Boot Street to Mincing Lane: London’s shoe-related streets

Following on from the recent post about sewing-related London street names, there’s one more street that relates not just to sewing but also to fashion in footwear and fiction: Mincing Lane, home to Minster Court. This complex of three office buildings made a cameo appearance, renamed Munster Court, in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians as the exterior of Cruella De Vil’s fashion house.

The lane is nothing to do with mincing in any form: the word derives from Old English feminine of ‘monk’, and the name dates back to the 12th century. John Stow tells us 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.

The Cordwainers, shoemakers who make “fine soft leather shoes and other luxury footwear articles”, also make their home in the Clothworkers’ Hall. To use the full and lovely name, the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers dates back to at least 1272, making it one of the oldest Liveries in the City.

The company takes its name from the soft leather, or cordwain, that its members used; this originated from Cordoba in Spain. The leather makers eventually formed their own guilds, but the shoemakers retained the cordwainer name. (Jimmy Choo is a member of the Company and here’s a confession: when I very first heard his name I didn’t realise it referred to a person; I thought it was some kind of rhyming slang.)

Speaking of leather, there is Leather Lane, which is now home to a multi-faceted weekday market, but once did house leather sellers. The market, according to the Friends of Leather Lane Market, was born of yet another of Charles II’s bad debts (see the previous post for more detail). Charles II, upon his return from exile, owed £500 on a gambling debt; instead of repayment, the man to whom he owed the money asked for a charter to set up a market and one penny on each customer.

However, the naming of this lane may be nothing to do with leather sellers. As early as 1233 the name appeared as ‘Le Vrunelane’; later forms of the name were Loverone Lane, Lither Lane, and Liver Lane.

There are a number of theories as to how the lane got its original name. One is that it is from the Old French ‘leveroun’, a greyhound. The greyhound (a heraldic reference of the Dukes of Newcastle) was a common tavern sign. Another theory is that it derives from ‘Leofrun’, which was an Old English girl’s name, and yet another is that it was the name of a local merchant whose last name was some form of ‘Leofrun’. 

Or it could be that, at the time the lane was formed and named, there was a landowner of Flemish extraction in the area. The Flemish ‘Vroon’ means a manor and so ‘le Vrunelane’ was a lane that led to the nearby manor of Portpool.

Continuing the theme of footwear, let’s return to Shoe Lane, which I mentioned in passing last time. The name, unfortunately, doesn’t really come from a dropped shoe. An early reference to it as ‘Scholanda’ (Show-land) is taken to mean that the lane was once a place for the setting out and showing of water-borne merchandise to tax collectors and customers. Scholanda could also, however, have meant ‘land shaped like a shoe’; the lane itself is not shoe-shaped but it may have led to a piece of land that was. Alternatively, it could have taken its name from an ancient well – Showelle – at the north end of the lane.

There’s also a Boot Street in Islington, about which I have little information other than the fact that it appears in the movie The Crying Game. The exterior of the Metro Pub, where Dil sings the title song, was an empty property behind the pub on the corner of Coronet Street and Boot Street.

Something completely different: from Suck Stone to Stoney Street 

The Suck Stone in the Forest of Dean

For those of you who read this blog just for London street names, there are some of those but first, a little self-indulgence about my training walk on Monday.

I set off early Monday morning in search of the Forest of Dean’s Suck Stone (or Suckstone) – yes, that is its name, though I have yet to discover the origin of the name. The stone is one of many that surrounds the village of Staunton, near the England/Wales border, and is, says Wikipedia, “The largest piece of detached conglomerate or puddingstone rock in England and Wales and has been estimated to weigh maybe 14,000 tons.”

According to local myth, those who climb the Suckstone are visited by the mischievous and capricious Fairy of the Rock, who will grant certain visitors superhuman powers. Notable people who have encountered this woodland spirit are said to include the artist JMW Turner, who visited the area when he was a boy, and playwright Dennis Potter, who was a Forest of Dean man.

All of which is nothing (yet) to do with London street names, although JMW Turner did spend his last days in Cheyne Walk, which featured in the most recent post on this blog and can be read here.

I did find the Suck Stone, which is more impressive than it looks in the photo, and is not the most famous stone in the area: that distinction goes to the Buck Stone, or Buckstone, so named because it used to rock back and forth on its base. When Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton visited the nearby Welsh town of Monmouth, it was painted white in their honour.

For a London street name connection, there is an earlier post on Pall Mall, which features Lady Hamilton in her younger and more daring days, and you can read that here.

In 1885, a part of travelling actors who had partaken too much of fine wines in Monmouth and managed to dislodge the stone. It crashed downhill and split into several pieces. It was hauled back up the hill and cemented in place to prevent further vandalism, so it no longer rocks.

Snow Hill is the site of another example of drunken mischief from earlier centuries, and you can read more about that here. 

Before we leave today’s multi-region post, the village of Staunton takes its name in part from an Old English word stane, meaning stone, so I thought it only right to point out that Stoney Street in Southwark takes its name from the fact that, unusually for its time, it was paved with stone rather than having a surface comprised mainly of mud. Stones End Street, also in Southwark was so named, presumably, because that’s where the stone paving ended. 

Stonecutter Street off Farringdon Street, however, takes its name from the fact that cargoes of stone were brought to this point along the once-navigable Fleet River. Stonecutters would then have been centred in the area.

There is a Stonefield Street in Islington, named because, well, it was a stony field. 

(As I may have mentioned once or twice before, in September I am taking part in the Wye Valley Mighty Hike: a 26-mile hike along the River Wye, with a few hills here and there. That means I may be blogging a bit less and throwing in more of the occasional post about walk landmarks, but I will try to be less neglectful than of late.)

Haymarket: coal tokens, theatres, and censorship

Haymarket cropHaymarket is one of those singleton, or one-word, street names, like Cheapside, Houndsditch, Piccadilly, Strand, and many others. And – yay! – the name is what it says. From Elizabethan times there was a market for hay on the site, and in 1697 the street was paved, each cartload of hay contributing to the expense.

However, there were merchants other than those dealing in hay: one of the earliest tradesmen in the Haymarket appears to have been a vendor of sea-coal. A token used by him is in the Museum of London; on one side it says: “Nathaniel Robins, at the Seacoale seller, 1666” and on the other, “Hay Markett, in Piccadilla, his half-penny”.

In 1708 Haymarket was described as “a very spacious and public street, in length 340 yards, where is a great market for hay and straw”. In 1720 an enterprising carpenter named John Potter built a small playhouse in the Haymarket. The small playhouse was later called the Hay Market and then the Little Theatre in the Hay. It is now the Theatre Royal Haymarket, the UK’s third oldest playhouse still in use.

According to London historian Edward Walford, “The cost of the building was £1,000, and Potter further expended £500 in decorations, scenery, and dresses. He leased the theatre, immediately after its completion, to a company of French actors, who were at that time much favoured by the English aristocracy.”

In 1729 Henry Fielding started what might today be called a string of hits in the theatre, starting with a burlesque and ending with a political satire that so enraged the prime minister, Robert Walpole, that he introduced what became unprecedented censorship powers that effectively closed the theatre for several years.

In 1807 Haymarket was described as “an excellent street, 1,020 feet in length, of considerable breadth, and remarkably dry, occasioned by the descent from Piccadilly”.

A few years later, the Prince Regent, later King George IV, thought that London was looking tired and old and he instructed John Nash to enhance the appearance of the city. One enhancement included the Little Theatre in the Hay and the Theatre Royal Haymarket opened in 1821 with a production of Sheridan’s ‘The Rivals’.

Marylebone and the church by the stream

Following on from Monday’s post about Grotto Passage in Marylebone, and with a diversion for St Patrick’s Day, let’s go back to Marylebone and its name.

Marylebone takes its name from St Mary’s, an old local parish church of the area, which replaced the original church of St John of Tyburn. In the 14th century, violent criminals haunted parts of Marylebone and the local parishioners at the church became so distressed at the fact that their little church was continually broken into, robbed,and vandalized, that they petitioned the Bishop of London, Robert de Braybroke, to let them move their church to a safer area.

The new church of St Mary’s, less than a mile away from the old site, and located near the Tyburn river (from teoburna, or boundary stream), was known as St Mary by the bourne, or St Mary-le-Bourne, which eventually became Marylebone.

The original church no longer exists but there is a ‘Garden of Peace’ on its site, with plaques commemorating many famous resident of, and visitors to, the area. Among these was Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley, who founded the modern Methodist church; there is a monument erected there to mark the site of his original gravestone.

George Stubbs, the 17th-century artists known for his paintings of horses, and Edmond Hoyle, card expert and author of books on card games – hence the expression ‘according to Hoyle’ – were both buried in the old churchyard. Others mentioned on a plaque are Sir Edmund Douce (Cupbearer to 2 Queens) and James Figg (Pugilist).

From funerals to weddings and baptisms: Lord Byron was baptized there, and Lord Nelson, who worshipped in the church, had his only child – daughter Horatia – baptized there.

William Hogarth portrayed the interior of the church in the marriage scene from his famous series ‘A Rake’s Progress’ and the old church also saw the weddings of Francis Bacon, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and Elizabeth Barrett, who lived in nearby Wimpole Street with her family from 1838 until she eloped with fellow poet Robert Browning.

Austin Friars, Thomas Cromwell, and a botched execution

Drapers plaque websiteNow that we’re in the middle of ‘Wolf Hall’, the BBC’s dramatization of Hilary Mantel’s superb novels about Thomas Cromwell, it seems a good time to revisit Austin Friars, where Cromwell lived.

Austin Friars is one of several London streets whose names fall into the ‘doubling up’ category. Like streets such as Piccadilly, Strand, Haymarket, Cheapside, and many others, they don’t have street, lane, road, or anything like that in their name. A few other examples are London Wall (not too difficult to figure out), Bevis Marks, Petty France, Shad Thames, and The Baulk.

Austin Friars 2 cropAustin Friars takes its name from a dissolved Augustinian friary established in the 13th century and dissolved in 1538. In addition to the priory buildings, some of the land belonging to the friars was used for buildings rented out to people such as Cromwell. Cromwell continued to extend his estate by obtaining more of the friary land and building one of the largest private mansions in the city.

Throgmorton pillarIt wasn’t just friary land that Cromwell acquired, according to London historian John Stow, whose father had a house in Throgmorton Street. When Cromwell decided to extend his nearby garden, he just moved Stow senior’s house. As Stow junior puts it: “this house they loosed from the ground, and bare upon rollers into my father’s garden twenty-two feet, ere my father heard thereof; no warning was given him”.

When Cromwell was executed following his fall from Henry VIII’s favour, his estate was seized and sold off. His execution was a fine example of the punishment not necessarily fitting the crime. The decapitation was seriously botched and, according to a contemporary chronicler, Cromwell “paciently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged Boocherly miser whiche very ungoodly perfourmed the Office”.

Drapers Hall Plaque copy
Coat of arms of the Drapers Company

The Drapers Company, which is one of the twelve great livery companies of London, bought his mansion from Henry VIII for the sum of about £1,200. The house then became Draper’s Hall, which is at one end of Throgmorton Avenue – a private road that runs from Throgmorton Street to London Wall. The Hall, which was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, was rebuilt but was again severely damaged by fire in 1772.

Jane Austen, Oliver Cromwell, and a notorious pickpocket

16 December in London’s history: Jane Austen was born on this day in 1775. One of the most widely-read authors in English history, Austen spent her early life in Hampshire, moving to Bath and later Southampton with her family.

Austen did, however, visit London on occasion to visit her brother Henry, who was also her literary agent. One of the places she would have stayed was Henry’s residence in Hans Place, Knightsbridge. Hans Place was named after Hans Sloane, who founded the British Museum and also brought cocoa to England.

Also on this day in London’s history, Oliver Cromwell was appointed as appointed as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. There are many London associations with Cromwell, including Whitehall and Long Acre, where he lived; Cripplegate, where he was married; Tyburn, where his body underwent a mock execution on the 12th anniversary of the beheading of Charles I; and Red Lion Square, where his remains were reputed have been interred briefly before that mock execution.

Other Cromwell connections include Horseferry Road, where he is supposed to have taken the ferry; and Fleet Street, where the pickpocket Moll Cutpurse targeted Cromwell supporters.

Pageantmasters, Lord Mayors, and quills

EAS_4010Following on from a Twitter snippet provided by @CityandLivery today, let’s take a quick look at Pageantmaster Court. That, happily, takes its name from a Pageantmaster, currently Dominic Reid, and its connection to the Lord Mayor’s Show.

The Lord Mayor’s Show – the largest unrehearsed procession in the world – takes place this year on 8 November, the day after the new Lord Mayor takes up office. The tradition dates back to 1215 when King John allowed the Mayor of London to become one of the first elected offices in the modern world.

A condition of this was that every year the newly-elected Mayor should present himself at court and swear loyalty to the Crown. This duty became a more and more grand affair and, by the 16th century, was known worldwide as the Lord Mayor’s Show. London’s most famous diarist, Samuel Pepys, regularly recorded the event in his diaries, starting in 1660.

Key to the show is the Pageantmaster, who organizes the procession, inspects the route, and ensures that all runs smoothly and to time on the day. The importance of this role is reflected in Pageantmaster Court, a 20th-century name for a court that runs off Ludgate Hill. Every year the Pageantmaster processes past Pageantmaster Court during The Lord Mayor’s Show.

Quill
The quill in question

Incidentally, another duty of the Lord Mayor is to officiate at the Changing of the Quill ceremony, part of the John Stow Memorial Service at St Andrew Undershaft Church in St Mary Axe. This year’s event was presided over by the incumbent Lord Mayor, Fiona Woolf, who is only the second woman to have held the post.