"At the sign of the White Bear"

Mary Fielding

Robert Hicks, Baptist Hicks’s father, established his mercer’s business at the sign of The White Bear at 33-35 Soper Lane, on the corner with Cheapside, close to the Great Conduit, which provided piped water to the City.  In other words, at what must have been one of the best commercial locations in this busy area.  After Robert’s death in 1557 his wife, Julian, continued the business and eventually Baptist inherited from her.

  • In mediaeval times Soper Lane was of very little significance
  • Housing was poor, made up of ‘dive sheds’ (?)
  • Merchants set up their stalls there, close to the main marketplace of St Paul’s Churchyard
  • Became part of the Mayor’s processional route and also the Coronation route and increased in wealth and prestige
  • Soper Lane is the north/south, east/west location where the Lord Mayor’s and the monarch’s processional routes crossed
  • The performance at Soper Lane during the monarchical ceremonies may have been the most significant of the whole route.

Although originally a poor area, by the Tudor period Soper Lane was a wealthy and important street due to its location on the ceremonial processional route at coronations and the installation of the Lord Mayor.

Soper Lane was located in the Cordwainers Street Ward, south of Cheapside, but was not a major road in the city in the medieval period.   According to John Stow (1598) it was home to many of the soap makers and shoemakers of the city.  During the early modern period the housing on there was eventually built up to five storeys high. Local merchants brought moveable stalls to this area to sell their goods near the largest market in the city, St. Paul’s Churchyard.  The market opened at dawn in the winter and six in the morning during the summer, with store owners usually sleeping under their counters to prevent theft (Barker 232).

The wealth and prestige of Soper Lane increased due to its location in the city and the role it played when it became a major processional route through the city for both the Lord Mayor and the monarch during the time of coronation.  Every October 29th, the Lord Mayor would make his traditional walk from the Guildhall (place of civic government) to Westminster to be sworn in as the new mayor of the city (Manley 219).  He would leave the Guildhall along Ironmonger Lane and cross Cheapside along Soper Lane.  The Lord Mayor would proceed to Downgate where he would sail down to Westminster to participate in his coronation.  During both processions, street pageantry was performed.

Before the coronation of the monarch, the king or queen would spend the previous night sleeping in the Tower of London.  The following day the processional route began at Tower Street, continued along Mark Lane and then travelled west along Fenchurch Street, headed north along Gracechurch Street, west along Cheapside to St. Paul’s Churchyard. During both processions, street pageantry was performed.

The pageant at Soper Lane End demonstrated the importance of the City of London to the sovereign’s success.  Here the monarch would pass a sword to the Lord Mayor, who would carry the sword ahead of the procession for the remainder of the ceremony to show the union between the monarch and the people (Manley 220).  The pageant at Soper Lane acted out the ceremony of the monarch being crowned. Soper Lane’s main significance, therefore, was its location as an intersecting point between the Lord Mayor’s procession and the procession of the monarch.  A pageant was performed for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation procession in January 1559:

Against Soper Lanes End was extended from the one side of the street to the other, a pageant which had three gates all open.  Over the middlemost whereof were erected three several stages, whereon sat eight children as hereafter followeth.  On the uppermost one child, on the middle three, on the lowest ,4 each having the proper name of the blessing that they did represent, written in a table and placed above their heads.  In the forefront of this pageant before the children which did represent the blessings, was a convenient standing cast out for a child to stand, which did expound the said pageant unto the queens majesty, as was done in the other tofore.  Everie of these children were appointed & appareled according unto the blessing which he did represent.  And on the forepart of the said pageant was written in fayre letters the name of the said pageant in this manner following. The eight beatitudes expressed in the v. chapter of the gospel of S. Mathew, applied to our sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth.

References

Barker, Felix, and Peter Jackson. London: 2000 Years of a City and its People. New York: Macmillan, 1974.
Manley, Lawrence. Literature and Culture in Early Modern London. Cambridge: Cambridge, UP, 1997.
Stow, John. A Survey of London. Reprinted from the Text of 1603. Ed. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908.
See also British History Online; Gazetteer of Streets.

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