The oldest, most historic part of London is also the world’s leading international financial and business centre. First established around AD50 when the Romans invaded Britain, the City was originally named Londinium. The remains of the famous Roman wall that surrounded Londinium can still be seen in various places.
This area is rich in Roman remains, from the Roman Temple of Mithras, the London Mithraeum (the Romans worshipped the cult of Mithras before eventually turning to Christianity) to London’s only Roman Amphitheatre, discovered under Guildhall Art Gallery.
Those clever Romans built a bridge across the river around AD50, near where London Bridge is today, and that bridge helped turn the newly formed city of Londinium into a major commercial centre in Roman Britain.
Situated on the north bank of the Thames, Londinium quickly became a bustling trade port and tradesmen formed livery companies (guilds) to regulate and protect their professions. A lot of the City’s old street names reveal the history of what these tradesmen produced or traded, such as Ironmonger Lane, Milk Street, Bread Street, Poultry, Cloth Fair and Mason’s Avenue.
By the early 17th century, as we started to explore beyond our own waters, the guilds began investing money in Merchant Venturer Companies, seeking exclusive rights of trade with faraway countries; the most famous of these companies was the world-renowned, East India Company.
Coffeehouse culture is thought of as a relatively new thing. Not so. Due to those trade deals, coffee arrived in London in the 17th century and coffee houses quickly sprang up, becoming social hubs for locals to gather and discuss business news and local gossip.
Different coffee sellers would attract different trades and guilds, with some of those coffee houses also acting as temporary offices for the traders who frequented them. This seemingly innocent pastime changed the course of Britain’s fortunes, as some of the world’s greatest financial institutions were formed in these caffeinated environments.
The clients of Jonathan’s Coffee House in Change Alley went on to form the London Stock Exchange and a local coffee house proprietor in Tower Street, called Edward Lloyd, went on to form Lloyd’s of London.
Think about that when you next order your decaf, soy, non-fat latte with caramel drizzle.
The internationally-renowned Lloyd’s building was designed by the architect Richard Rogers and took eight years to build. Lloyd’s earliest home was Edward Lloyd’s coffee house on Tower Street, firmly established by 1688 in the City of London. In the 17th century, London’s importance as a trade centre led to an increasing demand for ship and cargo insurance. Lloyd’s coffee house became recognised as the place for obtaining marine insurance.