Phase Two: Documentary – From Nunnery to Slavery

After searching high and low for imported Chinese porcelain in the archives at MOLA, Will, Emma and I set out to conduct independent research into the archaeology sites where the porcelain were recovered. I began research on the site referred to as FER97, which stretched from 26 to 38 Fenchurch Street. Researching the past of 21 Mincing Lane, where rare Japanese porcelain, in addition to Chinese porcelain, were found provides an interesting insight into London’s constantly changing population. The archaeological site in question was called Plantation House, in homage to the building construction in 1935, which served the commodities markets, especially tea and rubber. Plantation House now stands on the site and is one of the largest office developments in London.

Horwood Map (1794-1799)
Horwood Map (1794-1799)
Mincing Lane in 2006
Mincing Lane in 2006
Plantation Place completed in 2002
Plantation Place completed in 2002

But let’s go back to the beginning of Mincing Lane. The name of the lane derives from the Anglo-Saxon word Minicen, a term for female monks (who we typically now call nuns). During the Anglo-Saxon period, the lane housed the Benedictine nuns of St Helens Bishopsgate Church. As the English language continually evolved, it appears that no one could decide what to call the lane until the 18th Century.

In 1918, Henry A. Harben published A Dictionary of London, which lists many of Mincing Lane’s former names. These include:

  • Mengenelane (1290-1)
  • Mangonelane (1291)
  • Monechenelane (1291)
  • Menchenelane (1294-5)
  • Manionelane (1295 and 1311)
  • Menchonelane (1304)
  • Manchonlane (1306-7)
  • Menionelane (1312)
  • Mangonelane (1320)
  • Mengonelane (1321)
  • Mengeoneslane (1324)
  • Mengeonlane (1330)
  • Myniounlane (1349)
  • Munchenlane (1348-9)
  • Monechunelane (1349)
  • Minchonlane (1393)
  • Mynchenlane (1398-9)
  • Mynsing Lane (1601)
Benedictine nuns at work
Benedictine nuns at work

Let’s fast forward to the Great Fire of London in 1666 when the real action began. The Fire Courts of the time record many of the disputes between the landowners of Mincing Lane and the tenants who had lost their homes. The landowners in these records appear to be members of high society with the gentleman Edmund Hamond and Dame Anne Godschalke being among those in court. These records also suggest that the land on Mincing Lane were leased to people of considerable wealth. For instance, one particular messuage was leased to Benjamyn Delanoy, a merchant, who had goods and household stuffs that exceeded the value of £1000 at his property. Other residents on Mincing Lane paid rents that ranged from £80 p.a. to £120 p.a. In today’s currency £1000 is about £83,050 and the rent in modern currency would be from £6,644 to £9,966. So I think it is safe to say that these residences were not likely to find themselves in the workhouses that took form in 1631.

The next group of residents from Mincing Lane I discovered were slave traders, who chose to live and conduct their business in the area because of its prime location as London’s financial district. The first resident I found recorded was Thomas Starke whose will reveals that he owned plantation in Virginia, America and died in his home in Mincing Lane. However, his most famous legacy was actually his great-granddaughter, Mariana Starke, a playwright, poet and travel writer. Another resident was Humphry Morice, who has been described as the ‘foremost London slave merchant of his time’. Morice later became a Member of Parliament from 1713 to 1731. In 1716, he became a director of the Bank of England and in 1727 he was promoted to governor. Only after Morice’s death in 1731 was it discovered that he had been involved in fraudulent financial activity and left huge debts. John Sergeant, one of Morice’s co-partners in the slave factory of Bance Island, also lived and worked on Mincing Lane.

Sir Humphry Morice
Sir Humphry Morice

So from the first half of my research I have seen Mincing Lane transform from being the home of nuns before falling into the hands of the upper-class and finally becoming colonised by wealthy traders and merchants.

– Roshni

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