Tag Archives: City of London Blue Plaques

An Accountant, Hall, Church and Shakespeare – City of London Blue Plaques

A couple of months ago, I wrote the first post of a series in which I hope I will track down the roughly 170 City of London plaques. The plaques tell a small part of the City’s long history, however due to the limited size of the plaque, they often just provide a name, leaving the viewer to wonder what is actually being commemorated.

For today’s post, I take a look at another five, some of which have plenty of information, others need some digging.

City of London plaques record the churches, Guild and Livery Company Halls, infrastructure, key events and people that have contributed to the City’s history. The majority of people are men, there are very few plaques to women, so to start this week’s wander through the City of London, let me start with:

Mary Harris Smith FCA – The Worlds First Female Chartered Accountant

Walk north along Queen Victoria Street, and just before the junction with Poultry and the Bank, you will find number 1 Queen Victoria Street. Walk to the right of this building, along Bucklersbury, and on the side you will see one of the most recent of the City of London plaques. Arrowed in the following photo, as in the shade on a bright day:

City of London Plaques

This plaque is less than two years old, and was installed on the building in September 2020. It records Mary Harris Smith, the world’s first female Chartered Accountant:

City of London Plaques

The story of Mary Harris Smith is the story of many women who were struggling to gain recognition in male dominated professions.

Mary Harris Smith had been an accountant for many years, firstly working for a City firm before setting up her own practice in Queen Victoria Street in 1887.

Despite working as an accountant, she was repeatedly refused admission to the accountants professional body, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, either through the route of recognition of her years of work, or through taking the exams set by the Institute.

Whilst there was some support for her admission, the Institute’s solicitor advised the applications committee that the charter only used the male terms of he, him etc. to refer to members, and there was no support to change the charter.

Mary Harris Smith’s persistence eventually worked. She had been seeking the support of other City professionals, members of the Institute and MPs, and in 1919 she was finally admitted to her first professional body, the Incorporated Society of Accountants and Auditors.

The Journal and Express on the 6th of December 1919 recorded the event:

“AFTER 31 YEARS – At a recent meeting of the Council of the Incorporated Society of Accountants and Auditors it was resolved to admit Miss Mary Harris Smith to the Honorary Membership of the Society. Miss Harris Smith has been in public practice in the City of London since the date of the Society’s incorporation and first made application for admission to membership in the year 1886. After 31 years of waiting Miss Harris Smith has seen removed the last obstacle to the admission of women to the Society, and we think there will be general agreement in the profession with the compliment the Council have paid Miss Harris Smith by electing her to Honorary membership”.

Although now a member, the above article refers to her admission as being the “compliment the Council have paid Miss Harris Smith” rather then her right to membership through her ability and years of experience.

A year later, in 1920, she was admitted to the Institute of Chartered Accountants – the event which is commemorated on the plaque.

The Vote newspaper, (subtitled the Organ of the Women’s Freedom League) had been running a series of articles on women in the professions and on the 8th of February 1924 included an article on Women Accountants which featured Mary Harris Smith, who had been elected as a Fellow.

The article also mentions Ethel Watts, who was the first women to pass the Institute of Chartered Accountants exams and gain the ACA qualification:

“The Institute of Chartered Accountants has at present two women members. One of these, Miss Harris Smith, admitted a Fellow of the Institute in May, 1920, was the first woman accountant in public practice before the examination system was started, and has been engaged on highly skilled work for over 30 years.

The other, Miss Ethel Watts, B.A. passed her final examination early this year, and is the first woman to write ‘A.C.A.’ after her name. She served her articles with a Manchester firm, but took her Honours degree at London University. During the war, she became an administrative assistant at the Ministry of Food, and was at one time the private secretary to the Director of Oils and Fats in the Ministry.

She had intended to study law, but her work at the Ministry gave her an interest in business, so she turned to accountancy. In addition to these members, there are 30 women training under articles.”

No idea if there is a plaque to Ethel Watts in Manchester. If not, there should be.

Mary Harris Smith had waited a long time for professional recognition, she was 76 when finally becoming a member. Ill heath forced her to give up work in the late 1920s and she died in 1934.

Mary Harris Smith photographed around the time of her membership of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in 1920:

Mary Harris Smith

I can think of only two or three City of London plaques to women, and Mary Harris Smith is a very recent addition – hopefully the first of many more to come.

The next plaque is to one of the many men commemorated across the City:

William Shakespeare and the Mountjoy Family.

If you start at the roundabout with the Museum of London in the Centre, and walk a short distance along London Wall, you will come to a small garden which is the site of the church of St Olave, a church that was destroyed in 1666 by the Great Fire.

On one of the low walls in the seating area, there is another of the City of London plaques, highlighted by the arrow:

City of London Plaques

The plaque records that “William Shakespeare had lodgings near here in 1604, at the house of Christopher and Mary Mountjoy“:

City of London Plaques

The discovery that William Shakespeare lived for a time at or near London Wall was made in the first decade of the 20th century. A Dr. Charles William Wallace who was Associate Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Nebraska, had, along with his wife, spent their holidays in records offices searching for references to Shakespeare.

They found one set of documents from a legal case dating from May and June 1612, where Shakespeare had been a witness, and the documents included a very rare signature of Shakespeare.

The Illustrated London News on the 16th of February 1910 carried an article on the discovery, which included the core of the legal case:

“Christopher Montjoy or Mountjoy, a Huguenot refugee, living in Silver Street, with a wife and only child, Mary, carried on there the business of a tiremaker. The occupation would seem to have combined the making of Ladies head-dresses with the work of milliner.

In 1598 Mountjoy took as apprentice one Stephen Bellott, whose mother, a woman of Huguenot family, had married as a second husband an Englishman named Humphrey Fludd. Young Stephen Bellott proved an apt workman, and was much liked by his master and his master’s family.

The daughter, Mary Mountjoy, was attracted by her father’s apprentice, and her parents approved a marriage between the couple. But Stephen Bellott was no ardent wooer, and some pressure had to be brought to bear on him to ‘effect’ a match.

According to the evidence, ‘one Mr. Shakespeare laye in the house’ of the Mountjoy’s when their daughter’s engagement was under discussion. The statement suggests that Shakespeare lodged at the time with the Mountjoy’s, or, at any rate, that he was then staying there. Both parents appealed to Mr. Shakespeare to use his persuasions with the young man.

According to Shakespeare’s evidence, Mrs Mountjoy ‘did sollicitt and entreat’ him ‘to move and perswade’ Stephen Bellott to marry her daughter, and ‘ accordingly he did move and perswade’ him thereunto.

The young man regarded the proposal in a sternly practical light. He asserts that he yielded on specific conditions, namely that the young lady should receive from her father the sum of fifty pounds on her marriage, and the sum of two hundred pounds on her father’s death, together with ‘certaine house-hold stuff’ of substantial value.”

The marriage of Mary and Stephen took place on the 19th of November 1604 in St Olave’s, Silver Street, the site of the plaque.

Mrs Mountjoy died in 1606, and the relationship between Stephen Bellott and his father-in-law became very strained. He claimed that the “household stuff” that Mountjoy had given his daughter was old and worthless, and Mountjoy then denied he had ever made the promises to Bellott.

Bellott then took the case to court, trying to compel his father-in-law to comply with the terms of the alleged contract, and it was because of this that Shakespeare was a witness for the plaintiff.

In his signed deposition, Shakespeare stated that he had known both Mountjoy and Bellott for ten years, that Bellott did “well and honestly behave himself”, and that Mountjoy had promised a “marriage-portion” with his daughter, but he could not remember the amount.

The documents found by Dr. Wallace in the National Archives do not record the outcome of the case, and it seems to have been refered to another authority for judgement.

Dr. Wallace assumed that Shakespeare had lived with the Mountjoy’s from 1598 to 1604, which was the period of Bellott’s apprenticeship, although there is no evidence to confirm this. Dr. Wallace also made a number of claims, including that Shakespeare used the name Mountjoy as the French herald in Henry V from the name of the family he had been living with. Again, there is no evidence to confirm this.

Mountjoy’s house was on the corner of Silver Street and Monkwell Street – two streets that disappeared during the rebuilding of the area following the bombing of the last war. The following map is from Roque’s 1746 map of London, and I have marked the location of the house with a red circle. Just below the red circle is St Olave’s cemetery, the site of the garden we can see today.

Mountjoy House

The location today of Mountjoy’s house is just slightly north of the location of the plaque, and is probably under the current route of the dual carriageway of London Wall.

A pub, the Coopers Arms was later built on the site of the house and in 1931 it was reported that the Coopers Arms had an old inscription commemorating Shakespeare’s stay.

The Coopers Arms – Silver Street to the right, Monkwell Street disappearing to the left. Strange to think that London Wall now runs through this scene.

Coopers Arms

Two plaques covering people who have lived or worked in the City. Now for one of the staple of City of London plaques – one of the City’s Guilds or Companies.

Curriers’ Hall

Not far from the Shakespear / Mountjoy plaque is one to mark the site of Curriers’ Hall. Walk a short distance east along London Wall, up Wood Street, and a short distance along is a pedestrianised walkway to the east, which has some remnants of the City Wall alongside.

Opposite the wall is the goods entrance to one of the new buildings that cover the area, and to the right of the entrance is a City plaque:

City of London Plaques

The plaque marks the nearby sites of Curriers’ Hall between 1583 and 1940:

City of London Plaques

A Currier was a leather worker. Currying leather was the process by which tanned skins were stretched and shaved into a fine finish to produce leather which was suitable for the production of leather goods, such as shoes.

The coat of arms of the Curriers’ shows arms rising at the top, with hands holding the tool of the Currier, the shaving knife which was scrapped across a skin, gradually reducing the thickness and producing a smooth finish to the material. The tool is also shown on the shield.

Curriers Company

Curriers were originally part of the Cordwainers’ Guild, but an ordnance of 1272 brought about the separation of the professions by requiring that they should have separate working regulations.

Full self governance by the Curriers was achieved through a 1415 ordinance, with an extension of their powers through an Act of 1516, and the grant of a Charter on the 30th of April 1606.

The grant of a Charter was rather late, and was given “by prescription” where a company that had existed for a long time was assumed to have been granted a charter, but which had been lost.

The walkway shown in my photo of the plaque’s location was the original route of the street London Wall (see my post on the history of London Wall).

The location of the plaque is roughly where an entrance to a courtyard in front of the Curriers Hall would have been located.

The same extract from Roque’s 1746 map that I used for the Mountjoy’s house, also shows the location of the Curriers’ Hall, which I have ringed in the map below:

Curriers Hall

Halls of the City companies were often built back from the street, accessed via an alley from the street, into a courtyard with the hall. I assume this approach separated the hall from the busy street (see also my post on Monkwell Street and Barber Surgeons Hall).

The following print from the mid 1850s shows the alley leading from London Wall to Curriers’ Hall. I assume that the coat of arms of the Company are above the entrance (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Curriers Hall

The last version of Curriers Hall was destroyed during the heavy bombing and fires that the area suffered in December 1940.

The Worshipful Company of Curriers still exist today. They do not have a hall, and use the halls of other City companies for their ceremonial events. As with other City companies, they do not have regulatory powers, and today support charitable activities in trades still involved in working leather, or where leather products are used, such as horse riding.

Another City Guild or Company that produced products that would have been used along with those of the Curriers is the:

Loriners’ Trade

Walk along Poultry, towards the Bank junction, and on the right is 1 Poultry. There is an access under the building just before reaching the Bank junction, called Bucklesbury Passage. Underneath the name sign for the passage is a plaque:

City of London Plaques

Stating “Site of the Loriners’ Trade 11th – 13th Centuries”:

City of London Plaques

I love the City of London plaques, however they are also rather frustrating. A casual passerby would have no idea what Loriners’ Trade means.

The Loriners were an old City Guild or Mistery, and were granted ordinances in 1260 / 1261 along with their rules of self government.

A Loriner is an example of how specific many of these skilled trades were, as a Loriner was a maker of bridle bits and other examples of metal work used for horses. The Loriner was also a maker of spurs, however spurs became a separate company before joining the Company of Blacksmiths in 1571.

The arms of the Loriners Company show three horse’s bits, along with three black metal bosses:

Loriners Company

The plaque in Bucklesbury is unusual in that it is recording where the trade was carried out, rather than the location of a hall.

The Loriners’ did have a hall, which remained until the mid 19th century. The hall was located on London Wall, opposite Basinghall Street (not sure if there is a City plaque at the location of the hall – I need to check). Rocque’s map again is useful in confirming the location of the hall, as shown circled in the following extract:

Loriners Hall

By the end of the 19th century, the Loriners’ Company had very little involvement with any aspects of the old profession, and it was more a club for social and dining activities. This was common with many other City companies, as this article from the Evening News on the 21st of January 1914 implies:

“They endure, these old guilds, because of the dinner. The Loriners who have very little knowledge of the loriners’s trade. Gold and Wire Drawers who might essay in that delicate little job of drawing gold and silver wires. I know a Citizen and Fishmonger whose lore is not enough to help him in choosing a middle cut of salmon at the stores. Nevertheless, these Loriners and Fishmongers and Wire drawers still flourish, branch and root, dining as their ancestors dined.”

The Worshipful Company of Loriners is still in existence, and still dining, using some of the other City Company halls for their events, but is also involved in a wide range of charitable and educational activities.

My final location in this ramble through a number of the City of London’s plaques is not far away from the Loriners.

Walk through number 1 Poultry to Queen Victoria Street and walk up to the Mansion House, where on the Walbrook corner of the building is a plaque recording the location of:

St Mary Woolchurch Haw

Tucked away on the corner of the Mansion House is a plaque, arrowed in the following photo:

City of London Plaques

Which records that the plaque marks the site of St Mary Woolchurch Haw:

City of London Plaques

St Mary Woolchurch Haw was one of the City’s churches that was destroyed during the 1666 Great Fire, and not rebuilt. It is remarkable how many churches were in the City before 1666. Many were not rebuilt. A further wave were lost during the late 19th century rebuild of much of the City, and a number were lost and not rebuilt during and after the last war, yet still whenever on a City street we are not far from a church.

The name of St Mary is interesting, but the plaque gives no further information. The dedication is to Mary Woolchurch a name which implies that the church was near to, or had some involvement with wool, but what does Haw mean?

To find out, I referred to the book I use most for learning about pre-1666 City churches – “London Churches Before The Great Fire”, by Wilberforce Jenkinson and published in 1917.

The section on St Mary Woolchurch Haw includes the following:

“St Mary Woolchurch formerly stood near the Stocks Market, which was on the site of the present Mansion House. Stow writes that it was so called ‘of a beam placed in the church yard, which was therefore called Wool Church Haw, of the Troanage, or weighing of Wool there used’

The church was built by Hubert de Ria in the time of William the Conqueror. The first rector whose name is recorded being William de Hynelond, 1349-50. The patronage was partly with the Crown and partly with the Convent of St John the Baptist, Colchester. The church was rebuilt in the 20th year of Henry VI.

John Tireman, rector in 1641, at the commencement of the Civil War was compelled to retire in consequence of his loyalty. john Bull was preacher during the Protectorate, and was afterwards Master of the Temple. The church was not rebuilt after the Fire, but the parish was annexed to that of St Mary Woolnoth”.

So a Haw was a form of beam which was used in the weighing of wool. The Victoria and Albert Museum have a Wool Weight which would have been used with a Haw (Source Link).

St Mary Woolchurch

The wool weight in the above photo dates from between 1550 and 1600. As can be seen in the photo, the weight has a hole at the top, and through this would have been threaded a leather strap which allowed the weight to be hung on one end of a beam or Haw.

Weights were typically of 7, 14 and 28lbs. The one in the photo is 14lbs.

The beam was pivoted in the middle, with wool suspended at one end, and weights added to the other end of the beam. When the beam balanced, the weight of the wool could be read from the number and weights of the weights used.

The extract from the book mentions that “St Mary Woolchurch formerly stood near the Stocks Market“.

The Stocks Market dates from the 13th century with a charter issued by Edward I. The market was named after the only set of fixed stocks in the City which were used for punishments, such as when William Sperlynge was pilloried in the stocks for trying to sell rotten meat, which was burnt under his nose whilst he was held in the stocks.

The market gradually specialised and by the 15th century it was known as a meat and fish market.

The market was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666, along with the church of St Mary Woolchurch Haw.

Although the church was not rebuilt, the market was, and expanded to included the land once occupied by the church. It became a general market, which as well as meat and fish, included fruit and vegetables and was one of the major markets of the City.

The following print from 1753 shows the market in operation (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

Stocks Market

The church in the background of the above print with the dome and tower is St Stephen Walbrook. The large statue at the front of the Stocks Market is of Charles II, but it has a very interesting history.

The statue originally came from Italy and was an unfinished work showing the King of Poland, John Sobieski on his horse which was trampling on a Turk,

The statue had been brought to London by Sir Robert Vyner who was Lord Mayor of the City in 1675.

A Polish king would make no sense in a City market, and Robert Vyner had the head of the statue replaced with one of Charles II, and the head of the Turk was replaced by one of Oliver Cromwell (or possibly the original head was reworked).

The following side view of the statue gives a better idea of the modified statue. The rider does look like Charles II, however I am not sure whether the person underneath the horse looks like Oliver Cromwell, but this was probably not important. The statue was meant to show the triumph of the Monarchy over the Commonwealth created by the Civil War (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Charles II

When the statue was removed, it was given to a descendant of Sir Robert Vyner who apparently relocated it from the City to a family estate in Lincolnshire, from where it was later moved to Newby Hall in North Yorkshire, where the statue that was originally on the site of the Stocks Market, and what is now the Mansion House, can still be seen today:

Charles II

Image credit / attribution: Chris Heaton / Statue at Newby Hall / CC BY-SA 2.0

When the Mansion House was built in 1739 on the site of the Stocks Market, a stone believed to have come from the church was found in the new foundations (© The Trustees of the British Museum):

St Mary Woolchurch

That is five more City of London plaques. They are fascinating as each one, although brief, opens up a whole volume of the City’s long history.

I also find it interesting how bits of London can be found scattered across the country. I have found numerous examples of these, with the statue of Charles II being the latest.

Now that Mary Harris Smith has a recent plaque, I hope that many more of the women who have been a part of the City’s history will also be getting their own plaques in the years to come.

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Three Halls and a Hospital – City of London Blue Plaques

If you have walked the street of the City of London, you may possibly have noticed one of the City of London blue plaques.

The City of London Corporation have their own plaques to mark the locations of lost churches, hospitals, halls of the Guilds of the City, famous names and events etc. Whilst English Heritage are responsible for the circular blue plaque outside of the City, within the City, the rectangular blue plaque is the standard, and there are around 170 to be found.

New plaques are still occasionally installed, however the process is slow as there is approximately five years for a successful application, with many authorities being consulted regarding the subject of the proposed plaque, along with the owner of the building on which the plaque will be installed.

They display a minimal amount of information – “Site of”, “Near this spot” etc. followed by a name of a building or institution. Where an individual’s name is the subject of a plaque, there is usually a small amount of additional information, although limited by the standard dimensions of the plaque.

One of my many photographic side projects has been to photograph these over the years, so to start a very occasional series of posts on the City’s plaques, for today’s post, the story of three halls and a hospital.

Upholders’ Hall

The first plaque is not that obvious. Walk up towards St Paul’s Cathedral, along Peter’s Hill from Queen Victoria Street, and towards ground level on one of the buildings on the right, partly covered by some planting, is the plaque recording the site of Upholders’ Hall (see bottom right corner in following photo):

Upholders Hall

Site of Upholders’ Hall, destroyed in the Great Fire 1666:

Upholders Hall

My go to book on the City’s Guilds is “The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London”, by John Bromley and published in 1960. The book provides an overview of each Guild or Company, along with their coat of arms. The book describes an Upholder as:

“An upholder, or upholster, was originally one who dealt in soft furnishings which involved the use of stuffing to ‘uphold’ them”.

Therefore an upholder is an upholster, and the origin of the word upholster which is now generally used as a verb, is from the act of stuffing an item of furniture.

The Upholders’ formed around 1360, and as with most of the City’s Guilds at the time, their main role was to regulate their craft and ensure that goods produced met certain standards and quality, and were sold at a fair price (to both the customer and other craftsman to minimise any undercutting of members of the Guild). In 1474, the scope of the Upholders’ included “feather-beds, pillows, mattresses, cushions, quilts, curtains and spervers” (a sperver was the canopy over a bed).

The scope of the Upholders’ was enlarged in 1495 to provide them with powers of inspection and control “throughout the kingdom”, and the manufacture of clothing also came within their scope, including mourning clothes which led the Upholders to be spoken of as:

“The upholder, rueful harbinger of death, Waits with impatience for the dying breadth”

As the plaque describes, their Hall was close to Peter’s Hill and was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666. As with a number of Guilds, their hall was not rebuilt and they were able to use the halls of other Guilds for their ceremonial events.

The Worshipful Company of Upholders, as they are now known, is still in existence. As with many of the City’s Guilds or Companies, they lost their regulatory powers during the 19th century, and are now mainly a charitable organisation, but still have strong links with those in the upholstery business and upholstery trade organisations.

The Upholders were granted their Coat of Arms in 1465, and Charles I granted a Royal Charter which was lost during the fire in 1666.

The coat of arms of the Upholders is shown below:

City of London Blue Plaques

The book has a rather complex description of the coat of arms, which seems to reduce to three canopies (or spervers) with one covering the lamb of god and a cross (for religious significance) with the lamb sitting on a pillow of gold. Both the canopy and pillow being products of the Upholders trade.

My next plaque records the location of:

Poulters’ Hall

Just to the north of St Paul’s Cathedral is King Edward Street, next to the ruins of Christ Church Greyfriars, there is a plaque on the left column of a rather impressive arched entrance that leads to the offices of Bank of America. One of the very few places where I have had a security guard come out and ask me why I was taking photos.

City of London Blue Plaques

The plaque records that near the location of the plaque stood the site of Poulters’ Hall, between 1630 and 1666:

Poulters Hall

The Worshipful Company of Poulters are an old company, with their origins dating back to at least 1299, when, according to “The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London”, “poulterers were one of the trades of the City of London, which elected men to supervise their respective trades in accordance with a proclamation for the regulation of food prices”.

The first documentation stating how the governance of the Poulters’ would work dates from 1370, and the Company was incorporated around 1503.

The company had the power to regulate the trade in poultry, swans, pigeons, rabbits and small game, along with butter and eggs.

Prices for these products were set by either Government, or the Mayor and Alderman of the City, and it was the Poulters’ responsibility to be answerable for any infringements of these prices.

The charter of incorporation dated June 1665 includes “all persons within seven miles of the City who trade of ‘meere poulters or selling poultry wares'”.

Companies such as the Poulters’ were almost an early form of Trading Standards. The type of action against an infringement that the Poulters’ would take, was recorded in newspaper reports on the 22nd June 1749: “Was tried in the Court of Kings-Bench at Westminster-Hall, a Cause wherein the Poulterers Company were the Prosecutors, against one Francis Patterson, for following the Trade of a Poulterer, having no Right or Title thereto; on which the said Patterson was convicted and fined £22. And we hear the said Company are determined to prosecute all Offenders in that Way, which will be a general benefit to the Public, there being no Trade in which Buyers are more imposed upon by Hawkers, and other Interlopers, who send bad and unwholesome Goods, at greater Prices that the Fair-Trader would good ones”.

As stated on the plaque, the Poulters’ Hall was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666 and was not rebuilt, becoming one of the City Companies that use the facilities of other Halls. Since the end of the last war, the Poulters’ have used the Armourers’ Hall in Coleman Street.

The coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Poulters’ is shown below:

City of London Blue Plaques

The book “The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London” has a different view of the birds on the shield to the Poulters’ Company, who describe the birds as storks.

The book believes these to be Cranes and claims that the evidence of storks is meagre, with the earliest reference to storks being from around 1780.

A manuscript dated 1587 and held in the British Museum refers to the birds as cranes, and the crane as a food source was far more popular than the stork.

The two birds on either side of the shield are Pelicans, which provide the religious reference as the symbol of the pelican with blood on its breast comes from a pre-Christian legend that in times of famine, a mother pelican would pierce her breast, allowing her young to feed on her blood, thereby avoiding starvation (see my post on St Martin Ludgate for more on this).

Today, the Worshipful Company of Poulters’ run a number of charitable trusts, including one that aims to develop training and education in the poultry, egg and game industries and trades.

My next two plaques are along Aldersgate Street:

Cooks Hall

Walk up from Cheapside, along St Martin’s Le Grand to Aldersgate Street, just before the roundabout that circles part of the Museum of London, and opposite the junction with Little Britain is a building with two plaques.

City of London Blue Plaques

The first plaque, on the right in the above photo records that this was the site of Cooks Hall, which was destroyed by fire in 1771:

Cooks Hall

The Worshipful Company of Cooks is one of the City’s old Guilds or Companies, with origins dating back possibly to the twelve century.

The Cooks received their first charter in July 1482, however in the years prior to the award of a charter, the definition of a Cook was not clear, and different groups involved in the production of food were setting up their own Guilds.

The book “The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London” provides some background (and uses the original word for a Guild, a Mistery):

“Some confusion exists as to the early functions of the Cooks, the Pastelers, and the Pie-Bakers, each of which appears to have existed formerly as a separate mistery with its own master and ordinances. Regulations of 1379 and 1388, forbidding pastelers to buy ‘garbage’ (probably offal) from cooks for the purpose of making pasties, indicates that the pasteleres’ trade was concerned with the manufacture of meat pies.”

It appears that if Pastelers and Pie-Bakers had existed as separate Guilds, by the time the Cooks received their charter, these separate Guilds may have simply integrated with the Cooks over time or just disappeared. A shame as I rather like the idea of a Worshipful Company of Pie-Bakers (there is still a Company of Bakers however their origins appear to be more aligned with those who baked bread).

The Cooks purchased land in Aldersgate for their hall around 1500, and remained on the site until the fire of 1771. Their hall survived the Great Fire of 1666, although was rebuilt shortly after, which implies there may have been some damage. There was another fire in 1764 before the fire which finally destroyed the hall in 1771.

Newspapers on the 16th August 1771 reported on the fire, and give an idea of the surrounding area of this part of Aldersgate Street:

“Yesterday morning, a little before One o’Clock, a Fire broke out at Cooks-Hall, in Aldersgate Street, which consumed the same, with a large Quantity of Timber in Mr. Hatton’s timber-yard adjoining; it likewise burnt the greatest Part of the Nag’s Head Alehouse, with a Stable and Outhouses belonging to it, and damaged the back part of several of the Dwelling-Houses that front the street”.

Fires were a regular occurrence across the city, and the above report gives an idea of how many buildings were clustered in a small area, and the inflammable materials that would help a fire to spread.

Companies such as the Cooks guarded their role in the setting of rules and regulation of their trade, as was typical of the City of London. On the same page as the above report of the fire, there is the following report, showing how far the City was prepared to go in protecting their privileges:

“My Lord Mayor, we are told, has declared he will spend every shilling he is worth sooner than submit to any Encroachments on the Privileges of the City, though by the King himself, to which end he is getting proper Information and is exceedingly assiduous to come to Action; and in order to enable him to go through with his design, ’tis said he will be again elected Lord Mayor for the Year ensuing”.

It may have been just electioneering, as having a Lord Mayor prepared to spend all their money in defense of the City’s privileges would have been a good message in the campaign for another term as Lord Mayor.

As the hall did not burn down until 1771, it was shown on the Roque map of 1746:

Cooks Hall

The coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Cooks is shown below:

City of London Blue Plaques

A pheasant is standing at the top, and to either side is a buck and a doe. Originally these were shown transfixed by an arrow – presumably to represent dead animals ready for cooking, however the arrows were removed from 1634 onwards.

The plant shown three times on the central shield is a Columbine, and there are a couple of theories as to the use of this flower as it does not have an obvious association with cooking.

It could be that the flower represents one of the three forms of ginger which apparently was known as colambyne, or it could have been down to possible medicinal properties of Columbine, and included in the arms of the Cooks to show the benefits of using a member of the Cooks Company for the cooking of food.

The Worshipful Company of Cooks are still an active City Company. After the loss of their hall, they met in the Albion Tavern in Aldersgate Street, and when this was demolished, they moved their functions to the Innholders’ Hall.

The Cooks are the only City company to have two Masters. The Cooks believe this was so that the Sovereign and Lord Mayor of the City could call upon the Master of the Cooks. with two Masters allowing this to happen at the same time.

The plaque recording the location of the Cooks Hall is interesting for those with a rather geeky love of what can be found on the City’s streets. It is one of a few that has the details of when it was made in the lower right corner of the plaque:

City of London Blue Plaques

The details imply that the plaque was made on the 26th December 1985, by David Birch of the London Pottery at 96 Kingston Road, SW19.

The London Pottery now seems to be part of the London Design Studio which is still at 96 Kingston Road.

The second plaque, just to the left of the Cooks Hall plaque is to mark the site of:

St Mark’s Hospital

The plaque records that this was the site of St Mark’s Hospital, founded by Frederick Salmon in 1835:

City of London Blue Plaques

Frederick Salmon was born in Bath in 1796, and moved to London to take up a position as a medical student at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. After qualification, he set up in practice in Broad Street, where he developed a special interest in rectal diseases, which seems to have originated from his apprenticeship in Bath where patients with intestinal problems would be found as taking the Bath waters was thought to be a cure.

To further this interest, and to help the large numbers of people he was seeing with these problems at his Broad Street practice, he purchased a building at 11 Aldersgate Street in 1835 where he established the “Infirmary for the Relief of the Poor afflicted with Fistula and other Diseases of the Rectum”.

The infirmary was set up as a charity, and was small, with only seven beds available.

The infirmary was not in Aldersgate Street for long. The size of the building and the number of beds that could be accommodated was a problem, so three years after opening, the infirmary moved to a larger building at 38 Charterhouse Square, with Frederick Salmon continuing to run the infirmary almost single handed.

The infirmary would not stay for long in Charterhouse Square, and the next move would also include a name change. Although the plaque in Aldersgate Street states St Mark’s Hospital, the full name of the establishment was the “Infirmary for Fistula and Other Diseases of the Rectum”.

Despite covering serious medical conditions, this was probably not a good name to use for fund raising, or perhaps for patients to admit where they were attending for treatment, so at a meeting of the Committee of Management reported in the Morning Post on 27th April 1852: “the Chairman directed especial attention to that part of the Committee’s Report which recommended the change in the title of the Charity from that of Fistula Infirmary to St Mark’s Hospital” – the recommendation to change name was universally carried.

By 1852, Frederick Salmon had additional support as the Committee of Management stated that “the cordial thanks of the Governors be given to John Daniel, M.D. the Honorary Physician and to Frederick Salmon, the Hon Surgeon, and Founder of the Institution, for the gratuitous and effective discharge of their duties during the past year”.

The change in name also took place at the same time as the third change in location. In 1851 a site in City Road was purchased from the Worshipful Company of Dyers, and following conversion, the hospital, with the new name, opened in April 1852.

Cuthbert Dukes in a brief history of Frederick Salmon and the hospital, claimed that the source of the name was the move of the hospital to City Road on St. Mark’s Day, the 25th of April I852. (The history can be found as a PDF here)

St Mark’s Hospital would stay in City Road until 1995, when it moved to Watford Road
Harrow, as part of Northwick Hospital.

St Mark’s continues to be a specialist hospital for diseases of the bowel, and with St Mark’s Academic Institute, works to develop skills and treatment for intestinal and colorectal disorders, so has stayed true to Frederick Salmon’s original specialist interest and intention for his original infirmary in Aldersgate Street.

Perhaps one of the most well known names treated by Frederick Salmon was Charles Dickens who was treated for an anal fistula in 1841, which Dickens blamed on too much sitting at his desk.

Frederick Salmon died at the age of 72 on the 3rd of January 1868 at Droitwich, which had become his home after retiring from St Mark’s Hospital in 1859.

Just four of the roughly 170 plaques that can be found across the streets of the City of London, but each hinting at a long and comprehensive history, of which I have only just scratched the surface in today’s post.

The St Mark’s Hospital plaque is historically wrong as the name would not come into use until the hospital moved to City Road, however I suspect the City of London were not too keen on the plaque recording the site of the “Infirmary for Fistula and Other Diseases of the Rectum”, but it is brilliant that Frederick Salmon, the founder of the hospital is named.

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