top of page

A Jack of all trades and a savage bell

Sometimes I stand at a location and think how far away even recent history can feel. Some places have been so changed that without some research there would be no inkling as to what once stood on the site.

Limeburner Lane

Here’s a good example, Limeburner Lane just off Ludgate Hill. The lane and it’s name are a recent construct of the city planners circa 1990 and even with a vivid imagination you’d be hard pressed to conjure up images of medieval Limeburner’s tending to their kilns while staring at solid walls of concrete, steel and glass. In fact I’m struggling to find any connection with the process whatsoever as being close to the Fleet river it was more common to find Tanneries in the area.

The reason that the area was redeveloped is shown on the next couple of maps, firstly the bomb damage that occurred during the Second World War which shows that the area between Old Bailey and Farringdon Street was very badly damaged.

The destruction caused is born out in a later OS map showing the area devoid of everything except a few buildings.

I cant be certain what sat here between the 40s and the new development except that the block on the bottom left corner next to the railway bridge was certainly rebuilt as this photo shows from the 1980s when the railway bridge was being demolished. It shows a very bland office block indeed.

Le Belle Sauvage

Anyway I digress, I should be going back in time not forward. As you may have noticed on the first two maps there is an area marked adjacent to the new Limeburner Lane, if you haven’t been able to decipher what it says, it reads Le Belle Sauvage Yard. The yard takes it’s name from the Bell Savage Inn, a former public house which stood on the site from the 15th century until 1873. It was a playhouse during the Elizabethan Era, as well as a venue for various other entertainments. The balconies surrounding the inner court served as the upper and lower circles, the rooms of the Inn became private “boxes” and the yard itself was the “pit”. The stage would have been built against one side of the yard and curtained off.

It was also an important coaching inn, but was known by several names throughout it’s history, Savage’s Inn, The Bel Savage, Belle Savage, Belle Sauvage, Bell on the Hoop, Old Bell Savage and even Belly Savage .

The Cambridge coach emerging from Belle Sauvage

In 1616, Pocahontas and her retinue, who had come over from Virginia, were boarded at the Bell Savage. The yard at this time was said to be the “haunt of thieves and conmen….noisy, dangerous and evil-smelling”. In the Great Fire of 1666 the Inn was burnt to the ground, but rebuilt afterwards some time prior to 1676. In the outer court were some private houses, the Dutch Sculptor Grinling Gibbons lived here for a period. The Inn declined with the growth of the railways and by the mid 19th century, parts had become very dilapidated. Around1851, a John Thorburn, took out a lease on part of the property and refurbished the accommodation for paying guests and it is a few years later that the Jack of all trades mentioned in the title enters the story. Thorburn had least just a small part of the premises and about a year after he took the lease a larger part was taken by the publisher John Cassell, who moved in his printing works. Apparently the noise and vibration of the presses disturbed Thorburn’s customers to the extent that he lost most of his regular guests. It must have been a relief to Thorburn when Cassell approached him to buy the lease in 1853.

John Cassell 1817-1865

John Cassell had been born into an impoverished Manchester household, his father had been crippled in an accident and his mother was the main earner in the family. He received little formal education and worked in a cloth factory from the age of nine, later he was apprenticed to a carpenter. He became involved in the temperance movement and as a teenager would regularly address local meetings. In 1836 with 3d in his pocket he set off to walk to London which took him 16 days. He spent the next seven years working for the National Temperance Society in the capital until in 1843 he started trading as a tea & coffee merchant. His business became very successful. Cassell understood the power of early advertising and his products were always in the newspapers, “Buy Cassell’s shilling coffee” was one of his better known slogans and his products were household names. Some years later out of necessity Cassells bought a small second hand printing press to print his company leaflets on, and still active in the temperance movement used the machine to produce pamphlets.

Inside Le Belle Sauvage Yard circa 1850

Cassell saw the opportunity to produce temperance periodicals and so in partnership with his brother in law started printing the Teetotal Times in 1846. This transformed itself into the mainstream Weekly News Chronicle which ran until 1867. In 1850, he started the Working Man’s Friend a weekly magazine aiming to educate its readers without patronising them and with his business expanding moved into Le Belle Sauvage where they stayed until around 1913 when after acquisition the factory was closed. A street directory of 1914 shows that the yard was a mixture of businesses, and that’s the way it stayed until the Luftwaffe came calling during the Blitz.

And as to the derivation of the name? Written records show the inn being on the site from at least 1420. In 1453 (in the reign of Henry VI), a deed gave the building’s name as “Savage’s Inn” “Savage” is thought to be the name of a former, perhaps the original, proprietor; a William Savage, who was recorded as having resided in Fleet Street in 1380.

So why with all this history under their feet did the planners back in the 1990s opt for Limeburner Lane? The new street is in parts a continuance of the very old Seacoal Lane which reflects a time when there were wharves and warehouses along the banks of the River Fleet (now under Farringdon Street) where coal from the Northumbrian colliers would be unloaded.. That would have been something to remember or perhaps celebrate one of the oldest of London’s coaching inns, Belle Sauvage Lane sounds much nicer.

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page