The first London goldsmiths were Jewish. They also acted as bankers and moneylenders, but medieval attitudes to usury were critical. In 1275, Edward I issued the ‘statutus de Judeismo’ banning Jews from lending money at interest. It was one of many repressive measures which culminated in the expulsion of the impoverished Jews from the country in 1290, at which time they may have numbered as many as 16,000 souls. 


It would take over 350 years before they were allowed to return to Britain. Their powerful position as moneylenders to the English Crown was taken over by Italians with Lombard Street as its financial centre. The area was originally a piece of land granted by Edward I to goldsmiths and merchants from Lombardy and is mentioned by name in a Charter of Edward II in 1319. Economically sophisticated and socially self-contained, the Italian merchant elite regarded itself as the financial aristocracy within the larger London stranger community. Many commercial terms such as debtor, creditor, cash, bank, or bankrupt were directly derived from the Italian. In Das Kapital Karl Marx specifically refers to Lombard Street in reference to credit and money-lending. 

The first Italian settlers were members of the Corsini dynasty, a Florentine dynasty who made their fortune in the fourteenth century as politicians and traders. They lost political power with the emergence of the Medici family, but continued to flourish economically. Filippo and Bartolomeo Corsini increased the wealth of the family thanks to their network of banking offices around Europe, connected with a fast private postal service. They accumulated fabulous wealth in a relatively short time in London – so much so, that Italians in London at the time were referred to as ‘Caursinis’. With the emergence of the Hanseatic trade, the pre-eminence of the Italians was challenged by merchants from the Low Countries and Northern Germany. During the last decade of the fifteenth century as many as eighty Hanseatic merchants were resident in London, mostly quartered in Dowgate Ward, better known as the Steelyard. Lombard Street however retained its reputation as being at the heart of London’s financial centre.


Merchant Thomas Romeyn may have been of Flemish descent. He made a remarkable career in London’s governing mercantile class. He became a citizen before 1280, was elected sheriff in 1290, alderman in 1294, and mayor in 1309. In 1285, Edward I had forced London authorities to admit aliens of good repute to its citizenship. In the early 1280s, Romeyn first appears in the records as a citizen purchasing a shop in the pepperers’ trading quarter of Soper’s Lane, Cheapside. He sold spices, cloth and furs to members of the nobility. He also invested in property. In 1292 he was one of London’s top taxpayers. In the previous year he served as sheriff with another pepperer, William Layer. Their election as aldermen during that decade symbolised the socio-economic advancement of the pepperers, which had been achieved through their co-operation with Italian and Provençal traders who imported their goods and gave them credit. 


The Guild of Pepperers was formed in 1180. Pepperers subsequently became wholesale merchants dealing en gros (hence the word ‘grocer’) and in 1428 were incorporated as the Worshipful Company of Grocers. However, some sections of the London population resented the success of immigrants and, as the economy slumped in the later 1290s, the aldermen had to deal with violent protests and riots. Romeyn and his wife, Julia or Juliana, suffered from one such attack in their house in 1298. As Mayor of London in 1309/10, Romeyn skilfully balanced the grievances of the local population against the interests of the alien merchants in the city. He died in March 1313.


Traditionally, four persons are known in English common law: natural born subject; denizen; alien friend; and alien enemy. In his Commentaries on the Law of England (1766) William Blackstone, Professor of English Law at Oxford University, summarised the position of the latter in times of conflict: ‘alien enemies have no rights, no privileges’. The Crown in other words possessed absolute power over alien enemies. When Mussolini declared war in June 1940, Churchill ordered to ‘collar the lot’. Mass internment followed. The precedent had been set during World War I.


On 4 August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany. The next day Parliament passed the Aliens Restriction Act, transforming every foreigner born in Germany or Austria-Hungary into an enemy alien. This person was not permitted to send letters; he could not travel more than five miles from the police station at which he had registered; he could not carry a camera, or own a car, a motorcycle, or a carrier pigeon; he was forbidden to obtain military maps or possess a gun. To many, mere registration of enemy aliens did not settle the issue. In the years preceding the war, newspapers had sounded the alarm about nefarious Germans. Since 1870, the British image of Germany had changed drastically. The old stereotype of a nation populated by philosophers, composers, and drunken students, had transformed into one of military brutes, megalomaniac scientists, and spymasters. Germans were considered a dose of bad germs. As early as 1909, papers had reported (imaginary) Zeppelin sightings and warned of the threat posed by an expanding German navy. Lord Northcliffe, owner of both the Daily Mail and the Times, further stoked the fear of invasion, warning that German waiters and barbers lurked at the heart of a hidden spy network.


Pressured by Parliament to arrest all enemy aliens as prisoners of war, British Home Secretary Reginald McKenna initially refused. Internment, he noted, was reserved for those who were military personnel or seen as dangerous to the nation. On 7 May 1915, however, a German submarine torpedoed the British ocean liner Lusitania, killing more than a thousand civilians. Riots erupted in the streets of London and across the British Empire, from Johannesburg to Melbourne. Looters ransacked German bakeries, butchers and pubs. In Liverpool, police had to take citizens of German descent into protective custody. Political resistance to mass internment vanished overnight. Less than a week after the Lusitania’s destruction, the government announced that male enemy aliens – whatever their status or profession – would be rounded up. Many of them had settled years before, some families had been in Britain for generations. Tens of thousands of men were registered and locked up for the duration of the war. In north London, Alexandra Palace became a holding camp for up to 3,000 aliens. Eventually, they were sent to the village of Knockaloe on the Isle of Man which was turned into a complex of wooden sheds housing 25,000 internees. They were not soldiers, but low-grade hostages who were forced to endure their miserable fate and the breaking up of family life. The majority of those interned left Britain after the war or were deported. Many never saw their relations again.


Ironically, some immigrants were amongst the most ardent champions of internment. Emma Orczy was born in Hungary into a noble family. She was fifteen years old when her father took the family to London. She became a blockbuster author. Her novel The Scarlet Pimpernel was phenomenally popular. Between 1906 and 1940, she wrote fourteen sequels to the story. During World War I, Emma showed loyalty to her adopted country by founding the Active Service League, an organisation that urged women to make the following promise: ‘I do hereby pledge … to persuade every man I know to offer his services to the country, and I also pledge myself never to be seen in public with any man who … has refused to respond to his country’s call’. It was up to women to send their men to the trenches. Novelist William Tufnell Le Queux was born in Southwark in 1864, the son of an immigrant from Chateauroux in central France. Educated on the Continent, he became a prolific writer. From about 1905 he was a self-proclaimed patriot and Germanophobe. In 1906 Le Queux wrote for Lord Northcliffe’s Daily Mail a serial titled ‘The invasion of 1910’ (later published in book form). It warned of German atrocities and urged the introduction of compulsory military training. At the same time, politicians and newspaper editors became fixated on the idea that German prisoners in Britain had a pleasant time while British prisoners of war in Germany suffered brutal treatment. Internment deteriorated into organised xenophobia. The impact of such hysteria, which resulted in mass deportation of German civilians at the end of the conflict, would survive well beyond 1918.


Who were the victims? George Sauter was born in 1866 at Rettenbach, Bavaria, and studied art at the Royal Academy in Munich. He moved to London in 1895, having worked previously in Holland, Belgium, France and Italy. He married Lilian Galsworthy, daughter of the writer of the Forsyte Saga, and was appointed Honorary Secretary to the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers during Whistler’s presidency. Having lived in London for two decades but not become a British citizen, Sauter was interned with his son Rudolf (who became an artist in his own right) at the Alexandra Palace in December of 1915 and repatriated to Germany in early 1917. He never returned to Britain. George Kenner was born Georg Kennerknecht on 1 November 1888 in the small town of Schwabsoien, Bavaria. He moved to London in 1910 where he furthered his education at the Lambeth School of Art. With a British partner he set up the art company Waddington & Kennerknecht at no. 73 Farringdon Street. He was interned in May 1915. He was permitted by the camp authorities to use his skills as a professional artist. He created 110 paintings and drawings of his experiences as a civilian prisoner of war. It is the most extensive and moving collection of this nature that has survived. Kenner was transported to Knockaloe in June 1916 and sent back to Germany in a prisoner exchange in March 1919, four months after the Armistice. He never returned to Britain and eventually moved to Cheltenham, Pennsylvania.

Not all internees left Britain altogether. Carl Bartels was born in Stuttgart in 1866 into a Protestant family. He father was a woodcarver from the Black Forest. Having married Mathilde Zappe in 1887, the couple visited Britain on their honeymoon and decided to stay. He settled in Haringey, north London, and soon gained acclaim as a sculptor and woodworker. His reputation was enhanced when he won a competition to design two copper birds for the twin clock towers of Liverpool’s Royal Liver Building. His designs were brought to life by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts. After the Lusitania tragedy, Bartels was imprisoned at Knockaloe, even though he had been a naturalised Briton for more than twenty years. After the war Bartels was repatriated to Germany and separated from his wife and children. He regained residency in 1931 when his nephew’s employer offered permanent employment. Ironically, his designs were used in the modernisation of the RMS Mauretania, a sister ship of the Lusitania, although the building of the ship was scrapped in 1934. During the Second World War he made artificial limbs for injured servicemen.

The First World War was a watershed moment in the treatment of civilians during times of conflict. In the summer of 1914, concentration camps were a defunct concept. By the end of the war, they stretched across six continents. In only four years, mass detention of innocent civilians had been legitimised all over the world. Every nation has a black era or shameful episode it would prefer to exclude from historical accounts. For Britain, mass internment (and deportation) is one of those occurrences which has barely been acknowledged.


Cordwainer is a small ward in the City of London named after the cordwainers, which were professional shoemakers who lived and worked in this area. Streets within its boundaries are, amongst others, Bow Lane (formerly: Cordwainer’s Street), Pancras Lane, and part of Watling Street. The word cordwainer was derived from ‘Cordovan’, meaning fine leather produced in Córdoba. Historically, there was a distinction between cordwainer (maker of shoes and boots) and cobbler (repairer of footwear). The Guild of Cordwainers was in existence by 1272 and obtained a Royal Charter in 1439.

The Three Cranes in Thames Street was a famous tavern as early as the reign of James I. John Stow explains the curious name in the following manner. The Vintry was that part of the Thames bank where the merchants of Bordeaux ‘craned their wines out of lighters and other vessels, and there landed and made sale of them’. That had not always been the case. They had been preceded by cooks who are specifically recorded in Fritz-Stephen’s (clerk to Thomas à Beckett) Description of London of 1170. Here he describes in great detail the cookshops on the banks of the River Thames which he thought the acme off civilization: ‘at any time of day or night, any number could be fed to suit all palates and all purses’. 

Later in the thirteenth century the banks of the River Thames were taken over by the wine vaults of the vintners and the cookshops moved to Eastcheap and Bread Street. John Stow also adds that Three Cranes Lane was so called not only of a sign of three cranes at a tavern door, but rather of ‘three strong cranes of timber placed on the Vintry wharf by the Thames side, to crane up wines there’. Earlier it would seem that only one crane had to suffice for the needs of those French wine merchants of Bordeaux. The tavern was originally simply known as the Crane. Two references, dated respectively 1552 and 1554, speak of the sign in the singular. Twenty years later, however, the one had become three. Brits loved their Bordeaux.


From 800 onwards a series of Danish assaults on English coastlines started to take place. In the second half of the century Danish raiders first began to settle in England. On Wednesday 10 April 1661 Samuel Pepys made a note in his Diary of a visit to the Cathedral of Rochester. There he observed ‘the great door of the church, which, they say, was covered with the skins of the Danes’. The legend of the Danes skin is an old one, and applies to several churches in the South East. Usually the story goes that a Danish pirate tried to sack the church and was caught. An outraged mob then turned on the Dane. They skinned him and nailed the skin to the church door as a warning to anyone with the temerity to consider such crime.


John Dart, in his History of the Abbey Church of St Peter’s, Westminster (1723) describes a chamber once known as the Chapel of Henry VIII, and used as a ‘revestry’ (the chamber where vestments were kept). This chamber, Dart writes, ‘is inclosed with three doors, the inner cancellated, the middle, which is very thick, lined with skins like parchment, and driven full of nails. These … were some skins of the Danes, tann’d and given here as a memorial of our delivery from them’. The door was examined by John Quekett of the Hunterian Museum and founder of the Royal Microscopical Society who confirmed in 1849 that in each of the cases the skin was human. The Viking Age came to an end in 1066.


Coleman Street is a one-way road that runs from Gresham Street to London Wall. Part of the original Roman London city wall was found between Coleman Street and Basinghall Street in 1957. It was constructed by the Romans as part of an extensive programme of public works between approximately AD 190 and AD 225. It served to form the basis of the protection of the town far into the medieval period, and was also a key factor in determining the shape and development of both Roman and medieval London. 


The uniformity of design and construction of the wall suggests that it was planned as a single project. It enclosed the whole of the landward side of the town from Tower Hill to Blackfriars. It was laid out in straight sections, linking the major routes into London, and gateways were constructed at the points of entry at Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Newgate and Ludgate. The defensive nature of much of the Wall’s circuit was strengthened by an external ditch. Internally, it was strengthened by a bank of earth.