Cloth Fair

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

Cloth Fair takes its name from the cloth fair held here from the twelfth century until the nineteenth (thus also Cloth Court and Street).  In Medieval times, the fair attracted  clothiers, drapers and wool merchants from far and wide (members of the Mercers’ and Merchant Taylors’ Companies also attended to ensure fair trading, and there was even a peripatetic “Pie Powder”  Court that took its name from the a corruption of the French “pieds poudres”, meaning dusty feet).  By the beginning of the Victorian era, it had become more of an “entertainment”, marked by increasing levels of unruliness, such that it was finally discontinued in 1855. 

Remarkably, No. 41/42, which was built between 1597-1614, still stands, in so small measure due to restoration work by the architects Seely (Lord Mottistone) and Paget, who purchased the property in 1930, and owned it until 1978.   Ian Nairn described the house as “ … an embodiment of the old London spirit.  Chunky, cantankerous, breaking out all over in oriels and roof-lights, unconcerned with … anything else other than shapes to live in”. It was first owned by one William Chapman, who was evidently a businessman of some means. Further information about it may be found in Fiona Rule’s “The Oldest House in London“.

Images of the street from  the early 1900s show that there were several other pre-Great Fire houses still standing there  at that time.  Among them was the “Dick Whittington” Inn, which was demolished in 1916.  Two salvaged carved wooden satyrs from its corner posts are now in the Museum of London. 

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