Undershaft, EC3A

Place Name

This street leads to the church of St Andrew Undershaft where each May Day a maypole (or shaft) would be raised at the junction of Leadenhall Street and St Mary Axe. Gillian Bebbington in London Street Names writes: “It’s height dwarfing the church which came to be known as under the shaft.” This merry tradition continued until Evil May Day 1517 when rioting broke out after a mob of 1,000 local apprentices began to attack foreign residents, mainly migrant Flemish workers and the wealthy merchants and bankers of Lombard Street who lived in the City. A fortnight before the riot an inflammatory speech was made on Easter Tuesday by a Dr Bell at St Paul’s Cross at the instigation of John Lincoln, a broker. Bell called on all “Englishmen to cherish and defend themselves, and to hurt and grieve aliens for the common weal”. Hence the scene was set for xenophobic attacks. Thomas More managed to bring the riot under control, but no sooner had he calmed the situation down then the migrants hit back, sparking renewed violence. The troubles were finally quelled when the Duke of Norfolk entered the City with his private army of 1,300 retainers. Thirteen of the rioters were convicted of treason and executed on May 4, and Lincoln was executed three days later.  The maypole was taken down and hooked under the eaves of a nearby row of houses where it remained until 32 years later a “fervent Protestant curate known as Sir Stephen” began preaching that it was a heresy to imply that St Andrew’s was inferior to the worldly maypole. This public sermon was seen and recorded by the great London chronicler John Stow: “I heard his sermon at Paules cross and I saw the effect that followed; the neighbours and tenants over whose doors the said shaft had lain, after they had well dined, to make themselves strong, gathered more help, and with great labour raising the shaft from the hooks, they sawed it in pieces, every man taking for his share so much as had lain over his door… Thus was this idol mangled, and after burned.”

 

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