The Location of Soper Lane

Although there is no longer a London street named Soper Lane, the location of the medieval road is known from references both to the street itself and to St. Pancras Church, which stood on the corner of Soper Lane and Needlers Lane. Both Soper Lane and St Pancras Church suffered considerable damage during the Great Fire of 1666.

In 1598 the historian John Stow published a ward by ward survey of London streets and parish churches. In preparing his survey he studied a number of primary sources and he also walked through the streets checking his sources against existing roads. He quotes widely from the description of London written by William Fitzstephen in 1174.

In more recent times both Charles Pendrill and Alan Stapleton have referred to Soper Lane and St. Pancras Church in their books about medieval London. The Historical Gazetteer of London before the Great Fire produced by Keene and Harding is a further source of information concerning property in this area.

The references indicate that Soper Lane was:

1. Intersecting Needler’s Lane.
2. At one end of Cheape.
3. West of Walbrook and east of Bow Lane. West of St. Sithes Lane.
4. Beside St. Pancras Church, opening off the south side of Cheape.
5. West of Needler’s Lane and West of St. Pancras Church, turning up to Cheape.
6. East of the stone cross in West Cheape.
7. Beside St. Pancras Church.
8. Intersecting with Cheape.
9. By what is now Pancras Lane.

Putting together all of these references, correlating them with the surviving medieval streets and their names and superimposing them on a modern map of the area it is possible to confirm that the northern end of the modern Queen Street follows the course of the medieval Soper Lane.

Alan Stapleton in his book London Lanes states that Soper Lane was rebuilt in 1666 and renamed Queen Street in honour of Catherine of Braganza. He describes a tavern token which is inscribed “Will Clerke at Ye [Cock and Sack Bottle] in Soper” on one side and “Lane, alias Queen Street - his halfpenny 1669” on the reverse. 

The church of St. Pancras was not rebuilt. The site is now a small open space marked with a blue plaque in what is now named Pancras Lane. The parish forms part of the United Parishes of St. Mary-le-Bow with St. Pancras Soper Lane, All Hallows Honey Lane, All Hallows Bread Street, St. Augustine with St. Faith under St. Pauls, St. John-the-Evangelist Watling Street and St. Mildred Bread Street with St. Margaret Moyses. One of the Churchwardens of this combined parish is the warden for St Pancras Soper Lane.

The Name of Soper Lane

At various times in history people have wondered how Soper Lane came to get its name and there does not appear to be a settled answer to this.

One possibility, which was suggested to John Stow when he produced his survey in 1598, is that the street used to be home to soapmakers. Stow does not go along with this theory saying, "... Sopar’s lane, which lane took that name, not from soap-making, as some have supposed, but of Alen le Sopar, in the 9th of Edward II. I have not read or heard of soap-making in this city till within this fourscore years...”

Charles Pendrill prefers the theory that the street was named for the soapmakers. In his 1937 book Old Parish Life in London he disputes the assertion that there was no soap making in the City prior to 80 years before Stow wrote and cites soap makers in Bishopsgate Street, one of which may have given the name to Soapers Yard. While this may be so, there is little evidence that soapmakers were working in Soper Lane. Pendrill argues that the tallow chandlers of Cheapside in 1283 were also making soap and that was the reason for their being turned out on the grounds of objectionable activities (the process being somewhat smelly). However he bases this argument on the name Soper Lane - which makes the argument somewhat circular. Unfortunately neither Stow nor Pendrill give any authority for their assertions.

Although there doesn’t seem to be any clear evidence that there were soap makers in Soper Lane, neither is there any to show that they were not there. Stow refers to it being occupied at various times by pepperers and grocers and by cordwainers and curriers. We know from the work of Marian Dale and Kay Lacey that there were silkwomen in Soper Lane by the late 14th century but by then the name of the street was settled and we would not expect the silkwomen to be trading their luxury goods in close proximity to the smelly soapmaking process!

It is, of course, possible that the lane was named after Alen le Sopar, who was a soap maker but did not have his business premises in Soper Lane - perhaps he lived there or had some other connection with the lane. Possibly it was not he, but his father who made soap.