Above: The stone sign at the northern end of King Street, in the City of London.
Very little seems to be known about the stone sign that is mounted on a wall near the west corner of where King Street meets Gresham Street.
It should be remembered that King Street was cut through the site of houses a few years after the Great Fire of London (1666). Gresham Street is a relatively recent name for the road running east west to the north of Cheapside. Greshm Street was laid out in 1845 combining the old shorter streets of Lad Lane and Cateaton Street. In 1845 Gresham Street ran only as far as Wood Street, being extended west a few decades later.
According to Lillywhite (in his book called ‘London Signs’), he found four references to the name: (1) ‘Castle near Laurence Lane’ mentioned before 1677; (2) ‘Castle Tavern, 26 King Street, Cheapside’ 1826-38; (3) ‘Castle by Guildhall’ 1785; and (4) ‘Castle Tavern Cateaton Street’ 1826-27.
One other piece of information appears on John Rocque’s Large Scale map of London (1746) where a ‘Castle Court’ is shown on the west side of St Lawrence Lane. Before King Street was cut through to the Guildhall, that lane was the only thoroughfare from Cheapside to Guildhall. Finally, remember that there is still a ‘Castle Court’ which is a narrow alleyway just south of Cornhill. That alley, of course, has nothing to do with this story.
It is clear, therefore, that the origins of the name and the exact whereabouts of the stone sign (when it was in use outside an inn or tavern) are very uncertain. However, it is great to see the sign being displayed to public view on a City street.
Such signs, made in stone or sometimes in wood, were a common sight until early Victorian times, not only in the City of London but right across the capital. Many of the City’s inn and tavern signs are stored away in the Museum of London, where the public never see them. Occasionally, in a temporary exhibition, one of them is put on display. The stone sign is certainly not far from its original location and it is to be hoped that it will continue to be displayed for all to see, as a reminder of London’s more interesting past when signs like this one were much more plentiful.