What's With the Name Steelyard?
It's been over two years since TODL became Steelyard, but we still get asked the question: Where does the name come from and what does it have to do with sourcing interior design products?
Gather 'round, Darlings, while we harken back to the golden age of trade ships and merchant guilds...
Once upon a time, back in the 1200’s, a confederation of German traders called the Hanseatic League sailed into the port of London and established a proprietary market outpost on its banks.
The place was originally called the Stalhof, which literally translates to “stall courtyard” But it seems that the way the German merchants pronounced the word “stal” sounded more like the English word “steel”, so it soon became written as the Stilliard, or Styllyard, or Stilyard, or...Steelyard. (So, admittedly-- the name is more about market stalls than steel, but Stallyard just doesn’t sound as good.)
Situated on the north side of the Thames in Dowgate just west of the (at the time) newly-constructed London Bridge, the Steelyard evolved into a self-governing commercial enclave, and, over the next few hundred years, remained an all-inclusive complex exclusive to officially-sanctioned guildsmen.
Which, it turns out, worked out quite well for everyone involved. Not to drop names, but Henry VIII sourced his weaponry there, and for years the Steelyard held exclusive export rights on fine English wools and linens. Even more impressive, several of its merchants were immortalized on canvas by Hans Holbein the Younger, portraitist to the rich and royal.
For centuries, everything necessary to maintain a lucrative wholesale import/export operation was contained within the Steelyard’s snugly gated walls, where its proprietors lived, worked, worshipped, broke bread, and groused about business over tankards of German beer and Rhine wine.
In short, they had created what was essentially a self-sufficient trade portal, staffed and stocked 24/7.
Technological advances in product storage, tracking and measurement were pioneered there as well, resulting in at least one eponymous tool that survives to this day: the Steelyard (or Stilyard) balance. It was much more useful than it looks here:
Even as trade laws changed and the influence of the Hansa merchants waned, the Steelyard remained a significant wholesale hub in London up until the mid 19th century, when it was finally subsumed by a transportation technology even more revolutionary than the Hanseatic shipping network that first roamed the medieval seas. In 1866, The Southeastern Railway company built the Cannon Street Railway station on the Steelyard site.
Although the station has undergone multiple renovations and additions over the last 150 years, remnants of the original Steelyard underneath have only recently been preserved and re-purposed for the 21st Century. Now a historically protected public passage, the space currently houses a nightclub/bar used for special events and concerts.
In medieval and Elizabethan London, if you wanted to source your goods within the vetted and protected community of European merchants and traders, you went to the Steelyard.
Today, if you want to source your interior design products within the vetted and protected community of global design-trade merchants, you come to the virtual Steelyard.
In the overwhelming sea of online designer tools and products where so many names sound the same, Steelyard stands out. Like its namesake alloy, it's the scaffolding you can build your sourcing around with trust and confidence.
And, as always, access to our Steelyard is password-protected and free to verified professional interior designers and architects. No catch, no funny business!
All images via Wikimedia Creative Commons