Cordwainer, City of London

One of the City’s smallest wards, bounded by Cheapside and Poultry, Walbrook, Cannon Street and Bread Street

Hidden London: Cordwainer statue on Watling Street, photo by Eluveitie
The Cordwainer statue on Watling Street

Cordwain’ – a corruption of ‘Cordovan’ – was the English word for fine Spanish leather. The Andalusian city of Córdoba was (and to some degree still is) renowned for the manufacture of supple yet strong and water­proof leather.

London’s cordwainers were shoemakers (and originally other leather workers too) and many of them plied their trade in what is now Bow Lane but in the Middle Ages was called Cordwainer’s Street – which was also the name of the ward.

The Guild of Cordwainers was in existence by 1272 and obtained a royal charter in 1439. The last incarn­ation of the Cordwainers’ livery hall (which was not in the ward of Cordwainer) was destroyed in the Blitz and the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers is nowadays a tenant at Clothworkers’ Hall, which is over to the east in Tower ward.

The ward takes in two grade-I listed Wren churches: St Mary Aldermary and the most famous of all the City’s churches (not counting a certain cathedral) – St Mary-le-Bow.

The nicest part of Cordwainer lies between the two St Marys: a mostly pedes­tri­anised group of narrow streets and alleys crowded with places to shop, eat and drink – including Williamson’s Tavern in Groveland Court.

Elsewhere, the ward is dominated by the usual City mix of financial sector insti­tu­tions and their ancillary service providers. The aggress­ively postmodern office and retail complex called No 1 Poultry stands at Cordwainer’s north-east corner.

The built envir­onment of Cordwainer has undergone signi­ficant change over the past decade, culmin­ating in the construction of the European headquarters for the New York-based business and financial inform­ation company Bloomberg LP. The scheme fills almost the entire south-east quadrant of the ward and consists of two buildings – one very large and one posit­ively monolithic – each ten storeys tall, plus three subter­ranean levels. The pair are separated by a pedes­trian arcade and connected by several bridges. Museum of London archae­olo­gists uncovered more than 14,000 artefacts at the construction site and went so far as to nickname it ‘the Pompeii of the North’.

Cordwainers College, where Jimmy Choo honed his shoemaking skills, is now part of the London College Fashion.

Alma Boyes’s bronze statue of a cordwainer at work (shown above) was commissioned in 2002 by the City of London Corporation and the Ward of Cordwainer Club to mark the club’s centenary. It was unveiled in Bow Churchyard before its relocation to a permanent home in the newly paved area of Watling Street beside St Mary Aldermary church.

Postal district: EC4
Websites: Ward of Cordwainer Club, London Details: Cordwainer


* The picture of the Cordwainer statue at the top of this page is adapted from an original photograph by ‘Eluveitie’ at Wikimedia Commons, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.