More of London’s livery companies and street names

EAS_4079Once again, I have to ask where I would be without my readers, for constructive criticism, for positive feedback, for further ideas, and for additional information. BeetleyPete (who mentioned Comet Street in Deptford and Mercury Way, New Cross as space-related) thought myth and legend would be a good idea for a future post.

MattF provided the following regarding feline-related streets: “Cateaton street was mentioned by Dickens in The Pickwick Papers but it was replaced by Gresham Street in the 1880s. Its original name of Cattestrate (1271) meant simply a street frequented by cats although it’s not clear why the name changed via the intermediate forms Catteten Streete and Catton Street.” He also thought something on livery companies and their connections to London streets would be good.

Myth and legend is proving even more of a challenge than cats did, so that may have to go on hold for a while.

Regarding the livery companies, I have covered some of them in an earlier post, which touched on, among others, four of the twelve great companies: Drapers, Ironmongers, Mercers, and Merchant Taylors. In total, there are 110 companies (at least last time I checked), which is way too many for one post so let’s look at some of the other eight great companies.

The Grocers, second on the list, started in 1100 with the first record of the Ancient Guild of Pepperers; in 1373 they became the Company of Grossers and in 1376 the Company of Grocers of London. The first Grocers Hall was in Old Jewry, which gets its name from the fact that it was the centre of the former medieval Jewish ghetto, and was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

London bridge streetThere have been other halls, the fourth and most recent of which is located in Princes Street. That street, formed after the Great Fire, was named along with the also new at the time King Street and Queen Street.

Grocers and Drapers we have mentioned in the earlier post, so on to number four in order of precedence, which is the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. One of the most famous members of the company was Sir William Walworth, who stabbed Wat Tyler during the Peasants’ Revolt.

The company’s current hall, known as Fish Hall (the original was destroyed in the Great Fire), houses the dagger with which Walworth stabbed Tyler. It is located on London Bridge which was originally wood and became famous when it was sold to the Americans and transported to Arizona piece by piece.

Next we have the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, whose original hall stood in the ‘Goldsmithery’ or goldsmiths’ area of the City, was also destroyed in the Great Fire. The current hall stands on Foster Lane in the same area, making it the longest tenure of any livery Company. Foster Lane takes its name from a church dedicated to St Vedast; the name ‘Vedast’ became corrupted to ‘Foster’.

The Worshipful Company of Skinners alternates the position of six and seven with the Merchant Taylors, giving rise to the expression ‘at sixes and sevens’. Skinners’ Hall, which is Grade I listed, and a unique scheduled ancient monument, has been home to the Skinners’ Company for over 700 years.

Staining LaneThe hall is located in Dowgate Hill, which takes part of its name from one of the ancient water gates of London; the ‘dow’ appears to be shrouded in mystery. The ever-helpful John Stow said it was derived from Downe Gate because it suddenly descended to the river. Dowgate is also the name of a City of London ward.

The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers had a hall on the corner of Staining Lane and Gresham Street (formerly Maiden Lane) which was, like so many others, destroyed in the Great Fire. The current hall stands in West Smithfield (named to differentiate it from East Smithfield). Smithfield itself was once ‘smooth field’ where jousting tournaments were held and, incidentally, was where Walworth stabbed Wat Tyler.

The Worshipful Company of Salters started off in Bread Street, which was once the home of many salt traders; their hall is now in Fore Street. This street gets its name from the fact that it was built outside (before) the London city walls.

Bread StThe Worshipful Company of Vintners has a hall in Upper Thames Street and has done so since the 15th century. The piece of land on which Vintners’ Hall stands was bequeathed to the Vintners’ Company in the will of Guy Shuldham, citizen and Vintner of London, dated 7 November 1446. Upper Thames Street (and Lower Thames Street) formed what was the longest of the medieval City roads. The street was probably once the bank of the river Thames; buildings would have moved it away from the river’s edge.

Although mentioned in Pepys’s diary, Thames Street was first mentioned in 1013 when the Custom-house was founded on the street. During the reign of King Henry VIII, the street contained the London residences of many courtiers, including that of William Compton, where Henry VIII allegedly met his mistresses. (Or so says Wikipedia.)

Last in the Great Twelve, there is the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers, formed by an amalgamation of the Fullers and the Shearmen. It was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1528, and has its hall in in Dunster Court, between Mincing Lane and Mark Lane.

Mincing Lane cropMincing Lane we’ve covered a few times: it was originally from Mincheon Lane, from the Old English feminine of ‘monk’, and the name dates back to the 12th century.

Mark Lane was once either Mart Lane or Marthe Lane, depending on your source. If Mart, then the theory is that it was part of the area where, in the 15th century, basketmakers were allowed to ‘mart’, or sell, their wares. The other theory is that it was once owned by a lady called Martha.

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London’s livery companies and street names

Throgmorton pillarYesterday’s post touched on the Drapers Company, so I think it’s time to start taking a look at the City of London livery companies, inextricably linked into London’s history and to many of its famous streets (or unusual street names). They are also linked to a common expression – ‘at sixes and sevens’ – and a curious pub name, both of which are explained later in this post.

The Drapers Company has a hall at one end of Throgmorton Avenue; at the other end is the hall of the Carpenters Company. (To give them their proper names, they are the Worshipful Company of Drapers (number 12 in order of precedence, and we’ll get to that shortly) and the Worshipful Company of Carpenters (number 26).

Livery companies can be seen as early trade associations, incorporated under Royal Charter, with some of them dating back to medieval times. In 1515 an order of precedence was set, with the top 12 still referred to as the Twelve Great Livery Companies. Between 1746 and 1926 no new companies were created; those post-1926 are considered the modern livery companies.

The livery companies were powerful bodies in their time, regulating their respective trades and the practitioners of that trade. Interestingly, the original companies would seem to indicate the importance of textiles in medieval times: of the great twelve companies (see table below), five are textile related in some way; number 13 in order of precedence is the Worshipful Company of Dyers, and there is also a Worshipful Company of Weavers. The twelve great companies are:

  1. Worshipful Company of Mercers
  2. Worshipful Company of Grocers
  3. Worshipful Company of Drapers
  4. Worshipful Company of Fishmongers
  5. Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths
  6. Worshipful Company of Skinners/Merchant Taylors
  7. Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors/Skinners
  8. Worshipful Company of Haberdashers
  9. Worshipful Company of Salters
  10. Worshipful Company of Ironmongers
  11. Worshipful Company of Vintners
  12. Worshipful Company of Clothworkers

The Skinner and Taylors have no fixed order of precedence; instead they swap annually between sixth and seventh. This comes about because of a long-standing dispute about which was granted a charter first; both received charters in 1327 but there is with no proof as to which was earlier. The dispute, apparently, eventually reached bloodshed and was taken to the Lord Mayor of London. He decreed that the respective Masters should be entertained to dinner by each other’s company annually and that each company should alternate the ranks of sixth and seventh from year to year.

This is often said to have originated the expression ‘at sixes and sevens’, (though some sources say it is more likely to have come from dicing).

So that’s the potted history of livery companies; now here are some connections, however tenuous, between the livery companies and some of the street names that have adorned this blog.

Garlick Hill cropGarlick Hill, where the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers’ Company is based. The company is ranked fifteenth in the order of precedence and was founded by royal charter in 1444 with authority to control the sale of leather within the City.

Mincing Lane cropMincing Lane, where the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers make their home in the Clothworkers’ Hall (their own hall was destroyed in the Blitz). The company, which was granted a Royal Charter in 1439, is one of the oldest, dating back to at least 1272. Cordwainers make “fine soft leather shoes and other luxury footwear articles”. The name comes from the soft leather, or cordwain, that its members used; this originated from Cordoba in Spain. And, yes, Jimmy Choo is a member of the Cordwainers.

EAS_3880Elephant and Castle, where theories about its name include the emblem of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers (number 18 on the list). The Cutlers are now based in Warwick Street but their original hall (destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666) was in what is now Cloak Lane.

EAS_4136St Mary Axe, where the the John Stow Memorial Service is held in the church of St Andrew Undershaft. Stow was a member of the Worshipful Company of Merchant Taylors and that august body organizes the biannual service, which includes the ceremonial changing of the quill.

Threadneedle Street, which takes its name from the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, and where the Merchant Taylors once had their hall.

The Swan with Two Necks (ok, cheating; it’s a pub name, rather than a street name, but so what? it’s a great name), which takes its name from the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the practice of swan upping. The Vintners, along with the Dyers and the ruling monarch, are the only people or bodies allowed to own swans on the Thames.

Pudding LanePudding Lane, home to the first great hall of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries (not a typo, it is the Society and not the Company). The hall, like so many other halls and London landmarks, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and was later rebuilt in Blackfriars Lane. The Apothecaries also have a connection with the British Museum and the Chelsea Physic Garden, which has an entrance in Swan Walk and therefore a connection with the famous Doggett Coat and Badge race, which is organized by the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers.

Petticoat Lane viewWeaver Street and Petticoat Lane, with connections to The Worshipful Company of Weavers, which, while it is number 42 in precedence, received its charter in 1155, making it the oldest recorded City Livery Company.

And last, at least for now, Ironmonger Lane, with connections to the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers (which has its hall in Aldersgate StreetAldersgate Street) and The Worshipful Company of Mercers, which has its hall in the lane. The first Mercers’ Hall was off Cheapside but was – you guessed it – destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.

More on livery companies in the next (or at least a future) post.