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.

martin lane oven safe

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.

martin lane oven safe

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.

martin lane oven safe

Below is a map of bomb damage from 1945. Purple meant damaged beyond repair and red meant seriously damaged.

martin lane oven safe

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.

martin lane oven safe

So what is it?

martin lane oven safe

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.

martin lane oven safe

An Oven?

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?

martin lane oven safe

A Safe?

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.

martin lane oven safe

Update

After publishing this post a new piece of information came to light and it seems we may have cracked it.

martin lane oven safe

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?

More London Inspiration

13 Comments

  • Steve Flewin

    Reply

    I like the idea of a safe for a bank or wealthy home owner.
    It seems that someone has taken an oxy-acetylene torch to it to try and open it up.
    Fantasict piece of history, whatever it is.

    August 28, 2019 at 8:58 am
  • Chris Williamson

    Reply

    The various fraternities in the City have saints.
    The fraternity of Vintners’ saint is St Martin and nearby was the church of St Martin Orgar.
    As the pub is there too I wonder if it might have been a wine store ?

    August 28, 2019 at 9:34 am
  • Stewart Francis

    Reply

    fascinating article, Katie. apropos — or sort of apropos — i was in that neck of the woods [or City] on friday and i visited the roof garden at 120 fenchurch st, that you recommended earlier in the year. zoomed up in the lift to to the fifteenth floor. a fabulous view on every side plus gardens were lovely. at its best on that sunny august evening. thanks so much for the recommendation.

    August 28, 2019 at 9:52 am
  • Phil Goldsmith

    Reply

    Katie

    To my eye this wall was an inside wall in the past, the parging on the brick suggests this. The current object in the opening was a safe almost certainly but it sits in a recess that also had steel doors above and below, an earlier safe? but the column beside looks like a possible remains of a chimney immediately attached. So was it in its first life a bake oven, warming oven? You would have to study old maps and the construction more closely than I can do from here (Port Hope, Ontario) to know for sure.

    August 28, 2019 at 4:09 pm
  • Kathleen Jones

    Reply

    I thought it could have been to do with a Post Office? As the slots above it seem to indicate they stored letters? and the ‘safe’ was for other valuable things. Or if an old oven or larder? the slots were for plates?

    August 29, 2019 at 12:23 am
  • Christine Dalton

    Reply

    Wow what a find and will we ever know? I’d like to think it was a place where they left clothes for the poor..

    August 29, 2019 at 12:14 pm
  • Hi Katie. Looking at the 1841 Street Directory, 7 Martin Lane was the premises of Walter Powell who is listed as a solicitor. If one looks at the metal surround there are four hinge-beds clearly visible which would imply that there were another pair of (most likely) heavy steel doors which would have secured the internal contents & smaller safe. Bearing in mind the nature of Walter Powell’s business, I believe that this would therefore have been a secure document & valuables “safe” with high value items being secured in the small internal safe with deeds & documents stored in the three large pigeon-holes above. I have marked-up your photo but I can see no way of uploading it here, I’m afraid

    September 9, 2019 at 10:03 am
  • Stuart Kenny

    Reply

    Hi Katie , Re : Martin Lane safe . I am wondering if this structure was built at the start of the blitz to protect a preexisting, freestanding safe . The materials used may have been taken from a previously destroyed , nearby building .I think that the structure to the right of the safe may be a buttress ( rather than a flu or chimney ) , supporting the building . Possibly this structure was not removed because it also acts as a buttress , ( it also saved money and provided a curiosity ! ) . Anyway its a suggestion , Every picture tells a story – and sometimes many . Thanks for an interesting find . Regards Stuart .

    September 19, 2019 at 9:50 pm

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