The walk is divided into three separate sections, which can be combined to form a single walk of three to four hours, depending on the time spent in gardens.
The walk starts and finishes at Borough underground station (Northern line). Lift available.
This walk takes in parks, garden squares, churchyards, community gardens and other green spaces which reflect the rich industrial, ecclesiastical, literary and medical history of Southwark.
All the gardens are open during daylight hours, unless otherwise indicated. Seating is provided in most gardens, and they are accessible to wheelchairs, except where stated.
Please be aware of your personal safety when walking. Walking in pairs or groups is recommended. Use designated road crossings where possible. A detailed map should be used in conjunction with this walk.
Turn left out of Borough underground station, cross Marshalsea Road, turn left and then first right past an Historic Southwark wall plaque into Disney Place. Follow the fenced-in school playing area to Little Dorrit Children's Playground.
The site is named after Little Dorrit, the main character in a novel of the same name by Charles Dickens, who moved to Southwark in 1824, aged 12, when his father was imprisoned in the nearby Marshalsea Prison. The site was previously Falcon Court, ‘a horrible rookery of tumble-down, dirty hovels’. It became a children's playground in 1902. Improvements were carried out in 2001 by the Little Dorrit Park Group, set up by local mothers. The park is supported by Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST). As with many sites on this walk, the backdrop views towards central London are surprisingly stunning.
Leave the playground from where you entered and carry on round the school playing area into Redcross Way, crossing over into the Red Cross Garden.
This garden was restored by BOST. The garden, originally laid out in 1887 on the site of an old paper factory, was described as an ‘open air sitting room ’ for the people of Southwark. The restoration included the pond with bridge and fountain, new flowerbeds, lawns and benches. The charming cottages on the far side of the garden (1887, Elijah Poole) were built as part of Victorian philanthropist Octavia Hill's pioneering housing for the working classes.
From here, you can follow the directions for Section 2 (see below). Alternatively, leave the garden via the passage to the right of the cottages and turn left. Cross Marshalsea Road at the traffic lights near the junction with Southwark Bridge Road. Turn left and right into Mint Street Park.
Here again, BOST worked with local people to improve the landscaping, access and lighting. The park is a demonstration project for government policy on parks and open spaces. There is tiered shrubbery planting to the left of the entrance, with a modern ‘mound’ and seating to the right. The raised beds were created and planted by Putting Down Roots, part of St Mungo's, a charity helping single homeless people in London.
Leave the park past the small play area and turn left. Cross Southwark Bridge Road at the zebra crossing near the London Fire Brigade Museum (open by appointment only) and turn right. Cross Great Guildford Street and turn left into Copperfield Street (narrow pavements). On the right, opposite Winchester Cottages (further evidence of Octavia Hill's influence), is All Hallows Church Garden. The nearest entrance to the garden is up shallow steps onto a paved area past a small sunken area. There are steeper steps up to an area with crucifixion statue and planted pots. The far entrance / exit (deeper stone steps) is past the now grassed-over church nave, through an old arch.
This peaceful, secluded garden is on the site of All Hallows Church built by George Gilbert Scott Junior in 1879-80 and bombed in WW2. Little remains except fragments of the church, including two stone archways and one chapel incorporated into a building of 1957, now residential. The garden has been looked after by residents for many years, and is supported by BOST.
There is a café, with accessible toilets, at Jerwood Space gallery (first right beyond All Hallows Church Garden, and left at the end into Union Street).
To return to Borough underground station from Copperfield Street, retrace the route back along the street, go across Southwark Bridge Road and along Marshalsea Road to the junction with Borough High Street.
To continue the walk, go to the end of Copperfield Street and turn left into Great Suffolk Street (again narrow pavements). Cross the road into Pocock Street, and go under the second of two impressive railway arches for a view of the tidy ‘cottage-style’ front garden of Drapers' Almshouses (1820), on Glasshill Street.
From here it is about 10 minutes' walk along Great Suffolk Street, and left into Borough High Street to return to Borough underground station.
The Drapers' Company was founded on the wealth of the wool trade in medieval times. They built a number of almshouses, of which this is one, a terrace of five houses, with a railed, communal front garden.
From Borough underground station, follow the directions above (see Section 1) to Little Dorrit Children's Playground and the Red Cross Garden. From the main entrance to the Red Cross Garden, turn left and walk along Redcross Way, crossing over Union Street and Southwark Street. Bear right into Park Street, passing beneath a railway bridge and turn immediately left into Stoney Street. You may wish to explore the Borough Market, which sells a range of fresh food (market open Friday afternoons and Saturdays). Otherwise, go towards the railway bridge, turn right into Winchester Walk and cross Cathedral Street to Southwark Cathedral Gardens.
The cathedral gardens are on three sides of London's oldest Gothic church, completed in the 13th century after the original church burnt down. Much reduced in size from the original churchyard, the present garden was restored in 2001 and opened by Nelson Mandela, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was a curate in the Southwark diocese. The East Churchyard herb garden was constructed around the ruins of the medieval Lady Chapel, using herbs which were grown in the Apothecaries' Garden of St Thomas' Hospital, originally near the site. The South Churchyard was designed using plants with Shakespearean and biblical resonance. There are good views from the river embankment to the north. Accessible toilet available.
Return to the Cathedral Street/Winchester Walk entrance, turn left towards the railway bridge and bear left. The road continues into Bedale Street. Cross Borough High Street at the traffic lights and walk along St Thomas Street (crossing with a buggy or wheelchair may be difficult here: pelican crossing about 30m to the right). The entrance to the grounds of Guy's Hospital is on the right hand side of the street.
There are steps up to, and down from, the colonnade. To access the garden via an alternative route, continue along St Thomas' Street, turn right into Great Maze Pond and right into Collinwood Street (after the Hospital Friends' shop).
Continue through the pleasant campus grounds into Newcomen Street. From here, you have the following options:
The hospital was founded in 1721 by Sir Thomas Guy. The spacious forecourt leads through to a formal garden area surrounded by a colonnade, not unlike cloisters, beyond which lies King's College campus. There is also a memorial garden for staff lost in WW2.
From Borough underground station, use the traffic lights to cross Borough High Street and Great Dover Street into Long Lane. You will pass St George's Gardens , which can be visited now or at the end of the walk (see below for description). Walk down Long Lane for about 10 minutes, and turn left into Kipling Street. Turn right into Guy Street Park.
Once a burial ground for Guy's Hospital, then a recreation ground, the area was re-landscaped and reopened in 2003. In spring, a trail of crocus winds its way through the gardens and continues in Leathermarket Gardens opposite.
Leave the park via Weston Street and cross the road to enter Leathermarket Gardens
Laid out in the 1930s, the gardens are overlooked by flats of the same period. There is a rectangular sunken area with a formal layout of beds and a raised circular rose garden. There is also a quiet garden planted with varied trees and grasses. There is a children's playground and a café, open Monday to Friday.
Returning to Weston Street, turn left and walk to the junction with Long Lane, passing an archway entrance into the workshops and café which now occupy the former 19th-century leather market. Continue along Weston Street on the other side of Long Lane. Turn right into Pardoner Street and right into Manciple Street. On the right is the Tabard Garden Estate. Turn left opposite Staple Street down a short path between Tabard House and Rochester House to Tabard Gardens.
The gardens are the result of one of the former London County Council's slum clearance schemes in the early 20th-century. The blocks of flats are grouped around a rectangular garden with its original railings. The gardens provide a large and welcome open space away from traffic in an area of high-density housing and offices. There are grass and play areas at either end, and a central wildlife area planted with shrubs and grasses.
Leave the gardens via Beckett Street, turn left and cross at the traffic lights into Trinity Street. Continue to Merrick Square. (Private square, open for Open Garden Squares Weekend.)
This small, private garden square was laid out between 1853 and 1856. It retains its original 19th century cast-iron railings. Holy Trinity rectory, between numbers 16 and 17, was built in 1872. The garden is well maintained, with a variety of mature trees and shrubs. The central beds were replanted in 2000 under the supervision of the Museum of Garden History.
Leaving Merrick Square, continue along Trinity Street to Trinity Church Square, also on the left (private square).
Trinity Church Square was laid out between 1824 and 1832. The church of Holy Trinity, built 1823-24, was converted in 1975 for use as a concert hall, now known as the Henry Wood Hall. The gardens with their imposing central statue can be seen through fine decorative railings. The statue, of a kind on a stone pedestal, is late 14th century in style and was in place here by 1836. It is possibly one of a pair showing Alfred the Great and Edward the Black Prince, made for the garden of Carlton House in the 18th century. Flat at the back, it was probably designed for setting within a niche.
Continue along Trinity Street, turn right into Swan Street and continue to Great Dover Street. Turn left and either return to Borough underground station, or cross into Long Lane. Turn left behind St George-the-Martyr church into Tabard Street and cross over into St George's Gardens.
Return to Tabard Street and walk to the front of the church. Cross the road to return to Borough underground station.
The 18th-century church is often referred to as Little Dorrit's Church because Dickens' character was baptized and married here (see Little Dorrit Children's Playground, above). Her kneeling figure can be seen in the stained glass east window. The churchyard was opened as a public garden by Southwark Metropolitan Borough Council in 1882. In 1903, when Tabard Street was extended to Borough High Street, part of the churchyard was lost. The detached portion of the former churchyard, across Tabard Street, is now called St George's Gardens. The site of the old Marshalsea Prison, marked by an Historic Southwark plaque, is beyond the far wall. There is a fine spring show of bulbs under the huge London plane trees, and two beds planted with decorative box and a mix of perennials.
Walk prepared by Fiona Hope for the London Parks & Gardens Trust, 2006.
Much of the historical information above comes from the London Parks & Gardens Trust's London Inventory of Historic Green Spaces, a database of over 2,300 sites.
All due care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of information in this walk, which is offered in good faith. Please advise us of any changes or inaccuracies you may encounter by writing to LPGT, Duck Island Cottage, St James's Park, London SW1A 2BJ, or email us.