Although just over the river from the well-regulated part of London - the City - Southwark was infamously crammed with taverns, brothels, theatres and bear gardens from medieval times until the 18th Century. The bustling 'Soho' which Southwark must have been in Shakespeare's day is quite a contrast with the comparative backwater of today! The Anchor, a delightful little pub nestling on the riverside just downstream of Southwark Bridge, has been through many changes over the centuries.
An inn called The Castle and the Hoop was originally on the site of The Anchor, and was known to date back to the 15th Century. In 1665, the property changed hands, with the local brewers - Childs - taking over the inn.
After being destroyed by fire, the pub was rebuilt in 1676 and named The Anchor. It is thought that one of the Childs family, Josiah, named the pub, as he had naval connections. He supplied the navy with masts, spars and bowsprits, as well as stores and beer.
At some point, parts of The Anchor were again destroyed by fire, and records show it was then rebuilt by Win Allen between 1770 and 1775. In the 1800s, Mr and Mrs Henry Thrale took over, with the locals sometimes calling the pub 'Thrales of Deadman's Place', a reference to one of its earlier names that obviously stayed in the local vocabulary.
Local records attest to the many and varied historical changes at the site. A Roman grave was discovered; the skeleton found with a bowl of coins between his knees which dated back to the Lower Empire. Records also show that a burial pit was dug in the area to accommodate the city's plague victims of 1603. The pit was given the name 'Meeting of the Gallants at an Ordinary1'. Old maps of the area also show bear and bull baiting pits and a chapel called 'Dead Man's Meeting House'.
One of the most famous buildings in the area was The Globe Theatre, where many of Shakespeare's classics were first performed. It was built by the Burbages between 1559 and 1600, but unfortunately burnt down in the early 1600s when a prop cannon set fire to the thatched roof. It was reconstructed on its original site and finally opened to the public in 1997.
The Great Fire of London
It is claimed that during the Great Fire of London in 1666 Samuel Pepys sought refuge from his river crossing in The Anchor after enduring 'fire drops' falling on him in the boat. As the fire grew, Pepys was again forced to move on. Eventually, the inn itself succumbed to the blaze.
Adjacent to The Anchor was Clink Prison. This was situated in the area where you can now see the support for the Cannon Street railway bridge. 'The Clink' was to work its way into the English language as being the slang for prison. The prison also had the sign of the fiddle2 hanging outside the prison gates. This led to a widely-used saying for those getting up to no good, namely 'being on the fiddle'.
The Thrales were friends of Samuel Johnson3. He had a room in their house where he wrote some of his classics, including his famous 'Dictionary'. Johnson and his friend Boswell4 were known to like their food, so Mrs Thrale must have been a very good cook. Perhaps this was why in May 1773 Sir Joshua Reynolds (artist), Oliver Goldsmith (Irish poet), David Garrick (actor) and Edmund Burke (Irish statesman) gathered to eat at the same table?
Over time, The Anchor has expanded, taking in neighbouring buildings. The main area of the pub dates back to 1676 and has extensions tacked on, making it a tiny warren with small rooms and bars adding to the atmosphere within. The forecourt has been used in several movies, including Mission: Impossible, in which Tom Cruise is seen having a pint there.
Nearby Places to Visit
As well as Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, The Clink Prison Museum and magnificent views of the Thames, Southwark Cathedral and the bustling Borough Market are nearby. The Tate Modern and the London Eye are also situated on the South Bank, making any visit to this area of London exciting and enjoyable.