The information for this walking tour is derived from postdoctoral research by Dr Sarah Birt (Birkbeck, University of London), funded by the Women’s History Network in 2020-2021. Please take care when following this tour, particularly when crossing roads in busy traffic. All locations are approximate and informed by contemporary maps.
The Strand has developed significantly since the beginning of the seventeenth century when it was largely surrounded by fields and pastureland. In this period, there were three main Strand parishes, St Martin in the Fields, St Mary Savoy and St Clement Danes, all with rapidly expanding populations as the century progressed. In the 1630s, the Earl of Bedford commissioned Inigo Jones to design and build a piazza at Covent Garden, and a number of houses and tenements sprang up nearby to accommodate visiting gentry and local residents alike. The map above was created just after the Great Fire of London of 1666 destroyed many major landmarks in the City including St Paul’s Cathedral, the Guildhall and the Royal Exchange. Though the fire did not reach as far as the Strand – stopping just short of Temple Bar, which marked the point where Fleet Street met the Strand – the demand for new housing pushed development westwards, towards the City of Westminster. The grand bishops’ palaces that once dominated the Strand and later housed aristocrats were gradually replaced by smaller houses with shops at street level. These were leased by artisans and retailers who furnished the Court and a wide variety of residents and visitors with clothing, food and luxury wares. The Strand, an important thoroughfare, became a key site of commerce, with the New Exchange and Exeter Exchange established as popular locations for retailing outside the City boundaries. This walking tour broadly covers the period 1600 to 1740, highlighting just some of the many women working along the Strand and in the surrounding streets during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
We begin our tour at the furthermost end of the Strand near Charing Cross. A great place to start is the equestrian statue of Charles I, which has stood on this site since 1675. Standing with your back to the statue, look to your right, towards The Mall. In 1730, a milliner named Jane Hickson lived and worked at her shop in Spring Gardens. In this period, milliners sold a range of haberdashery wares, lace, and accessories such as gloves and handkerchiefs. Hickson’s goods were valued at £300 (equivalent to around £35,000 today), suggesting that her customers were predominantly affluent, perhaps even members of the court at nearby St James’s Palace. Now turn left and walk to Charing Cross station on the south side of the Strand.
Where one of London’s busiest train stations now stands was once an Italianate covered produce market called Hungerford Market (built on the site of an earlier mansion owned by the Hungerford family) where fruit and herbs were brought by barge on the river Thames and sold from market stalls. There were also many shops and public houses in this area. In the 1730s, the Waterman’s Arms was run by a victualler named Grace Atkins, and Ann Hodgson worked as a hosier next to the One Tun Tavern just off the Strand. Sisters Elizabeth, Mary and Margaret Creswell also worked near Hungerford Market as haberdashers at a shop called the Anchor and Hope. Ann Hodgson was not the only woman working as a hosier on the Strand in this period. Elizabeth Fettisplace was based nearby in Durham Yard, Elizabeth Partridge’s shop ‘The Golden Leg’ was next to the Sun Tavern on the Strand, and Sarah Bynes was at the White Horse near Temple Bar. The embroidered stockings pictured indicate the styles of hosiery potentially worn by wealthy Londoners in the eighteenth century.
The New Exchange
Proceed along the south side of the Strand to Pizza Hut. The New Exchange was built at this site by Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury and was opened on 10 April 1609 during the reign of James I. It was approximately 200 feet wide and 50 feet deep with two storeys of small shops or stalls. In 1638 a seamstress named Anne Radford née Clarges signed a 21-year lease for a shop called ‘The Spanish Gypsies’ on the upper floor. Anne later married General George Monck in 1653 and gained the title of Duchess of Albemarle at the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, making her one of the only New Exchange tenants whose portrait survives. A significant number of the shopkeepers in the New Exchange were women. For example, in the 1650s, Barbara Thursby was a perfumer at a shop called the Flying Horse, Margaret Walwyn was a sempster at the Unicorn, and Sara Fulcher was a milliner at the Rainbow. In the 1690s, just over half of the recorded shopkeepers were women and their occupational titles were predominantly related to the fashion trades. The New Exchange proved a popular shopping destination, particularly in the late seventeenth century. However, its fortunes had waned by 1737 when it was demolished to make way for new shops and houses.
Old Round Court
Now cross over the road to Rymans. This is the approximate location of Old Round Court, which was reached via a side street from the Strand. In 1720, it was described by John Strype as ‘a pretty square Court […] much resorted unto, as being inhabited by Silk-men, Mercers, and Lace-men, who drive a considerable Trade’. In the early eighteenth century, Ann Renney, a widowed Lace Woman, had a shop called the Golden Key in this location. Her stock included expensive lace fashioned from silver and gold wire and as such was likely to serve customers from the richest strata of society. The stomacher pictured depicts an example of silver thread embroidery. Silver and gold lace was made from similar flattened and drawn threads of precious metal wire. Several women worked as mercers in this location in the early eighteenth century including Rebecca Paulin at the Golden Key and Star, and Frances Hendly at the 3 Pigeons. Margaret Quinn was a linen draper at the Artichoke in New Round Court nearby.
The Middle Exchange
Remaining on the north side of the Strand, walk towards the Vaudeville Theatre and look back to the south side of the Strand to where Salisbury House once stood. In 1672, the Middle Exchange was built following the success of the New Exchange. Articles of agreement were made for tenants of the new shops, and one clause forbade any shopkeepers from encouraging ‘any Applewoman, herbewoman, Fruiterer, Butcher, Fisherwoman or any such like people then and there to buy of them’. Women working as hawkers were a frequent sight in London and the wider metropolis. They sold fresh produce and were vital to the economy, though the Earl of Salisbury evidently considered them a nuisance. Indeed, complaints were made about discarded baskets (trip hazards!) and fruit peelings when a similar rule was made against apple sellers at the Royal Exchange in London. The Middle Exchange itself was a large room with small shops constructed on either side. Ultimately, this exchange failed as it was considered too gloomy for customers to view the wares of shop tenants. It also had a terrible reputation, becoming known as the ‘whores nest’ before it was demolished in 1695.
The Exeter Exchange
Now walk towards the Strand Palace Hotel on the north side of the Strand. On this site in 1676, the Exeter Exchange was built as a close rival of the New Exchange. Numerous shops were run by women including Sarah Giffard, a seamstress at the Golden Lion. Another Exeter Exchange tenant, a milliner named Mary Sexton, was at a shop called the Black Horse in 1718. She lived nearby at a house with a green door on Henrietta Street with her husband Martin, a surgeon. Sexton bound at least eight young women as her apprentices showing that she had a well-established business. The upper floor of the Exeter Exchange later housed a menagerie. The roaring of lions and tigers could be heard on the Strand below until the building was demolished and the animals were relocated to London Zoo in 1829.
During the first decade of the eighteenth century, a mantua-maker named Elizabeth Cary lived and worked in Exeter Exchange Court, which was situated behind the Exeter Exchange. According to John Strype, the land ‘formerly belonged to Exeter House, and Garden […] belonging to the Earls of Exeter, and was antiently said to be a Covent, or Monastery, and that Covent Garden, then unbuilt, was the Gardens and Fields belonging to it’. The mantua gown became fashionable in the 1670s and an example from the early 1700s pictured is the style of gown that Cary would have made. She left a will bequeathing her ‘monies Plate Rings houshould= Goods Moveables & wearing Cloths’ to her ‘well Beloved friend’ Mary Peters, perhaps suggesting that Peters was a business associate rather than a relative. Cary would have chiefly been employed in shaping and sewing bespoke garments using silks provided for her by her customers.
Now walk back to Southampton Street, which leads towards Covent Garden. John Strype described this street in 1720 as ‘very spacious, with good Houses, well inhabited and resorted unto by Gentry for Lodgings’. Several milliners ran businesses on this street in the early eighteenth century. Elizabeth Tancourt was at the Green and Golden Flower Pot, Elizabeth and Martha Ridley were at the Three Queens, Dorothy Orde was at the Acorn, Judith Powell was at the Wheat Sheaf, and Joanna Saintlow worked at the china shop next door, presumably selling ceramics. Maiden Lane is on your left as you proceed up Southampton Street. In 1727, Elizabeth Ewen worked as a mantua-maker from her apartments in the house of a tailor on Maiden Lane, showing that this was a key area for purchasing fashionable clothing and accessories such as gloves.
Now make your way to Covent Garden piazza. In the early 1650s, the artist Joan Carlile (1606?-1679) set up a portrait studio in Covent Garden, ‘resolved there to use her skill for somthing more than empty fame’. Carlile had been a painter at the court of Charles I before the British civil wars and this area was well-known as the residence of many artists throughout the seventeenth century.
Exit the piazza via Russell Street towards Drury Lane. In 1731, Mary Turner, a stationer, was working at the Post Office in Russell Street. On the right opposite what is now Crown Court, was Bridges Street and Play House Passage, which was the site of the Rose (later Landers’) Chocolate House run by Martha Lander, a Chocolate Seller in 1732. Chocolate houses were similar in nature to coffee houses, and as such were popular venues for discussing politics and current affairs whilst consuming expensive, imported goods. Another woman named Hannah Calbeck was a mercer at Turners Warehouse at the Maiden Queen in Bridges Street, showing that women engaged in a variety of trades in this location.
At this final stop of the tour, we arrive at Drury Lane and the Theatre Royal. The current building dates from the early nineteenth century but there has been a theatre at this site for more than 350 years. In the early 1730s, Mary Wilkes, Hester Booth, John Highmore and John Ellys insured the theatrical costumes, scenery and furniture as ‘Patentees of his Majesties Company of Comedians at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane’. Hester Santlow-Booth was a famous dancer and actor on the London stage and is pictured in her harlequin costume, which was one of her pivotal roles. On the eastern side of Drury Lane, north of the Strand and the church of St Clement Danes was Clare Market where Elizabeth Chappell was a ‘Dealer in Butter and Eggs’ in 1733. Chappell presumably supplied residents of the Strand with dairy products and her insurance policy covered her house with a barn and stables in Great Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire, which was run by her son William Chappell, whose work as a farmer surely supported her trade.
Walking back to the Strand, we end our tour at the church of St Clement Danes by the Royal Courts of Justice. The church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1682 but the interior was destroyed by an air raid in the 1940s. Nevertheless, the church’s exterior would be broadly recognisable to people living and working on the Strand in the eighteenth century, making it a fitting place to conclude the tour. I hope you have enjoyed this brief survey of women in business on the Strand. This research project is ongoing and the tour will be updated to reflect new findings in the near future. For more information about the history of Westminster and London, please see the recommended further reading below.
W. C. Baer, ‘Early Retailing: London’s Shopping Exchanges, 1550-1700’, Business History, 49:1 (2007), pp. 29-51
J. F. Merritt, The social world of early modern Westminster: Abbey, Court and Community, 1525-1640 (Manchester, 2005)
R. M. Smuts, ‘The Court and Its Neighborhood: Royal Policy and Urban Growth in the Early Stuart West End’, Journal of British Studies, 30:2 (1991), pp. 117-149
C. Spence, London in the 1690s: A Social Atlas (London, 2000)
J. Strype, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster (London, 1720)
C. Taverner, ‘Consider the Oyster Seller: Street Hawkers and Gendered Stereotypes in Early Modern London’, History Workshop Journal, 88 (2019), pp. 1-23
M. Toynbee and G. Isham, ‘Joan Carlile (1606? – 1679) – An Identification’, The Burlington Magazine, 96:618 (1954), pp. 273-277