The overlays that highlight 17th century London features are approximate and derived from Wenceslaus Hollar’s maps:

Open location in Google Maps: 51.509356, -0.091131


This text was copied from Wikipedia on 21 November 2022 at 6:01AM.

Coordinates: 51°30′41″N 0°05′26″W / 51.51139°N 0.09056°W / 51.51139; -0.09056

A reproduced painting of the Steelyard (Souvenir of the British Exhibit in the Hall of Nations IPA Leipzig, 1930)
Caius Gabriel Cibber: The Arms of the Hanseatic League (c. 1670) on display in the Museum of London

The Steelyard, from the Middle Low German Stâlhof (sample yard),[1] was the main trading base (kontor) of the Hanseatic League in London during the 15th and 16th centuries.


The Steelyard was located on the north bank of the Thames by the outflow of the Walbrook, in the Dowgate ward of the City of London. The site is bounded by Cousin Lane on the west, Upper Thames Street on the north, and Allhallows Lane on the east, an area of 5,250 m2 or 1.3 acres. It is now covered by Cannon Street station and commemorated in the names of Steelyard Passage[2] and Hanseatic Walk. The Steelyard, like other Hansa stations, was a separate walled community with its own warehouses on the river, its own weigh house, chapel, counting houses, a guildhall, cloth halls, wine cellars, kitchens, and residential quarters.[2]

As a church the Germans used former All-Hallows-the-Great, since there was only a small chapel on their own premises. Merchants operating out of the Steelyard were granted certain privileges and were exempt from customs duties and some taxes. In effect, the Steelyard was a separate and independent community, governed by the codes of the Hanseatic League, and enforced by the merchants' native cities.[3]

In 1988 remains of the former Hanseatic trading house, once the largest medieval trading complex in Britain, were uncovered by archaeologists during maintenance work on Cannon Street Station.


A plan of the Steelyard from Johann Gustav Droysen's Atlas, claimed to be as it was in 1667

The first mention of a Hansa Almaniae (a "German Hansa") in English records is in 1282, concerning merely the community of the London trading post, only later to be made official as the Steelyard and confirmed in tax and customs concessions granted by Edward I, in a Carta Mercatoria ("merchant charter") of 1303. The true power of the Hanse in English trade came much later, in the 15th century, as the German merchants, led by those of Cologne expanded their premises and extended their reach into the cloth-making industry of England.[4]

This led to constant friction over the legal position of English merchants in the Hanseatic towns and Hanseatic privileges in England, which repeatedly ended in acts of violence. Not only English wool but finished cloth was exported through the Hansa, who controlled the trade in Colchester and other cloth-making centres.[5]

When the Guildhall was destroyed in 1469, the merchants of Cologne were exempted by Edward IV, which served to foment dissension among Hansards when the Hanse cities went to war with England, and Cologne was temporarily expelled from the League. England, in the throes of the Wars of the Roses, was in a weak bargaining position, so despite several heavy defeats suffered by the Hanseatic fleet, the Hanseatic forces, consisting mainly of ships from only two cities (Lubeck and Gdansk), with the help of formidable ships like the Peter von Danzig won the Anglo-Hanseatic War and achieved a very favourable peace from the English commissioners in Utrecht in 1474.[6]

In 1475 the Hanseatic League purchased the London site outright and it became universally known as the Steelyard, but this was the last outstanding success of the Hansa.[7] In exchange for the privileges the German merchants had to maintain Bishopsgate, one of the originally seven gates of the city, from where the roads led to their interests in Boston and Lynn.

Surviving Hanseatic warehouse in King's Lynn, Norfolk

Members of the Steelyard, normally stationed in London for only a few years, sat for a famous series of portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger in the 1530s,[8] portraits which were so successful that the Steelyard Merchants commissioned from Holbein the allegorical paintings The Triumph of Riches and The Triumph of Poverty for their Hall. Both were destroyed by a fire, but there are copies in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Later merchants of the Steelyard were portrayed by Cornelis Ketel. There is a fine description of the Steelyard by John Stow.

Later history

The prosperity of the Hanse merchants, who were in direct competition with those of the City of London, induced Queen Elizabeth to suppress the Steelyard and rescind its privileges in 1598. James I reopened the Steelyard, but it never again carried the weight it formerly had in London. Most of the buildings were destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666. The land and buildings remained the property of the Hanseatic League, and were subsequently let as warehouses to merchants.

The Hanseatic League was never officially dissolved. Consulates of the Hanseatic League cities provided indirect communication between Northern Germany and Whitehall during the European blockade of the Napoleonic wars. Patrick Colquhoun was appointed as Resident Minister and Consul general by the Hanseatic cities of Hamburg in 1804 and by Bremen and Lübeck shortly after as the successor of Henry Heymann, who was also Stalhofmeister, "master of the Steelyard". Colquhoun was valuable to those cities through their occupation by the French since he provided indirect communication between Northern Germany and Whitehall,[9] especially in 1808, when the three cities considered their membership in the Confederation of the Rhine. His son James Colquhoun was his successor as Consul of the Hanseatic cities in London.

The Düsseldorf Stahlhof of 1908, today.

Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg only sold their common property, the London Steelyard, to the South Eastern Railway in 1852.[10] Cannon Street station was built on the site and opened in 1866.

From 1906 to 1908, another "Stahlhof" was built in Düsseldorf, Germany, as the headquarters of the newly established German steel cartel. Since 1945, this building was used first by the British Military Government, then as seat of a legal court.

Steelyard balance

The Steelyard possibly gave its name to the steelyard balance, a type of portable balance, consisting of a suspended horizontal beam. An object to be weighed would be hung on the shorter end of the beam, while weights would be slid along the longer end, till the beam balanced. The weight could then be calculated by multiplying the sum of the known weights by the ratio of the distances from the beam's fulcrum.



  1. ^ "steelyard". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  2. ^ a b Panayi, P., Germans in Britain Since 1500, A&C Black, 1996, p. 19
  3. ^ Fudge, J.D., Commerce and Print in the Early Reformation, BRILL, 2007, pp 110–112
  4. ^ "Medieval English urban history – Colchester". Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  5. ^ "Medieval English urban history – Colchester". Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  6. ^ F. R. Salter, "The Hanse, Cologne, and the Crisis of 1468" The Economic History Review 3.1 (January 1931), pp. 93–101.
  7. ^ "Prof. Rainer Postel, The Hanseatic League and its Decline". Archived from the original on 19 November 2005. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  8. ^ The series of eight portraits of individual merchants from the Steelyard that scholars agree were painted by Holbein include: Georg Giese of Danzig; Hans of Antwerp and Hermann Wedigh (all painted in 1532); Hillebrant Wedigh of Cologne; Unknown member of the Wedigh family; Dirk Tybis of Duisburg; Cyriacus Kale and Derick Born (all painted in 1533); Derick Berck (painted in 1536); however, the may also have painted other portraits of merchants, such as that of Johann Schwarzwald, which is often attributed to Holbein, See: Holman, T.S., "Holbein's Portraits of the Steelyard Merchants: An Investigation," Metropolitan Museum Journal, vol. 14, 1980, pp 139–158; Fudge, J.F., Commerce and Print in the Early Reformation, Brill, 2007, p.110
  9. ^ G. D. Yeats, Biographical Sketch..., 44–45.
  10. ^ This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Steelyard, Merchants of the". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

External links

5 Annotations

language hat  •  Link

From the L&M Companion:

The Steelyard. On the s. side of (Upper) Thames St, now covered by Cannon St Station. Once the London house of the Hanse merchants. The property extended to the river, its four acres including the merchants' hall, wharves, warehouses, and private dwelling houses, and in earlier centuries had been an important factor in the life of the city.

More at the 1911 Britannica article:…

It's number 22 on this 1666 map:…

Bill  •  Link

Steelyard, Steleyard, or Stilliard in Upper Thames Street, in the ward of Dowgate (facing the river), where the Cannon Street Railway Station now stands. "Their hall," says Stow, "is large, built of stone, with three arched gates towards the street, the middlemost whereof is far bigger than the others, and is seldom opened; the other two bemured up; the same is now called the old hall."

The Steelyard, a place for merchants of Almaine, that used to bring hither as well wheat, rye, and other grain, as cables, ropes, masts, pitch, tar, flax, hemp, linen cloth, wainscots, wax, steel, and other profitable merchandises.—Stow, p. 87.

Steelyard, a place in London where the fraternity of the Easterling Merchants, otherwise the Merchants of the Hannse and Almaine are wont to have their abode. It is so called Stilliard of a broad place or court, wherein Steele was much sold.— Minsheu, ed. 1617, and H. Blount both in his Law Dictionary and his Glossographia.

The Steelyard was lately famous for Rhenish Wines, Neats' Tongues, etc.— Blount's Glossographia, ed. 1670.

Other writers derive the name from its being the place where the King's steelyard, or beam, for weighing the tonnage of goods imported into London, was erected before its transference to Cornhill.

Lambecius explains the name Steel-yard (or as he calls it Stealhof) to be only a contraction of Stapelhof, softened into Stafelhof, and synonymous with the English word Staple, which is in the civil law Latin style of Edward III. termed Stabile emporium, a fixed port depot.—Herbert's Twelve Livery Companies, p. 12, note.

This latter derivation is by far the most likely; Minsheu is without doubt wrong, as steel until long after the adoption of the name Steelyard for their guild by the Merchants of the Hanse was only quite a secondary item in their trade.
---London, Past and Present. H.B. Wheatley, 1891.

Terry Foreman  •  Link…
Part of Hollar’s panorama of the City of London of 1646, showing the buildings of the Steelyard beside the Thames.

The origins of The Steelyard go back to Saxon times. Foreign merchants were encouraged to trade with England by the English kings. The earliest traders were Norman wine merchants from Rouen who were established beside the Thames near today’s Dowgate Hill in AD 960 from where they could sail their barges up the River Walbrook and into the City.

Some time after AD 978 merchants from Cologne, known as Easterlings, were also on the site. They were important traders who used shorter trade routes than the Scandinavians. Henry II granted privileges to the German traders. By 1157 the merchants of Cologne had displaced those from Scandinavia in trade. The Danish merchants sold their land and guildhall at Dowgate to the Germans.

The Steelyard became an enclave of warehouses, with a guildhall, used by the Hanseatic League who settled there in 1241, displacing the Rhineland merchants from Cologne. The Hanse merchants lived and worked around the Steelyard, which was rent free, enjoying many buying and selling rights. At first they lived an almost monastic life, no marriage, dining together in the hall, and they had to be in the Steelyard by a fixed time at night. The site was on the south side of Upper Thames Street and is now part of the site covered by Cannon Street Station.

The Hanseatic League was a commercial association of German, Dutch and Flemish towns. The word Hanse comes from the Germanic word ‘hanso’, meaning a group, from ‘hansa’, which is old German for a group of warriors, and ‘hos’ which is OE for a group. ‘Hanse’ literally meaning a ‘Guild’. The origin of the word Steelyard is from two German words, ‘stahl’ meaning solid and hard, from which the English word for steel comes, and ‘hof’ meaning a court-yard.

One of the most important imports was grain. In 1258 German grain saved London from famine. Grain was also re-exported by England to Gascony in France, in exchange for wine, and to Iceland, in exchange for fish.

In 1303 the ‘Great Charter’ was made to the Hanse merchants by the Crown giving them wide-ranging exemptions from customs duty in England. The Hanse merchants also managed to exclude the English ships from the Baltic and Scandinavian trade.

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