Love Lane, Thames Street
In early modern London, there were several streets with the name Love Lane, although the exact number of them varies from account to account. Today, there are numerous streets with variations on the name Love Lane. Eilert Ekwall, in his dictionary of the City of London, lists four such streets,
one in Aldermanbury [. . .] another in Colem[an] St [. . .] a third in Bill[ingsgate . . .] and a fourth in St. Christopher [Broad Street], now lost(Ekwall 165). Gertrude Burford Rawlings suggests that there are
ten Love Lanes in the London district [i.e., Greater London], two Love Courts and one Love Walk(73). The modern London A-Z lists twelve Love Lanes in the index, four Lovers Walks, and one Love Walk (241). This page will focus on Love Lane, Thames Street, in Billingsgate, but will also contrast this street with the reputation of the various other Love Lanes.
Love Lane, Thames Street was situated within Billingsgate (or Belingsgate) ward (Hughson 91). Billingsgate ward is two wards to the west of the Tower of London. The Agas map shows that the lane goes from north to south—up to St. Andrew Hubbard and down to Thames Street. It runs parallel to the streets St. Mary-at-Hill and Botolph Lane. Stow records its location as follows:
next out of Thames Streete is Lucas [Love] lane, and then Buttolph lane, and at the North end thereof Philpot lane, then is Rother lane, of olde time so called, and thwart the same lane is little Eastcheape, and these be the bounds of Billinsgate warde(Stow 1.206). The street is included in the parish of St. Mary-at-Hill, or St. Mary atte Hille according to the spelling of a 1458 record (Harben 371).
According to Henry Harben, the earliest mention of Love Lane was in 1394, when it was referred to as having formerly been called
Roperelane(371). In A Survey of London, Stow likewise states that the lane was
of old time called Roape lane, [and] since called Lucas laneafter an owner of nearby land, and then
corruptly called Loue Lane(1.210). This emphasis on the name being corrupt is of note. Stow refuses to refer to the lane by its contemporary name, continuing instead to use the archaic Lucas Lane. This insistence on the older name mirrors the nostalgia of Stow’s text. In contrast, James Howell’s Londonopolis (1657) records that the lane went from being named Rope-lane, to Lucas lane, to Love lane without commenting that this latest change was
The use of the name Lucas Lane cannot be traced to any early records, suggesting that perhaps Stow might be mistaken in his record that the lane was rightfully called Lucas Lane, and then
corruptlycalled Love Lane (Harben 371). Further substantiating this claim is the evidence that the lane was in fact called Love Lane in the early records. One theory is that the name was changed from
LoveLane around 1377. At that time,
in an ordinance for safeguarding the City, the Alderman of Billygnes-gate Ward was to guard the wharf of Reynold Love up to Billings-gate(Harben 371). Harben suggests that the name was changed at this time in honour of the Love family, who were likely wealthy members of the ward (371).
However, there are other hypotheses about the origin of the name
Love.Harben records that it could have been named after John Lovekyn, then
contracted into Lukin, and Lukins, and later converted into Lucas(371). This evidence suggests that the Billingsgate Love Lane has a different etymology than other Love Lanes in London. This research is significant for the lane’s reputation, because other Love lanes were so named for their brothels:
in the Middle Ages the wanton women of the City gathered in [Love Lane near Aldermanbury], seeking customers, and the street thereby acquired its name(Smith 129). Similarly, The London Encyclopedia cites the latter Love Lane as having been
a haunt of prostitutes in the Middle Ages(Weinreb and Hibbert 485). Gillian Bebbington in London Street Names corroborates this point, citing Stow in her description of Love Lane between Wood Street and Aldermanbury as a place frequented by
Although a sordid reputation attaches to Love Lane in Cripplegate Ward, many scholars argue that all Love Lanes should not be regarded as sharing a similarly infamous history. For example, Rawlings states that
we may well believe that Stow’s explanation does not fit them alland hypothesizes that
many, no doubt, were named from innocent everyday romances(73). Ekwall corroborates Rawlings’ assertion, suggesting that while
the name [. . .] is generally held to refer to houses of ill fame [. . .] the name may have a more innocent connotation, at least in some cases(166). Ekwall points out that streets called Love Lane in Swedish towns
exclude the coarser meaningand instead suggest a
lane where loving couples are wont to walk(166). He extends this theory to the Love Lanes in London, and considers Billingsgate Love Lane to have this more innocent origin.
After the early modern period, Love Lane is mentioned in a 1683 text entitled An invitation to Mr. John Garlick’s houſe at the sign of the George in Love-Lane near Billingſgate, to the eating of a diſh of meat, called a Spanish oleo. Written by Richard Gibbs, it is a comical poem entreating readers to partake in a fine meal:
. From this poem, it seems that Love Lane was the site of at least one tavern in the post-fire London of the later seventeenth century.(Gibbs recto)Come to the George you Epicurean CrewThat love good Eating, there’s a Diſh that’s New [. . .]’tis an OLEO, a more Spermatick Meat,Not fit for every Son of Truckle Bed,Incipit, Dull, Illiterate Logerhead
In 1774, during excavations undertaken on Love Lane for the building of a sugar warehouse, pieces of Roman bricks and ancient Saxon coins were found (Harben 371). In The Annual Register, or, A View of the History and Politics of the Year 1851, it is recorded that a
calamitous fire in the citystarted on Love Lane, Lower Thames Street in the early morning at the
well-knowntavern called the Rose and Crown, at no. 17 Love Lane (68). Love Lane was eventually shortened so that Monument Street could be formed (Harben 371).
The modern travel book The Rough Guide to London indicates that Love Lane became Lovat Lane after 1939. It also highlights the church of St Mary-at-Hill on Lovat Lane, which was rebuilt by Christopher Wren after London’s Great Fire in 1666 (Humphreys 211). The travel writer describes the lane as
one of the City’s most atmospheric cobbled streets, once renowned for its brothels( 211). Interestingly, this statement contradicts what the aforementioned scholars suggest about this street. Although The Rough Guide is not a scholarly source, it may inadvertently deliver a grain of truth. Kingsford’s gloss on Love Lane cites a 1428 source that mentions a building thereon called
le Stuehous,which demonstrates the lane’s connection with
wantons,he argues (Kingsford 2.311). Stew is an obsolete term for a brothel. The Oxford English Dictionary entry records that in 1436 the word Stywehouses was used to describe
houses of Bordell(OED stew-house, n.). Although scholarly opinion tends to concur that Love Lane did not take its name from a seedy reputation as a place of prostitution, it seems from the evidence Kingsford cites that the lane may still have housed one or more of the city of London’s many brothels.
See also: Chalfant 122.
- The Annual Register, or, A View of the History and Politics of the Year 1851. London, 1851. Internet Archive. Open.
- Bebbington, Gillian. London Street Names. London: B.T. Batsford, 1972.
- Chalfant, Fran C. Ben Jonson’s London: A Jacobean Placename Dictionary. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1978.
- Ekwall, Eilert. Street-Names of the City of London. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965.
- Geographers’ A–Z Street Atlas. Big London Street Atlas. London: Geographers’ A–Z Map Company, 2004.
- Gibbs, Richard. An invitation to Mr. John Garlick’s houſe at the sign of the George in Love-Lane near Billingſgate, to the eating of a diſh of meat, called a Spanish oleo. London, 1683. EEBO. Subscription. Wing G665.
- Harben, Henry. A Dictionary of London. London: Henry Jenkins, 1918. British History Online. Reprint. Open.
- Howell, James. Londinopolis, an historicall discourse or perlustration of the city of London, the imperial chamber, and chief emporium of Great Britain whereunto is added another of the city of Westminster, with the courts of justice, antiquities, and new buildings thereunto belonging. London, 1657. Wing H3090. Reprint. EEBO.
- Hughson, David. London; Being an Accurate History and Description of the London Metropolis and its Neighbourhood to Thirty Miles Extent, from an actual Perambulation. 8 vols. London: Printed by W. Stratford, Crown Court, Temple Bar, 1806.
- Humphreys, Rob. The Rough Guide to London. London: Rough Guides, 2003.
- Kingsford, Charles Lethbridge, ed. A Survey of London by John Stow. Reprinted from the Text of 1603. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. A searchable transcription of this text is available at BHO.
- Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. Subscription. OED.
- Rawlings, Gertrude Burford. The Streets of London: Their History and Associations. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1926.
- Smith, Al. Dictionary of City of London Street Names. New York: Arco, 1970.
- Stow, John. A Survey of London. Reprinted from the Text of 1603. Ed. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. [Also available as a reprint from Elibron Classics (2001). Articles written before 2011 cite from the print edition by volume and page number.]
- Weinreb, Ben, and Christopher Hibbert, eds. The London Encyclopaedia. New York: St. Martin’s, 1983. [You may also wish to consult the 3rd edition, published in 2008.]
Last modification: 2016-05-27 14:37:29 -0700 (Fri, 27 May 2016) (tlandels)