(Graduate Student Contribution)
Tower Street runs east-west from Tower Hill in the east to St. Andrew Hubbard church. It is the principal street of Tower Street Ward. That the ward is named after the street indicates the cultural significance of Tower Street, which was a key part of the processional route through London and home to many wealthy merchants who traded in the goods that were unloaded at the docks and quays immediately south of Tower Street (for example, Billingsgate, Wool Key, and Galley Key). Like many London streets, however, it had its adjacent seedier elements, which John Stow tends to elide in his description of the street.
In his descriptions of Tower Street, Stow usually focuses on the wealth of its inhabitants and the beauty of its buildings. He mentions two “fayre” parish churches on Tower Street. First, he describes “the fayre parish Church called Alhallowes Barking,” which lies “at the East end of the streete, on the North side thereof” (1.130). Stow tells us that it “standeth in a large, but sometime farre larger, cemitory or Churchyearde” (1.130). It is typical of Stow to mention encroachments on churches and other fair buildings, but in this case he does not specify the nature of the encroachment. He does indicate that the north side of the churchyard boasted a “fayre Chappell, founded by king Richard the first,” wherein the heart of the king was said to have been “buried there vnder the high Altar” (1.130). Stow’s list of monuments in the church indicates that a number of drapers, mercers, civic leaders, and Merchants of the Staple were buried therein. Another figure of notoriety buried there was Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, known for his contributions to the English sonnet tradition, although Stow mentions only that he was “beheaded 1546” (1.131). On the south side of Tower Street stood the “Church of Saint Dunstone […] in the East,” just east of “Fowle lane” and “S. Marie Hill” (1.134). The name was meant to distinguish the church from St. Dunstan in the West. Stow tells us that it was “a fayre and large Church of an auncient building, and within a large Churchyarde” (1.134). The parishioners of the latter, Stow tells us, included “many rich Marchants, and other occupiers of diuerse trades, namely Saltars and Ironmongers” (1.134).
Because Tower Street was the main street of Tower Street Ward, Stow follows the spine of the street as an organizing principle in his description of the ward. He lists the streets opening off Tower Street, beginning in the east on the north side. First is “Sydon Lane,” “Sidon lane,” or “Sything lane” (i.e., Seething Lane), home to “diuers fayre and large houses” (1.131). Further west are Mark Lane (called “Marte lane” by Stow) and Mincing Lane (home to Clothworkers’ Hall). After Mincing Lane, Tower Street jogs north slightly towards St. Margaret Pattens, at the corner of Rood Lane. Running south from Tower Street towards Thames Street were Beer Lane, “Sporiar lane” or Water Lane (Stow 1.133), and “Harpe lane” (1.133). Next were two lanes Stow identifies as “both called Churchlanes, because one runneth downe by the East ende of Saint Dunstans Church, and the other by the west ende of the same” (1.134). Prockter and Taylor label the first one “St. Dunstan’s Hill” (26), although Stow tells us that only the conjoined Church Lanes running south were called “Saint Dunstans hill” (1.135). The final southbound street off Tower Street was St. Mary at Hill. Tower Street terminated at St. Andrew Hubbard, which was in Eastcheap in Billingsgate Ward.
Conspicuously absent from Stow’s description of Tower Street in A Survey of London (1.129–38) are its pubs, and the street’s history as a well travelled route for monarchs and traitors alike. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford observes that “the compass of Elizabethan London was small […] and with the whole of that small compass a single man could easily be familiar” (xxx). Thus, Stow’s Survey is deliberately selective or “mythical,” as Patrick Collinson observes when he asks, “did Merry England ever exist? And if it did, are selective memories of its fall, or demise, to be trusted?” (27). In his description of Tower Street Ward, Stow’s personality and biases come through. We sense his anxiety when he refers to the defacing of monuments in churchyards (1.131, 135), or “incrochmentes, (vnlawfully made and suffered) for Gardens and Houses, some on the Banke of the Tower ditch, whereby the Tower ditch is marred” (1.129). Such complaints by Stow are telling for they reflect the reality of a growing city, the “problem of heavy, uncontrolled traffic” (Collinson 29), and the aspects of London that Stow is loath to portray. Indeed, he seems more concerned with “diuers fayre and large houses” (Stow 1.131) than with the realities of a socially and economically divided ward.
Eilert Ekwall observes that Tower Street, now called Great Tower Street, is first recorded in 1259, and that the name probably derives from vicus Turris (street tower) or something similar (93). Tower Street is invariably associated with both Tower Hill and the Tower of London. Tower Hill is located between the eastern end of Tower Street and the Tower of London. Gillian Bebbington (325), Al Smith, and Stow all agree that Tower Hill was a location for public executions, though Smith adds that executions also occurred within the Tower of London (201). Stow observes that “[v]pon this Hill is alwayes readily prepared at the charges of the cittie a large Scaffolde and Gallowes of Timber, for the execution of such Traytors or Transgressors, as are deliuered out of the Tower, or otherwise to the Shiriffes of London by writ there to be executed” (1.129–30). Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert report that seventy-five people are known to have been executed on Tower Hill surrounded by “thousands of spectators” (870). Such widely viewed public spectacles no doubt helped to establish Tower Street as a significant locale in the public imagination. It is not implausible that the mere mention of Tower Street was enough to conjure images of both Tower Hill and the Tower of London.
Tower Street, however, was notable not only for its association with Tower Hill and the Tower of London. It was also part of the route for civic pageants and processions, specifically coronation processions. Anne Lancashire writes that it seems to have been standard practice, beginning in the thirteenth century, “for the city to have decorated a processional route through the streets” for coronations and for welcoming foreign monarchs. By the fourteenth century, street stages and mechanical devices were also employed (43). The general routes for such processions were established early on, with Cheapside figuring prominently, likely because they afforded wide streets (47). However, different types of processions drew upon the advantages, often symbolic, of different routes. For coronations, “the king or queen would spend the night before the entry at the Tower of London, and the next day, accompanied by the mayor, would proceed from the Tower along Tower St.” following a specific route to Westminster (47). While coronation routes varied for a mixture of reasons and with the passage of time, Tower Street’s close proximity to the Tower, and its location as a wide street on an east-west axis, meant that it regularly figured in processional routes. In January of 1558/9, for example, Queen Elizabeth “rode from the Tower to Whitehall seated in a golden chariot […] the streets were decorated with triumphal archways, and tableaux were performed at the street corners” (Weinreb and Hibbert 875–76). The last monarch to make the procession was Charles II (Rollason).
Additionally, Tower Street or its associated ward is mentioned in several literary texts. Such a reference occurs in William Haughton’s English-men For My Money (1598):
(Sig. B1r)Heigh Come Gentlemen, w’are almoſt at the houſe,I promiſe you this walke ore Tower-hillOf all the places London can afforde,Hath ſweeteſt Ayre, and fitting our deſires.Haru Good reaſon, ſo it leades to Croched-FryersWhere old Piſaro and his Daughters dwell […].
This same Pisaro is a merchant of considerable wealth. He has thirty-two ships “whoſe wealthy fraughts doe make Piſaro rich” (Sig. A2r). The play’s reference to the wealthy Pisaro, living in Tower Ward, in addition to Stow’s numerous comments pertaining to the ward’s wealth (1.133–34, 36) suggest the area’s relative prosperity and status.
A further literary reference to Tower Street occurs in Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday . The house of Simon Eyre, a shoemaker, lies on Tower Street (Sig. A3r). Moreover, Sir Hugh Lacie’s uncle, who is on intimate terms with London’s Lord Mayor, lives on Tower Hill (Sig. C1r). Stow mentions that, of the large houses built in Seething Lane, one was built by “Sir Iohn Allen, sometime Mayor of London, and of counsel vnto king Henry the eight” (1.132).
Tower Street has also fallen within the purview of another kind of chronicle. John Taylor wrote a reference guide listing all of the tavern signs throughout London and the suburbs (1636). He mentions several taverns on Tower Street, none of which were mentioned by Stow. These include taverns such as the “Beare and Dolphin” (Sig. B2r), the “White Lyon at the end of Tower street, neere tower Hill” (Sig. C4r), and the “Rose against Barking Church” (Sig. D2r). Not included on Taylor’s list, but referenced by Bebbington, is Tower tavern “which survived until 1848” (325).
The later history of Tower Street includes its role in stopping the Great Fire of 1666. The fire burned for over two days and consumed the Royal Exchange and half the city. Weinreb and Hibbert report that “the Queen arranged to leave for Hampton Court […]. The navy were brought in to blow up houses with gunpowder in Tower Street and this succeeded in stopping the flames before the Tower” (432). Today, Great Tower Street continues to be a well worn path, situated between Eastcheap and Byward St.
- Bebbington, Gillian. London Street Names. London: B.T. Batsford, 1972. Print.
John Stow and Nostalgic Antiquarianism.Imagining Early Modern London: Perceptions and Portrayals of the City from Stow to Strype, 1598–1720. Ed. J.F. Merritt. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 29–51. Print.
- Dekker, Thomas. The Shomakers Holiday: or, The Gentle Craft With the Humorous Life of Simon Eyre, Shoomaker, and Lord Maior of London. London, 1600. Print. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Ekwall, Eilert. Street-Names of the City of London. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965. Print.
- Haughton, William. English-men For my Money: or, A pleasant Comedy, called, A Woman will haue her Will. London, 1616. STC 12931. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web. [Also available in an in-type, collated, normalized transcription: Oxford: Malone Society, 1912. We cite from the EEBO page images.]
- Kingsford, Charles Lethbridge. Introduction and Notes.John Stow (1525–1605) and the Making of the English Past: Studies in Early Modern Culture and the History of the Book. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. Rpt. N.p.: Elibron Classics, 2001. Print.
- Lancashire, Anne. London Civic Theatre: City Drama and Pageantry from Roman Times to 1558. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. Print.
- Prockter, Adrian, and Robert Taylor, comps. The A to Z of Elizabethan London. London: Guildhall Library, 1979. Print. [This volume is our primary source for identifying and naming map locations.]
Tower of London.The Oxford Companion to British History. Ed. John Cannon. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Oxford Reference Online. Web.
- Smith, Al. Dictionary of City of London Street Names. New York: Arco, 1970. Print.
- Stow, John. A Survey of London. Reprinted from the Text of 1603. Ed. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. Print. [Also available as a reprint from Elibron Classics (2001). Articles written before 2011 cite from the print edition by volume and page number.]
- Taylor, John. Taylors travels and circular perambulation, through, and by more then thirty times twelve signes of the Zodiack, of the famous cities of London and Westminster With the honour and worthinesse of the vine, the vintage, the wine, and the vintoner; with an alphabeticall description, of all the taverne signes in the cities, suburbs, and liberties aforesaid, and significant epigrams upon the said severall signes. London, 1636. STC 23805. Rpt. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Weinreb, Ben, and Christopher Hibbert, eds. The London Encyclopaedia. New York: St. Martin’s, 1983. Print. [You may also wish to consult the 3rd edition of The London Encyclopedia (2008). Print.]
This project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
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