Cannon Street

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

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'Cannon Street', in Old and New London: Volume 1, (London, 1878) pp. 544-550. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

In this section

Chapter XLVIII.


London Stone and Jack Cade—Southwark Bridge—Old City Churches—The Salters' Company's Hall, and the Salters' Company's History— Oxford House—Salters' Banquets—Salters' Hall Chapel—A Mysterious Murder in Cannon Street—St. Martin Orgar—King William's Statue—Cannon Street Station.

Cannon Street was originally called Candlewick Street, from the candle-makers who lived there. It afterwards became a resort of drapers.

London Stone, the old Roman milliarium, or milestone, is now a mere rounded boulder, set in a stone case built into the outer southern wall of the church of St. Swithin, Cannon Street. Camden, in his "Britannia," says— "The stone called London Stone, from its situation in the centre of the longest diameter of the City, I take to have been a miliary, like that in the Forum at Rome, from whence all the distances were measured."

Camden's opinion, that from this stone the Roman roads radiated, and that by it the distances were reckoned, seems now generally received. Stow, who thinks that there was some legend of the early Christians connected with it, says:—"On the south side of this high street (Candlewick or Cannon Street), near unto the channel, is pitched upright a great stone, called London Stone, fixed in the ground very deep, fastened with bars of iron, and otherwise so strongly set, that if carts do run against it through negligence, the wheels be broken and the stone itself unshaken. The cause why this stone was set there, the time when, or other memory is none."

Strype describes it in his day as already set in its case. "This stone, before the Fire of London, was much worn away, and, as it were, but a stump remaining. But it is now, for the preservation of it, cased over with a new stone, handsomely wrought, cut hollow underneath, so as the old stone may be seen, the new one being over it, to shelter and defend the old venerable one."

It stood formerly on the south side of Cannon Street, but was removed to the north, December 13th, 1742. In 1798 it was again removed, as an obstruction, and, but for the praiseworthy interposition of a local antiquary, Mr. Thomas Malden, a printer in Sherborne Lane, it would have been destroyed.

This most interesting relic of Roman London is that very stone which the arch-rebel Jack Cade struck with his bloody sword when he had stormed London Bridge, and "Now is Mortimer lord of this city" were the words he uttered too confidently as he gave the blow. Shakespeare, who perhaps wrote from tradition, makes him strike London Stone with his staff:—
"Cade. Now is Mortimer lord of this city. And here, sitting upon London Stone, I charge and command that the conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign. And now henceforward it shall be treason for any that calls me Lord Mortimer."—Shakespeare, Second Part of Henry VI., act iv., sc. 6.

Dryden, too, mentions this stone in a very fine passage of his Fable of the "Cock and the Fox:"—
"The bees in arms
Drive headlong from the waxen cells in swarms.
Jack Straw at London Stone, with all his rout,
Struck not the city with so loud a shout."

Of the old denizens of this neighbourhood in Henry VIII.'s days, Stow gives a very picturesque sketch in the following passage, where he says:— "The late Earl of Oxford, father to him that now liveth, hath been noted within these forty years to have ridden into this city, and so to his house by London Stone, with eighty gentlemen in a livery of Reading tawny, and chains of gold about their necks, before him, and one hundred tall yeomen in the like livery to follow him, without chains, but all having his cognizance of the blue boar embroidered on their left shoulder."

A turning from Cannon Street leads us to Southwark Bridge. The cost of this bridge was computed at £300,000, and the annual revenue was estimated at £90,000. Blackfriars Bridge tolls amounted to a large annual sum; and it was supposed Southwark might fairly claim about a third of it. Great stress also was laid on the improvements that would ensue in the miserable streets about Bankside and along the road to the King's Bench. We need scarcely remind our readers that the bridge never answered, and was almost disused till the tolls were removed and it was thrown open to general traffic.

"Southwark Bridge," says Mr. Timbs, "designed by John Rennie, F.R.S., was built by a public company, and cost about £800,000. It consists of three cast-iron arches; the centre 240 feet span, and the two side arches 210 feet each, about fortytwo feet above the highest spring-tides; the ribs forming, as it were, a series of hollow masses, or voussoirs, similar to those of stone, a principle new in the construction of cast-iron bridges, and very successful. The whole of the segmental pieces and the braces are kept in their places by dovetailed sockets and long cast-iron wedges, so that bolts are unnecessary, although they were used during the construction of the bridge to keep the pieces in their places until the wedges had been driven. The spandrels are similarly connected, and upon them rests the roadway, of solid plates of cast iron, joined by iron cement. The piers and abutments are of stone, founded upon timber platforms resting upon piles driven below the bed of the river. The masonry is tied throughout by vertical and horizontal bond-stones, so that the whole rests as one mass in the best position to resist the horizontal thrust. The first stone was laid by Admiral Lord Keith, May 23rd, 1815, the bill for erecting the bridge having been passed May 16th, 1811. The iron-work (weight 5,700 tons) had been so well put together by the Walkers of Rotherham, the founders, and the masonry by the contractors, Jolliffe and Banks, that, when the work was finished, scarcely any sinking was discernible in the arches. From experiments made to ascertain the expansion and contraction between the extreme range of winter and summer temperature, it was found that the arch rose in the summer about one inch to one and a half inch. The works were commenced in 1813, and the bridge was opened by lamp-light, March 24th, 1819, as the clock of St. Paul's Cathedral tolled midnight. Towards the middle of the western side of the bridge used to be a descent from the pavement to a steam-boat pier."

Mr. Charles Dickens, in one of the chapters of his "Uncommercial Traveller," has sketched, in his most exquisite manner, just such old City churches as we have in Cannon Street and its turnings. The dusty oblivion into which they are sinking, their past glory, their mouldy old tombs—everything he paints with the correctness of Teniers and the finish of Gerard Dow.

"There is," he says, "a pale heap of books in the corner of my pew, and while the organ, which is hoarse and sleepy, plays in such fashion that I can hear more of the rusty working of the stops than of any music, I look at the books, which are mostly bound in faded baize and stuff. They belonged, in 1754, to the Dowgate family. And who were they? Jane Comfort must have married young Dowgate, and come into the family that way. Young Dowgate was courting Jane Comfort when he gave her her prayer-book, and recorded the presentation in the fly-leaf. If Jane were fond of young Dowgate, why did she die and leave the book here? Perhaps at the rickety altar, and before the damp Commandments, she, Comfort, had taken him, Dowgate, in a flush of youthful hope and joy; and perhaps it had not turned out in the long run as great a success as was expected.

"The opening of the service recalls my wandering thoughts. I then find to my astonishment that I have been, and still am, taking a strong kind of invisible snuff up my nose, into my eyes, and down my throat. I wink, sneeze, and cough. The clerk sneezes: the clergyman winks; the unseen organist sneezes and coughs (and probably winks); all our little party wink, sneeze, and cough. The snuff seems to be made of the decay of matting, wood, cloth, stone, iron, earth, and something else. Is the something else the decay of dead citizens in the vaults below? As sure as death it is! Not only in the cold, damp February day, do we cough and sneeze dead citizens, all through the service, but dead citizens have got into the very bellows of the organ, and half-choked the same. We stamp our feet to warm them, and dead citizens arise in heavy clouds. Dead citizens stick upon the walls, and lie pulverised on the sounding-board over the clergyman's head, and when a gust of air comes, tumble down upon him.


* * * * *

"In the churches about Mark Lane there was a dry whiff of wheat; and I accidentally struck an airy sample of barley out of an aged hassock in one of them. From Rood Lane to Tower Street, and thereabouts, there was sometimes a subtle flavour of wine; sometimes of tea. One church, near Mincing Lane, smelt like a druggist's drawer. Behind the Monument, the service had a flavour of damaged oranges, which, a little further down the river, tempered into herrings, and gradually toned into a cosmopolitan blast of fish. In one church, the exact counterpart of the church in the 'Rake's Progress,' where the hero is being married to the horrible old lady, there was no speciality of atmosphere, until the organ shook a perfume of hides all over us from some adjacent warehouse.

"The dark vestries and registries into which I have peeped, and the little hemmed-in churchyards that have echoed to my feet, have left impressions on my memory as distinct and quaint as any it has that way received. In all those dusty registers that the worms are eating, there is not a line but made some hearts leap, or some tears flow, in their day. Still and dry now, still and dry! And the old tree at the window, with no room for its branches, has seen them all out. So with the tomb of the old master of the old company, on which it drips. His son restored it and died, his daughter restored it and died, and then he had been remembered long enough, and the tree took possession of him, and his name cracked out."

CORDWAINERS' HALL. (See page 550.)

The Salters, who have anchored in Cannon Street, have had at least four halls before the present one. The first was in Bread Street, to be near their kinsmen, the Fishmongers, in the old fish market of London, Knightrider Street. It is noticed, apparently, as a new building, in the will of Thomas Beamond, Salter, 1451, who devised to "Henry Bell and Robert Bassett, wardens of the fraternity and gild of the Salters, of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Church of All Saints, of Bread Street, London, and to the brothers and sisters of the same fraternity and gild, and their successors for ever, the land and ground where there was then lately erected a hall called Salters' Hall, and six mansions by him then newly erected upon the same ground, in Bread Street, in the parish of All Saints." The last named were the Company's almshouses.

This hall was destroyed by fire in 1533. The second hall, in Bread Street, had an almshouse adjoining, as Stow tells us, "for poore decayed brethren." It was destroyed by fire in 1598. This hall was afterwards used by Parliamentary committees. There the means of raising new regiments was discussed, and there, in 1654, the judges for a time sat. The third hall (and these records furnish interesting facts to the London topographer) was a mansion of the prior of Tortington (Sussex), near the east end of St. Swithin's Church, London Stone. The Salters purchased it, in 1641, of Captain George Smith, and it was then called Oxford House, or Oxford Place. It had been the residence of Maister Stapylton, a wealthy alderman. The house is a marked one in history, as at the back of it, according to Stow, resided those bad guiding ministers of the miser king Henry VII., Empson and Dudley, who, having cut a door into Oxford House garden, used to meet there, like the two usurers in Quintin Matsys' picture, and suggest war taxes to each other under the leafy limes of the old garden. Sir Ambrose Nicholas and Sir John Hart, both Salters, kept their mayoralties here.

The fourth hall, built after the Great Fire had made clear work of Oxford House, was a small brick building, the entrance opening within an arcade of three arches springing from square fluted pillars. A large garden adjoined it, and next that was the Salters' Hall Meeting House. The parlour was handsome, and there were a few original portraits. This hall, the clerk's house, with another at the gate of St. Swithin's Lane, were pulled down and sold in 1821. The present hall was designed by Mr. Henry Carr, and completed in 1827.

As a chartered company there is no record of the Salters before the 37th year of Edward III., when liberties were granted them. In the 50th of Edward III. they sent members to the common council. Richard II. granted them a livery, but they were first incorporated in 1558 by Elizabeth. Henry VIII. had granted them arms, and Elizabeth a crest and supporters. The arms are:— Chevron azure and gules, three covered salts, or, springing salt proper. On a helmet and torse, issuing out of a cloud argent, a sinister arm proper, holding a salt as the former. Supporters, two otters argent plattée, gorged with ducal coronets, thereto a chain affixed and reflected, or; motto, "Sal sapit Omnia." "A Short Account of the Salters' Company," printed for private distribution, rejects the otters as supporters, in favour of ounces or small leopards, which latter, it states, have been adopted by the assistants, in the arms put up in their new hall; and it gives the following, "furnished by a London antiquary," as the Salters' real supporters:—Two ounces sable besante, gorged with crowns and chased gold. The Salters claim to have received eight charters.

The Romans worked salt-pits in England, and salt-works are frequently mentioned in Domesday Book. Rock or fossil salt, says Herbert, was never worked in England till 1670, when it was discovered in Cheshire. The enormous use of salt fish in the Catholic households of the Middle Ages brought wealth to the Salters.

In a pageant of 1591, written by the poet Peele, one clad like a sea-nymph presented the Salter mayor (Webb) with a rigged and manned pinnace, as he took barge to go to Westminster.

In the Drapers' pageant of 1684, when each of the twelve companies were represented by allegorical figures, the Salters were figured by Salina in a sky-coloured robe and coronation mantle, and crowned with white and yellow roses. Among the citizens nominated by the common council to attend the mayor as chief butler, at the coronation of Richard III., occurs the name of a Salter.

The following bill of fare for fifty people of the Company of Salters, A.D. 1506, is still preserved:—

s. d.
36 chickens 4 6
1 swan and 4 geese 7 0
9 rabbits 1 4
2 rumps of beef tails 0 2
6 quails 1 6
2 ounces of pepper 0 2
2 ounces of cloves and mace 0 4
1½ ounces of saffron 0 6
3 lb. sugar 0 8
2 lb. raisins 0 4
1 lb. dates 0 4
1½ lb. comfits 0 2
Half hundred eggs 0
4 gallons of curds 0 4
1 ditto gooseberries 0 2
2 dishes of butter 0 4
4 breasts of veal 1 5
Bacon 0 6
Quarter of a load of coals 0 4
Faggots 0 2
3½ gallons of Gascoyne wine 2 4
1 bottle muscadina 0 8
Cherries and tarts 0 8
Salt 0 1
Verjuice and vinegar 0 2
Paid the cook 3 4
Perfume 0 2
1½ bushels of meal 0 8
Water 0 3
Garnishing the vessels 0 3

In the Company's books (says Herbert) is a receipt "For to make a moost choyce Paaste of Gamys to be eten at ye Feste of Chrystemasse" (17th Richard II., A.D. 1394). A pie so made by the Company's cook in 1836 was found excellent. It consisted of a pheasant, hare, and capon; two partridges, two pigeons, and two rabbits; all boned and put into paste in the shape of a bird, with the livers and hearts, two mutton kidneys, forced meats, and egg balls, seasoning, spice, catsup, and pickled mushrooms, filled up with gravy made from the various bones.

The original congregation of Salters' Hall Chapel assembled at Buckingham House, College Hill. The first minister was Richard Mayo, who died in 1695. He was so eloquent, that it is said even the windows were crowded when he preached. He was one of the seceders of 1662. Nathaniel Taylor, who died in 1702, was latterly so infirm that he used to crawl into the pulpit upon his knees. "He was a man," says Matthew Henry, "of great wit, worth, and courage;" and Doddridge compared his writings to those of South for wit and strength. Tong succeeded Taylor at Salters' Hall in 1702. He wrote the notes on the Hebrews and Revelations for Matthew Henry's "Commentary," and left memoirs of Henry, and of Shower, of the Old Jewry. The writer of his funeral sermon called him "the prince of preachers." In 1719 Arianism began to prevail at Salters' Hall, where a synod on the subject was at last held. The meetings ended by the non-subscribers calling out, "You that are against persecution come up stairs:" and Thomas Bradbury, of New Court, the leader of the orthodox, replying, "You that are for declaring your faith in the doctrine of the Trinity stay below." The subscribers proved to be fifty-three; the "scandalous majority," fifty-seven. During this controversy Arianism became the subject of coffee-house talk. John Newman, who died in 1741, was buried at Bunhill Fields, Dr. Doddridge delivering a funeral oration over his grave. Francis Spillsbury, another Salters' Hall minister, worked there for twenty years with John Barker, who resigned in 1762. Hugh Farmer, another of this brotherhood, was Doddridge's first pupil at the Northampton College. He wrote an exposition on demonology and miracles, which aroused controversy. His manuscripts were destroyed at his death, according to the strict directions of his will.

When the Presbyterians forsook Salters' Hall, some people came there who called the hall "the Areopagus," and themselves the Christian Evidence Society. After their bankruptcy in 1827, the Baptists re-opened the hall. The congregation has now removed to a northern suburb, and their chapel bears the old name, "so closely linked with our old City history, and its Nonconformist associations."

In April, 1866, a mysterious murder took place in Cannon Street. The victim, a widow, named Sarah Millson, was housekeeper on the premises of Messrs. Bevington, leather-sellers. About nine o'clock in the evening, when sitting by the fire in company with another servant, the street bell was heard to ring, on which Millson went down to the door, remarking to her neighbour that she knew who it was. She did not return, although for an hour this did not excite any suspicion, as she was in the habit of holding conversations at the street door. A little after ten o'clock, the other woman—Elizabeth Lowes—went down, and found Millson dead at the bottom of the stairs, the blood still flowing profusely from a number of deep wounds in the head. Her shoes had been taken off and were lying on a table in the hall, and as there was no blood on them it was presumed this was done before the murder. The housekeeper's keys were also found on the stairs. Opening the door to procure assistance, Lowes observed a woman on the doorstep, screening herself apparently from the rain, which was falling heavily at the time. She moved off as soon as the door was opened, saying, in answer to the request for assistance, "Oh! dear, no; I can't come in!" The gas over the door had been lighted as usual at eight o'clock, but was now out, although not turned off at the meter. The evidence taken by the coroner showed that the instrument of murder had probably been a small crowbar used to wrench open packing-cases; one was found near the body, unstained with blood, and another was missing from the premises. The murderer has never been discovered.

St. Martin Orgar, a church near Cannon Street, was destroyed in the Great Fire, and not rebuilt. It had been used, says Strype, by the French Protestants, who had a French minister, episcopally ordained. There was a monument here to Sir Allen Cotton, Knight, and Alderman of London, some time Lord Mayor, with this epitaph—
"When he left Earth rich bounty dy'd,
Mild courtesie gave place to pride;
Soft Mercie to bright Justice said,
O sister, we are both betray'd.
White Innocence lay on the ground,
By Truth, and wept at either's wound.

"Those sons of Levi did lament,
Their lamps went out, their oyl was spent,
Heaven hath his soul, and only we
Spin out our lives in misery.
So Death thou missest of thy ends,
And kil'st not him, but kil'st his friends."

A Bill in Parliament being engrossed for the erection of a church for the French Protestants in the churchyard of this parish, after the Great Fire, the parishioners offered reasons to the Parliament against it; declaring that they were not against erecting a church, but only against erecting it in the place mentioned in the Bill; since by the Act for rebuilding the city, the site and churchyard of St. Martin Orgar was directed to be enclosed with a wall, and laid open for a burying-place for the parish.

The tame statue of that honest but commonplace monarch, William IV., at the end of King William Street, is of granite, and the work of a Mr. Nixon. It cost upwards of £2,000, of which £1,600 was voted by the Common Council of London. It is fifteen feet three inches in height, weighs twenty tons, and is chiefly memorable as marking the site of the famous "Boar's Head" tavern.

The opening of the Cannon Street Extension Railway, September, 1866, provided a communication with Charing Cross and London Bridge, and through it with the whole of the South-Eastern system. The bridge across the Thames approaching the station has five lines of rails; the curves branching east and west to Charing Cross and London Bridge have three lines, and in the station there are nine lines of rails and five spacious platforms, one of them having a double carriage road for exit and entrance. The signal-box at the entrance to the Cannon Street station extends from one side of the bridge to the other, and has a range of over eighty levers, coloured red for danger-signals, and green for safety and going out. The hotel at Cannon Street Station, a handsome building, is after the design by Mr. Barry. Arrangements were made for the reception of about 20,000,000 passengers yearly.