Mincing Lane may conjure up all kinds of images, from John Cleese with the Ministry of Funny Walks to butchers assiduously grinding meat. The name is, however, nothing to do with perambulation or chopping. The word derives from the Old English feminine of ‘monk’, and the name dates back to the 12th century.
According to London historian John Stow, it was once “Mincheon lane, so called of tenements there sometime pertaining to the Minchuns or nuns of St Helens in Bishopsgate.”
In the 15th century the land was sold to the Shearmen, a body that would later join with the Fullers to form the Clothworkers’ Company. Founded by Royal Charter in 1528, the original purpose of the Clothworkers’ Company was to protect its members and promote the craft of cloth-finishing within the City of London.
The company has had its hall in Mincing Lane since then, though it has had to be rebuilt a few times. The current building is the sixth hall; the fourth was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and the fifth during bombing in World War II.
In the London of Stow’s lifetime, the lane had become the centre of Genoese traders called ‘galleymen’ because they docked at Galley Wharf when bringing their merchandise, including wine, to London. They used a form of currency later made illegal by an Act of Parliament: the ‘galley halfpence’, a small silver halfpence.
For some time the lane was the centre of the wine and tea trades; it was also the hub of the drug trade, particularly opium; in Our Mutual Friend, Dickens describes it as “the drug-flavoured region of Mincing Lane”.
The 17th-century speculator Nicholas Barbon, who was not always known for attention to detail on his building projects, developed some houses in Mincing Lane; with one development “all the vaults fell in and the houses came down most scandalously”.
Somewhat more successful is Minster Court; a complex of three office buildings in Mincing Lane, it made a cameo appearance in Disney’s 101 Dalmations as the exterior of Cruella De Vil’s fashion house.