A history of Borough Market

A history of Borough Market

The medieval Market

A colourful, chaotic artery
London bridge, a colourful and chaotic artery joining London to the town of Southwark and the ports and cities of the south, acted like a magnet for people who wished to sell things to travellers. Its rich commercial potential kicked off an epic struggle between authorities determined to regulate and profit from officially sanctioned markets and hordes of small traders who wanted to make as much money as possible with the least possible interference.

For a long time there were two legitimate marketplaces around Borough. The smaller of these started in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital, at the southern entrance to London Bridge. In 1215, the hospital relocated to what is now St Thomas’ Street, and the market, which specialised in corn, moved with it.

Irritating the authorities
A larger market, selling a wider range of produce and trading on Wednesdays and Fridays, found a home along the busy main highway near the foot of the bridge in an area known as the Guildable Manor, which was administered by the crown. Both markets caused irritation to the authorities across the river by undercutting the City of London’s own traders. In the 1270s the City forbade its citizens to go to Southwark to buy “corn, cattle, or other merchandise there”. It also banned traders from setting up on the bridge itself and clamped down on “regratresses” who bought bread in Southwark and resold it in London.

In 1406, after some serious lobbying, Henry IV granted the City authorities “assay and assize of bread, wine, and ale and other victuals and of any other things belonging to the clerk of the market of the King’s household”. Southwark’s market became, to all intents and purposes, an extension of London.

Sold to the City
The residents of Southwark fought hard against the encroachment of the City into their town, but further charters in 1444 and 1462 cemented London’s influence over the Guildable Manor and added the right to hold a three-day fair every September. Southwark Fair would become one of the most riotous events in London’s calendar.

In April 1550, for a price of just over £1,000, Edward VI ended any debate about who ran Borough by selling Southwark to the City. In the same charter, it was agreed that the market could extend to four days a week, adding Monday and Saturday to the schedule.