Turn left out of Temple Station then left into Temple Place, which runs round to the rear of Temple Station.
Walk straight ahead towards the north-east corner and through the gate into Milford Lane. Follow the path round to the left then to the right for about 90 yards and Tweezer’s Alley is on the left, a passage of little visual interest. It is bounded on the south side with high buildings faced with white glazed tiles.
The oldest legal ceremony in England apart from the coronation itself, the Quit Rents Ceremony, where six horseshoes are presented to the Queen’s Remembrancer, the official of the Court of the Exchequer, along with sixty-one nails as a rent for permission to have a forge in Tweezers Alley. This was granted by King Henry II and first entered into the rolls of the Exchequer in 1235.
Quit Rents are a medieval mechanism brought in to allow someone to go quit of an obligation (to raise a levee of men to fight in an army, for instance) and to substitute some other goods or service for the obligation.
When this particular rent is first recorded, a man named Walter le Brun, probably a Norman Knight, had gained permission to have a forge in the corner of a field of the grounds used by the Knights Templar, now called Middle Temple.
This probably gained the name Tweezers Alley after the tweezers used by smiths to heat items in the forge that stood there.
As a quit rent, this would not be so remarkable, since all of London ran on horsepower up to the twentieth century and horseshoes and nails were valued items, carefully crafted.
In 1237, it was commuted by Emma of Tewkesbury from eighteen pennies to six horse-shoes and sixty-one nails, which may have been commensurate with the value of the original rent. What is unusual is that the same horseshoes and the same nails are used every year, making these the oldest horseshoes in existence in England.
The shoes themselves are massive. much bigger and heavier than a modern shoe and flat in design. They were meant for a Flemish warhorse, a breed that has since died out but would have been larger and heavier than a modern shire horse. Each shoe is holed for ten nails rather than the usual seven. Sixty of the nails are identical, held in bunches of ten by green ribbons and counted out before the Queen’s Remembrancer during the ceremony. The extra nail, the sixty-first, is subtly different from the others, discounting the theory that it is provided merely as a spare.
In a normal quit rent the horse-shoes and nails would have to be made each year and presented accordingly, but in this case, they are not. Furthermore, the rent is rendered by the City of London, who acquired the obligation at some point, but the forge is not in the city, residing in the parish of St Clement’s Dane, just south of the Strand and therefore in the city of Westminster.
Photo: A large brown hoarding conceals a long, narrow site between Milford Lane, Maltravers Street and Water Street, while some large-scale building work goes on. The fourth side is a passageway called Tweezer’s Alley, one of my favourite London street names, and is currently inaccessible while the work is carried out. By Chris Downer (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Additional information on Tweezer’s Alley from Mike Shevdon writer of The Courts of the Feyre series of four historic fantasy books.
Much of the original source material for Down Your Alley has been derived from Ivor Hoole’s GeoCities website. The site is now defunct and it is believed Ivor is no more. Thankfully much of Ivor’s work has been archived by Ian Visits and Phil Gyford.