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.

From Fashion to Threadneedle: London street names and the Great British Sewing Bee 

It seemed only logical that, having written a post on baking-related themes for the final of the Great British Bakeoff last October, the recent final of the Great British Sewing Bee should also prompt me to find street names related to sewing and fashion. (First, I should apologise for the hiatus in posting. I apologise.)

The most obvious is Fashion Street in Spitalfields and I have to go off on a slight tangent here: I was excited, in double-checking something for this post on Wikipedia, to discover that one of my posts is cited as a reference for Flower and Dean Street. But I digress.

Fashion Street is nothing to do with clothes or sewing: it was so named when it was built in the 1650s; the land upon which it stands belonged to the Fasson brothers – Thomas and Lewis, skinner and goldsmith respectively. By 1708 Fasson Street had been corrupted to Fashion Street. They also owned the land upon which stood Flower and Dean Street, where two of Jack the Ripper’s victims lived, and that street was named for bricklayers John Flower and Gowen Dean. 

For a long time Fashion Street – and, indeed, the whole area – was a dirty and dangerous place to live. Jack London lived in Flower and Dean Street in 1902-3 and wrote a book, The People of the Abyss, about the state of life in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields areas of London.

Another obvious sewing street name is Threadneedle Street, home of the Bank of England. The Bank of England. The derivation of the name is not as straightforward as might first appear. Thread and needle certainly make contextual sense, but the street was originally Three Needle Street and was known as such for a long time.

The name is likely to derive from the arms of the The Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, whose coat of arms includes three needles, but the sewing connections don’t end there. The Merchant Taylors, who began life as the Company of Tailors and Linen-Armourers, have had their hall here since 1347, and once owned almshouses in Threadneedle Street for its aged members.

Petticoat Lane belongs to this category, even though it is no longer called that; the lane was covered in a recent post about names that aren’t what they seem, and you can read that here. This name could derive from the fact that secondhand clothes dealers established this as the centre of London’s used clothes district, or from the English form of the French petit court, a “little short lane”.

There is Cloak Lane, which is one of those nice-sounding but icky names, like Maiden Lane, which takes its name from ‘midden’ or dung heap. Cloak in this instance is likely to derive from the Latin cloaca, or sewer. The lane was once called Horseshoe Bridge and led over the Walbrook; there was probably a sewer draining into the brook at that point.

If you prefer a more romantic story, then let’s look to the recently-posted tale of Bleeding Heart Yard, which you can read here. As Saint Nick was carrying off the beautiful gypsy maid who had sold her soul to him, her heart fell in Bleeding Heart Yard, her cloak in Cloak Lane, and one of her shoes in Shoe Lane.

Some might argue that shoes fit in the fashion category, but I am sticking with the clothing and sewing side of fashion and we can look at shoes another time.

Cloth Fair takes name from Bartholomew Fair; this three-day event was held in the Smithfield area from the 12th century to the 19th century. The fair was, early on, essentially a trade fair for the woollen and drapery industries, with Italian and Flemish cloth merchants, and money charged on tolls for goods was a source of income for the priory of St Bartholomew. The nearby Cloth Court and Cloth Street also took their name from the fair.

Bartholomew Fair gradually attracted more and more people, and soon the speciality of cloth was virtually overlooked. Ben Jonson, who immortalised it in the comic play Bartholomew Fair, first staged on 31 October 1614.

Clothier Street in Houndsditch, which was known previously as Crab Court and Carter Street, has a connection to the clothing industry that goes back to Elizabethan times when it was famous as a gathering area for “sellers of old apparel”. An official Clothes Exchange was established there in 1875 and the current name was assigned in 1906.

There isn’t a City of London worshipful company of clothiers, but there is Worshipful Company of Clothiers in Worcester.

In 2008 Prince Charles visited the city of Worcester and paid £453.15 to the Company, thus settling a Royal debt dating back to 1651. Prior to the Battle of Worcester that year, Charles II commissioned the Company to make uniforms for his troops, promising to pay after winning the battle. However, Cromwell won and Charles II fled to Europe, leaving a debt of £453.3s which he did not settle after he acceded to the throne. That is what you call serious welshing on a deal. (And before any Welsh readers complain about me feeding into negative stereotypes, don’t forget I supported Wales in the Six Nations.)

Haberdasher Street in Shoreditch takes its name from a bequest by Robert Aske, silk merchant and member of the Haberdashers’ Company. He left land and money to the Company; it was used to establish a school in 1690. The Haberdashers’ Company maintains a strong tradition of supporting schools.

Silk merchant takes us onto Silk Street, which was built either in 1799 or 1879 and takes its name from silk weaving in 17th-century London, which was carried on largely by French refugees who settled in the Spitalfields area. By the 19th century they had been joined by their English counterparts from the north, who set up silk factories. Many of them lived in this street, which was finally named in recognition of that fact. (Since there’s always one in every crowd, the theory has also been put forward that the name may have come from a builder.)

From Bleeding Heart Yard to Snow Hill: London streets in The Ingoldsby Legends

I keep promising to look at myth and legend in London street names; that’s still on the cards, but let’s start with The Ingoldsby Legends, a 19th-century collection of myths, legends, ghost stories and poetry written (and invented) for the purposes of satirizing topics of the time. One of these ‘legends’ was ‘The House Warming!! A legend of Bleeding Heart Yard’ and purports to explain the name of this little courtyard.

The story centres around the beautiful wife of Sir Christopher Hatton, who was a real person and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I (though he never married). Alice Fanshawe had sold her soul to the devil in order to advance herself and her husband, with the result that the queen confiscated the place of the Bishop of Ely to give to the couple – hence the housewarming party.

While the festivities were going on, the devil, who had become lazy, realized that Alice’s account was long overdue, and he hastened to the party, where he bounds in and capers around, knocking over furniture and scattering the food and drink. He grasps Alice’s hand (which caused her arm to shrivel), and leads her in a frantic dance that ends with them performing a grand pirouette from which they never return.

The following morning, the house is in ruins, there is a hole the shape of a hoof in the roof (that sounds like something out of Dr Seuss), and there is no sign, then or ever, of poor Lady Hatton.

“But out in the court-yard – and just in that part
Where the pump stands – lay bleeding a LARGE HUMAN HEART!”

There were also traces of blood and brains on the pump, as though a head had been smashed against it. The pump was replaced, yet on some moonlit nights a ‘Lady in White’ could be seen pumping endlessly and fruitlessly.

“And hence many passengers now are debarr’d
From proceeding at nightfall through Bleeding Heart Yard!”

Apart from telling us how the yard got its name, Ingoldsby mentions various other streets, all of which deserve some mention as part of our legend theme.

Ely Place, once a seat of the Bishop of Ely, was indeed occupied by Sir Christopher Hatton, and was famous for its gardens, which produced a fine crop of strawberries. Shakespeare makes reference to this in Richard III, when Richard says, “My lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn,I saw good strawberries in your garden there.”

When guests are arriving at (and fleeing from) the Hattons’ housewarming party, the streets along which they travel are listed: the Strand, Chancery Lane, Shoe Lane, Cheapside, St Mary-le-Bow, Fewtar’s (corrupted to Fetter) Lane, Bishopsgate Street, Dowgate Hill, Budge Row, Snore Hille (which we have since whitewashed to Snow), Holborn Hill, Fleet Ditch, Harp Alley, and Gray’s Inn.

Let’s look at them all in order, starting with the Strand. This name is of Saxon origin, meaning ‘water’s edge” and is mentioned by name in the Saxon Chronicle; apparently it is recorded that this is where Earl Godwin and his son Harold drew up their land forces in the insurrection that they headed against Edward the Confessor in 1052.

Chancery Lane takes its name either from the fact that a building in the lane was used to store the Rolls of Chancery, the Chancellors’ official documents. The present name came into use during the reign of Elizabeth I and could also have been an abbreviation of Chancellors Lane. Another theory is that the name comes from ‘cancelli’ – lattice screen – which once divided the court of Chancery from the court of Common Pleas when they shared the Law Courts in Westminster.

There is an early reference to Shoe Lane 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.

Cheapside comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ceap’, to buy or barter. West Cheap, as it was known, to distinguish it from Eastcheap, was one of the busiest thoroughfares in London and the city’s main food market. The medieval grocery shopper would have gone there for staples such as Bread, Milk, Honey, and Fish, and the streets that lead off Cheapside were named for their specialities. 

St Mary-le-Bow is the church in Bow Lane, destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt by Christopher Wren. Traditionally someone is only a Cockney if they are born within the sound of the church’s bells. The name of Bow Lane has nothing to do with its shape: the church was originally called St Mary de Arcubus from the arches, which are shaped like bows, upon which it was built.

The church of St-Mary-le-Bow

Fetter Lane we looked at not long ago, but at the risk of boring with repetition, here are some of the possible derivations of the name. The lane was once a spot where people in various stages of inebriation would congregate, passing on cheery greetings and advice to passersby. As Stow puts it, the lane was “so called of Fewters (or idle people) lying there, as in a way leading to gardens, but the same is now of latter years on both sides built through with many fair houses”.

There is also the theory that the name could have come from the ‘faitours’ – fortune tellers who were prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times. The name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters) because of the armorers whose workshops were located there. One final theory is that the name derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane.

Bishopsgate was one of the seven main London gates and the street is one of the longest in the City of London. The gate itself was named for Bishop Erkenwald, who became Bishop of London in 675.

Dowgate Hill (or Downgate) may have derived from the fact that the River Walbrook, once a main water supply for the City of London, flowed down the hill and through a gate into the Thames. The lovely Mr Habben, however, eschews this theory and states that, “it is an inscrutable corruption of, or deviation from, the original name, which it would now be difficult and inconclusive to conjecture, though Dock-Gate is tempting.” Sir Francis Drake lived in Dowgate Hill. 

Budge Row, which no longer exists, was the centre of dealers of ‘budges’, or fine lambskin fur, used for the edging of scholastic gowns. Apparently the word ‘budget’ comes from a bag made from lambskin, which may have been used to hold revenue, and transferred its meaning to the contents.

Snow Hill we covered in a recent seasonal post, which you can read here but, as the legend says, it was once called Snore Hylle and could have come from a Scandinavian trader called Snorro, or from the Celtic word ‘suadh’, a brook.

Holborn Hill comes from ‘Hol-Burne, the part of the old River Fleet that flowed under what is now Holborn Viaduct – the ‘burne’, or river, in the hollow. Fleet Ditch, similarly, took its name from the River Fleet; fleet comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning a tidal inlet.

Harp Alley takes its name from a 17th-century inn that once stood here. It is now a court off Farringdon Street. 

Finally, Gray’s Inn, which takes its name from the town house of Lord Gray of Wilton, which was leased to lawyers in the 16th century. Inn once meant a large house and was used for the grand residences of the nobility.

From parliament to idlers in London’s street names

Praisegod Barebone

Bring back names for parliament, I say. I’m not going to use this blog for political comment, but I thought I would keep it topical today and I did what I usually do: refer to my notes to see what London streets have to offer me on topical items. (Bear with me, street names do feature here eventually.)

Between my notes and Wikipedia, I have come up with the fact that there were 25 parliaments between 1604 and 1690. There are some wonderful names in the list, including the Blessed Parliament, the Happy Parliament, the Useless Parliament, the Rump Parliament, and the Barebones Parliament (also known as the Little, or Nominated, Parliament).

The Rump Parliament was set up following the Civil War when the New Model Army wanted to prevent a treaty to reinstate Charles I. In December of 1648 the army prevented 231 known supporters of the treaty from entering the House, and imprisoned 45 for a short time. The remaining free members then became the Rump Parliament.

However, the Rump Members soon showed that their main concern was to create legislation that would ensure the survival of Parliament. Oliver Cromwell lost patience after learning that Members was attempting to stay in session despite an agreement to dissolve the Parliament. He attended a sitting and lambasted the Rump Members, with a speech often quoted as: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

Fetter Lane.jpgThe Barebones Parliament was then convened with ‘godly’ men chosen by Cromwell. The name came from one of the members, a godly by name and godly by nature man called Praisegod Barebone, a fierce anti-royalist and supporter of Cromwell. Pamphlets of strong opinion and language usually flew around from and in answer to Barebone. He certainly incurred the disapproval of the local lads: Pepys, in his diary, makes more than one mention of the fact that “the boys had last night broke Barebone’s window”.

And here is where London streets come into it (“Finally!” I hear you cry.): Praisegod Barebones once lived in Fetter Lane, the name of which has many possible sources, including the words faiter, faitour, faytor, felter, and fewter.

The lane was a spot where people in various stages of inebriation would congregate, passing on cheery greetings and advice to passersby. As Stow puts it, the lane was “so called of Fewters (or idle people) lying there, as in a way leading to gardens, but the same is now of latter years on both sides built through with many fair houses”.

The Old French word ‘faitor’ meant a lawyer, and by the 14th century the reputation of that august profession had fallen so far into disrepute that the word was synonymous with idlers. There is also the theory that the name could have come from the ‘faitours’ – fortune tellers who were prevalent in medieval and Elizabeth times.

Shoe Lane.jpgOther theories include the idea that the name may have come from the lance vests worn on cuirasses (also known as fetters): many armourers had workshops in the area. One final theory is that the name derived from ‘felter’ – makers of felt also carried on their business in the lane.

Barebones also lived in Shoe Lane, the name of which also has many interesting theories. 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.