Monday, 11 January 2016

The Wards of Old London: Lime Street - "Foreigners" in the City

The main road running through London from west to east passes from the Ward of Bishopsgate Within, briefly through Lime Street Ward. It is one of the city's smallest wards, one 18th Century commentator remarking that, though it includes "parts of several parishes, there is not even a whole street in it." In American terms, it constitutes little more than a "block." It is thought to have been named for the sale of lime, for the building trade, but this activity had long since ceased by the time that John Stow completed his Survey of London in 1598.

18th Century map of Lime Street Ward (image is in the Public Domain).

On the corner of Gracechurch Street and Leadenhall Street, there once stood a large lead-roofed house, which gave its name to the latter. In 1309, this was owned by Sir Hugh Nevill, who opened up the grounds to serve as an open market, popular with poulterers and cheese-mongers. It later passed into the hands of Sir Richard ("Dick") Whittington, who ultimately gave it to the City. A new market complex was developed in the 1440s, built by the master-mason, John Croxton, who also built London's Guildhall. This included a grammar school, and a public granary, as well as a market, and is shown on the 16th Century Agas Map as having turrets and battlements, probably to defend the city's grain supply in the event that food shortages required rationing and provoked rioting. Two centuries later, as the forces of Charles I threatened the City with a siege, this was one of many buildings requisitioned by the Parliamentary Commander, Philip Skippon, for the storage both of food supplies and of armaments.

Although the sale and purchase of most goods was tightly controlled by the City Livery Companies, there were always exceptions. The Worshipful Company of Bakers, for example, held a monopoly over the sale of bread, but this did not seem to extend to "wafres" (waffles), consumed on special occasions, including weddings and saints' days, but also, ironically, in times of grain shortage (but only, of course, by those who could afford them). In William Langland's 14th Century poem, Piers Plowman, the character of Haukyn the "Active Man," an itinerant minstrel and waffle-maker, describes a visit to London:

15th Century Manuscript of Piers Plowman, National Library of Wales (image is in the Public Domain).

"At London, I leve,
Liketh wel my wafres;
And louren wan thei lakken hem.
It is not longe y passed.
There was a careful commune,
When no cart com to towne
With breede fro Stratforde;
Tho gonnen beggaris wepe,
And workmen were agast a lite;
This wole be thoughte longe.
In the day of oure Drighte,
In a drye Aprille,
A thousand and thre hundred
Twies thretty and ten,
My wafres there were gesene
When Chichestre was maire."

Wafering irons dating to c 1481. Waffles, being made with eggs and milk, were more expensive than bread, but could be consumed by those who could afford them in times of relative scarcity of grain. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum (reproduced with permission).

Haukyn was, in City terms, a "foreigner" - not a Freeman of London, and without an attachment to a Livery Company. Leadenhall seems to have emerged at an early stage as the one quarter of the City in which such people were allowed to trade.

De Marskramer (The Pedlar), by Hieronymus Bosch, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (image is in the Public Domain).

This arrangement, informal in the 14th Century, was, by the reign of Henry VII, becoming official, and it applied not only to foodstuffs, but also to other commodities and goods. The following motion was passed in the Guildhall in 1503:

"Please it, the Lord Mayor and Common Council, to enact that all Frenchmen bringing canvas, linen cloth, and other wares to be sold, and all foreigners bringing wolsteds, sayes, stiamus, coverings, nails, iron work, or any other wares, and also all manner of foreigners bringing lead to the City to be sold, shall bring all such their wares aforesaid to the open market of the Leadenhall, there and nowhere else to be sold and uttered, like as of old time it hath been used, upon pain of forfeiture of all the said wares ..."

Drapers' stall, from a 14th Century manuscript of the Tacuinum Sanitatis, Bibliotheque Nationale de France (image is in the Public Domain).

Croxton's Leadenhall Market was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, but a new one was erected in its place, and there has been a market on the site ever since.

Leadenhall Market in the 19th Century (image is in the Public Domain).

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King, and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on The Cheapside Tales, a London-based trilogy of historical novels.

Post-Script (added on 28th January 2016). For information on London's most significant recent archaeological discoveries, including a spectacular early Roman building in Lime Street Ward, please see


  1. Thanks, I enjoy reading this history!

  2. Great history, I wasn't aware of any of this:) Thanks for sharing!