Sunday, 27 October 2013

173-179 King's Cross Road, WC1

I'd walked past 173-179 King's Cross Road a couple of times before, and each time lots of cars were parked outside. I was hoping to get lucky and find no cars there, but it wasn't to be...

Anyway, this terrace of four shops with housing above was built around 1796-99. It was previously called Field Place, but was changed following the building of King's Cross, when the road leading to the station, Bagnigge Wells Road, and the rows and places along it were all renamed King's Cross Road and renumbered accordingly.

It's not the most salubrious area, but that's often why old shops like these have survived. If these were on a busy high street, chances are the shop fronts would have been replaced by a wall of glass a long time ago.

The wooden shopfronts have pilasters carrying entablatures with projecting cornices.  The buildings are all made from yellow stock brick.

Number 173 is still in commercial use, as an architects. Although no longer a shop, it's the only one of the four to have lettering on the entablature. In the Post Office Directory of 1898, it's listed as Caxton Printing Co.

Number 175 is now a four-bedroomed house, with no commercial use. The wooden shop front has been well maintained but is a little scruffier than its neighbours, despite the pot plants. In 1898 it was occupied by Never-Rust Metal Plate Co.

Number 177 has previously been a tobacconists, a foundry and a chandler (John Hurst, according to the 1898 PO Directory) at various points in its existence, but like 175 is now a four-bedroomed house - the shop area is now the kitchen. It was a foundry for most of the 20th century, run by the Brimson family, but this closed down in 1985. Apparently much of the machinery from the foundry was acquired by the Museum of London. There is still a working pulley inside the house, which was used to move molten metal. The shop front style is the same as at 175, although looks better preserved - particularly the wood-panelled stall riser below the windows.

Finally, number 179 was restored in 1989. It still seems to be in commercial use, with a few different random company names coming up in Google searches (including a photography firm for fetish websites), but it's not clear who is currently there from the outside. The 1898 directory names a corn dealer, Bushnell & Sons, as the occupier - the company also had number 181. Of all the shop fronts it's the most ornate, with some nice curved arching in the window corners.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

R Twinings & Co, 216 Strand, WC2

Londoners have been buying tea from Twinings on the Strand since 1706, when Thomas Twining took over what was originally called Tom's Coffee House at Devereux Court, where 216 Strand now sits.

The location was ideal as the area had recently seen an influx of the aristocracy, who had been forced out of the City by the Great Fire of London.

The shop, which Twining renamed Ye Golden Lyon, began selling cups of wet tea (as well as coffee and drinking chocolate), but dry tea soon became the main focus as domestic tea drinking grew increasingly fashionable.

Twining wasn't the first tea merchant - London grocer Daniel Rawlinson was selling tea (then known as "the new China herb") 60 years before Twining - but the business flourished, helped no doubt by the marketing clout of its appointment in 1711 as "purveyor of teas" to Queen Anne. Sir Christopher Wren and "hardened and shameless tea drinker" Dr Johnson were just some of the famous patrons of the tea house.

The shop staff - all male - originally wore swallowtail coats, snow white shirts and white ties. It's said their uniforms often became covered in tea dust, yet Twining insisted they could only serve customers if their outfit was spotless.

According to English Heritage, the stucco shopfront with elegant portico leading inside dates from the early 19th century, although some people claim it was constructed in 1787. It's a narrow shop, with just the door opening onto the Strand, and is only one storey. Steps inside lead to a basement, which I assume houses the stockroom.

The Grecian columns either side of the doorway support an entablature, atop which are perched a pair of Chinamen with their backs resting against a British lion.

Part of the shop and all the back premises were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, although the store reopened within a few hours, trading from a temporary desk.

The Twinings logo - the company obviously didn't care about apostrophes - is the world's oldest continually used logo, created in 1787. The business is also London's longest-running rate payer.

The interior has recently been updated, including a new sampling counter where I supped a few varieties - I recommend the rooibos flavoured with orange and cinnamon. There's also a museum at the back of the store.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

43 Eastcheap, EC3

The first thing you notice when appoaching 43 Eastcheap, on a corner beside St Margaret Pattens, is its pillarbox red paint job. Get closer though, beyond the tree out front, and the full effect of its stuccoed timber shop front becomes clear.

The building is early 18th century, but the shop front was added in the early 19th century. To the front, one large flattened bow window is framed by matching double doors with Corinthian columns.

Topping off the whole arrangement is an elegant cornice.

Number 45 next door is a 1966 replica of the house that originally stood there, which was built at the same time as 43.

The shop's longest-standing occupant was Joseph Long, mathematical, optical and hydrometer instrument maker, from 1885 to 1936 (after moving here from Little Tower Street, where the business was based from 1821-84). Here's the kind of thing the business manufactured and sold - an alcohol slide rule, used to measure the alcoholic strength and excise duty of spirits.

I also managed to find a bill of sale from 1918, which I've scanned in. Unfortunately a hole makes it impossible to see what was purchased.

It seems even back then the business was proud of its handsome shop, judging by the illustration.

A picture from 1934 (watermarked, as it's courtesy of Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Library) shows Joseph Long towards the end of its stay at 43 Eastcheap.

A news piece from The Times of October 7, 1936, reported that the London County Council listed the shop front along with the Royal Exchange and Mansion House, among others, as worthy of preservation.

A picture from the mid-1960s, which I can't reproduce, shows a later occupant, wine merchant John Martin.