The earliest mention of Leather Lane was by John Stow’s in his survey of London in 1598. So the bustling street market has been here for over 400 years
If you think it was home to London’s leather goods market you will be disappointed. Up until the 1960s the leather trade & its tanneries were centred around Bermondsey – And Its Bermondsey Street which is now commemorated with Leathermarket Street, Morocco Street and Tanner Street – all of these are south of the Thames
The story of Leather Lane is far more interesting and if local legend is to be believed, more Regal.
King Charles II would like to have a punt on the horses and at one time found himself owing £500 to a local merchant named Le Vrunelane after a wager on two horses that lost. To pay off the debt the canny merchant offered the King a way out, if he was granted a charter to set up a market and receive 1p on each customer.
The market was named Le Vrunelane and after a number of derivatives was Anglicised to Lovreland, then to Liver Lane and finally Leather Lane.
Another explanation for its name is said to come from the old French word for greyhound
Whether it got its name from a foolish king or the local boozer by the 1960s it had shaken off its 19th century description of being ’a very poor neighbourhood . . . much invested with thieves, beggars, and Italian organ-grinders’. It was a melting pot of culture, class and countries.
Leather Lane’s junction with Clerkenwell Road the area still had an Italian ambience
The market was very lively such as the man who sold cheap china dinner services (“how much will you give me ladies for this fine English bone china”), while stacking and balancing the entire 6-piece set on his arm. But then this was a common site in most London Markets.
My personal memories of the market in 1962 was that it had a stall that sold M&S underwear seconds. Also they sold boxes of chocolates that were passed their prime and the chocolate had gloom on the surface…. They sold these as seen or sometimes they opened up the boxes then they flashed a hot light over them. They also sold pressed leather bags as real leather bags.
On the plus side they had lots of good second hand jewellery stalls my auntie bough the most beautiful blister pearl ring in the 50s, most covered by the rest of the family.
In those days the market spives were grateful for the requirement at that time that policemen had to be nearly 6-foot tall with a uniform topped off by a tall helmet.
They would see the coppers coming towards them through the crowd as they towered over the regular market goers. It took seconds to scoop up their wares into a ready suitcase .. in the same way that they did in Oxford Street in the 60s & 70s.
It also backs on to Johnson Matthey in Hatton Garden – in the 60s some gold bullion was stolen and then thrown over the back wall onto Leather Lane.
Apparently Comedian Tommy Cooper, was once a market trader in Leather Lane Market, Tommy was very tall and certainly would have had no trouble spotting an approaching policeman.
Leather Lane was right in the middle of what was know as “Little Italy”, a distinct colony of Italians that emerged at the beginning of the 19th century. These originally were skilled craftsman working as artists decorators and instrument makers. These were followed by Political refugees such as the Giuseppe Mazzini and Gabriele Rosetti. St Peter’s Church at the end of Leather lane was set up to serve the Italian community.
Leave you with what James Greenwood said in 1881 You “may be threading his way through the unmistakably English crowd that throngs the Leather Lane market” and having progressed but a hundred yards one “has altogether lost sight of his native land, and is stranded on a foreign shore”.