Old and New London: Volume 2. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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'Cornhill, Gracechurch Street, and Fenchurch Street', in Old and New London: Volume 2, (London, 1878) pp. 170-183. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol2/pp170-183 [accessed 1 March 2024]
CORNHILL, GRACECHURCH STREET, AND FENCHURCH STREET,
Mediæval Cornhill—The Standard—St. Michael's, Cornhill—St. Peter's—The First London Printsellers—A Comedian's Tragedy—Dreadful Fire in Cornhill—The First Coffee-house in London—" Garraway's"—Birchin Lane—St. Bennet Gracechurch—George Fox—Fenchurch Street—Denmark House—St. Dionis Backchurch—The Church of St. Margaret Pattens—Billiter Street—Ironmongers' Hall—Mincing Lane—The Clothworkers' Company—The Mark Lane Corn Exchange—The Corn Ports of London—Statistics and Curiosities of the Corn Trade—An Old Relic.
What we have already written of the discovery of Roman antiquities on the site of the Royal Exchange will serve to show how completely Cornhill traverses the centre of Roman London.
A corn-market, says Stow, was, "time out of
mind, there holden." Drapers were the earliest
inhabitants. Lydgate speaks of it as a place where
old clothes were bought, and sometimes stolen—
"Then into Corn Hyl anon I yode,
Where was mutch stolen gere amonge;
I saw where honge myne owne hoode,
That I had lost amonge the thronge;
To buy my own hood I thought it wronge,
I knew it well as I dyd my crede,
But for lack of money I could not spede."
The two great ornaments of mediaeval Cornhill were the Tun, a round house, or temporary prison, and the Standard, a water conduit, and point of measurement.
The Tun, says Stow, was built in the year 1282, by Henry Wallis, Mayor of London, as a prison for night offenders. For breaking open the prison and releasing prisoners, certain citizens, in the reign of Edward I., were fined 20,000 marks. Abandoned priests were sometimes locked up here. In 1401 the Tun was turned into a conduit, and a cage, stocks, and pillory added, for scolds and cheating bakers. Rascals of various kinds were, in Edward IV.'s reign, compelled to ride from Newgate to this pillory, in Cornhill, and there stand, with papers detailing their offences tied to their heads.
The Standard was a conduit, with four spouts, made by Peter Morris, a German, in the year 1582, and supplied with Thames water, conveyed by leaden pipes over the steeple of St. Magnus' Church. It stood at the east end of Cornhill, at its junction with Gracechurch Street, Bishopsgate Street, and Leadenhall Street. The water ceased to run between 1598 and 1603, but the Standard itself remained long after. It was much used as a point of measurement of distances; and Cunningham says that several of our suburban milestones are still inscribed with "so many miles from the Standard in Cornhill." There was a Standard in Cornhill as early as the 2nd of Henry V.
Cornhill, considering its commercial importance, is a street by no means full of old memories.
St. Michael's, Cornhill, is one of seven London churches dedicated to the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of France. It formerly faced Cornhill, but in the reign of Edward IV. it was blocked out by four houses, and it may now be described as standing on the east side of St. Michael's Alley. It is probable that a Saxon church first stood here; but the earliest record of the fabric is previous to 1133. In that year the Abbot of Evesham granted it to Sparling, a priest, for the rent of one mark a year, and lodging, salt, water, and firing to the abbot, whenever he came to London. In 1503 the Abbey of Evesham ceded it to the Drapers' Company for an annuity of £5 6s. 8d.
William Rous, sheriff of London in 1429, and who was buried in the chapel of St. Mary in this church, left £100 to found an altar in the chancel, and £40 towards a new tower, the old one having been burnt down in 1421. At the south side of the church there was originally a cloister, and in the churchyard a pulpit-cross, built by Sir John Rudston, Lord Mayor of London, who was buried beneath it. In the church is interred one of our old chroniclers, Alderman Fabian, who died in 1511. He is well known for his "Chronicles of England and France," which he termed "The Concordance of Histories." Here also rest the remains of the ancestors of another useful London chronicler, who was born in this parish, where his predecessors had resided for three generations. Stow's father and grandfather were both buried here. The grandfather, a tallow-chandler, with due remembrance of candles sold by him for such purposes, directs in his will that from All Hallows' Day till the Candlemas following a watching-candle burn on all the seven altars of the church from six o'clock till past seven, in worship of the seven sacraments. He also gave to a poor man and woman, every Sunday in one year, one penny to say five paternosters and aves and a creed for his soul.
The old church, all but the tower, was destroyed by the Great Fire, and Wren commenced the present building in 1672. The tower itself had to be rebuilt in 1721. The body of the church is in the Italian style, divided by Doric columns and arches. The tower is perpendicular, in imitation of the chapel tower at Magdalen College, Oxford, and it rises to the height of 130 feet. Wren spoiled his rival tower by a mixture of Italian details. This church was magnificently decorated in 1859, from designs by Mr. G. G. Scott.
The chronicler Stow has the following legend, relating how the devil came down to St. Michael's belfry in a storm of lightning:—"Upon St. James's Night," says our venerable author, "certain men in the loft next under the bells, ringing of a peal, a tempest of lightning and thunder did arise: an ugly-shapen sight appeared to them coming in at the south window and lighted on the north. For fear whereof they all fell down, and lay as dead for the time, letting the bells ring and cease of their own accord. When the ringers came to themselves, they found certain stones of the north window to be raised and scratched, as if they had been so much butter printed with a lyon's claw; the same stones were fastened there again, and so remain till this day. I have seen them oft, and have put a feather or small stick into the holes where the claws had entered three or four inches deep."
A brass slab preserved at St. Peter's, Cornhill, claims that building as the first Christian church founded in London. The legendary founder was Lucius, the first Christian king, A.D. 179. It is said to have remained the metropolitan church of the kingdom till the coming of St. Augustine, four hundred years after.
In the reign of Henry III. one Geffrey Russell, who had been implicated in a murder said to have been committed by another man in St. Peter's Churchyard, fled for sanctuary to St. Peter's Church. In the year 1243, one of the priests attached to St. Peter's, Cornhill, was murdered. The patronage of the rectory came into the hands of Sir Richard Whittington, and others, who conveyed it, in 1411, to the Lord Mayor and Commonalty of London. Among the celebrated rectors we must not forget Dr. William Beveridge, afterwards Bishop of St. Asaph. Dr. Beveridge (died 1708) was an eminent theological writer, famous for his Syriac Grammar, and his laborious work on the Apostolical Canons. The old church was destroyed by the Great Fire, and the present edifice erected in 1686 by Sir Christopher Wren. The tower of brick is surmounted by a small leaden cupola and spire, crowned by an enormous key. The church contains a tablet recording the death, in a great fire, January 18th, 1782, of the seven children of James Woodmason, of Leadenhall Street. Leading from the church, it is said, is a subterranean passage, entered by a flight of steps from the belfry. Some "London tavern" apprentices are reported, many years ago, to have explored this passage, which is now bricked up. Many years ago a stone coffin and urn were found within the enclosure of the church.
One of the most celebrated taverns in Cornhill was the "Pope's Head," mentioned as early as the reign of Edward IV. Here, in the reign of Henry VI., wine was sold at a penny a pint, without charge for bread. Stow seems to think the "Pope's Head" had once been a royal palace. In his time the ancient arms of England (three leopards supported by two angels) were to be seen engraved in stone on the walls. It was here that the Alicant and English goldsmiths decided their wager, as we have already mentioned in our chapter on the Goldsmiths' Company. In 1615, Sir William Craven (father of the first Earl of Craven) left the "Pope's Head" to the Merchant Taylors' Company, for charitable purposes, and the Company had in 1849 nine houses on that spot. The first edition of Speed's "Great Britain" (folio, 1611) was sold by John Sudbury and George Humble in Pope's Head Alley, at the sign of the "White Horse." This firm, says Cunningham, were the first printsellers established in London. Ben Jonson mentions the pamphlets of Pope's Alley, and Peacham, in his "Complete Gentleman," alludes to the printsellers. Before the Great Fire, the alley was famous for its traders in toys and turners' ware. In Strype's time (thirty years later) it was especially affected by cutlers. The "Pope's Head" tavern was the scene of a fray, in April, 1718, between Quin, the actor, and his fellow-comedian Bowen. The latter, a hotheaded Irishman, jealous of Quin's success, sent for him to the "Pope's Head." As soon as Quin entered, Bowen, in a transport of envy and rage, planted his back against the door, drew his sword, and bade Quin draw his. Quin in vain remonstrated, but at last drew in his own defence, and tried to disarm his antagonist. Bowen eventually received a mortal wound, of which he died in three days, confessing at last his folly and madness. Quin was tried, and honourably acquitted.
Cornhill has been the scene of two dreadful fires. The first, in 1748, commenced at a peruke-maker's, in Exchange Alley, and burnt from ninety to one hundred houses, valued at £200,000, and many lives were lost. This conflagration swept away a few historical houses, including the London Assurance Office, the "Fleece" and "Three Tuns" taverns, "Tom's" and the "Rainbow" coffee-houses, the "Swan" tavern, "Garraway's," "Jonathan's," and the "Jerusalem" coffee-houses, in Exchange Alley, besides the "George and Vulture" tavern. It likewise destroyed No. 41, Cornhill, a few doors from Birchin Lane, the house where, in 1716, the poet Gray had been born. Gray's father was an Exchange broker. The house was rebuilt, and was, in 1774, occupied by Natzell, a perfumer. In 1824 the occupant was also a perfumer. The second great fire, in 1765, also commenced at a peruke-maker's, in Bishopsgate Street, near Leadenhall Street. It made a clean sweep of all the houses from Cornhill to St. Martin Outwich; and the church parsonage, Merchant Taylors' Hall, and several houses in Threadneedle Street, were much damaged. The "White Lion" tavern, purchased the evening before for £3,000, all the houses in White Lion Court, five houses in Cornhill, and several houses in Leadenhall Street, were burnt, and several lives lost.
No. 15, Cornhill, with an old-fashioned front, was the shop of Messrs. Birch, the celebrated cooks and confectioners. We have already mentioned Mr. Birch, Lord Mayor in 1815–16, as the poet and orator, who wrote the "Adopted Child," and other dramatic works. He annually presented the mayor with a splendid cake, to keep Twelfth Night.
At a corner house, says Mr. Timbs, between Cornhill and Lombard Street, Thomas Guy, the wealthy stationer, commenced business. He was the son of a lighterman at Horsleydown, and was apprenticed to a Cheapside bookseller, as before mentioned by us. The "Lucky Corner" was subsequently Pidding's Lottery Office. There were other lottery offices in Cornhill, including that of Carroll, Lord Mayor in 1846.
Change Alley, Cornhill, recalls the days of the
South Sea Bubble, and brings up recollections of
Addison, Pope, and Gay. The latter poet mentions it in his verses to his friend Snow, the goldsmith and banker, near Temple Bar, who had been
caught by the Bubble:—
"Why did 'Change Alley waste thy precious hours
Among the fools who gaped for golden show'rs?
No wonder if we found some poets there,
Who live on fancy, and can feed on air;
No wonder they were caught by South Sea schemes,
Who ne'er enjoyed a guinea but in dreams."
In St. Michael's Alley, in the time of the Commonwealth, the first London coffee-house was established. It was opened, about the year 1652, by Bowman, the ex-coachman of Mr. Hodges, a Turkey merchant. His first partner was Pasque Rosee, a Levantine servant of the same merchant, Bowman afterwards dissolved partnership, and obtained leave to pitch a tent and sell the "sooty drink," at first so much villified by the jealous vintners, in St. Michael's churchyard. Four years after, Bowman's apprentice set up a coffee-house opposite St. Michael's Church. The novelty was soon over, in spite of the lampooners, who declared it made men unfruitful, and that to drink the new liquor was to ape the Turks and insult one's canarydrinking ancestors. "Were it the mode," says the writer of "Coffee in its Colours" (1663), "men would eat spiders."
"Garraway's," the coffee-house celebrated for two centuries, in Exchange Alley, is now pulled down. It was here that, after the Restoration, Garraway issued the following shop-bill:—"Tea in England hath been sold in the leaf for six pounds, and sometimes for ten pounds the pound weight, and in respect of its former scarceness and dearness it hath been only used as a regalia in high treatments and entertainments, and presents made thereof to princes and grandees, till the year 1657. The said Thomas Garway did purchase a quantity thereof, and first publicly sold the said tea in leaf, and drink made according to the directions of the most knowing merchants and travellers into those eastern countries; and upon knowledge and experience of the said Garway's continued care and industry in obtaining the best tea, and making drink thereof, very many noblemen, physicians, merchants, and gentlemen of quality, have ever since sent to him for the said leaf, and daily resort to his house, in Exchange Alley aforesaid, to drink the drink thereof. . . . . These are to give notice that the said Thomas Garway hath tea to sell from 16s. to 50s. a pound."
Defoe (1722) mentions Garraway's as frequented about noon by people of quality who had business in the City, and the more considerable and wealthy citizens. Dean Swift, in his ballad on the South Sea Bubble, calls Change Alley "a narrow sound though deep as hell," and describes the wreckers watching for the shipwrecked dead on "Garraway's cliffs." Two excellent anecdotes of Dr. Radcliffe, the eminent physician of the reigns of William III. and Queen Anne, connect him with Garraway's. The first relates to Dr. Hannes, a quack, who had ordered his servant to stop a number of gentlemen's coaches between Whitehall and the Royal Exchange, and inquire whether they belonged to Dr. Hannes, as if he was called to a patient. Not hearing of him in any coach, the fellow ran up into Exchange Alley, and entering Garraway's Coffee House, made the same interrogatories both above and below. At last, Dr. Radcliffe, who was usually there about Exchange time, and planted at a table with several apothecaries and chirurgeons that flocked about him, cried out, "Dr. Hannes was not there," and desired to know "Who wanted him?" The fellow's reply was, such a lord and such a lord; but he was taken up with the dry rebuke, "No, no, friend, you are mistaken; the doctor wants those lords."
"A famous physician (Dr. Radcliffe) ventured 5,000 guineas upon a project in the South Sea. When he was told at Garraway's that 'twas all lost, 'Why,' says he, "tis but going up 5,000 pair of stairs more.' This answer deserved a statue."
Steele, in the Tatler, mentions receiving some French wine as a taster of 216 hogsheads, to be put up at £20 the hogshead at Garraway's.
Garraway's closed after a joyous existence of 216 years. As a place of sale, exchange, auction, and lottery, it was never excelled. Here tea was first sold, and here the South Sea Bubblers met.
"Jonathan's" was another well-known Change Alley coffee-house of the old times. It is described in the Tatler as "the general mart for stock-jobbers;" and Addison, in the Spectator, No. 1, says, "I sometimes pass for a Jew in the assembly of stock-jobbers at 'Jonathan's.'" Mrs. Centlivre has laid one of the scenes of her Bold Stroke for a Wife at "Jonathan's." While the business goes on she makes the coffee-boys cry, "Fresh coffee, gentlemen! fresh coffee! Bohea tea, gentlemen!"
In Freeman's Court, Cornhill, taken down about
1848 to build larger houses, Defoe carried on the
business of hose-factor in 1702, as we learn from
the following proclamation:—
"St. James's, Jan. 10, 1702–3.
"Whereas Daniel De Foe, alias De Fooe, is charged with writing a scandalous and seditious pamphlet, entitled 'The Shortest Way with the Dissenters.' He is a middlesized, spare man, about forty years old; of a brown complexion, and dark brown-coloured hair, but wears a wig; a hooked nose, a sharp chin, grey eyes, and a large mole near his mouth; was born in London, and for many years was a hose-factor in Freeman's Yard, in Cornhill, and now is owner of the brick and pantile works near Tilbury Fort, in Essex. Whoever shall discover the said Daniel De Foe to one of Her Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, or any of Her Majesty's Justices of Peace, so as he may be apprehended, shall have a reward of £50, which Her Majesty has ordered immediately to be paid upon such discovery."
Finch Lane derived its name from Robert Finke, the worthy citizen who built St. Bennet-Finke, the church pulled down to enlarge the Exchange.
Birchin Lane is thus described by Stow, the Herodotus of old London:—"Then have ye Birchover Lane, so called of Birchover, the first builder and owner thereof, now corruptly called Birchin Lane. . . . This lane, and the High Street, near adjoining, hath been inhabited for the most part with wealthy drapers; from Birchin Lane, on that side the street down to the Stocks, in the reign of Henry VI., had ye for the most part dwelling fripperers or upholders, that sold old apparel and household stuffs."
Dekker, in his "Gull's Horn Book," speaks of the whalebone doublets of Birchin Lane; and one of Middleton's characters purchases there "a captain's suit, a valiant buff doublet, stuffed with points, and a pair of velvet slops scored thick with lace." In Strype's time Birchin Lane was still famous for old clothes. Garrick, always a strategist, kept up his interest in the City, says Sir John Hawkins, by appearing about twice a winter at Tom's Coffee House, Birchin Lane, the usual rendezvous of young merchants at 'Change time. Poor Chatterton, writing to his sister, May 30, 1770, with his usual air of feigned success, says, "There is such a noise of business and politics in the room (Tom's) that my inaccuracy in writing here is highly excusable. My present profession obliges me to frequent places of the best resort."
Some London streets seem determined never to distinguish themselves. No mediaeval scuffle has ever occurred in them; no celebrated church hoards its monuments; no City hall cherishes its relics there; no celebrated person has honoured it by birth or death. Gracechurch Street is one of these unambitious streets. It derived its name, says Stow, from the grass or herb market there kept in old time, and which gave its name to the parish church of St. Bennet.
St. Bennet Gracechurch, described by Stow, was destroyed in the Great Fire, and another structure, recently pulled down, erected from Wren's designs in 1685. It is now united with the parishes of Allhallows, Lombard Street, and St. Leonard's, Eastcheap. The register, says Cunningham, records the following burial:—"1559, April 14, Robert Burges, a common player," probably from the theatre in the yard of the "Cross Keys." In Gracechurch Street, Tarlton, the favourite clown of Elizabeth's time, a droll, short, flat-nosed fellow, who sang comic songs to the music of a pipe and tabor (he was probably the representative of Touchstone, and others of Shakespeare's jesters), lodged at the sign of the "Saba," probably to be near the "Cross Keys." He was chosen scavenger by the ward, and was constantly complained of for not keeping the streets clean. In the old book called "Tarlton's Jests," an early "Joe Miller," the following story is told of this street:—
"There was one Banks, in the time of Tarlton, who served the Earl of Essex, and had a horse of strange qualities, and being at the 'Crosse Keyes' in Gracious Streete, getting money with him, as he was mightily resorted to, Tarlton then, with his fellowes, playing at the 'Bel' by, came into the 'Crosse Keyes,' amongst many people, to see fashions, which Banks perceiving, to make the people laugh, saies, 'Signior,' to his horse, 'go fetch me the veriest fool in the company.' The jade comes immediately, and with his mouth draws Tarlton forth. Tarlton, with merry words, said nothing but 'God a mercy, horse!' . . . . Ever after it was a by-word through London, 'God a mercy, horse!' and is to this day."
Taylor, the water poet, in his little directory, the "Carriers' Cosmographie" (1637), mentions the "Tabard, near the Conduit," and the "Spread Eagle," both in "Gracious Street." In White Hart Court was a Quakers' meeting-house, and here, in 1690, at the house of Henry Goldney, died that strange, but honest fanatic, George Fox, the founder of the sect. Fox was the son of a Leicestershire weaver, and being "converted" at nineteen, betook himself to itinerant preaching. He was examined by Cromwell on one occasion, and kindly treated; and on the rumour that Oliver was going to make himself king, Fox went to him and personally remonstrated. Fox preached at this meeting-house in White Hart Court only a few days before his death. Penn says of Fox that he had an extraordinary gift in "opening" the Scriptures, and that above all he excelled in prayer. In Nag's Head Court died, in 1737, Matthew Green, the hypochondriacal author of "The Spleen." He held a post in the Custom House, and was nephew to a clerk of Fishmongers' Hall. His pleasant poem was posthumous, and was printed by "Leonidas" Glover. It was approved by Pope and Gray, and will certainly live, if only for the celebrated line—"Throw but a stone, the giant dies." A happy image, in singularly small compass.
Fenchurch Street, another thoroughfare scanty in memories, and therefore still open for future fame, took its name from the marshy ground on the banks of the Langbourne. Indeed, even in Stow's time, the ward was called Langbourne or Fennieabout; yet at that date some crotchety antiquaries insisted that it was called Fenchurch from fænum, or hay sold there, as Gracechurch from its grass and herbs.
In this street, which runs from Gracechurch to Aldgate, formerly stood Denmark House, the residence, in the reign of Philip and Mary (1557), of the first Russian ambassador sent to England. The Russian Company had just started, and our merchants, eager for barbaric furs, gold, and amber, treated the Muscovite duke's envoy with prudent respect. They met him, with their velvet gowns and gold chains, at Tottenham. At Islington Lord Montacute, the Queen's pensioner, welcomed his approach, and at the same place the Lord Mayor and aldermen, in a blaze of scarlet, came up, and accompanied him to Master Dimmocks' in Fenchurch Street.
Of all London saints perhaps St. Dionis or Dionysius, the Areopagite, is the least honoured; and yet St. Dionis was the St. Denis of France. St. Dionis is called Backchurch, as some think, from there having originally been a church to St. Gabriel in the centre of the roadway, behind which stood St. Dionis; but this is doubtful. This church, mentioned as early as 1288, was rebuilt in the reign of Henry VI., and again after the Great Fire under Wren's supervision. The Ionic columns, carved pulpit, and motley altar-piece need no description. Near the communion-table is an ugly granite monument to Sir Arthur Ingram, a Spanish merchant, who gave his name to Ingram Court in this street, and was a great benefactor to the church. In the vestry they preserve as interesting relics four large syringes (such as they now use in Constantinople), the only machines formerly known for extinguishing fires. They are rather more than two feet long, and were fastened by straps to the body of the firemen. The tower is forty feet high.
At the "King's Head" Tavern, No. 53, Fenchurch Street, the Princess Elizabeth, when released from the Tower by her harsh sister Mary, is said to have dined, after attending divine service at the church of Allhallows Staining, in Mark Lane. The young lady, always a fair trencherwoman, exulting in freedom and fresh air, partook freely of pork and peas. This royal act of condescension was celebrated till quite recently by an annual dinner of the chief parishioners. In the coffeeroom they still show, with honest pride, the metal dish and cover said to have been occupied by the afore-mentioned peas and pork, and an engraved portrait of the young princess by Holbein. Another legend has it that the princess, on quitting Allhallows, gave the clerk a handsome fee, which he celebrated by an annual dinner given to his chief patrons.
The Church of St. Margaret Pattens was so called (says Stow) because pattens were usually made and sold in this neighbourhood, but more probably, we think, from the church being specially decorated (altar or roof) with such "patines of bright gold" as those to which Shakespeare, in the Merchant of Venice, compares the stars. The venerable shade of Stow will forgive us this trifling rebellion to his dictum. This church is mentioned as early as 1344, was in Whittington's gift, and was rebuilt after the Great Fire. In 1538, the rood, having been left in the churchyard to receive oblations, was destroyed by some too zealous Reformer. The altar-piece is by Carlo Maratti. The great antiquary, Dr. Birch, rector of the parish nearly nineteen years, is buried here. Above the altar are some finely-carved flowers.
In Fenchurch Street, on the site of Northumberland Alley, stood the first town residence of the Earls of Northumberland. The gardens were afterwards converted into bowling-alleys for all comers.
St. Catherine Coleman, close to where Northumberland House once stood, derived its name from a large garden belonging to one Coleman (date uncertain). This church escaped the Great Fire, and was rebuilt in 1734.
Pepys has the following interesting allusion to Fenchurch Street, in connection with the Plague. "June 10, 1665," he says, "to my great trouble, hear that the Plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City); but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour's, Dr. Burnett, in Fenchurch Street; which, in both points, troubles me mightily.
"June 11.—I saw poor Dr. Burnett's door shut; but he hath, I hear, gained great good-will among his neighbours, for he discovered it himself first, and caused himself to be shut up of his own accord; which was very handsome."
Out of respect to Fenchurch Street, we may mention its small tributary, Billiter Street, a name corrupted from Belzettar, a forgotten builder or owner. Strype describes the place as consisting of poor and ordinary houses, formerly inhabited by needy, beggarly people. The inhabitants were then brokers and chandlers, residing in very old and ruinous timber houses. The chief ornament of it was Billiter Square, which Strype describes as "a very handsome, open, and airy place, graced with good new-brick buildings very well inhabited."
Ironmongers' Hall in Fenchurch Street is a building with a history and traditions of its own. The iron that supplied London in the Middle Ages was chiefly worked in Sussex, Surrey, and Kent.
The earliest account, says Mr. Herbert, we have of the Ironmongers as a guild is in the 37th year of Edward III., when on occasion of the various mysteries making their offerings to the king for carrying on his French wars, the Ironmongers subscribed £6 18s. 4d. The same Company, in the 50th of Edward III., sent four of their members to the Common Council. Near this period, and for a long time afterwards, the Ironmongers appear to have united the professions both of merchant and trader, for, whilst they had large warehouses and yards, whence they exported and sold bar-iron and iron rods, they had also shops, wherein they displayed abundance of manufactured articles, which they purchased from the workmen in town and country, and of which they afterwards became the general retailers. Ironmonger Lane was one of the first spots on which the trade congregated. Many of the rich Ironmongers were buried in the church of the adjacent united parishes of St. Olave Jewry and St. Martin, Ironmonger Lane.
The Ironmongers were incorporated in the 3rd of Edward IV., their arms having been granted to them several years before. Their records are ancient; their first court-book commences in 1541, but they have documents and records of a still earlier date. Some of the entries are curious, and of these we select a few of the most interesting. In 1562, they provide 19 soldiers for the Queen's service; 1565, pay £75 towards building the Royal Exchange; 1566, provide three soldiers for the Queen's service, Ireland; 1575, they lend the Queen £60; 1577, supply 100 men as soldiers; 1578, provide seven seamen; 1579, provide 73 men for the defence of the kingdom; 1591, contribute £344 to help send forth ten ships of war and a pinnace; 1596, lend Government £172; 1630, pay £35 16s., being their proportion of a fine exacted from the City for not apprehending the murderers of John Lamb (see Vol. I., page 421); 1642, pay for the service of Parliament £3,400; 1643, pay Parliament £9 10s. every week for four months, and sell their plate to try to raise £1,700 to help Parliament.
The ancient livery hood was crimson and puce. In choosing wardens it was usual at the election dinner to bring in garlands, preceded by minstrels, and try them on each person, till they arrived at the stewards-elect. Worthy Mr. Evelyn (September 4, 1671) mentions this ceremony, and describes how the solemn procession came to the upper table and drank to the new stewards.
The present Ironmongers' Hall is the third or fourth building erected on the same site. The present hall was designed by T. Holden, in 1748. It was then a handsome stone building, with a rustic base and Ionic pilasters, balustraded roof, and carved tympanum. The vestibule was divided by six Tuscan columns, and the state room was adorned with Ionic ornaments, an orchestra and grand buffet. The master and wardens' chairs stood against the west wall, in front of the king's arms, while the blue semi-oval ceiling was stuccoed with heraldic bearings, satyrs' heads, cornucopias, palm-branches, flowers, and scrolls. The banqueting-hall has since been decorated in the Louis Quatorze taste, in papier-mache and carton-picrre imitative oak aided by oak carvings. The hall contains portraits of Mr. Thomas Betton (a Turkey merchant, who left £26,000), Sir Robert Geffery (giver of the Company's almshouses in the Kingsland Road), Sir James Cambell, and other benefactors, and a fine full-length of Lord Hood, by Gainsborough, given by that admiral to the Company, in 1783, when his lordship was received into the Company without fee or previous nomination. The Ironmongers' arms are argent, on a chevron gules, three swivels or between three steel gads azure; crest on a wreath, two scaly lizards, erect, combatant proper (i.e., vert); motto, "God is our strength." The lizards should properly be salamanders, but the Ironmongers insist on the lizards, and even named their Irish estate after them.
Mincing Lane was so called from houses there belonging to the "Minchuns," or nuns, of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate Street. Of old time (says Stow) there dwelt in this lane Genoese traders called "galleymen," because they brought their, wines and other merchandise to Galley Wharf, in Thames Street. They used amongst themselves small silver halfpence called, in London, "galley halfpence," forbidden by Act of Parliament in the reigns of Henry IV. and Henry VI. These coins were broader than English halfpence, but not so thick and strong.
Mincing Lane is specially mentioned by Pepys, ápropos of the Great Fire:—"19th June, 1668," he says, "between two and three in the morning we were waked with the maids crying out, 'Fire, fire, in Marke Lane!' So I rose and looked out, and it was dreadful, and strange apprehensions in me and us all of being presently burnt. So we all rose, and my care presently was to secure my gold and plate and papers, and could quickly have done it, but I went forth to see where it was; and the whole town was presently in the streets; and I found it in a new-built house that stood alone in Minchin Lane, over against the Clothworkers' Hall, which burned furiously; the house not yet quite finished; and the benefit of brick was well seen, for it burnt all inward, and fell down within itself; so no fear of doing more hurt."
The original Clothworkers' Hall, in Mincing Lane, was purchased by the Fullers, in the year 1455 (Henry VI.), ever to remain in their fellowship. The spot is remarkable as the boundary of the Great Fire of London, which partly destroyed the hall. Pepys speaks of the building as being "in one body of flame for three days and nights, the cellars being full of oil."
The Clothworkers, says Herbert, seem to have sprung, like the Fullers, from the very ancient guild of Weavers. The trade had formerly several subdivisions, of which the Fullers, the Burrellers, and the Testers were the chief. The Burrellers were inspectors and measurers of cloth. In the reign of Edward IV. the Shearmen were separated from the Drapers and Tailors, and were incorporated. Henry VII. granted them additional privileges, and Henry VIII. united them with the Fullers, and gave the joint fraternity the name of Clothworkers. There were endless disputes between the Clothworkers and Dyers for precedence, till at last the Clothworkers settled down as twelfth and last of the great companies, and the Dyers took rank as first of the minor ones. Shearmen, the old title of the Clothworkers, had no reference to removing the wool from the sheep, but applied to the manner of clipping the nap in the process of cloth manufacture. The Clothworkers are especially mentioned in a statute concerning the woollen manufacture, in the reign of Edward VI., which contained clauses requiring the clothiers' seal on cloth, and forbidding over-stretching, and adding chalk, or flour, or starch, and the use of iron cards. Queen Elizabeth confirmed the right of the Clothworkers, and Charles I. (who, as well as his father, was a member of the fraternity) confirmed their charter. There were five degrees in the Company—apprentices, freemen (also called yeomen and bachelors), householders, the fellowship, and wardens. The government consisted of a court of assistants, including only those who had been masters and wardens.
Pepys himself was a member of this Company, and left it a quaint and valuable old cup, which still shines out among the meaner plate, on the occasion of grand dinners, "when beards wag all." The hall, after the Great Fire, seems to have been restored with green wood, which soon fell into decay. It must have been a fine building, for the banqueting-hall was a lofty wainscoted room, adorned with a great oak screen, with figures of James I. and Charles I., and two stained-glass windows. These windows contained, among other devices, the arms of Pepys and Sir John Robinson. The latter worthy was Lieutenant of the Tower, President of the Artillery Company, and Lord Mayor in 1663, when he entertained, in Clothworkers' Hall, Charles II. and his Queen, the Queen-Dowager, and the Duke and Duchess of York. Mr. Samuel Angell was the architect of the new hall, which occupies the old position in Mincing Lane. It was completed in 1860, and is now, with its fine oak carving and splendid mirrors, a good specimen of a Company's Hall—the ceiling, in white and gold, being ornamented in a rather unusual, but most tasteful manner, with life-size figures in relief. At one end of the hall stand the statues of James I. and Charles I., very dazzling in their covering of pure gilding. The ground on which the hall is built has been enlarged by the addition of a very large piece of land purchased by the Company quite recently. This is the site of the old church and graveyard of Allhallows Staining. The body of the church itself has been pulled down, and its place is occupied by houses built and let on lease to tenants. The churchyard is to remain as an open space, and will still admit air and light to the hall. But the old tower still remains; the Company, by arrangement with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, being bound not only not to demolish it, but to keep it in repair. Anything more absurd than this restriction cannot be imagined. The crumbling old tower is not by any means ornamental, and it can serve no purpose on earth except that of obstructing and incommoding the property of the Company. The real estates held by this Company are very large, and comprise a great deal of valuable house property in London. The Irish estates were let as far back as 1769 for £600 per annum, and a fine of £28,000. They have, however, been sold since the last rebuilding of the hall. The Company have schools at Sutton Valence, in Kent, and in the Isle of Man, and almshouses at Sutton Valence, in Islington, and other places. The charities were estimated in 1836 at about £1,400 per annum, but they are now vastly increased. This Company has numbered many royal personages among its members, and among them the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge. Prince Albert was also a member, and the Company have a large picture of his late Royal Highness, with a sister painting of Her Majesty, executed by Herrick in 1863. In proof of the honour in which the Clothworkers were held two centuries ago, we may quote the words of the panegyrist, Elkanah Settle:—"The grandeur of England is to be attributed to its golden fleece (which is the crest of this Company), the wealth of the loom making England a second Peru, and the back of the sheep, and not the entrails of the earth, being its chief mine of riches. The silkworm is no spinster of ours, and our wheel and web are wholly the Clothworkers'. Thus, as trade is the soul of the kingdom, so the greatest branch of it lies in the Clothworkers' hands; and though our naval commerce brings us in both the or and the argent, and indeed the whole wealth of the world, yet, when thoroughly examined, it will be found 'tis your cloth sends out to fetch them. And thus, whilst the Imperial Britannia is so formidable to her foes and so potent to her friends, . . . to the Clothworkers' honour it may justly be said, "Tis your shuttle nerves her arm, and your woof that enrobes her glory.' "
Howes relates that "James I., being in the open Hall, inquired who was master of the Company; and the Lord Mayor answering, 'Sir William Stone,' to whom the king said, " Wilt thou make me free of the Clothworkers?' ' Yea,' quoth the master, 'and think myself a happy man that I live to see this day.' Then the king said, 'Stone, give me thy hand; and now I am a Clothworker.'"
The Clothworkers' arms, granted in the reign of Henry VIII., are sable, a chevron ermine between two habricks, in chief argent, and a thistle in base, or; crest, a ram passant, or; supporters, two griffins, or; pellette. Motto—" My trust is in God alone."
At the north-east corner of Mark Lane, says Stow, was the manor of a knight of Richard II., called by the pretty name of Blanch Appleton, afterwards corrupted into Blind Chapel Court. In the reign of Edward IV. basket-makers and wiredrawers were allowed to practise their trade in Blanch Appleton. Mark Lane was originally called Mart Lane, from some fair of uncertain date there established.
The Church of Allhallows, standing in Mark Lane, recently pulled down by the Clothworkers' Company to enlarge their hall, was given, in 1367, by the Bishop of London to the Abbey and Convent of our Lady of Grace, near the Tower of London. The right of presentation eventually came into the possession of the Grocers' Company. According to Stow, the church was called Stane or Stayning, to distinguish it at an early period when many London churches were erected of timber. The churchwardens' books of Allhallows are perfect from as far back as 1491, and abound with some interesting facts as to prices and manners and customs. In 1492 the great beam light of the church is mentioned as weighing more than 40 pounds, and cost 1d. the pound. In 1587 there is a shilling paid to the ringers for expressing joy at the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. In 1606 a shilling is paid for painting three red crosses on the doors of houses infected with the plague. In the Great Plague of 1665, 165 persons died in the parish, and that year £3 17s. 6d. is paid for street fires to purify the air. In 1688, the ringers are paid for expressing joy at King James's return from Faversham, and two days after for more joy at the Prince of Orange's arrival, for the purpose of dethroning James! The church escaped the Great Fire, but, as if tired of standing, fell down suddenly in 1671, nearly burying a sexton who was digging a grave. The tower contains six bells, the greater number of which are dated 1682–3. Two of them, however, are much older, Malcolm says the date upon one is 1485.
The Corn Exchange in Mark Lane was projected and opened in 1747. A new Exchange was rebuilt by Mr. G. Smith in 1827, and opened the next year. It is now again proposed to rebuild it. On building thé second Corn Exchange a fine Roman pavement was discovered. The old Exchange, still standing in Mark Lane, has an open colonnade with modern Doric pillars. The factors have stands in the interior court, which has been compared to the atrium, or place of audience, of a Pompeian house. The New Corn Exchange is in the Grecian and Doric style. The interior is lighted by a lantern with vertical lights in the centre space within the columns, and the compartments on each side have skylights in their ceilings. The stands of the corn-factors, to the number of eighty and upwards, are along the sides of the building-. On them are placed small bags and wooden bowls, with samples of different kinds of grain, and behind is a desk for the factor or his clerk, with something of the convenience of a counting-house. Lightermen and granarykeepers have stands as well as corn-merchants, factors, and millers. The seed-market is held in another part of the building. In the north wing is a tavern and coffee-room, and an opening in the south side of the wing communicates with the old Corn Exchange.
As some London corn merchants were said, as far back as thirty years ago, to turn over in a year nearly a million and a half of money, it may be supposed that Mark Lane is a strictly busy place, and that the factors there do not scoop up handfuls of corn or toss wheat up in the air for mere amusement. In two months alone in 1841 there arrived in London 787 vessels from foreign ports, laden with foreign corn, a fact which proves the ceaseless cry for bread of hungry England, unable to fully supply its own wants, and dependent on the energy of the Mark Lane dealers.
In the Middle Ages, London, a mere bantling then, with no great appetite, depended in simple faith for corn on Kent and Essex alone. In Stow's time Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, and Sussex were the chief competitors in the London corn trade. Speculators in corn were looked upon in old times with suspicion, and even detestation; while regraters, or holders back of corn, were formerly branded as ruthless enemies of the human race. In 1542 corn dealers were prohibited having more than ten quarters in their possession at one time, and justices could examine a farmer's barns and sell the superfluous stock. Heavy penalties were inflicted two years afterwards on persons who bought corn to sell again. Farmers buying corn for seed were required to sell an equal quantity of store corn; while corn dealers were required to take out an annual licence, and not to engross or forestall, or buy out of open market, except under an express permission.
Dearths frequently occurring in the Middle Ages, the livery companies were required to keep stores of corn, as we have already mentioned in previous chapters. Sir Stephen Brown is the first Lord Mayor praised by Stow for sending to Dantzic for cheap corn in time of scarcity, and Sir Simon Eyre, another Lord Mayor, established a public granary, such as Joseph did in Egypt, at Leadenhall. In 1521 a mayor found the City granaries nearly empty, and had to lay in a provision of wheat. In 1546 two aldermen were appointed weekly in rotation to see that the markets were well supplied. When prices rose the companies were compelled to send in for sale certain specified quantities of corn, and then to provide a fresh stock. In 1590, they were called on, at two different periods, to purchase 18,000 quarters. The Bridgemaster had the charge of buying the corn, which was at one period entirely stored in the Bridge House. The money to purchase the grain for the City granaries was raised by loans and contributions from the mayor and aldermen, the City companies, and sometimes from the citizens. The companies often grumbled, clamoured for a return of their money, and were sometimes paid in store corn, which they by no means wanted. In 1596 the companies built their own granaries, and were allowed to keep their supply there. The difficulty with the companies grew worse and worse, and the refusals to buy corn became more frequent, till at last the Great Fire, that fierce reformer of many abuses, swept away the Bridge House and all the other granaries, and thus at last the custom of laying up corn and interfering with the natural balance of trade ceased altogether.
The German Steel Yard merchants were at one period the sole importers of foreign corn, and in times of scarcity were not allowed to sell either to bakers or brewers without the City's licence.
In one special year bakers were forbidden to buy any meal, except at the City's store, the Bridge House, where the quantity each might take, and the price, were fixed by the Lord Mayor. Such were the fetters in which trade had to move in the time of Queen Elizabeth, when so many feudal restrictions were still in existence. As an instance of the power of the City in the reign of her successor, it has been mentioned that in 1622 the Court tried to borrow thirty or forty quarters of wheat, and the City would only lend ten.
The ancient corn-ports of London were, as we have shown, Queenhithe and Billingsgate. The chief corn-warehouse was at Queenhithe. There was a principal meter there, and eight master porters, each of whom had three men under him. The chief corn-markets of London were Cornhill and Michael-le-Quern, at the west end of Cheapside. Bread Street was the mediæval bakers' market. The Fellowship of Bakers held four hall-motes during the year, to punish offences of their craft. In 1370 a Stratford baker, for selling loaves smaller than the assize, was drawn on a hurdle through London streets with a fool's cap on his head, while round his neck dangled his meagre loaves.
The old assize of bread compelled bakers to regulate the size of thier loaves by the price of corn. The assize was regulated in Queen Anne's reign, and not finally abolished till 1815. The Bakers' Company used formerly to present two newbaked loaves to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, to be fairly weighed. They were made out of wheaten corn, purchased by four "sworn and discreet men" at the markets of Grasschurch, St. Botolph, Bishopsgate, and Queenhithe. London bakers were formerly, except at Christmas, forbidden to sell household loaves at a higher price than twopence, or to sell by retail spice-cakes, buns, or biscuits, except for funerals, and at the festivals of Christmas and Easter.
The London corn-mills were latterly chiefly at London Bridge. Besides Leadenhall and the Bridge House there were granaries at one time at Bridewell and Christchurch. At the beginning of the last century the metropolitan corn-market was held at Bear Quay, in Thames Street. Queenhithe was at the same period the great market for flour and meal, and the "White Horse" Inn mealmarket, situated near Holborn Bridge, was much frequented.
The system of factorage is only about 180 years
old. Tradition has it that it began with a number
of Essex farmers, who used to leave samples of
corn with the landlord of an inn at Whitechapel
where they put up, and to whom they paid commission, to save the trouble of attending the
market every week. The ancestors of one of the
oldest commission-houses began with a stand on
"Such great events from little causes spring."
Kentish, Essex, and Suffolk corn arrives in sacks; foreign and Irish corn, and English oats and barley in loose bulk. The Kentish hoys sometimes bring joint-stock cargoes. The operation of unloading and measuring was, under the old system, very skilfully managed. Two fellowship porters all but filled the bushel with wooden shovels, the meter completed the bushel, and one of the men passed the strike over the surface. The sack was then filled and shot into the lighter. At purchase the grain was again measured.
By a recent Act of Parliament the City's rights of measuring corn, worth as much as £13,000 a year, were done away with. Corn is now sold by weight, the only charge being three-sixteenths of a penny per hundredweight, to pay for the ex-sworn meters, as compensation to the City, this charge to continue for thirty years.
The London terms of the factors are one month's open credit, and the buyer has to lodge any objection as to quality, bulk, &c., at the factor's stand before eleven o'clock on the following market day, or else has to abide by his bargain. The centre of the market is devoted, at the entrance end, to shipbrokers of all classes, and also to masters of small craft, and lightermen; in the middle assemble the great Greek merchants, who almost monopolise the importation of corn from every part of the world; they here give directions to factors who are selling their arrived cargoes, and to agents who are negotiating with country merchants and factors from all parts of the kingdom, either personally or by telegraph, for the sale of cargoes shipping at foreign ports, or on passage, or arrived on the coast at Plymouth or Queenstown. There are sometimes as many as 100 cargoes at ports of call, the size of each one being from 4,000 to 5,000 quarters up to 8,000 quarters, and sometimes as much as 13,000 quarters, waiting for a destination, which is notified to them by telegraph as soon as a contract is made. Not only is the United Kingdom supplied in this way, but also any part of the Continent where corn may be required.
The upper part of the market is the place of assembling for oil seed-crushers, and here the Greeks again are the great importers of all kinds of oil-seeds.
A strict and punctual system governs all the proceedings of the establishment. The market opens at eleven o'clock by ring of bell, and factors never name a price for goods till then. At two o'clock a notice bell is rung, and at half-past two the final bell, when the doors of the market are closed until three, when the sweepers begin to clear up the spilt samples, which bring in a good revenue to the company.
The next market adjoining, and in communication with the old Exchange, is the "London Corn Exchange," which is commonly called the New Corn Market, to distinguish it from the other. The exterior is much more imposing than the old market, which is very simple. Originally some dealers clubbed together and acquired some property opposite the old Exchange, and in opposition to it, and set up a few small stands, but they subsequently formed a company, and acquired the present site. This may be called the retail market, as the standholders are principally dealers, who sell corn lying in their own river-side warehouses to shopkeepers, livery-stables, &c., and they buy, generally from factors on the old market, the grain ex-ship. Some of these dealers are also factors in the old market. Here also the malt-factors and maltsters attend, as the Greeks do in the other market; and also a great many country dealers, who sell home-grown barley. The stands are arranged round the interior, and smaller stands fill up the centre opening.
A staircase at the entrance of the old Exchange, and the property of the same company, leads to "Jack's Coffee House," the assembly for London and country millers, who examine their purchases, &c., after the market is over. The room is crammed between three and four o'clock. At the rear of the old Exchange is a handsome building, which was erected in 1860; the upper storeys are divided into offices, and the ground-floor forms a large subscription-room.
Granaries are numerous about Bermondsey and Shad Thames, but they abound on both sides of the river, from Greenwich to Vauxhall. The foreign corn is stored in bonded granaries near the Commercial Docks. In the times of the high duties corn-merchants have been known to throw 2,000 quarters of wheat into the river at one time rather than pay the high tax, or keep it subject to long granary rent.
The supply of foreign corn to this country has undergone many changes from time to time; formerly our supplies were chiefly from the Baltic and South Russian ports, but now the United States is the chief contributor, and we also get wheat from Australia, California, the Cape, and New Zealand.
The cultivation of grain has undergone a marvellous change since 1830, the English farmer preferring cattle-rearing to corn-growing: thus in 1830 the supply of foreign corn to the port of London, as measured by the sworn meters, was 1,132,580 quarters, and of English 3,154,270 quarters; whereas, in the year 1871 the quantities were, foreign, 2,471,394 quarters; English, 662,567 quarters. The total of foreign grain and flour imported into London during 1871 was 20,400,905 cwts., according to Custom House Returns.
No. 33, Mark Lane, opposite the Corn Exchange, is a large and very ancient house, with fine oak carving over the gateway, and inside. Horses used to be lodged inside the gateway, and there are still the wooden pegs used for hanging up saddles and harness. This house must have been the residence of a great City grandee.