers Federation.
The most prominent building at the western end of the road is the Borough Road Main Building of the London South Bank University at No. 103, part of a place of education that has grown enormously since its inception in 1892. The Borough Polytechnic Institute was opened in 1892, the result of the vision and energy of Edric Bayley who set up a committee and raised money to create polytechnics in Borough and Battersea (the latter is now part of the University of Surrey). The aims of the polytechnics were "the promotion of the industrial skills, general knowledge, health, and well-being of young men and women" by offering apprentices and tradesmen skills needed for local businesses that included tanning, typography, metalwork, brickwork and masonry, plumbing, hat manufacture and bakery. The Borough Polytechnic Institute was one of the first colleges to offer a technical education of this nature.
The new polytechnic purchased the buildings in Borough Road formerly used by Joseph Lancaster’s British and Foreign School Society. Building work was carried out in 1930 to create the current façade. Extensions to the building were completed in 1969 and a year later became known as the Polytechnic of the South Bank by merging with other local colleges. Other mergers took place and the polytechnic was awarded university status to become South Bank University in 1992 which became London South Bank University in 2003. It has acquired most of the land in the triangle bordered by London Road, Borough Road and Southwark Bridge Road and has added new buildings and refurbished existing.
One of the buildings acquired by LSBU is the Grade II former Presbyterian Chapel in Borough Road built in 1846. Though they announced plans for its refurbishment and planning permission granted in 2006, the works have not gone ahead. The chapel is now covered in tarpaulin and the condition of the building inevitably worsening. At one time, it was occupied by the printing press manufacturers Hoe & Crabtree. Richard Hoe had invented the rotary printing press in 1844: the road adjacent to the Presbyterian Chapel was renamed Rotary Street. in their honour.
Opposite the chapel is the former Borough Road Library opened in 1899. It was the fourth public library that opened in Southwark as a result of a donation from benefactor John Passmore Edwards. The library closed in 1992.