Shoe Lane, or Shoe Alley as it was sometimes called in the sixteenth century (Ekwall 110), was outside the city wall, in the ward of Faringdon Without. It ran north-south, parallel to the course of the Fleet River. Until 1869, it was the main route between Holborn (Oldborne, in Stow’s spelling) and Fleet Street (Smith 190). At its north end, on the west side, was the church of St. Andrew Holborn. South of the church stood Bangor Inn, the thirteenth-century home of the Bishop of Bangor. At its south end was a conduit built in 1471 using money from the estate of Sir William Estfield, mayor of London in 1437. You can see this conduit in Fleet Street on the map.
When the Dominican Black Friars (whose name eventually became attached to the Blackfriars precinct inside the city walls and later the hall theatre) first came to London, they took up residence on the east side of Shoe Lane at the Holborn end of the lane, opposite St. Andrew Holborn. They remained in this location from 1224–1278 (Richardson 28). Their house was purchased in 1285 by the Earl of Lincoln (41), and was later known as Holborn Manor. In 1263, 700 Dominican friars attended a general chapter in the Shoe Lane premises (34). A gathering of this size must have made quite a stir in the small town of medieval London.
On the east side of the sixteenth-century street was
one olde house called Oldborne Hall,which had been converted to
divers Tenementes(Stow 2:38). A Roger de Scholond had tenements in
Scholanein 1283 (Kingsford 2:362); it is unclear if there is any connection between his name and the name of the street. The Goldsmiths’ Company owned tenements in Shoe Lane; business pertaining to the rental of
housesin Shoe Lane appears frequently in the Company records in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.1
In the seventeenth century, the street housed
sign-writers, designers of broadsheets[,] and [a] cockpit.The cockpit, a round amphitheatre-like building where the bloodsport of cockfighting took place, was visited by Sir Henry Wotton in 1633. Samuel Pepys records a visit to the same cockpit in 1663 (Weinreb and Hibbert 784). Shortly thereafter, the street was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666. It was rebuilt more or less in the same location, and is now home to newspaper offices and other businesses. It has an additional claim to literary fame: Thomas Chatterton, the young poet whose premature death by suicide inspired Keats and other Romantic poets, was buried in a pauper’s grave by the Shoe Lane workhouse in 1770 (Richardson 214).
The origins of the street name are obscure, but all the historians agree that the name does not refer to the manufacture of shoes. Some have suggested that the street was named after the well called Showelle or Sho well (Smith 190; Weinreb and Hibbert 784). However, it is more likely that both the well and the street derived their names from a tract of land named Shoeland Farm.
Sholand-wellemay have become Shoe Lane and Shoe Well by a process of ellipsis (Ekwall 110–11). The farm may have been on a
piece of land resembling a shoe in shape(110). Gillian Bebbington refers to Eilert Ekwall’s work and wonders if the lane
led to a shoe-shaped field(301). Whatever the answer, it is clear that the lane dates back to a remote time when this part of London was still agricultural land.
- This is noted in unpublished archival research. (JJ)
- Bebbington, Gillian. London Street Names. London: B.T. Batsford, 1972.
- Ekwall, Eilert. Street-Names of the City of London. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965.
- 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.
- Richardson, John. The Annals of London. Los Angeles: U of California P, 2000.
- 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)