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.

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.

Weird and wonderful street names of London

Yesterday I read a great blog post  by Fun London Tours about the City of London’s 10 most unusual street names. Nearly all of them have been included in this blog, or lined up to be so at some point,  so I thought today I would provide a companion piece by way of some more detail on some of the streets mentioned.

EAS_4029Knightrider Street: This street featured in this blog when I was writing about some of the streets I would be going through or near when I took part in the MoonWalk London 2014. The obvious explanation is that it is from knights riding to riding from the Tower Royal to jousting tournaments at Smithfield but there is more to it than that, with some spoilsports arguing that knightrider is not a word.  (And, Fun London Tours blog points out, “David Hasselhoff has his own little shrine in the adjacent Centrepage pub!”)

Friday StFriday Street: It may have taken its name from Frigdaeges, an Old English name, but most people plump for John Stow’s theory that it was “so called of fishmongers dwelling there and serving Friday’s market”. There was a time in Catholic England when eating meat on Friday was forbidden and, at least one meat eater was executed for that crime. Friday is, it seems, the only day of the week represented in London street names.

French Ordinary Court cropFrench Ordinary Court: Leading off another street unusual name (Crutched Friars), this small street was given its name because in the 17th century the Huguenots were allowed by the French Ambassador, who had his residence in Crutched Friars, to sell coffee and pastries. They also served fixed price meals; in those days such a meal was called an ‘ordinary’.

cock laneLove Lane: There’s no better way of putting it than to quote the inimitabel John Stow, who said bluntly that it was “so called of wantons”. Love, but with a price tag. There are many streets with names that have bawdy and that category could include Cock Lane, as Fun London Tours naughtily suggests.

Cock Lane could take its name from the fact that the only place where the City’s prostitutes could live; it may also have a less lewd (though bloody) explanation for its name. Cock Lane was, perhaps, most famous for its ghost.
Wardrobe Terrace crop

Wardrobe Place: Amazingly, what it seems: in 1359 a house belonging to Sir John Beauchamp was purchased by Edward II and became the storeroom for the royal clothing. The house was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but the name lives on. The area was mentioned in Shakespeare’s will, when he bequeathed land near the Wardrobe to his daughter.

Cripplegate Street: This takes its name from one of London’s Roman city gates, supposedly thus named because when Edmund the Martyr’s body was brought through the gate in 1010, some cripples were miraculously cured. This theory has its detractors, who claim that the name comes from ‘crepul’ – a tunnel or covered way, which was constructed for the sentries there.

Mincing Lane cropMincing Lane: This Lane, with connections to Jimmy Choo and Cruella de Ville, takes its name from nothing to do with funny walks. 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.”

EAS_4136St Mary Axe: This name involves an axe and a Saint Mary, and takes its name from the church of the same name, later combined with St Thomas Undershaft. Supposedly Maurius, father of King Cole – gave his daughter Ursula permission to travel to Germany with 11,000 virgins who were subsequently slain by an enraged Attila and his Huns.

EAS_4139With all due respect to the blog that inspired this particular post, it is hard to talk about St Mary Axe without mentioning another weird and wonderful City of London street name: Undershaft.

Crutched FriarsCrutched Friars: A relatively new name (the street was once called, less interestingly, Hart Street), it derives its current name from a holy order, the Crossed Friars, an Augustinian order who wore habits that were blue with, usually, a red cross on the back.

Hanging Sword Alley: This name can be traced back as early as 1564, when a large Tudor house was known by the sign of the Hanging Sword. The area was popular with fencing masters and the sign may have referred to this occupation. The alley was also known at one time by the sinister name of Blood Bowl Alley, after a 14th century inn, depicted in Plate 9 of Hogarth’s ‘Industry and Idleness’ series.

EAS_3921Of course, if we’re looking at gory street names in the City of London, a particular favourite is Bleeding Heart Yard.

Nuns, clothworkers, and Cruella De Vil

Mincing Lane cropMincing 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.

Clothworkers entrance hall
The entrance to the Clothworkers Company hal

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.

Minster Court
Minster Court; the three horses in the entrance are nicknamed Dollar, Sterling, and Yen (Photo: Mike Quinn)