Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The name Paris Garden has now mostly been lost to history save for a short street that runs off Stamford Street behind Christchurch. It was an area that extended along the river at the northern end of Blackfriars Road roughly from where the Oxo Tower is today to the Tate Modern.
The land was granted to the Knights Templar by Bermondsey Abbey in the early middle ages and when the Templars were disbanded in 1324 the land passed to the Hospitallers, the Knights of St John of Jerusalem. The manor lay mostly below water level and despite drainage ditches the area remained marshy for several centuries and consequently mostly uninhabited. By 1420 the manor had become known as Parish Garden which in turn became Paris Garden.
An early 19th century drawing of Paris Garden as it was in the mid 16th century (copyright Trustees of the British Museum)
After the Reformation, the Hospitallers relinquished their lands to the King but before then William Baseley had bought the lease to the manor house and grounds which were in the proximity of where the southern approach to Blackfriars Bridge is today. Baseley retained the lease when the lands passed to the King. He had put in some limited drainage and the manor house was turned into a gaming place with dice and cards. There were skittle alleys in the gardens, and the licentiousness previously associated with Bankside now extended further along the river. Later the manor house became an infamous brothel known as Holland’s Leaguer, said to have been complete with moat, portcullis and drawbridge. The name of the establishment derived from a one time madame, Bess Holland, and lives on today in Holland Street close to the Tate Modern.
17th century woodcut of the infamous Holland's Leaguer
The building of Blackfriars Bridge in 1769 brought great change. Great Surrey Street, later called Blackfriars Road, was built from the bridge to St George’s Circus. It was lined with newly built large houses and more houses for the middle classes were built on Stamford Street and Nelson Square who were attracted by the quietness and peace to be found after a day’s work in the City of London. For over 50 years the area was regarded as prosperous, but with the building of the railway, it became possible for the wealthy to move further out to what was then the country and the newly emerging suburbss and to commute daily to their place of work in the City. The vacated large houses were divided and with no shortage of tenants in an ever growing city, were sub-divided again, and new sub-standard housing built alongside them. The once prosperous area deteriorated into an area of over-crowding and slum conditions.
Other than these pleasure palaces, the area was largely given over to agriculture or to tenter grounds where cloth was stretched on frames to dry and keep its shape. By 1707 it had a population of about 600, 20 public houses and 100 private houses, shops and cottages. The area had changed little since Queen Elizabeth and her court landed at Paris Garden stairs on their way to the playhouses and bull and bear baiting pits Just next to its north eastern boundary stood the Falcon Tavern reputed to have been frequented by Shakespeare and his companions.
A map dated 1805 shows a tavern called The Founders Arms just opposite what is now Bankside Lofts in Holland Street. There is still a pub called The Founders Arms just a little way away, situated on the river's edge in a building that dates from 1979. The pub’s name probably derives from the Falcon Iron Foundry which was located close by. In 1795 it was reported the foundry was owned by Messrs Prickett and Handyside and employed in extensive business. The whole area was fast industrialising as factories and foundries were built on former tenter grounds and fields. Walking along Bankside today it’s hard to imagine that the area was a centre of manufacture and heavy industry with the associated noise, dirt and noxious fumes. It is difficult to recognize the area as the same place that was described in 1843:
“Those dwellers in and visitors to the ‘Great Metropolis’ who cross Southwark Bridge from the City to the Borough can scarcely fail to have observed the array of tall chimneys which meets the eye on either side of its southern extremity; each one serving as a kind of beacon or guide-post to some large manufacturing establishment beneath – here a brewery, there a saw-mill, farther on a hat factory, a distillery, a vinegar factory, and numerous others. Indeed Southwark is as distinguishable at a distance for its numerous tall chimneys and the clouds of smoke emitted by them, as London is for its thickly-congregated church-spires.”
George Dodd, Days in the Factories
Close to the Falcon Tavern were the Falcon Stairs that led down to the River Thames. Also close by were the Falcon Foundry situated in Falcon Square which was to the east of Falcon coal wharf. There was Falcon Dock, Falcon Wharf and Falcon Glassworks. Today, the name lives on in Falcon Point, a council built housing estate built in the late 1970s when the area was less desirable. When built it was 100% council housing, now it is occupied 60% by leaseholders and 40% by council tenants.