Inventory Site Record

Southwark Cathedral Precinct

Southwark Cathedral Precinct (Southwark)

Brief Description

Southwark Cathedral is the oldest Gothic church in London. It was completed in the C13th after the original church burnt down in 1212. Since then parts of the Cathedral have been used as a prison, for housing, a bakery and even a pig sty! Refounded as the Priory Church of St Marie Overie, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it became a parish church dedicated to St Saviour, eventually becoming a Cathedral in 1905 for the new Diocese of Southwark. In 1910 landscape gardener Madeline Agar renovated the south-west corner of the churchyard on behalf of the Chapter. The churchyard was later re-landscaped in 2000/1 with a number of garden areas created when major extensions were made to the building, providing new facilities.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Priory Church of St Marie Overie
Site location:
Montague Close/Borough High Street
Type of site:
Public Gardens
Open to public?
Opening times:
Mon-Fri 8am - 6pm; Sat/Sun 8.30am-6pm
Has taken part in Open Garden Squares Weekend 3 times, most recently in 2018.
Special conditions:
Refectory (9am-6pm Mon-Fri, Sat/Sun 10am-6pm), shop, toilets
Numerous events
Public transport:
Rail/Tube: London Bridge (Northern, Jubilee). Bus: 21, 35, 40, 47, 343, 381, P3, P11.

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2012
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Full Site Description

The history of Southwark and England is reflected in the alterations and repairs that have been made to the building over the centuries. The Domesday Book of 1086 refers to a monasterium at Southwark probably on the site of an older church possibly built soon after King Alfred captured London from the Vikings in 886, as Saxon foundations were discovered in the archaeological dig in 1999. After the Norman Conquest the Minster became the Priory Church of St Marie, when it was re-founded by the Bishop of Winchester in 1106. Thomas a Becket and Geoffrey Chaucer are known to have attended here, and a hospital was built by the Canons dedicated to St Thomas a Becket to the south of the church. The church was rebuilt after a fire in 1212 and it became known as St Marie Overie in the C14th to distinguish it from other City churches of St Mary. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries the priory was surrendered to the King's Commissioners and it was retained as a parish church of St Saviour's, rented from the King by the parishioners.

In the 1830s the future of the church was threatened, the building having become dilapidated. It was surrounded by warehouses to north and west, and there were plans for the new railway viaduct to the south. It was saved from demolition by the efforts of George Gwilt, architect, and restoration works were undertaken under his supervision, whose tomb of 1856 is in the churchyard. The new nave was completed in 1841 by Henry Rose, but A W Pugin dismissed it as 'as vile a preaching place as ever disgraced the C19th'. The nave was later rebuilt in 1895-97 when plans were underway to create a new Diocese of Southwark, deemed necessary due to the poor social conditions in the area by the mid C19th and the distance from the diocese of Winchester. It was initially transferred to the Diocese of Rochester, but support rallied for a new Diocese of South London and the church became a Cathedral in 1905 as the centre of the new Diocese of Southwark, now serving some 306 parishes. The first Bishop was enthroned in 1905.

The churchyard was in use until 1853, although Gwilt was buried here by special dispensation in 1856. Much reduced in size the present churchyard garden has C19th stone gate piers. In 1910 the south-west corner of the churchyard was renovated by Madeline Agar, who undertook this work on behalf of the Chapter of the Cathedral. Madeline Agar had taken over from Fanny Wilkinson as the MPGA's landscape gardener in 1905, a position she held for almost 25 years. Over that time she became a successful garden designer, writer and teacher, and a fellow of the Institute of Landscape Architects. 

The garden was later restored by Elizabeth Banks Associates in 2000/2001 as part of new building works to the Cathedral, which was opened on 28 April 2001 by Nelson Mandela. The work was funded through a Millennium Lottery grant awarded in 1997. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who had been a curate in Southwark diocese, was International President of the Cathedral's Appeal; a room is named after him. The Cathedral had purchased Montague Chambers in 1996 and the new facilities include an Education Centre, a new Millennium Courtyard created on the riverside with an entrance from the Thames Path, cleaning of the building, floodlighting, re-landscaping of the churchyard and creation of a new building to the north of the Cathedral. This contains a refectory and library 'of similar scale to the monastic refectory wing which survived on the site until the 1830s' (Cathedral Architect for the project, Richard Griffiths Architects).

Two major artists' commissions include stained glass by Benjamin Finn, and glazing and handles to the new north entrance doors by Wendy Ramshaw, which refer to the theme of pilgrimage through maps and the pilgrims' staffs that form the door handles. The new buildings are linked to the Cathedral through a glazed link following the former Victorian alleyway between the church and the warehouses on the river.

Three areas of the Cathedral precinct were redesigned to the south, east and north of the Cathedral with railings, straight and meandering paths, lawn, and trees. To the east the Bishop's Chapel foundations were discovered; it was demolished when London Bridge was built, and this discovery provided inspiration for the design of a new herb garden using herbs from the Apothecaries' Garden of St Thomas Hospital originally on or near the site. The new courtyard space on the south and east sides is enclosed on the west by new planters containing a row of Liquidambar trees underplanted with aromatic shrubs, the courtyard paved with reclaimed York stone and granite setts. The south area was re-designed to improve the quality of the fabric with new planting using plants with Shakespearean and biblical resonance. A sculpture of the Holy Family by Kenneth Hughes is in a corner and seats were donated by the MPGA.

Sources consulted:

'Southwark Cathedral, the Authorised Guide', 2002; 'The Dedication and Opening of Southwark Cathedral Millennium Buildings', 28 April 2001; Elizabeth Banks Associates 'News 2001' leaflet; Ron Woollacott, 'Southwark's Burying Places, Past and Present', Magdala Terrace Nunhead Local History publication, 2001; Derwent May, 'A knot that ties a medieval garden with the Globe' in Weekend (Times?), 2 March 1996. Additional research on Madeline Agar by LPGT Volunteer Researcher, Margaret King, 2020.

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Dean and Chapter of Southwark Cathedral
Site management:
Friends of Southwark Cathedral/Garden works undertaken by contractor
1910: Madeline Agar. 2000/1: Elizabeth Banks Associates
Listed structures:
LBI: Southwark Cathedral
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Conservation Area name:
Borough High Street
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Yes - Archaeological Priority Zond
Other LA designation:
Regeneration Area. Thames Path. Strategic Views Backdrop Consultation Zone

Southwark Cathedral Precinct

Southwark Cathedral Churchyard and Herb Garden - Photo: Colin Wing
Date taken: 29/04/16 11:49
Click photo to enlarge.


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