This former Threadneedle Street institution in the City of London was the headquarters of the South Sea Company.

Incorporated in 1711, the company was assigned a monopoly on British trade with Spanish America but when that failed to result in riches, it embarked upon a speculative scheme which ended in the economic collapse known as the ‘South Sea Bubble’ and saw many investors ruined.

Among those employed at the company as a clerk was essayist Charles Lamb who adopted his nom-de-plume, Elia, based on one of his fellow clerks.

The building, located on the corner with Bishopsgate was designed around a quadrangle. The back of it apparently burned down in 1826 and was subsequently rebuilt.

The building was partly remodelled in the 1850s and was eventually demolished at the end of the 19th century.

PICTURE: A 1750s engraving of Old South Sea House

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Famous for being the site of the Bank of England – “the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street” – since 1734, there’s a couple of explanations for the origins of Threadneedle Street’s name – and both relate to livery companies associated with textile industries.

The first is that of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, initially granted livery by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in 1656 and then again by King Charles II in 1664. The company has a coat-of-arms featuring Adam and Eve holding up a shield on which can be seen three needles, hence Three Needles Street, the corruption of which is Threadneedle Street.

The second is that of the Merchant-Taylors’ Company, one of the 12 great livery companies, which was founded by Royal Charter in 1327. Its livery hall has been based in Threadneedle Street since the 14th century.

Either or both could be the reason for the unusual name of this City of London street, which runs from Mansion House north-east to Bishopsgate.

Other famous properties located in the street have included the headquarters of the infamous South Sea Company and the first site of the Baltic Exchange (formerly in the Virginia and Baltick Coffee House) which is now in St Mary Axe.

NOTE: The article initially said it was playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan who first coined the phrase Old Lady of Threadneedle Street. To clarify – it was actually a speech by Sheridan, an MP, in the House of Commons in which he described the bank as “an old woman” which is thought to have prompted satirist James Gillray to produce a cartoon ‘Political Ravishment of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street in Danger’ which in turn is believed to have coined the phrase.