The Steelyard

The Steelyard
   A place on the Thames extending north to Upper Thames Street lying between Dowgate west and All Hallows Lane east in Dowgate Ward (O. and M, 1677), occupied for many centuries by the merchants of the Hanseatic League.
   First mention: " Le Steelyerde," 8 Rich. II. (Cal. I. p.m. (77)). Other forms : " Stilehof " or " stileyerd," 1475 (Cal. P.R. Ed. IV. 1467-77, p.509). "Styleyard," 1484 (Jupp's History of the Carpenters' Co., p.142). " Stiliarde," 1555 (Ct. H.W. II. 659). " Still Yard " (O. and M. 1677). " The Stylliard," 1720 (Strype).
   The site was originally occupied by the Gildhall of the merchants, known as Haus zu Cälner in London," 1157 (Lappenberg, Urkundliche Geschichte des Hansischen Stahlhofes, Pt. 2, p.4).
   Called : " Gildhalle die Cälner," 1194 (ib. 5). " Gildhalle Teutonlcorum," 1224
   (ib. I. ii) and 1260 (Cal. P.R. H. III. 1258-66, p.77). "Guyhaldæ Coloniensium" (Lib.
   Albus, 1.241). "Gildhalla of the Teutonics," 9 Ed. I. (Cal. L. Bk. C. p.41). "Stalhof,"
   1320 (Lappenberg, Pt. II. p. 119). " Esterlingeshalle," 1409 (Lappenberg, I. 58) and 1456 (Cal. P.R. H. VI. 1452-61, p.286).
   The earliest mention of the German merchants of the Hanse in England occurs in the " De Institutis Londonie " of Ethelred, 978-1016, where they are referred to, not, as the other merchants, by the names of the towns they came from, but as "Homines Imperatoris, qui veniebant in navibus suis" (Thorpe, Anc. Laws and Institutes, I. 300).
   It seems probable that they possessed a house on the banks of the Thames on or near the site of the Steelyard from very early times, perhaps prior to the date of these laws, and the friendly relations existing between King Canute and the Emperor Conrad II. were distinctly advantageous to the interests of the German merchants in England.
   There were other similar guilds of merchants from Bruges and other Flemish towns, but they do not seem to have been formally recognised in the same way by the English kings, although they traded in England, and they seem to disappear from English history about the 14th century.
   The first mention of the house, contained in a charter of Henry II., 1157, confirming to the "homines et cives Colonienses" ... " domo sua London " (Lappenberg, Pt. 2, p.3), shows it in the possession of the merchants of Cologne, but subsequent records prove that this house was certainly on a part of the site occupied later by the" Gildhalle der deutschen und des hansischen Stalhofes" (ib. Pt. I, p.7).
   The charter of Richard I., 1194, freed " die Cälner " from payment of rent for their "Gildhalla" (ib. Pt. 2, p.5), and gave them liberty to buy and sell throughout the kingdom.
   These privileges were confirmed and additional ones granted by charters from King John and subsequent sovereigns, probably as an acknowledgment of the services rendered by the vessels of the Hanseatic merchants in time of war, the only condition made being, that the merchants should undertake the repair and upkeep of the Gate of Bishopsgate (Cal. L. Bk. A. 228; B. 242 ; and See Lib. Albus, I. 485).
   In the early years of Henry III., namely, about 1224, these merchants came to be known comprehensively as merchants from "Alemannien," instead of Deutschland, called " Deutsch," or " Teutonic," in common speech, and this term included those formerly known as merchants of Cologne, as well as the "Teutonicorum."
   By this time they had obtained the privilege of electing their own aldermen, and in 1251 this position was occupied by the well-known figure of Arnold, Thedmar's son.
   By charter of 1260, H. III. confirmed their privileges to the " Kaufleuten des Reiches Alemennien welche in London das Hans besitzen welehes gewähnlich die ' Gildballe der Deutschen' genanat wird" (Lappenberg, Pt. I, p.12), and it was at this date that the German merchants commenced to mak that series of purchases of the property adjacent to their Guildhall, which, in after days, made them the owners of such a considerable estate.
   These purchases, made during the 13th and 14th centuries, included houses, etc., in and near Windegose lane, the quay of Richard Lyons, and two houses of John de Norhampton, besides other lands.
   They seem to have been in occupation of the site of the " Stilehof " or " Steelyerde" as early as 1320, but it was not until 1475 that they succeeded in acquiring the grant of a place called the " Stilehof" or " Stileyerd " lately belonging to John Reynwell in the parish of Alhalowen the More in Thamystrete in the ward of Dowgate (Cal. P.R. Ed. IV. 1467-77, p.509).
   It was at the west end of this " Stahlhofes " that the " Guildhalle Theutonicorum stood (Lappenberg, I. 79).
   The Gildhall was sometimes called the " Esterlynges Halle," a term made use of to distinguish it from the Guildhall of the City (Lappenberg, Pt. I, 56).
   The number and extent of their privileges excited the jealousy of many of the English trade-guilds, and from the 15th century onwards they had to sustain and combat numerous hostile attacks and to resist the attempts made to deprive them of their privileges.
   They contrived successfully to withstand these attacks and to enjoy their property and privileges until the year 1551 when, in consequence of the weighty complaints laid against them, the liberty of the Steelyard was seized into the King's hands and their special privileges were revoked (Lappenberg, Pt. 2, 178).
   The chief complaint made against them was that they had abused their privileges by admitting into their Guild merchants who were not qualified to be members.
   They continued to reside here and to make use of the Hall, however until the year 1598, when they were peremptorily commanded to quit the Steelyard and leave the kingdom forthwith (ib. 188), the Hall being then taken possession of by the Queen for the purposes of a Navy Office.
   Serious efforts were made by letter and deputations from the Hanse towns to persuade James I. to rescind this order and to restore the merchants' privileges. But he proved obdurate, and although many of the merchants continued to reside in the Steelyard, and to carry on their trade, they never succeeded in regaining their former security of tenure, although they retained possession of the property. The Hall was destroyed in the Fire, but the merchants rebuilt many of their houses, and received from Chas. II. a grant of the site of the church of Holy Trinity the Less, on which to erect a church for the exercise of their faith.
   They obtained favour from Wm. III., so far that he gave them exemption from the payment of taxes in recognition of their former privileges.
   In later times the trade of the Stillyard (which had been general in character) was almost confined to the iron trade, which was busily carried on there.
   The houses and warehouses erected 1751, together with the street known as Steelyard Lane, in which the name survived to the end, were sold in 1853 to the South Eastern Railway Company and demolished about 1865 for the erection of Cannon Street Station.
   The origin of the name is somewhat obscure and has given rise to a good deal of discussion.
   Minsheu in his Dictionary gives the meaning as "so called of a broad place or court wherein steele was much sold," while other writers derive the name from the king's steelyard or beam kept there for weighing the tronage of goods imported into London, prior to its transference to Cornhill.
   There is not much to be said in support of the first suggestion, more especially as steel does not seem ever to have been an important item in the trade of the place, although in later times the trade in iron and iron goods was considerable.
   Lappenberg makes the following suggestion as to the derivation of the name: That it came from the tax levied on the stalls where goods were sold, the right to levy this "Stoilgeld "being known in England as" Stallagium," from A.S. "stal," Scot." Stallangium," Fr. "etalage." Count Thomas of Flanders freed the burghers of his town of Dam, "de quodam censu annuo, qui vocatur ' stalpeneughe,' ita ut possint habere Hallam ad utilitatem villæ." The " Stahihof " was the old " Stell" or " Marktplatz " opposite the Gildhalle der Deutschen in which there was not room for the stalls on which the wares could be shown (Pt. 2, p.174). Compare the Dutch word "stael " = sample, pattern.
   The tax was not only for the space occupied, but also for the privilege of exhibition, under the names ,' Ostensio," " Skeawing," "Scavagium."
   The name " Esterlingeshalle" was given to the Hall, the members of the Hanseatic League being known as "Easterlings," as coming from the eastern parts of Germany.
   "Dyneshemanhall" in the parish of All Hallows at the Hay, 1313-14 (Ct. H.W. I. 246), may be another name for this hall.
   There are some interesting views of the later buildings occupying the site in Archer's Vestiges of Old London, and a very careful account of the later history of the site and its owners is to be found in Archæologia, Vol. LXI. Pt. 2, p.389 et seq.

A Dictionary of London. . 1918.

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