Southwark Cathedral Corbels
There are some amazing hidden details on Southwark Cathedral that are worth a look up. On the exterior of the north east wall you can see a mixture of Victorian and contemporary corbels and the new ones each have a story to tell!
I’ve previously written about Southwark Cathedral’s history in this blog post so do have a read here.
But in a nutshell, we know there was an Augustinian priory south of London Bridge from 1106 (there was probably a church here since the 7th century but there are no written records).
The priory was known as St Mary Overie – meaning ‘over the river’ – and lasted until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 when it became a parish church and was later known as St Saviour’s Church.
Repairs were made in the 17th and 18th centuries but by the 1820s major work was needed and Sir Arthur Blomfield redesigned the nave in 1895. The chancel, exterior and interior was restored by George Gwilt and from 1905 it’s been Southwark Cathedral.
Southwark Cathedral Corbels
Corbels are supportive architectural elements that jut out from the walls and are often decorated.
They can often be found on and in churches and the original ones were restored in the 19th century. Southwark Cathedral confirms there was no record of who the corbels represented but that they were probably a mix of human and animal heads, perhaps some saints and some everyday faces.
Amongst the Victorian ones, four new corbels were commissioned by Southwark Cathedral and the challenge of what to depict went to the children of the Cathedral School and students from the City and Guilds of London Art School.
With a close up view you can probably spot the new one here…
The subjects chosen were Borough Market, local Suffragette Evelyn Sharp, PC Wayne Marquess and Doorkins the cat.
This corbel is on the opposite side (South) to the others, fittingly on the same side as the market itself.
While the current market buildings are Victorian, Borough Market has existed in various forms and was first recorded in 1276. It continues to delight tourists and locals alike and the corbel is a cornucopia of corn, fruit, vegetables and cheese.
Born 1869 in London, Sharp was the ninth of eleven children. From twelve she went to a Scottish boarding school, Strathallan House, where she thrived but despite passing local university exams she was sent to a Paris finishing school whereas her brothers went on to Cambridge University.
Undeterred, Sharp moved to London and began a career in journalism, writing for the Pall Mall Gazette and publishing several novels. She met the fellow journalist Henry Nevinson and the pair became lovers with Nevinson helping her secure further work with the Daily Chronicle and Manchester Guardian.
The speech, by Actress and Novelist Elizabeth Robins, had a ‘profound’ effect and she became highly active within the WSPU, breaking the windows of government buildings, representing women on hunger strike in attempted talks with the Home Secretary. She was imprisoned on three separate occasions – once for refusing to leave the House of Commons and together with other like-minded friends including Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson she founded the United Suffragists. Its headquarters was at 92 Borough Road, about a 15 minute walk from the Cathedral.
One day in 2008, a stray cat from Borough Market wandered into the Cathedral. Because the vergers started feeding it, it decided to stay.
It’s fair to say Doorkins, full name Doorkins Magnificat, soon felt right at home. She’d walk across the altar during services, snuggle up in the native crib at Christmas and even had the honour of meeting HM Queen Elizabeth II. In 2017 there was a book published about her! Sadly Doorkins died on 30 September 2019. The Dean of Southwark said “Like many people before her she found her way to us and was welcomed and made us her family and this place her home. She brought us so much pleasure and much joy to her many fans and followers.”
In her mouth she holds a fish, a reference to the market where she spent the early years of her life.
The last corbel commemorates the tragic events of 3 June 2017. The terrorist attack on London Bridge that resulted in the death of eight people. One of the first officers on the scene was PC Wayne Marques of the British Transport Police. Armed with just his baton he fought off three of the terrorist attackers and was temporarily blinded after being stabbed in the head.
Wayne survived the injury and was awarded the George Medal for bravery, seen in the corbel below.
On receiving the award Marques said “I remember the events of that night vividly, the evil that was done but also the courage and bravery of the public and my colleagues. I am here today because of my friends who helped me, I’d cannot thank them enough.”
Very easy to miss, there’s another memorial nearby which is closely related, though not attached to Southwark Cathedral. It took me totally by surprise but I thought it was important to share.
It commemorates another victim of the London Bridge Attacks.
Kirsty Boden was from Australia. She worked as a senior staff nurse at the nearby Guy’s Hospital and was described as an outstanding nurse who was ‘one in a million’ and always went the extra mile for the patients in her care.
She was enjoying dinner out when a white van crashed into railings at the Barrowboy and Banker pub. Kirsty was one of many who rushed towards the danger in an attempt to save others and was stabbed by one of the terrorist attackers. She was 28 years old.
So if when you’re next by Southwark Cathedral, perhaps take a detour to look up at the corbels and pause for a moment by Kirsty’s memorial.
The corbels can be seen along the outside of the North Choir beside the Mudlark Pub.
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Like all good writing, you have shared some of the highs and lows of the area around Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral. Thank you for not shying away from the sad stories. We must remember those who suffered, were injured or died in the past or we are destined to repeat mistakes, leading to more tragedy, as we move forward. I love this part of London and am grateful to you for bringing it to our attention!
A great post. I especially liked the stories of the new corbels.
Thank you for another interesting and insightful post. Loved the information on the latest corbels
Vale brave Kirsty, a fellow countrywoman
Lovely account but Doorkins second name is Magnificat (a play on the hymn of thanksgiving said by Mary in the Gospel) and it’s altar not alter.
Perhaps change and then delete this comment.
Will amend, thank you!