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.

Carting, Mincing, and Staining Lanes: London’s verb streets

But first, a random fact for today. (I love learning random snippets of information and in the assumption that my readers are of similar mind, I will start to share some of them, mostly nothing to do with London street names.)

I’ve had occasion to mention Hereford before in this blog, as being one of the cities that lays claim to being the birthplace of Nell Gwynn. Well, I learned recently that Frank Oz was born there. Yes, that Frank Oz: voice of Miss Piggy, Grover, and Yoda, among others; corrections officer in Blues Brothers, and booking cop in Trading Places; and director of a number of movies including Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and In & Out.

EAS_3844
A replica of the Webb lamp still stands in Carting Lane.

Back to London street names, starting with Carting Lane.

This is one of those streets where residents said it like it was and in the mid 19th century the name was changed in deference to the residents’ sensibilities. This lane off the Strand and near to the Savoy Hotel was once Dirty Lane. The new name may reflect the traffic of carts bringing goods to and from the wharfs at the end of the lane.

But of more interest and entertainment than the derivation of the new name is the reason for the lane’s erstwhile nickname.

Towards the end of the 19th century a Mr JE Webb patented an invention that was destined to shake the world. His sewer gas destructor lamp, which was designed both to reduce the hazards (and odour) of explosive methane gas that built up in sewers, and also to cast light on the streets of England’s cities.

With a flame generated by burning the normal gaslight gas, sewer gases were drawn up and burnt off along with the regular gas to produce less unstable (and less smelly) carbon dioxide and water vapour. The invention was hailed as a brilliant innovation, and Webb soon sold thousands of lamps worldwide. One of his masterpieces even stood in Carting Lane, next to the nearby Savoy, and cast its light on the rich and famous guests of the day (whose waste also helped to power it).

The lamp, not unnaturally, also gave rise to the nickname of ‘Farting Lane’.

Mincing Lane cropMincing Lane, whatever pictures the name may conjure up, is nothing to do with an odd way of walking or of meat grinding.

John Stow tells us (and this seems to be generally accepted) that it was once “Mincheon lane, so called of tenements there sometime pertaining to the Minchuns or nuns of St Helens in Bishopsgate.” The word derives from the Old English feminine of ‘monk’, and the name dates back to the 12th century.

The 17th-century speculator Nicholas Barbon, who has connections to Red Lion Square, and 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.

Staining LaneStaining Lane was called Staningelane in the 12th century; this is from the Old English ‘Staeninga haga’. The ‘Staeninga’ part refers to people of Staines but the ‘haga’ is viewed variously by different people as an enclosure, a town house, or a part of the city under a different jurisdiction.

John Stow’s theory, however, and one which no-one else seems to buy into, is that the lane was named for the ‘painter stainers’ who lived there; a picture on canvas was at one time known as a stained cloth.

A church of St Mary Staining, said to be dedicated to the men of Staines, was lost in the Great Fire of 1666 and never rebuilt, though there is now a park on the site where the church stood.

Incidentally, Staines was once in Middlesex, which no longer exists as a county, and is now in Surrey. In 2012 the town changed its name to Staines-upon-Thames, apparently because of the town’s association with spoof rapper Ali G, created by Sacha Baron Cohen.

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)