03 June 2023

Hodge the Cat is a reminder
of Samuel Johnson’s friends
near Southwark Cathedral

Hodge the Cat is at home in Southwark Cathedral … the name recalls Samuel Johnson’s own cat (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Southwark Cathedral has been a place of Christian worship for over 1,000 years. In recent years, Doorkins the cathedral cat, was part of the lore and life of the cathedral. She appeared at the cathedral doors on a cold night in December 2008, soon gate-crashed cathedral services, and became a favourite in the congregation and with visitors and tourists.

Doorkins retired from the cathedral in her senior years and died peacefully in September 2020. Her place has been taken by another cat, Hodge, who was rescued that year on a street in Woolwich and was officially adopted by the cathedral on 6 December, the feast of Saint Nicholas.

Hodge takes his name from the original Hodge, owned by Samuel Johnson, who is depicted in a stained glass window above the north west door. Samuel Johnson, the creator of the first English Dictionary, moved from Lichfield to London in 1737.

Although Johnson lived in Gough Square, off Fleet Street, he has left his mark on Southwark Cathedral and many parts of Southwark, and from 1765 he was friends with the Thrale family, who owned the Anchor Brewery nearby in Park Street.

The Anchor is close to Southwark Cathedral and a pub or tavern with various names has stood on the site for centuries. Throughout history, the site of Anchor has been a tavern, a brothel, a chapel, a brewery and a ships’ chandlers, and has entertained a wealth of notable patrons.

Some records show that as well as being the site of a Roman grave, the Anchor was close to the site of bear and bull baiting pits and the area was used for plague pits in 1603. Perhaps the most famous local landmark was the Globe Theatre, which stood from 1598 to 1613. The performances included Shakespeare’s greatest plays, but it is hardly likely that he ever drank an ale or two at the Anchor.

Brewing became an important industry in Southwark after the introduction of hop growing to Kent in the 15th century. Thames water was considered peculiarly good for brewing.

The Bishop of Winchester and the Prior of Saint Mary Overies – now Southwark Cathedral – granted a licence to the brewers of Southwark in 1509 to have passage with their carts ‘from ye Borough of Southwark untill the Themmys … to fetch water … to brew with’ so long as the brewers made no claim to the passage as a highway. The licence was renewed by later bishops.

The Anchor started life as the ‘tap room’ for the Anchor Brewery, first established in 1616 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Anchor started life as the ‘tap room’ for the Anchor Brewery, first established in 1616. It has been described as ‘Bankside’s oldest surviving tavern.’ It is the sole survivor of the riverside inns from Shakespeare’s time, when this district as the heart of theatre-land and the Thames was London’s principal highway. The pub was frequented by many actors from neighbouring playhouses, including the Globe, the Swan and the Rose.

The nucleus of the Anchor Brewery appears to have been the brewhouse established early in the 17th century by James Monger. The brewhouse is first mentioned in the Token Books in 1634, although Monger’s name occurs several years earlier. The site, which lay between Deadman’s Place and Globe Alley, had been leased to him in 1620 by Sir John Bodley and formed part of the property owned by Sir Matthew Brend the included the Globe Theatre.

An early owner of the brewery, Josiah Childs, probably gave the Anchor its current name in 1665. He was closely involved with the navy, supplying masts, spars and bowsprits as well as stores and small beer.

It was there the diarist Samuel Pepys witnessed the Great Fire of London in 1666. He recalled in his diary how he took refuge in ‘a little alehouse on Bankside ... and there watched the fire grow.’

The interior of the pub was built mainly of oak, but it was destroyed in another fire in the decade that followed. It was rebuilt in 1676 and James Child owned the brewhouse towards the end of the 17th century. He died in 1696 and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Edmund Halsey, MP for Southwark from 1722 until his death in 1729.

Halsey bought additional ground and extended the brewery. His purchases included ground on the east side of Deadman’s Place, now Park Street, near Clink Street and Clink Garden.

Samuel Johnson was a frequent guest of Hester and Henry Thrale at the Anchor in the 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

After Halsey died in 1729, the business was bought by his niece’s husband, Ralph Thrale (1698-1758), and the Anchor became a platform for launching the political careers of Ralph and his son Henry Thrale (1724-1781). They enlarged and developed the brewery, buying some freehold ground and leasing some more land from the Bishop of Winchester.

Henry Thrale and his wife Hester were close friends of Samuel Johnson. After Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson is the single most quoted English writer, and a copy of his Dictionary is on display in the pub. He first met the Thrales on 9 or 10 January 1765, and immediately became almost a part of their family. Johnson once described the brewery as ‘the potentiality of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.’

Johnson lived on and off at their Southwark home or at their country house Streatham Park until Henry Thrale died in 1781, and he travelled with them to Wales and Paris.

Henry and Hester Thrale frequently entertained Johnson and his literary circle in a club founded by in 1764 and that included many influential, cultural figures of the day. Johnson and his friends enjoyed a superb meal at the Anchor in May 1773, when the guests also included the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds, the Irish poet Oliver Goldsmith, the actor David Garrick and the Irish statesman Edmund Burke.

However, Henry Thrale did not have the business acumen of his predecessors although the brewery continued to flourish under its manager John Perkins, who had joined the firm around 1763. Due to presence of mind on the part of Perkins, the brewery escaped being burned down during the Gordon Riots in 1780. Henry Thrale died in 1781 and the Anchor was sold to Robert Barclay.

An Independent meeting house or Congregationalist chapel stood nearby from 1640 until it moved to Union Street in 1788. The people of note buried there include Alexander Cruden, author of the Biblical Concordance. One of the biggest extensions by the brewery was made southward to include the burial ground and a meeting house in Deadman’s Place, after a lease of the ground was obtained from the Bishop of Winchester in 1781.

The last major enlargement of the brewery was in 1820, when the firm obtained a lease of the site of Potts’ Vinegar Works from the Bishop of Winchester. The greater part of the brewery, including the dwelling house in Deadman’s Place, was burnt down in 1832. The premises were quickly rebuilt and some of the buildings erected at this time survive to this day.

The Anchor is said to have been a favourite place for river pirates and smugglers at one time. During repair works in the early 19th century, a massive oak beam was removed, revealing ingeniously contrived hiding places that may have been used for storing stolen goods and contraband.

The Anchor underwent one of the most costly refurbishments in pub history 15 years ago in June 2008, at a reported cost of £2.6 million. The Anchor is now owned by Greene King.

Samuel Johnson depicted in the window above the north-west door in Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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