No, not some obscure 1970s animated children’s TV series with characters made from pepper pots (That’s an idea, perhaps I could pitch it to Cbeebies) but a group of merchants that inhabited the City of London in the early 1100s
In last Friday’s post, I expressed my fondness for the 1893 OS map of London (yes, sad I know) due to the Cartographers of the time adding in small annotations regarding long demolished buildings or structures.
During one of my usual perusals I was focussing around the area of Cornhill in the heart of the City when I came across an annotation which read “Site of Cornet’s Tower“.
Having no idea what a Cornet’s tower was I was intrigued and started to dig a bit deeper. Cornet’s Tower, in Bucklersbury, was a building which was used by Edward III for his money exchange in the 1320s, which given Cornhill’s links with finance isn’t surprising.
So who were the Pepperers and what was their connection to the tower? The Grocers of London were originally called “Pepperers“, pepper being the chief commodity of their trade. These earlier Grocers were Italians, Genoese, Florentine or Venetian merchants, then supplying Christendom with Indian and Arabian spices, wines, and fruits. The Pepperers are first mentioned as a fraternity among the amerced guilds of Henry II around 1180 and became known as “The Company of Grossers of London” in 1348.
Their connection with the tower begins when they moved their headquarters from Soper’s Lane to the tower in 1383 and by all accounts “waxed rich and powerful.” They remained there until 1428 when they purchased the chapel of the Fratres du Sac (Brothers of the Sack) in nearby Old Jewry, which had originally been a Jewish synagogue. The current hall in it’s fifth incarnation stands near this site within what were the grounds of the chapel.
As for the towers fate, it seems to have stood until the late 1500s and has a slightly strange footnote. According to chronicles of the time it seems to have been owned by a Mr Buckle, a member of the Grocers Company. Whether this Mr Buckle was a descendant of the Buckle who owned the land known as Buckles-Bury, the manor and tenements of the Buckles is not documented, but most possible. He seems to have been sitting on a parcel of land with only the tower and outbuildings upon it and seeing a way to maximise the revenue from the plot decided to build housing upon it.
John Strype writing in 1603 conveyed this cautionary tale that befell Grocer Buckle…..” to have set up and builded a goodly Frame of Timber. But the said Buckle, greedily labouring to pull down the old Tower, a piece thereof fell upon him; which so bruised him, that his Life was thereby shortned. And another, that married his Widow, set up the new prepared Frame of Timber, and finished the Work. ”
It says a lot about the Victorians love of the past that some three hundred years later it was decided to include such obscure references, for which I’m extremely grateful.