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

The Steelyard, from the Middle Low German Stalhof, was the main trading base (kontor) of the Hanseatic League in London during 15th and 16th centuries.


Commemorative plaque placed in 2005 at Cannon Street station, near the location of the Steelyard

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 now covered by Cannon Street station and commemorated in the name of Steelyard Passage. [1] The Steelyard, like other Hansa stations, was a separate walled community with its own warehouses on the river, its own weighing house, chapel, counting houses, a guildhall, cloth halls, wine cellars and 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. [3] 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.[4]

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.


Georg Giese from Danzig, 34-year-old German merchant at the Steelyard, painted in London by Hans Holbein in 1532

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. But 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. 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 Steelyard was finally 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. But 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 finally 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

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

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 however; 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.

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.

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. ^ Panayi, P., Germans in Britain Since 1500, A&C Black, 1996, p. 19
  2. ^ Panayi, P., Germans in Britain Since 1500, A&C Black, 1996, p. 19
  3. ^ Atatüre, Süha (2008). "The Historical Roots of European Union: Integration, Characteristics, and Responsibilities for the 21st Century" (PDF). European Journal of Social Sciences. Eurojournal. 7 (2). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 February 2009. Retrieved 26 July 2009. 
  4. ^ Fudge, J.D., Commerce and Print in the Early Reformation, BRILL, 2007, pp 110-112
  5. ^ Medieval English urban history - Colchester
  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 2005-11-19 at the Wayback Machine.
  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

4 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.

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