The Steelyard of London Since the Twelfth Century
L.W. Cowie explains how the Hansard merchants from northern Germany maintained their own Community in London from medieval times until 1852.
Over a thousand years ago there were foreign trading communities in London, which received, then and for centuries afterwards, encouragement and privileges because of the important part they played in England’s foreign trade at a time when her own merchants were unable to conduct it adequately themselves.
Several of these established themselves a little above London Bridge by Dowgate Hill on the Thames from which boats and barges could penetrate up the Walbrook into the heart of the city. Among the earliest seem to have been the Norman wine-merchants of Rouen, whose settlement is said to have been established by King Edgar (957-75) at a site on the west side of Dowgate, which was later called the Vintry.
By the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-66) they had built themselves a lock or port and had the right to order the removal of any ship after an ebb or flood tide. If the order were not obeyed, they could cut the ship’s mooring ropes and set it adrift without any liability for damage suffered or inflicted by it.