Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Ten years after the Great Fire of London destroyed much of the City of London, Southwark suffered a Great Fire in 1676 that destroyed nearly 500 buildings, including most of the inns on the east side of Borough High Street and the former church of St Margaret's that had become a court-house with prison attached.
It began in an oil shop between the George and Talbot (Tabard) Inns. William Rendle quotes the following description from a contemporary newspaper:
"The dreadful fire in Southwark begun on Tuesday the 26th May 1676, at three of the clock in the morning, and in the space of twenty hours destroyed near five hundred houses, several people, and goods to an inestimable value ... From the Cock and Hart Yard near the Spur Inn down to St Thomas's Hospital, via the Talbot, the George, the White Hart, the King's Head, the Queen's Head Inns, together with their bakehouses, Stables, Barns and Warehouses, all burn'd down to the ground; the Hospital very much defaced.
Three Crown Court is rubbish and ashes, the Meal Market standing in the middle of the street is consumed, and no sign is left to know where it stood. The Porch of the Hospital is broken down. St Mary Overies took fire twice or thrice but it was put out. The little chapel at the east end is much pulled down and ruined, the houses near it were blown up; but for this and the change of wind ... the church must have been utterly destroyed. Fronting south, and to the east and west, the church was almost surrounded by flames. All Foul Lane, the churchyard buildings, several alleys, one side of street over to St Mary Overies Dock are gone. Twenty or more people are killed and many wounded."
The streets were narrow and lined by timber buildings with projecting upper storeys causing the fire to spread quickly from one side of the road to the other. Many buildings were blown up to create fire breaks but it was only due to a change in wind that St Saviour's Church and St Thomas's Hospital were saved though both had suffered damage. Charles II and his brother James took part in the fire fighting as they had for the Great Fire of London ten years earlier. Such was the devastation the boundaries to buildings destroyed in the fire were lost and there were attempts by some to move their boundaries by two or three feet and encroach upon their neighbours. A judicial enquiry founded by Act of Parliament was needed to restore the ancient and correct boundaries.
William Rendle, The Inns of Old Southwark and their Associations (1888)