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.