Dictionary of London Immigrants |||

1290-1490 - Lombard Street (City of London)

The first London goldsmiths were Jewish. They also acted as bankers and moneylenders, but medieval attitudes to usury were disapproving. In 1275, Edward I issued the statutus de Judeismo’ banning Jews from lending money at interest. It was one of many repressive measures which culminated in the expulsion of Jews from the country in 1290. It would take over 350 years before they were allowed to return to Britain. Their position as moneylenders to the Crown was taken over by Italians with Lombard Street as its financial centre. The land was originally granted by Edward I to goldsmiths and merchants from Lombardy. Economically sophisticated and socially self-contained, the Italian merchant elite regarded itself as the financial aristocracy within the London stranger community.

Commercial terms such as debtor, creditor, cash, bank, or bankrupt, were derived from the Italian. Prominent settlers were members of the Corsini family, a Florentine dynasty who made their fortune in the fourteenth century. They lost political power with the rise of the Medici family, but continued to flourish economically. Filippo and Bartolomeo Corsini created a network of banks around Europe, interconnected by a private postal service. They accumulated fabulous wealth in a relatively short time in London - so much so, that Italians in London at the time were referred to as Caursinis’. The emerging Hanseatic trade challenged the Italian pre-eminence. By the last decade of the fifteenth century as many as eighty Hanseatic merchants were resident in London, mostly quartered in Dowgate Ward, better known as the Steelyard. Lombard Street however retained its reputation as being at the heart of London’s financial centre.

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