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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 Roppelane or Roperelane (371). In A Survey of London, Stow likewise states that the lane was of old time called Roape lane, [and] since called Lucas lane after 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 corrupt (86).
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 corruptly called 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 Roper to Love Lane 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 wantons (206).
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 all and 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 meaning and 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:
Come to the George you Epicurean Crew
That 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
(Gibbs recto)
. 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.
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 city started on Love Lane, Lower Thames Street in the early morning at the well-known tavern 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 thechurch 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.


Cite this page

MLA citation

Mann, Paisley. Love Lane (Thames Street). The Map of Early Modern London, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 20 Jun. 2018,

Chicago citation

Mann, Paisley. Love Lane (Thames Street). The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed June 20, 2018.

APA citation

Mann, P. 2018. Love Lane (Thames Street). In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London. Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from

RIS file (for RefMan, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
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PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
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A1 Mann, Paisley
A6 Jenstad, Janelle
T1 Love Lane (Thames Street)
T2 The Map of Early Modern London
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FD 2018/06/20
RD 2018/06/20
PP Victoria
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LA English
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TEI citation

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