Liberty of the Clink
|Liberty of the Clink
Manor of Southwark
|- Created||12th century|
|- Succeeded by||County of London|
|Government||Court leet (until c. 1850)
Clink Paving Commissioners (1786–1855)
The Liberty of the Clink was an area in Southwark, on the south bank of the River Thames, opposite the City of London. Although situated in Surrey the liberty was exempt from the jurisdiction of the county's high sheriff and was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester who was usually either the Chancellor or Treasurer of the King.
The liberty was originally the north-eastern part of the 'hide of Southwark' granted by Henry I to the Priory of Bermondsey (later Bermondsey Abbey) in 1104-09. That house then sold it in around 1149 to the Bishop of Winchester, who wanted a house for his London governmental duties. The Bishopric's administration referred to it as the Manor of Southwark i.e. the Manor of the Bishop in Southwark. It was also known as the 'Liberty of Winchester'. The liberty (i.e. a manorial jurisdiction) was confirmed when King Stephen sanctioned the transaction for his brother Henry Blois, then Bishop of Winchester.
Prison and palace
The Clink is most famous for its prison. The first recorded use of the term Liberty of the Clink was in 1530; the nickname was used informally to avoid confusion with the other manors in Southwark. 'Clink' seems to be derived from the name of the Bishop's prison, which he held as a civil authority deriving from his role as Chancellor or Treasurer. It was also the manorial gaol maintained by the bishop as part of the administration of the liberty. The bishop's London residence, Winchester House, was built in the liberty, originally surrounded by parkland.
The liberty lay outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, and that of the county authorities of Surrey, and some activities forbidden in those areas were permitted within it.
In 1161 the bishop was granted the power to licence prostitutes and brothels in the liberty. The prostitutes were known as Winchester Geese, and many are buried in Cross Bones, an unconsecrated graveyard. Similarly, to "be bitten by a Winchester goose" meant "to contract a venereal disease", and "goose bumps" was slang for symptoms of venereal diseases.
Theatres and playhouses were allowed in the Clink, the most famous being the Globe Theatre where William Shakespeare performed his plays. Another noted one was The Rose, where Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe both premiered plays.
Bull and bear baiting were also permitted.
It formed part of the parish of St Margaret's, Southwark until 1539 when it was replaced by St Saviour's (now Southwark Cathedral).
An Act of 1786 (long title "An Act for paving, cleansing, lighting and watching the Streets, Lanes and other publick Passages and Places, within the Manor of Southwark, otherwise called The Clink") established the Clink Paving Commissioners. Bollards marked "Clink 1812", part of the works of the commissioners, can be found in the Bankside area.
As a civic area it was united in the St Saviour's District with St Saviour's and Christchurch, Surrey under the Metropolitan Board of Works from 1855. The metropolitan board assumed the powers of the paving commissioners.
The Clink prison was destroyed in 1780, and the bishop's palace in 1814. In 1863 the rights of the Bishop of Winchester in the liberty were vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.
The liberty was finally abolished in 1889, when the Local Government Act 1888 merged all remaining liberties into their surrounding counties. The Liberty of the Clink had been surrounded by Surrey, but the 1888 act created a new County of London in the metropolitan area and thus it became part of the new county.