Safe? Oven? A Mystery Object on Martin Lane in the City
By Monument Station, walking down the tangled streets towards the Thames, you’ll stumble across Martin Lane, home of The Olde Wine Shades bar.
Originally built 1663 as a Merchant’s house, inside you can see a (now sealed) smugglers tunnel that ran right down to the River’s edge! Sadly, any remnants of the tunnel itself was destroyed in the Blitz.
Today it’s The Olde Wine Shades, run by Davy’s Wine Merchants under the El Vino name since 2015.
The bar itself claims to be the oldest in the City, having survived the Great Fire of London in 1666.
However, Hidden London says the building wasn’t home to any bar until c.1830.
That being said the building certainly is historic, It’s Grade II listed and described as late 17th century but with mid 19th Century frontage and some 18th Century interior features.
Today however, our focus is actually something on the street outside.
In 2002 the building next door to the pub was demolished, having been in a state of disrepair from bomb damage.
Below is a modern google map screen shot of the location today.
Below is a map of bomb damage from 1945. Purple meant damaged beyond repair and red meant seriously damaged.
The above screen shot is from the fabulous website Layers of London where you can overlay different ages of London maps onto each other!
When the bomb damaged building (or section of the building) was demolished in 2002 It revealed this curious feature.
So what is it?
A Dole Box?
Although – given the height – it looks like it was an interior feature originally, maybe it wasn’t? Another theory is that this was a dole or poor box, somewhere that food and clothes could be left for those in need to pick it up.
Given the proximity of the metal structure by the chimney breast, this also seems like a good option. Incidentally this is also the theory professed by The Olde Wine Shades landlord. Either this was an oven used for one family home or it could also be a communal one for multiple residents. After all, why do you need a lock on an oven?
The image of the locks certainly makes one assume the contents was valuable. It could either be a bank that was on this site or just inside a regular home.
After publishing this post a new piece of information came to light and it seems we may have cracked it.
According to the 1841 Street Directory, 7 Martin Lane was the premises of a solicitor; Walter Powell. This, coupled with the fact that there’s evidence of outer doors covering a smaller safe seems to suggest it must have been a document and valuables safe. You could store deeds and documents in the pigeon-holes above and high-ticket valuables in the internal safe below.
I stand convinced! Thank you to Alan for his sleuthing skills! Do you agree?