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Lyon Key

Lyon Quay was located between Broken Wharf to the west and Brook’s Wharf to the east (Harben). Although not on the original list of Legal Quays drawn up in the sixteenth century, Lyon Quay did make the list after the port was reassessed following the Great Fire of 1666 (Forrow 9, 11). In 1668, the quay’s dimensions were measured at thirty-six feet wide along the Thames and running north forty feet to Thames Street (Child).
John Stow tells us that Lyon Quay was named after a one-time owner who was named Lyon but later the key became associated with ſigne of a Lyon (Stow 1598, sig. M1v). A deed dated from the first year of Edward V’s reign divided the property into shares among two knights, two squires, a goldsmith, and a grocer, none of whom were named Lyon (Lyte). The Portable Antiquities Scheme database ( has recorded a copper alloy trade token farthing from Lyon Quay, dating to 1651, displaying a lion rampant holding a key (Sumnall). G.C. Williamson explains that The Lion and Key is a pictorial pun on Lyon’s Quay (Williamson 770).
Lyon Quay was in operation throughout the sixteenth century. A document issued by the Watermen’s Company around 1555 established that wherrymen were not to charge a fare of more than twopence for passage from Lyon Key to. S. Katherine or Radriffe, or like distaunce (Watermen’s Company 2).
In John Foxe’s Actes and monuments (1583), Lyon Quay plays a pivotal role in the escape of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, who fled the country to escape religious persecution during the reign of Queen Mary I. Foxe relates, The Duchesse and her husband, dayly more and more, by their frendes vnderstanding that the Bishop meant to call her to an account of her fayth, whereby extremity might followe, deuised wayes how by the Queenes licence they might passe the Seas (Foxe 2079). Katherine’s husband left the country in June 1554, the plan being for her to wait patiently, avoid suspicion, and then rendezvous with him later at a safe location. In January 1555, she followed through with the plan, not without some perill (Foxe 2079). Sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night, narrowly evading detection and capture, the duchess headed for the quay, carrying only her infant daughter and accompanied only by a few loyal servants. When the duchess arrived at Lyon Quay, she ran into more trouble when the boatman refused to depart on account of heavy fog. Fortunately, though, she and the servants were able to convince him of the urgency of their situation and managed to get away from London before being caught by the authorities.
The duchess’s story is taken up in the work of several later authors, including a ballad by Thomas Deloney and a play by Thomas Drue. In Drue’s play, The life of the dutches of Suffolke (1631), the duchess laments:
Heere are two Pilgrims bound to Lyon-key,
And neither knowes one footstep of the way,
(Drue 12)
Lyon Quay made cameo appearances in other seventeenth century texts. For example, Thomas Heywood’s play King Edward the IV, Part I (1600) imagines the king landing at the quay. In disguise, the king claims, The Watermen that daily vse the Court, / And see me often, knew me not in this / At Lyon key I landed in their view, / Yet none of them tooke knowledge of the King (Heywood 29). In William Cavendish’s play, The country captaine (1649), the character Engine asks fancifully, What thinke you of a bridge from Lyon Key to Flandres (Cavendish 56).
A historical text by Anthony Wood, printed in 1692, establishes that Colonel John Okey, one of the regicides of King Charles I, at one time worked as a humble chandler (candlemaker) near Lyon Quay (Wood). Another text, John Taylor’s The Carriers Cosmographie (1637), describes Lyon Quay’s hustle and bustle:
At Lion key, twice (almost in every 24. houres, or continually are Tydeboats, or Wherries that passe to and fro betwixt London and the townes of Deptford, Greenwich, Woolwich, Erith, and Greenhith in Kent, and also boats are to be had that every Tyde doe carry goods and passengers betwixt London and Rainam, Purfleet, and Grayes in Essex. (Taylor sig. C4r)
Clearly, Lyon Quay was an important part of London’s booming shipping industry during the seventeenth century.
The quay continued its operation throughout the eighteenth century, but by 1918, the site of the quay had been subsumed by Botolph Wharf, Nicholson’s Wharf, and the nearby warehouses on Thames Street (Harben).


Cite this page

MLA citation

Hogue, Jason C. Lyon Key. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 05 May 2022,

Chicago citation

Hogue, Jason C. Lyon Key. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed May 05, 2022.

APA citation

Hogue, J. C. 2022. Lyon Key. 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"

A1  - Hogue, Jason
ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - Lyon Key
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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