What’s in a name?…Fetter Lane…

January 27, 2014

The name of this central London thoroughfare – which runs from Fleet Street to a dead-end just shy of Holborn, with New Fetter Lane forking off to continue the journey to Holborn Circus – has nothing to do with fetters, chains or prisoners.

Fetter-LaneRather its name – a form of which apparently first starts to appear in the 14th century – is believed to be a derivation of one of a number of possible Anglo-French words – though which one is anyone’s guess.

The options include the word fewtor, which apparently means an idle person or a loafer, faitor, a word which means an imposter or deceiver (both it and fewtor may refer to a colony of beggars that lived here) feuterer, a word which describes a ‘keeper of dogs’, or even feutrier, another term for felt-makers.

Buildings of note in Fetter Lane include the former Public Records Office (now the Maughan Library, part of King’s College, it has a front on Chancery Lane but backs onto the lane), and the former Inns of Chancery, Clifford’s Inn and Barnard’s Inn (current home of Gresham College).

It was also in Fetter Lane, at number 33, that the Moravians, a Protestant denomination of Christianity, established the Fetter Lane Society in 1738 (members included John Wesley). The original chapel was destroyed in bombing in World War II ( a plaque now marks the building where it was)

And there’s a statue of MP, journalist and former Lord Mayor, John Wilkes, at the intersection with New Fetter Lane (pictured).

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2 Responses to “What’s in a name?…Fetter Lane…”


  1. The people who choose street names assume that everyone will know FOREVER where the name came from. But that is not true all all. English changes over time, old words are forgotten, the French settlers move out and another group moves in, the street changes from elegant to seedy, or vice versa. Nothing stays the same.

    I would go with the _felt-makers_ explanation, since trades were so significant in street naming. But my neighbour, a Mr Fetter, assured me that the street was most likely named for wealthy residents .. the Fetter family.

    If only the Public Records Office kept the relevant information!

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