Cheapside: Southern tributaries

Old and New London: Volume 1. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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'Cheapside: Southern tributaries', in Old and New London: Volume 1, (London, 1878) pp. 346-353. British History Online [accessed 13 April 2024]

In this section



The King's Exchange—Friday Street and the Poet Chaucer—The Wednesday Club in Friday Street—William Paterson, Founder of the Bank of England—How Easy it is to Redeem the National Debt—St. Matthew's and St. Margaret Moses—Bread Street and the Bakers' Shops—St. Austin's, Watling Street—The Fraternity of St. Austin's—St. Mildred's, Bread Street—The Mitre Tavern—A Priestly Duel—Milton's Birth-place—The "Mermaid"—Sir Walter Raleigh and the Mermaid Club—Thomas Coryatt, the Traveller—Bow Lane—Queen Street—Soper's Lane—A Mercer Knight—St. Bennet Sherehog—Epitaphs in the Church of St. Thomas Apostle—A Charitable Merchant.

Old Change was formerly the old Exchange, so called from the King's Exchange, says Stow, there kept, which was for the receipt of bullion to be coined.

The King's Exchange was in Old Exchange, now Old 'Change, Cheapside. "It was here," says Tite, "that one of those ancient officers, known as the King's Exchanger, was placed, whose duty it was to attend to the supply of the mints with bullion, to distribute the new coinage, and to regulate the exchange of foreign coin. Of these officers there were anciently three—two in London, at the Tower and Old Exchange, and one in the city of Canterbury. Subsequently another was appointed, with an establishment in Lombard Street, the ancient rendezvous of the merchants; and it appears not improbable that Queen Elizabeth's intention was to have removed this functionary to what was pre-eminently designated by her 'The Royal Exchange,' and hence the reason for the change of the name of this edifice by Elizabeth."

"In the reign of Henry VII.," says Francis, in his "History of the Bank of England," "the Royal prerogative forbade English coins to be exported, and the Royal Exchange was alone entitled to give native money for foreign coin or bullion. During the reign of Henry VIII. the coin grew so debased as to be difficult to exchange, and the Goldsmiths quietly superseded the royal officer. In 1627 Charles I., ever on the watch for power, re-established the office, and in a pamphlet written by his orders, asserted that 'the prerogative had always been a flower of the Crown, and that the Goldsmiths had left off their proper trade and turned exchangers of plate and foreign coins for our English coins, although they had no right.' Charles entrusted the office of 'changer, exchanger, and ante-changer' to Henry Rich, first Earl of Holland, who soon deserted his cause for that of the Parliament. The office has not since been re-established."

No. 36, Old 'Change was formerly the "Three Morrice Dancers" public-house, with the three figures sculptured on a stone as the sign and an ornament (temp. James I.). The house was taken down about 1801. There is an etching of this very characteristic sign on stone. (Timbs.)

The celebrated poet and enthusiast, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, lived, in the reign of James I., in a "house among gardens, near the old Exchange." At the beginning of the last century, the place was chiefly inhabited by American merchants; at this time it is principally inhabited by calico printers and Manchester warehousemen.

"Friday Street was so called," says Stow, "of fishmongers dwelling there, and serving Friday's Market." In the roll of the Scrope and Grosvenor heraldic controversy (Edward III.) the poet Chaucer is recorded as giving the following evidence connected with this street:—

"Geffray Chaucere, Esqueer, of the age of forty years, and moreover armed twenty-seven years for the side of Sir Richard Lescrop, sworn and examined, being asked if the arms, azyure, a bend or, belonged or ought to pertain to the said Sir Richard by right and heritage, said, Yes; for he saw him so armed in Frannce, before the town of Petters, and Sir Henry Lescrop armed in the same arms with a white label and with banner; and the said Sir Richard armed in the entire arms azyure a bend or, and so during the whole expedition until the said Geaffray was taken. Being asked how he knew that the said arms belonged to the said Sir Richard, said that he had heard old knights and esquires say that they had had continual possession of the said arms; and that he had seen them displayed on banners, glass paintings, and vestments, and commonly called the arms of Scrope. Being asked whether he had ever heard of any interruption or challenge made by Sir Robert Grosvernor or his ancestors, said No; but that he was once in Friday Street, London, and walking up the street he observed a new sign hanging out with these arms thereon, and enquired what inn that was that had hung out these arms of Scrope? And one answered him, saying, 'They are not hung out, Sir, for the arms of Scrope, nor painted there for those arms, but they are painted and put there by a Knight of the county of Chester, called Sir Robert Grosvernor.' And that was the first time he ever heard speak of Sir Robert Grosvernor or his ancestors, or of any one bearing the name of Grosvernor." This is really almost the only authentic scrap we possess of the facts of Chaucer's life.

The "White Horse," a tavern in Friday Street, makes a conspicuous figure in the "Merry Conceited Jests of George Peele," the poet and playwriter of Elizabeth's reign.

At the Wednesday Club in Friday Street, William Paterson, the founder of the Bank of England, and originator of the unfortunate Darien scheme, held his real or imaginary Wednesday club meetings, in which were discussed proposals for the union of England and Scotland, and the redemption of the National Debt. This remarkable financier was born at Lochnabar, in Dumfriesshire, in 1648, and died in 1719. The following extracts from Paterson's probably imaginary conversations are of interest:—

"And thus," says Paterson, "supposing the people of Scotland to be in number one million, and that as matters now stand their industry yields them only about five pounds per annum per head, as reckoned one with another, or five millions yearly in the whole, at this rate these five millions will by the union not only be advanced to six, but put in a way of further improvement; and allowing £100,000 per annum were on this foot to be paid in additional taxes, yet there would still remain a yearly sum of about £900,000 towards subsisting the people more comfortably, and making provision against times of scarcity, and other accidents, to which, I understand, that country is very much exposed (1706)."

"And I remember complaints of this kind were very loud in the days of King Charles II.," said Mr. Brooks, "particularly that, though in his time the public taxes and impositions upon the people were doubled or trebled to what they formerly were, he nevertheless run at least a million in debt."

"If men were uneasy with public taxes and debts in the time of King Charles II.," said Mr. May, "because then doubled or trebled to what they had formerly been, how much more may they be so now, when taxed at least three times more, and the public debts increased from about one million, as you say they then were, to fifty millions or upwards? . . . . and yet France is in a way of being entirely out of debt in a year or two."

"At this rate," said Mr. May, "Great Britain may possibly be quite out of debt in four or five years, or less. But though it seems we have been at least as hasty in running into debt as those in France, yet would I by no means advise us to run so hastily out; slower measures will be juster, and consequently better and surer."

THE DOOR OF SADDLER'S HALL (see page 341).

Mr. Pitt's celebrated measure was based upon an opinion that money could be borrowed with advantage to pay the national debt. Paterson proposed to redeem it out of a surplus revenue, administered so skilfully as to lower the interest in the money market. The notion of borrowing to pay seems to have sprung up with Sir Nathaniel Gould, in 1725, when it was opposed.

St. Matthew's was situate on the west side of Friday Street. The patronage of it was in the Abbot and Convent of Westminster. This church, being destroyed by the Fire of London, in 1666, was handsomely rebuilt, and the parish of St. Peter, Cheap, thereunto added by Act of Parliament. The following epitaph (1583) was in this church:—
"Anthony Cage entombed here doth rest,
Whose wisdome still prevail'd the Commonweale;
A man with God's good gifts so greatly blest,
That few or none his doings may impale,
A man unto the widow and the poore,
A comfort, and a succour evermore.
Three wives he had of credit and of fame;
The first of them, Elizabeth that hight,
Who buried here, brought to this Cage, by name,
Seventeene young plants, to give his table light."

"At St. Margaret Moyses," says Stow, "was buried Mr. Buss (or Briss), a Skinner, one of the masters of the hospital. There attènded all the masters of the hospital, with green staves in their hands, and all the Company in their liveries, with twenty clerks singing before. The sermon was preached by Mr. Jewel, afterwards Bishop of Salisbury; and therein he plainly affirmed there was no purgatory. Thence the Company retired to his house to dinner. This burial was an. 1559, Jan. 30.


The following epitaph (1569) is worth preserving:—
"Beati mortui qui in Domino moriuntur."—Apoc. 14.
"To William Dane, that sometime was
An ironmonger; where each degree
He worthily (with praise) did passe.
By Wisdom, Truth, and Heed, was he
Advanc'd an Alderman to be;
Then Sheriffe; that he, with justice prest,
And cost, performed with the best.
In almes frank, of conscience cleare;
In grace with prince, to people glad;
His vertuous wife, his faithful peere,
Margaret, this monument hath made;
Meaning (through God) that as shee had
With him (in house) long lived well;
Even so in Tombes Blisse to dwell."

"Bread Street," says Stow, "is so called of bread there in old times then sold; for it appeareth by records, that in the year 1302, which was the 30th of Edward I., the bakers of London were bound to sell no bread in their shops or houses, but in the market here; and that they should have four hall motes in the year, at four several terms, to determine of enormities belonging to the said company. Bread Street is now wholly inhabited by rich merchants, and divers fair inns be there, for good receipt of carriers and other travellers to the City. It appears in the will of Edward Stafford, Earl of Wylshire, dated the 22nd of March, 1498, and 14 Henry VII., that he lived in a house in Bread Street, in London, which belonged to the family of Stafford, Duke of Bucks afterwards; he bequeathed all the stuff in that house to the Lord of Buckingham, for he died without issue."


The parish church of "St. Augustine, in Watheling Street" was destroyed by the Great Fire, but rebuilt in 1682. Stow informs us that here was a fraternity founded A.D. 1387, called the Fraternity of St. Austin's, in Watling Street, and other good people dwelling in the City. "They were, on the eve of St. Austin's, to meet at the said church, in the morning at high mass, and every brother to offer a penny. And after that to be ready, al mangier ou al revele; i.e., to eat or to revel, according to the ordinance of the master and wardens of the fraternity. They set up in the honour of God and St. Austin, one branch of six tapers in the said church, before the image of St. Austin; and also two torches, with the which, if any of the said fraternity were commended to God, he might be carried to the earth. They were to meet at the vault at Paul's (perhaps St. Faith's), and to go thence to the Church of St. Austin's, and the priests and the clerks said Placebo and Dilige, and in matins, a mass of requiem at the high altar."

"There is a flat stone," says Stow, "in the south aisle of the church. It is laid over an Armenian merchant, of which foreign merchants there be divers that lodge and harbour in the Old Change in this parish."

St. Mildred's, in Bread Street, was repaired in 1628. "At the upper end of the chancel," says Strype, "is a fine window, full of cost and beauty, which being divided into five parts, carries in the first of them a very artful and curious representation of the Spaniard's Great Armado, and the battle in 1588; in the second, the monument of Queen Elizabeth; in the third, the Gunpowder Plot; in the fourth, the lamentable time of infection, 1625; and in the fifth and last, the view and lively portraiture of that worthy gentleman, Captain Nicolas Crispe, at whose sole cost (among other) this beautiful piece of work was erected, as also the figures of his vertuous wife and children, with the arms belonging to them." This church, burnt down in the Great Fire, was rebuilt again.

St. Mildred was a Saxon lady, and daughter of Merwaldus, a West-Mercian prince, and brother to Penda, King of the Mercians, who, despising the pomps and vanities of this world, retired to a convent at Hale, in France, whence, returning to England, accompanied by seventy virgins, she was consecrated abbess of a new monastery in the Isle of Thanet, by Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, where she died abbess, anno 676.

On the east side of Bread Street is the church of Allhallows. "On the south side of the chancel, in a little part of this church, called The Salter's Chapel," says Strype, "is a very fair window, with the portraiture or figure of him that gave it, very curiously wrought upon it. This church, ruined in the Great Fire, is built up again without any pillars, but very decent, and is a lightsome church."

"In the 22nd of Henry VIII., the 17th of August, two priests of this church fell at variance, that the one drew blood of the other, wherefore the same church was suspended, and no service sung or said therein for the space of one month after; the priests were committed to prison, and the 15th of October, being enjoined penance, they went at the head of a general procession, bare-footed and bare-legged, before the children, with beads and books in their hands, from Paul's, through Cheap, Cornhill," &c.

Among the epitaphs the following, given by Stow, is quaint:—

"To the sacred memory of that worthy and faithfull minister of Christ, Master Richard Stocke; who after 32 yeeres spent in the ministry, wherein by his learned labours, joined with wisedome, and a most holy life, God's glory was much advanced, his Church edified, piety increased, and the true honour of a pastor's life maintained; deceased April 20, 1626. Some of his loving parishioners have consecrated this monument of their never-dying love, Jan. 28, 1628.

"Thy lifelesse Trunke
(O Reverend Stocke),
Like Aaron's rod
Sprouts out againe;
And after two
Full winters past,
Yields Blossomes
And ripe fruit amaine.
For why, this work of piety,
Performed by some of thy Flocke,
To thy dead corps and sacred urne,
Is but the fruit of this old Stocke."

The father of Milton, the poet, was a scrivener in Bread Street, living at the sign of "The Spread Eagle," the armorial ensign of his family. The first turning on the left hand, as you enter from Cheapside, was called "Black Spread Eagle Court," and not unlikely from the family ensign of the poet's father. Milton was born in this street (December 9, 1608), and baptised in the adjoining church of Allhallows, Bread Street, where the register of his baptism is still preserved. Of the house in which he resided in later life, and the churchyard of St. Giles, Cripplegate, where he was buried, we give a view on page 349. Aubrey tells us that the house and chamber in which the poet was born were often visited by foreigners, even in the poet's lifetime. Their visits must have taken place before the fire, for the house was destroyed in the Great Fire, and "Paradise Lost" was published after it. Spread Eagle Court is at the present time a warehouseyard, says Mr. David Masson. The position of a scrivener was something between a notary and a law stationer.

There was a City prison formerly in Bread Street. "On the west side of Bread Street," says Stow, "amongst divers fair and large houses for merchants, and fair inns for passengers, had they one prisonhouse pertaining to the sheriffs of London, called the Compter, in Bread Street; but in 1555 the prisoners were removed from thence to one other new Compter in Wood Street, provided by the City's purchase, and built for that purpose."

The "Mermaid" Tavern, in Cheapside, about the site of which there has been endless controversy, stood in Bread Street, with side entrances, as Mr. Burn has shown, with admirable clearness, in Friday Street and Bread Street; hence the disputes of antiquaries.

Mr. Burn, in his book on "Tokens," says, "The site of the 'Mermaid' is clearly defined, from the circumstance of W. R., a haberdasher of small wares, 'twixt Wood Street and Milk Street, adopting the sign, 'Over against the Mermaid Tavern in Cheapside.'" The tavern was destroyed in the Great Fire.

Here Sir Walter Raleigh is, by one of the traditions, said to have instituted "The Mermaid Club." Gifford, in his edition of "Ben Jonson," has thus described the club:—"About this time (1603) Jonson probably began to acquire that turn for conviviality for which he was afterwards noted. Sir Walter Raleigh, previously to his unfortunate engagement with the wretched Cobham and others, had instituted a meeting of beaux esprits at the 'Mermaid,' a celebrated tavern in Friday Street. Of this club, which combined more talent and genius than ever met together before or since, our author was a member, and here for many years he regularly repaired, with Shakespeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, Selden, Cotton, Carew, Martin, Donne, and many others, whose names, even at this distant period, call up a mingled feeling of reverence and respect." But this is doubted. A writer in the Athenæum, Sept. 16, 1865, states:—"The origin of the common tale of Raleigh founding the 'Mermaid Club,' of which Shakespeare is said to have been a member, has not been traced. Is it older than Gifford?" Again:—"Gifford's apparent invention of the 'Mermaid Club.' Prove to us that Raleigh founded the 'Mermaid Club,' that the wits attended it under his presidency, and you will have made a real contribution to our knowledge of Shakespeare's time, even if you fail to show that our poet was a member of that club." The tradition, it is thought, must be added to the long list of Shakespearian doubts.

But we nevertheless have a noble record left of the wit combats here in the celebrated epistle of Beaumont to Jonson:—
"Methinks the little wit I had is lost
Since I saw you; for wit is like a rest
Held up at tennis, which men do the best
With the best gamesters. What things have we seen
Done at the 'Mermaid?' Heard words that have been
So nimble, and so full of subtle flame,
As if that every one from whence they came
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
And had resolved to live a fool the rest
Of his dull life. Then, when there hath been thrown
Wit able enough to justify the town
For three days past—wit that might warrant be
For the whole city to talk foolishly
Till that were cancelled; and when that was gone,
We left an air behind us, which alone
Was able to make the two next companies
Right witty; though but downright fools, more wise."

"Many," says Fuller, "were the wit combats betwixt him (Shakespeare) and Ben Jonson, which two I behold like a Spanish great galleon and an English man-of-war. Master Jonson (like the former) was built far higher in learning, solid, but slow in his performances; Shakespeare, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention."

These combats, one is willing to think, although without any evidence at all, took place at the "Mermaid" on such evenings as Beaumont so glowingly describes. But all we really know is that Beaumont and Ben Jonson met at the "Mermaid," and Shakespeare might have been of the company. Fuller, Mr. Charles Knight reminds us, was only eight years old when Shakespeare died.

John Rastell, the brother-in-law of Sir Thomas More, was a printer, living at the sign of the "Mermaid," in Cheapside. "The Pastyme of the People" (folio, 1529) is described as "breuly copyled and empryntyd in Chepesyde, at the sygne of the 'Mearemayd,' next to Pollys (Paul's) Gate." Stow also mentions this tavern:—"They" (Coppinger and Arthington, false prophets), says the historian, "had purposed to have gone with the like cry and proclamation, through other the chiefe parts of the Citie; but the presse was so great, as that they were forced to goe into a taverne in Cheape, at the sign of the 'Mermayd,' the rather because a gentleman of his acquaintance plucked at Coppinger, whilst he was in the cart, and blamed him for his demeanour and speeches."

There was also a "Mermaid" in Cornhill.

In Bow Lane resided Thomas Coryat, an eccentric traveller of the reign of James I., and a butt of Ben Jonson and his brother wits. In 1608 Coryat took a journey on foot through France, Italy, Germany, &c., which lasted five months, during which he had travelled 1,975 miles, more than half upon one pair of shoes, which were only once mended, and on his return were hung up in the Church of Odcombe, in Somersetshire. He published his travels under this title, "Crudities hastily gobbled up in Five Months' Travels in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia, Helvetia, some parts of High Germany, and the Netherlands, 1611," 4to; reprinted in 1776, 3 vols., 8vo. This work was ushered into the world by an "Odcombian banquet," consisting of near sixty copies of verses, made by the best poets of that time, which, if they did not make Coryat pass with the world for a man of great parts and learning, contributed not a little to the sale of his book. Among these poets were Ben Jonson, Sir John Harrington, Inigo Jones (the architect), Chapman, Donne, Drayton, and others.

Parsons, an excellent comedian, also resided in Bow Lane.

"A greater artist," says Dr. Doran, in "Her Majesty's Servants," "than Baddeley left the stage soon after him, in 1795, after three-and-thirty years of service, namely, Parsons, the original 'Crabtree' and 'Sir Fretful Plagiary,' 'Sir Christopher Curry,' 'Snarl' to Edwin's 'Sheepface,' and 'Lope Torry,' in The Mountaineers. . . . . His forte lay in old men, his pictures of whom, in all their characteristics, passions, infirmities, cunning, or imbecility, was perfect. When 'Sir Sampson Legand' says to 'Foresight,' 'Look up, old stargazer! Now is he poring on the ground for a crooked pin, or an old horse-nail with the head towards him!' " we are told there could not be a finer illustration of the character which Congreve meant to represent than Parsons showed at the time in his face and attitude.

In Queen Street, on the south side of Cheapside, stood Ringed Hall, the house of the Earls of Cornwall, given by them, in Edward III.'s time, to the Abbot of Beaulieu, near Oxford. Henry VIII. gave it to Morgan Philip, alias Wolfe. Near it was "Ipres Inn," built by William of Ipres, in King Stephen's time, which continued in the same family in 1377.

Stow says of Soper Lane, now Queen Street:—"Soper Lane, which lane took that name, not of soap-making, as some have supposed, but of Alleyne le Sopar, in the ninth of Edward II."

"In this Soper's Lane," Strype informs us, "the pepperers anciently dwelt—wealthy tradesmen, who dealt in spices and drugs. Two of this trade were divers times mayors in the reign of Henry III., viz., Andrew Bocherel, and John de Gisorcio or Gisors. In the reign of King Edward II., anno 1315, they came to be governed by rules and orders, which are extant in one of the books of the chamber under this title, 'Ordinatio Piperarum de Soper's Lane.' " Sir Baptist Hicks, Viscount Campden, of the time of James I., whose name is preserved in Hicks's Hall, and Campden Hill, Kensington, was a rich mercer, at the sign of the "White Bear," at Soper Lane end, in Cheapside. Strype says that "Sir Baptist was one of the first citizens that, after knighthood, kept their shops, and, being charged with it by some of the aldermen, he gave this answer, first—'That his servants kept the shop, though he had a regard to the special credit thereof; and that he did not live altogether upon the interest, as most of the aldermen did, laying aside their trade after knighthood.'"

The parish church of St. Syth, or Bennet Sherehog, or Shrog, "seemeth," says Stow, "to take that name from one Benedict Shorne, some time a citizen, and stock-fish monger, of London, a new builder, repairer, or benefactor thereof, in the reign of Edward II.; so that Shorne is but corruptly called Shrog, and more correctly Shorehog, or (as now) Sherehog." The following curious epitaph is preserved by Stow:—

"Here lieth buried the body of Ann, the wife of John Farrar, gentleman, and merchant adventurer of this city, daughter of William Shepheard, of Great Rowlright, in the county of Oxenford, Esqre. She departed this life the twelfth day of July, An. Dom. 1613, being then about the age of twenty-one yeeres.

"Here was a bud,
Beginning for her May;
Before her flower,
Death took her hence away.
But for what cause?
That friends might joy the more;
Where there hope is,
She flourisheth now before.
She is not lost,
But in those joyes remaine,
Where friends may see,
And joy in her againe."

"In the Church of St. Pancras, Soper Lane, there do lie the remains," says Stow, "of Robert Packinton, merchant, slain with a gun, as he was going to morrow mass from his house in Cheape to St. Thomas of Acons, in the year 1536. The murderer was never discovered, but by his own confession, made when he came to the gallows at Banbury to be hanged for felony."

The following epitaph is also worth giving:—
"Here lies a Mary, mirror of her sex,
For all that best their souls or bodies decks.
Faith, form, or fame, the miracle of youth;
For zeal and knowledge of the sacred truth.
For frequent reading of the Holy Writ,
For fervent prayer, and for practice fit.
For meditation full of use and art;
For humbleness in habit and in heart.
For pious, prudent, peaceful, praiseful life;
For all the duties of a Christian wife;
For patient bearing seven dead-bearing throws;
For one alive, which yet dead with her goes;
From Travers, her dear spouse, her father, Hayes,
Lord maior, more honoured in her virtuous praise."

"The Church of St. Thomas Apostle stood where now the cemetery is," says Maitland, "in Queen Street. It was of great antiquity, as is manifest by the state thereof in the year 1181. The parish is united to the Church of St. Mary Aldermary. There were five epitaphs in Greek and Latin to 'Katherine Killigrew.' The best is by Andrew Melvin."

"Of monuments of antiquity there were none left undefaced, except some arms in the windows, which were supposed to be the arms of John Barnes, mercer, Maior of London in the year 1371, a great builder thereof. A benefactor thereof was Sir William Littlesbury, alias Horn (for King Edward IV. so named him), because he was most excellent in a horn. He was a salter and merchant of the staple, mayor of London in 1487, and was buried in the church, having appointed, by his testament, the bells to be changed for four new ones of good tune and sound; but that was not performed. He gave five hundred marks towards repairing of highways between London and Cambridge. His dwelling-house, with a garden and appurtenances in the said parish, he devised to be sold, and bestowed in charitable actions. His house, called the 'George,' in Bred Street, he gave to the salters; they to find a priest in the said church, to have six pounds thirteen and fourpence the year. To every preacher at St. Paul's Cross, and at the Spittle, he left fourpence for ever; to the prisoners of Newgate, Ludgate, from rotation to King's Bench, in victuals, ten shillings at Christmas, and ten shillings at Easter for ever," which legacies, however, it appears, were not performed.