Lombard Street in the City of London is often referred to as the ‘English Wall Street’. Modern banking began here, and goldsmiths would hang out signs to attract business, forerunners of the modern logo. A few Edwardian replicas of these signs still remain and are an intriguing reminder of how this London street used to look.
The grasshopper emblem was on the coat of arms of the Gresham family. Sir Thomas Gresham (1519 – 1579) is known as the Father of Banking and it was he who founded The Royal Exchange
Lombard Street was once one of the main roads in Roman Londinium. In the 13th century, it was part of a large area of land granted by King Edward I to the goldsmiths from Lombardy in northern Italy. The Italians arrived in England to fill a gap left by the Jewish money lenders.
Since Norman times, Jews had lived in England. Forbidden from ordinary trade, but not bound by church laws on money lending, the Jews acted as money lenders to royalty, giving them advances on future spoils. The work this involved made them very rich and very unpopular with the people, but protected by royalty they were safe until Edward I withdrew his protection in 1290. The Jews were hounded out of England, not to return again for over 200 years.
This left a vacuum and so arrived the goldsmiths of Lombardy.
We get many of our banking terminology from the Lombards. ‘Cash’ comes from the Italian cassa, for box. Debtor, creditor, ledger all come from them, as well as specificially ‘bank’, as the Italian merchants conducted their business on benches, or bancos.