Graduate student contribution


Leadenhall in Roman and Medieval London

The Leadenhall area is, according to classicist John Morris, the most excavated and best understood place in Roman London (Morris 99). When Sir Horace Jones began excavations to rebuild Leadenhall market in 1881–1882, the architect unwittingly discovered part of a Roman basilica that was buried beneath the original seventh-century building (Hanson 15; see also LAARC GM326). In fact, further excavations undertaken in the 1930s revealed that Leadenhall market covered the east side of a 153.924 by 45.72 metre basilica (Hanson 15), which lay north of a 152.4 metre open forum that stretched east bordering Leadenhall Street and extended south to Fenchurch Street (Marsden 99).1
Built in approximately 120 CE and totaling 29,392 square meters (Marsden 99), the forum was the largest centre of commerce in Roman Britain. Aisled and linked with colonnaded halls, the forum had offices and food stalls situated around the southwest and east sides of the courtyard. It was the central meeting place for both local and foreign merchants. As Alan Sorrel concludes in his description of the Leadenhall site, the basilica handled all the administrative and legal functions of the state (Sorrel 48). Far from a simple marketplace, the Roman forum and basilica represented, as Mary Cathcart Borer writes in her history of London, the heart of business life of the city (Borer 19).
While numerous fragments of Roman walls and Italic pottery have been uncovered at Leadenhall, archaeologists know little about the Leadenhall site in Anglo-Saxon and Norman London. Scholars do reason that a building must have occupied the site (Gomme 94). The earliest mention of Leadenhall market occurs in 1296 and refers to a mansion built by Sir Hugh Neville. Neville constructed the mansion around a courtyard that opened onto Leadenhall Street (Thomas 122–123). Although the origin of the name Leadenhall is uncertain, scholars believe that the name is derived from the mansion’s lead-based roof (Picard 49; Weinreb, Hibbert, Keay, and Keay 477). Stow’s research told him that in the yeare 1309, Leadenhall belonged to Sir Hugh Neuill knight, and that the Ladie Alice his widow, made a Feofment thereof, by the name of Leaden hall Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents.[…] to Richard, Earle of Arundel and Surrey, 1362 (Stow 1598, sig. I2v).
The function of Leadenhall changed over its early history. Leadhall Market was initially a food market. The courtyard was a meeting place for poulterers, and, according to Felix Barker and Peter Jackson, all poultry brought to London had first to be taken to Leadenhall for sale (Barker and Jackson 71). In 1397, cheesemongers began selling their foodstuff at Leadenhall (History). Leadenhall had also been used to store and sell provisions for the city. In 1411 the City of London acquired Leadenhall in order to establish the site formally as a food market and granary (Picard 148; Stow 1598, sig. I1v-I7v; Archer, Barron, and Harding 4). When Simon Eyre, Lord Mayor of London, undertook to improve Leadenhall as a civic project, he envisioned the site as an important public space. Alongside the open-market courtyard, Eyre commissioned a chapel to be built and requested in his will that Leadenhall become a school. Partially financed by Eyre, Leadenhall not only functioned as a common place for trade, but it also served as an example of public charity (Barron). In The Chronicles of England, John Stow remarks that Eyre was doing ſo notable a worke for the common weale, alſo left example to other Citizens comming after him, whõ God likewiſe exalteth with ſuch temporall bleſſings (Stow sig. 2S5r). Completed in 1455, Leadenhall quickly grew as a primary centre for trade in the city as people began selling dairy products, wool (1463), leather (1488), and other wares. In 1503, the commons of the city requested that more wares should be sold in Leadenhall Market, such as linen cloth and ironwork (Stow 1598, sig. I4r). Thus from the early fourteenth century to the early sixteenth centuries, Leadenhall Market expanded from a common market for the sale of foods to a general market that sold meat, poultry, grain, and other merchandize such as leather and wool.2

Leadenhall in Early Modern London

Just as it had expanded Eastcheap market, the City maintained Leadenhall as an important centre of commerce. In A Survey of London, Stow provides a lengthy description and history of Leadenhall, thus suggesting the site’s importance to London life. Stow also recalls Leadenhall’s structure:
The vſe of Leaden Hall in my youth was thus: In a part of the North quadrant on the Eaſt ſide of the North gate, was the common beames for weighing of wooll, and other wares, as had béene accuſtomed: on the weſt ſide the gate was the ſcales to way meale: the other thrée ſides were reſerued for the moſt part to the making and reſting of the pageants ſhewed at midſommer in the watch: the remnant of the ſides and quadrantes were imployed for the ſtowage of wooll ſackes, but not cloſed vp: the lofts aboue were partly vſed by the painters in working for the decking of pageants and other deuiſes, for beautifying of the watch and watchmen, the reſidue of the loftes were letten out to marchantes, the wooll winders and packers therein to wind and pack their wools (Stow 1598, sig. I6r)
Archaeologist Christopher Thomas observes that the ground floor (partially covered with arcades around the perimeter) was a common market selling butter, cheese, poultry, grain, victuals, and eggs. The first and second floors were used to store grain for the City, and a spiral staircase was situated at each corner to allow sacks of grain to be transported up and down (Thomas 124).3 On the Agas Copperplate (1557), and Braun and Hogenberg maps (1572), Leadenhall (sometimes labeled Ledden hall) is featured as an open, square courtyard structure with four towers at each corner. Scales for weighing meal and the chapel also appear on each map (Prockter and Taylor 25).

Early Modern Leadenhall as a Place of Trade

Leadenhall’s importance as a centre for trade is demonstrated by the numerous negotiations regarding the use and governance of the site. In 1503, for example, the City council held a meeting to discuss the function of Leadenhall. As London continued to grow over the sixteenth century, an increasing number of foreigners traveled to the city to sell their wares. In an effort to control this influx of people, the City agreed to turn Leadenhall into a foreign market—the only market where newcomers could trade without penalty. In A Survey of London, Stow recounts that foreigners could sell their merchandise on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (Stow 1598, sig. I4r), although, as Liza Picard notes, the City revoked the foreigners’ rights to sell on Wednesday in 1564 (Picard 148). In addition, foreigners had to pay higher rent and storage charges than Londoners (Stow 1598, sig. I4r). In 1519, Londoners petitioned to maintain Leadenhall as a public site (Gomme 94), and the site was briefly considered by the London merchants as their primary meeting-place. Although the merchants made multiple requests to the City to transform Leadenhall into a burse, they were denied purchase of the site. The merchants (led by Sir Thomas Gresham) eventually settled on the Royal Exchange, and Leadenhall remained as an open public market (Picard 149).
While certain tradesmen, such as foreigners, could sell only on specific days, other sellers were permitted to sell each market day. In his historiography A Chronicle of the Kings of Britain, Sir Richard Baker recounts that the City passed a statute in 1532 allowing butchers to erect permanent stalls at Leadenhall: Butchers ſhould ſell their meat by weight, Beef for a half-peny the pound, and Mutton for three farthings, alſo at this time forraigne Butchers were permitted, their fleſh in Leadenhall-market, which before was not allowed (Baker sig. 3H4r). But not every company was pleased with the City’s market policies. In 1662, the clothiers published a formal complaint regarding an act passed by the City. Specifically, clothiers could sell their clothes only for a maximum of twenty days in Leadenhall and Blackwell markets. The City also raised the storage charge for clothiers and required that factors gain the approval of the Lord Mayor and Court of Aldermen before selling their wares. The author’s lengthy argument against these claims, coupled with the policies passed to allow butchers to sell their meat, suggest that Leadenhall was essential to London’s growing economy and the livelihood of its citizens.

Early Modern Leadenhall as a Storage Facility

Perhaps due to its spaciousness, Leadenhall Market was used as a place of storage. Besides grain, it stored timbers for reparation of tenements, artilleries, guns, and other armors for the safeguard and possible defense of the city (Stow 1598, sig. I5r). Guns were stored in the Market since at least 1484, since Stow indicates that in the fire of 1484 Leadenhall Market suffered from a great loss, including all the stockes for Guns (Stow 1598, sig. I4r). Sacks of wool were stored in the remnant of the sides and quadrantes of Leadenhall Market (Stow 1598, sig. I6r). It was responsible for keeping the donated largess and dole for the poor as well (Stow 1598, sig. I5v).

Early Modern Leadenhall as a Mustering and Assembling Ground

Leadenhall functioned as a place for assembly. Because its location near the major east-west route and the major north-south route through the city made for a direct march towas at the pivot of Aldgate, Newgate, Bishopsgate and London Bridge, the city could be mustered in Leadenhall for military purposes. Stow comments that there is none so conuenient méet and necessarie a place to assemble them in, within the said cittie, as the said Leaden hall, both for largenes of roome, and for their sure defence in time of their counselling together about the premises (Stow 1598, sig. I5r). In his A London Provisioner’s Chronicle, 1550–1563, John Henry Machyn records that my lord mayor did warn all the crafts to bring in their men in harness to Leadenhall with pikes and guns and bows and bills in blue cloaks bordered with red (Machyn 1562-09-18). When any triumph or noblenesse were to be done (Stow 1598, sig. I5r), Leadenhall Market was used to prepare and order celebration. About the year 1534, the market had been used as a place as a burse for merchants’ assembly for a very short time. However, this function ceased according to the mayor’s order in 1535—the burse should remain in Lombard Street (Stow 1598, sig. I5v).

Literary Leadenhall

As an integral part of London life, Leadenhall was featured in various pageants and plays. Leadenhall was situated on the royal procession route, so it was a main location for pageants. In A Chronicle of England, Stow describes the pageant at Leadenhall presented to Queen Anne Boleyn as she progressed to her royal coronation:
From thence the Quéene wyth hir traine paſſed to Leaden hall, where was a goodly Pageaunte with a tipe and heauenly Roſe, and vnder the tippe was a goodly roote of Golde, ſette on a little mountaine enuironed wyth red Roſes and white, oute of the typpe came downe a Faulcon all whyte, and ſette vppon the roote, and incontinent came downe an Angel wyth greate melodie, and ſette a cloſe Crowne of Gold on the Faulcons head: and in the ſame Pageant ſate Saint Anne wyth all hir iſſue beneath hir: and vnder Mary Cleophe ſate hir foure children, of the whiche chyldren, one made a goodlye Oration to the Quéen of the fruitefulneſſe of Saint Anne, and of hir generation, truſting, that lyke fruite ſhoulde come of hir. (Stow sig. 3L4r-3L4v)
Midsummer pageants were also held at Leadenhall. When the City prepared for processions, pageants, or festivals, they also used Leadenhall’s second floor as both a year-round storage area and as a place where painters, carpenters, and other craftsmen could prepare for the upcoming festivities (Thomas 124; Stow 1598, sig. I6r).
In his 1597 work of prose fiction, The Gentle Craft, Thomas Deloney recounts not only Simon Eyre’s construction of Leadenhall, but also his motivation to create a space specifically for shoemakers. Eyre declared, Deloney writes, that in the middeſt thereof there ſhould bée a Market place kept euery Monday for Leather, where the Shoomakers of London, for their more eaſe, might buy of the Tanners, without ſéeking any further (Deloney sig. J4r). Although Dekker draws largely on Deloney’s work in his 1599 play The Shoemaker’s Holiday, Dekker significantly re-fashions Leadenhall’s history by allowing the king to name the site: wéele haue it cald, / The Leaden hall, because in digging it, / You found the lead that couereth the same (Dekkersig. K3v). The king also illustrates his supremacy by passing policies regarding Leadenhall’s business. Speaking for the plight of his fellow shoemakers, Eyre requests privileged selling days so shoemakers can sell leather at Leadenhall. The king subsequently grants the shoemakers the right [t]o hold two market dayes in Leden hall, / Mondayes and Fridayes (Dekker sig. K4r). As we know, Leadenhall was a public building owned by the City. If the king wished to pass any policies regarding the marketplace, he would have had to consult the City council first. By allowing the king to name and pass policies regarding Leadenhall, Dekker effectively reinforces the king’s power as the national sovereign (over and above that of the Lord Mayor), and displays his ability to control the nation’s market economy.

Later History

Leadenhall continued to prosper as a central marketplace until the fire of 1666. While the fire damaged only sections of Leadenhall, the City re-constructed the building soon after and divided it into three sections, the beef market, the green yard, and the herb market. In 1881, the building was destroyed once more and reconstructed by Sir Horace Jones in a luxurious Victorian style. Recently, Leadenhall was featured as Diagon Alley in the 2001 film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Still a marketplace, Leadenhall thus remains a central place of business, cultural heritage, and imagination in London today.4


  1. For a detailed map of the Roman forum and its developments, see Marsden 101–102. See also LAARC LLMO1. (SP)
  2. See also Archer, Barron, and Harding 5, 88. (SP)
  3. For a detailed plan of Leadenhall in early modern London, see Thomas 123. (SP)
  4. For further reading see Samuel and Thomas. (SP)


Cite this page

MLA citation

Patterson, Serina, and Can Zheng. Leadenhall. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 05 May 2022,

Chicago citation

Patterson, Serina, and Can Zheng. Leadenhall. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed May 05, 2022.

APA citation

Patterson, S., & Zheng, C. 2022. Leadenhall. In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 7.0). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from

RIS file (for RefMan, RefWorks, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

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A1  - Zheng, Can
ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - Leadenhall
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 7.0
PY  - 2022
DA  - 2022/05/05
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  -
UR  -
ER  - 

TEI citation

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