obverse and reverse of a lead seal
Obverse and reverse of an Angel Alley lead seal

This seal is one of only two in the collection that displays an angel on one of its sides (seen on the left). Scholars (e.g. Egan, Stuart) have suggested that this mark is representative of Angel Alley, a passage that was found along the north bank of the Thames to the west of London Bridge. This area boasted a number of quays and was known as a major area of activity for cloth dyers, with many contemporary seal designs featuring iconographic representations of the names of various alleys, districts, and streets. Angel Alley was located next to Dyers’ Hall, the original headquarters of the London based Worshipful Company of Dyers that was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666. The hall was rebuilt, but this new building was subject to a similar fate in the 1680s and was never rebuilt. The headquarters were later moved and built further west in Dowgate in the 1800s. Angel Alley later became referred to as Angel Passage. Though the riverside has changed significantly over the past three centuries, it was located in roughly the same place as today’s Angel Lane, which connects to Upper Thames Street.

The partial obverse impression on the backside of the reverse plate appears to be a fragmentary madder bag motif. Madder (Rubia tinctorum) is a herbaceous plant with evergreen leaves and roots that when processed can be used to dye textiles a range of reddish colors. Madder was a more affordable red dye than cochineal, which was produced by processing beetles originally found by Spanish colonists in areas of Mexico and South America, and produced a deeper crimson hue. Madder roots were packaged in canvas wrapped bales for shipping, with cord binding. This cord wrapped bale—the madder “bag”—appears as a heraldic charge on coats of arms and on seals related to the dyers’ trade, including a trio at the center of the arms of the Worshipful Company of Dyers.