Although no definite evidence is available, it is reasonable to conclude that the most ancient inns of Southwark were established at least as early as the most ancient hostelries of the city itself.
To which, however, the prize of seniority is to be awarded can never be known. Pride of place among the inns of Southwark belongs unquestionably to the Tabard.
It is by close attention to the letter-press, and by observing the frequent appearance of names which have age-long association with houses of entertainment, that the student of this map awakens to the conviction that ancient Southwark rejoiced in a more than generous provision of inns. Southwark is really the south-work of London, that is, the southern defence or fortification of the city.
Such was the case from the earliest period of which there is any record. The Thames is here a moat of spacious breadth and formidable depth, yet the Romans did not trust to that defence alone, but threw up further obstacles for any enemy approaching the city from the south.
Drawn on the principle that a minimum of lines and a maximum of description are the best aid to the imagination, this plan of Southwark indicates the main routes of thoroughfare with a few bold strokes, and then tills in the blanks with queer little drawings of churches and inns, the former depicted in delightfully distorted perspective and the latter by two or three half-circular strokes.
That there may be no confusion between church and inn, the possibility of which is suggested by the fact that several of the latter are adorned with spire-like embellishments, the sixteenth-century cartographer told which were which in so many words.
Not that it is the most ancient, or has played the most conspicuous part in the social or political life of the borough, but because the hand of the poet has lifted it from the realm of the actual and given it an enduring niche in the world of imagination.No evidence is available to establish the actual date when the Tabard was built; Stow speaks of it as among the of the locality; but the nearest approach to definite dating assigns the inn to the early fourteenth century.