9 Prescot Street

1937–8 as the Co-operative Wholesale Society's Furnishing and Hardware Warehouse, converted to offices | Part of Co-operative Wholesale Society buildings

Co-operative Wholesale Society Furnishing and Hardware Warehouse, 9 Prescot Street
Contributed by Rebecca Preston on March 29, 2019

The seven-storey Furnishing and Hardware Warehouse and Showrooms at 9 Prescot Street (and 78 Chamber Street) were designed for the Co-operative Wholesale Society by its architect, L. G. Ekins, at around the same time as the Tea Office and Coffee Works in Prescot Street from 1934. Built in 1937–8, when the furnishing showrooms opened in May 1939, they were billed as evidence of the ‘further stage of peaceful penetration into the Metropolis by the CWS’ and the ‘fourth large contribution of the Wholesale Society in eight years to the changing face of East London’.1 The staff of the London Architects’ Department now numbered seventy, which together with the building, engineering, shopfitting and allied departments, completed not just the landmark buildings on Leman Street and Prescot Street but the warehouses, discussed above, on both sides of Leman Street.2

The Furniture Warehouse is built in the same distinctive brickwork as the administrative offices above a Cornish (rather than artificial) granite base but without the green-tiled roof of its more striking neighbour. Inside, the building handled products from the six CWS furniture factories, displaying carpets, mattresses and pianos on the ground floor and, above these, toys, cycles and prams, hardware and electrical goods. The fifth-floor radio and television showroom walls were ‘treated in a novel way with corrugated asbestos blended with sycamore veneered fixtures’, and the sixth displayed wallpaper, paint and brushes. 10,000 square yards of Scottish CWS Falkland linoleum covered the three acres of floor space. In the sub-basement an electricity substation was designed to serve all the new premises and a 600ft borehole producing 10,000 gallons of water per hour was intended to feed the second portion of Ekins’s administrative offices, which had yet to be built. Together with a similar tank in the drapery department, the aim was to supply all the water for CWS premises locally.3 In 1949 there were still two functioning CWS wells for drinking water in Leman Street, out of only five still working in the borough, and these were checked regularly for quality by the Metropolitan Water Board.4 Assuming one was still within the Furnishing Warehouse, the other was presumably the artesian well sunk beneath the London Tea Department in the 1890s. The present single-storey extension at 74–78 Chamber Street was added to the furnishing warehouse in about 1953, built on a vacant site on the south side of the Princess of Prussia public house (which leased an adjoining portion of the furnishing warehouse’s ground floor5) and the former county court.6 The furnishing warehouse remained in use by the CWS until around 2011 and was acquired, together with 16 Prescot Street, by Derwent London in 2012 but was let to the Co-op Bank until 2015.7 Part of the building is currently used as offices of the Barts Health NHS Trust.

Towards the end of 1939 Ekins drew up plans for a first-aid post and air-raid wardens’ headquarters in the basement beneath the ‘old drapery’ at 99 Leman Street. In September 1941 he also signed the plans for adjustments to the public air-raid shelters created beneath the tea department at 100 Leman Street, which may represent some of his last work on site before his retirement in September 1942.8 During the Blitz, these were used by homeless employees, by air-raid personnel and policemen from Leman Street Police Station, whose sleeping quarters were on the top floor of the station.9 The CWS fire brigade took care of its own and neighbouring property during raids.10 During the First World War, when CWS cellars in Leman Street reportedly served as the official shelters for the area, the Tea Department had suffered £820 worth of damage in October 1915 and in 1917 one of the clock faces at 99 Leman Street was cracked by the blast from the accidental munitions-factory explosion at Silvertown, but otherwise its property was relatively unscathed.11 Unlike the CWS Silvertown works which were themselves destroyed in 1940, the Whitechapel premises again survived major devastation during the Second World War; there was some general non- structural blast damage to the Administrative Block at 1 Prescot Street and, to a lesser degree, the coffee works building on Prescot Street, but given its proximity to the railway, the City and the docks the CWS Whitechapel estate suffered remarkably little damage.12 The many incendiaries which fell on ‘most of the CWS properties’ during 1940 were said to have been extinguished by CWS firemen.13

  1. Plan showing proposed furniture warehouse and showrooms, August 1934, London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), GLC/AR/BR/17/077326/02; ‘CWS Extensions in London’, The Producer, May 1939, p. 137. 

  2. New History of the C.W.S., 1938, p. 423. 

  3. ‘CWS Extensions in London’, The Producer, May 1939, pp. 137–8. 

  4. Report of the Medical Officer of Health for Stepney, 1947, p. 37 and 1949, p. 14. 

  5. Plan showing portion of the ground floor of Furnishing and hardware warehouse to be leased to Truman, Hanbury and Buxton, Ltd, 1937, LMA, GLC/AR/BR/17/077326/02. 

  6. CWS property plan, c.1948, LMA, GLC/AR/BR/17/077204; Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), Building Control file, 23214. 

  7. https://www.buildington.co.uk/london-e1/9-prescot-street/9-prescot- street/id/1309[accessed 1 March 2019]. 

  8. Leman Street drainage plans, 1941, THLHA, L/THL/D/2/30/88. 

  9. William Richardson, The CWS in War and Peace, 1938–1976, 1977, pp. 116, 117. 

  10. Building Co-operation, p. 211. 

  11. New History of the C.W.S., 1938, pp. 120–1. 

  12. London County Council Bomb Damage Map, LMA, RM22/63. 

  13. Richardson, _CWS in War and Peace, _p. 115. 

Early buildings on Prescot Street's south side east of Magdalen Passage
Contributed by Survey of London on Aug. 3, 2020

The eastern stretch of Prescot Street’s south side was solidly built up by 1693 with eighteen houses (later Nos 1–18), all but a few of the most easterly built by William Chapman in the late 1680s. A group of five on the sites of Nos 12–16 was then empty and held by Thomas Chambers. The first leases of 1682 ran to 1745. Constructed on broadly regular plots and probably all of three storeys, these houses followed the two-room-plan, rear-staircase house form that was standard along both sides of the street. Internally, accommodation, as described in the early nineteenth century, typically comprised two ground- floor parlours, a drawing room and bedroom on the first floor, and two second- floor bedrooms, with attics above, and basement kitchens and washhouses.1

Following the expiry of the fist leases, Thomas Quarrill (1706–1763), a colourman based on the south side of Whitechapel High Street, a paving commissioner and a governor of the London Hospital, took thirty-one-year Leman leases of twelve houses on the south side of Prescot Street in 1746–7. By 1749 Quarrill had redeveloped the group as eleven new houses, those later numbered Nos 11–18 and three further east extending beyond where Magdalen Passage was later put through as far as what was then the London Infirmary. From about 1759 Thomas Quarrill himself occupied the easternmost house next to the Magdalen Hospital, and was followed there by his brother William Quarrill (1721–1798), a magistrate and colourman, who stayed into the 1770s prior to the building at the end of the Quarrill lease of Magdalen Row, nine bigger houses west of Magdalen Passage that were later numbered Nos 16–24 (see below).2 New sixty-one year leases of other houses in this stretch were granted in the 1760s, and there was perhaps further rebuilding then. A number of Jewish merchants were resident in the later decades of the eighteenth century. Commercial use of at least parts of the houses had become general by the time Whitechapel County Court replaced three houses east of Magdalen Row in the 1850s. Nos 1–14 came down in the early twentieth century, giving way to premises of the Co-operative Wholesale Society.3

At the east end, the first and comparatively wide house at No. 1 may have been cleared by the 1790s for access to a large rear yard. If so, the frontage had been rebuilt by the middle of the nineteenth century. No. 2 was another wider than average house. It was occupied by and possibly rebuilt for the wealthy Dias Fernandes family, Sephardi Jews and merchants, from around 1755 into the 1780s. Judith Mendes da Costa (d. 1815), a widow, held a sixty- one year lease from 1765. John White, a coal merchant, was here in the 1790s. Monahun Levy Bensusan, a wealthy Jewish merchant and his wife, Sarah, who migrated to England from Gibraltar around 1800, appear to have been later residents. Thomas Finchett, an attorney, was present in 1814 when the house had two offices and a kitchen on the ground floor, a drawing room and sitting room on the first, and two bedrooms on the second, with a second basement kitchen. From the 1820s until the 1860s, No. 2 was the premises of William Wall and his son Thomas Tabor Wall, wine and brandy merchants. By 1900, Nos 1 and 2 were used by the Co-operative Wholesale Society, which soon after demolished.4

No. 3 was occupied by Moses Gomez Sero in the 1740s. It later came to be connected to a few of Prescot Street’s many jewellers and watchmakers. In the 1770s and 1780s, Thomas and George Prior were in occupation, followed around 1790 by Baron Lyon De Symons. In 1814 Peter Salomans, a merchant, had a garden building here with two rooms, one of them a china closet. Jonas Levy and Judah Azuelas, another merchant, followed in the 1830s and ’40s. For fifty years from about 1870, the house was in use as tailoring workshops. A rear outbuilding of 1878 succeeded the garden building, displaced by the expansion of Wainwright and Gadesden’s sugarhouse.5

No. 4 was occupied in the 1840s by John Geickle (Jekyll), a Russia merchant, having previously been home to Richard William Wilcox, a Clothworker, and Gotchal Levien (d. 1825), an Ashkenazi broker who had migrated to London from Jamaica. On the sale of Levien’s freehold in 1825, the house was advertised as having a first-floor ‘handsome drawing room, neatly papered, with marble chimneypiece’, and a ‘cheerful garden’ to the rear.6 There was some rebuilding front and back and from the 1890s until around 1920, No. 4 was used as the Eastern Dispensary of the German Hospital at Dalston. The Young Zion Institute, which aimed to unite the East End’s Zionist groups, was briefly based here from 1897.7

No. 5 housed Captain Joseph Brooks in the 1690s. In the late eighteenth century it was associated with Joseph Clark, a stationer. Coleman Levy Newton (d.1833), a West India merchant, was here in the 1820s, followed by Thomas Ashton junior (d. 1844), a gunmaker. The house was subsequently used as an Excise Permit Office, then for administrative purposes by Whitechapel’s parish Vestry for which clerks and solicitors, Henry Sadler Mitchell then Thomas Davis Metcalfe, took up residence from the late 1850s to the 1890s.8

Joseph Bagnall, the sugar refiner, was at No. 6 in the 1690s. Joseph Rooks (d. 1761), a citizen Cooper, succeeded from the late 1740s. His insurance specified that the house had four panelled rooms. Moses Lindo followed around 1800. By 1880, No. 6 was occupied by Henry Friedlander, a tailor of German extraction, who acquired a number of freehold houses on both sides of Prescot Street, including No. 7, which he united with No. 6 for tailoring, building a five-storey workshop behind No. 7 in 1889. No. 6 was replaced around 1890 with a building that included a ‘well-lighted’ single-storey rear factory, said to be suitable for sixty-five labourers.9

No. 7 had been occupied by Scott and Willes, corn factors, around 1770. P. Mugle and Co., Dutch merchants, stored 1,200 bottles of port and a ‘sarcophagus wine cooler’ in the cellar in 1816.10  In the 1840s the house was the London home of Joseph Whalley junior, a Leeds-based importer of wool from Germany and cotton from the West Indies. He reportedly recalled that he lodged at Prescot Street during winters ‘principally to improve himself … and to do business if any offered’.11 Before Friedlander’s arrival, Thomas James Martin and William Settles, sugar refiners, occupied the house.12 

No. 8 followed a similar pattern, turning from mercantile to manufacturing use. Merchant occupants were Cox and Sherren and then Philip Isaac from the 1790s to 1830s. The Rev. Thomas Prescott, a curate at St Mary Matfelon, was resident in the 1850s. Thereafter, the building was used by a commission agent and Morris Harris, a shirt manufacturer. By the 1920s, the CWS had acquired Nos 3–8.13  No. 9 housed Capt. Radore Wilson in the 1770s, followed by Leigh and Jeffrey, ship and insurance brokers. Abraham and Ann Abrahams, watchmakers, were based here for much of the nineteenth century. From the 1880s the building was used by rag-trade businesses, and on its purchase by Friedlander in 1898, a single-storey workshop was built to the rear.14 No.10 was the residence of John Sequeira and Isaac Sequeira junior, Sephardi merchants, in the 1790s, Thomas Glover, who claimed to be both a carpenter and a bricklayer, in the late 1820s, and Lion Benedictus Leman (d. 1838), a goldsmith and jeweller, his wife, who had an outfitting warehouse, and his son, into the 1850s. When the lease of No. 10 was advertised in 1870, it was noted that the ground behind the house was suitable for the building of a factory. After brief use in 1880 by the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (see below) the property did become a tailoring workshop in the 1890s, by when a rear extension was present. Joseph Klein, a surgeon and physician, lived here in the early twentieth century.15

Houses further west were rebuilt in 1746–9 by Thomas Quarrill (see above). No. 11 housed Abraham Fonseca, Aboas and Bros, merchants in 1800, giving way to Edward Hubbard, who ran a bookshop and stationers. By 1834 and into the 1840s, this was the home of Charles Edward Jenkins, surgeon to St John’s British Hospital and director of the Eclectic Society of London, which met here. This learned society had been founded in 1829 to promote literature, science and the arts, including through the establishment of a library and museum. In 1834 the Society planned a botanical garden of British plants, possibly in Jenkins’s garden.16

From 1749, when it was newly rebuilt, No. 12 housed John Matthews (d. 1768), a salesman. It was again rebuilt and enlarged to the rear around 1873 to be a hotel. Aimed at ‘commercial gentlemen’, this was overseen by B. I. van Staveren, and was judged to have a ‘handsome elevation’.17 By 1880, now under Joseph Bonn, a Dutch-born Kosher caterer from Wentworth Street, the hotel had taken in No. 11, which had also been extended to the rear. Further rebuilding ensued in 1891 for Henry Friedlander, with Wigg, Oliver & Hudson as architects, after which advertisements lauded the ‘magnificent suite of rooms’, including a new ‘elaborate ball room … as comfortable and commodious as modern science can suggest and worthy of any West End establishment’.18 By 1915 the hotel was at Nos 12–13.19

Nos 13 and 14 had particularly fine gardens into the 1880s, retained through the mid-nineteenth century tenancies of Moss Joseph and William Harris, jewellers, and including a fountain at No. 14. Friedlander had taken No. 13 for tailoring by 1894.20

  1. British History Online, Four Shillings in the Pound Assessments, 1693–4 (4s£): London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), LMA/4673/D/01/004/002; Land Tax Returns (LT) 

  2. The National Archives (TNA), PROB11/883/305: LMA, MDR1747/1/295–8: Barts Health Archives (BHA), RLHLH/A/5/2, p.60 

  3. Richard Horwood's maps of London, 1792–1819: Post Office Directories (POD): Ordnance Survey maps (OS) 

  4. 4s£: LT: Horwood: LMA, LMA/4673/D/01/004/002: POD: OS: TNA, PROB11/1571/379: Ancestry: Morning Chronicle, 30 Dec 1842: Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, 21 May 1840, p.4: Census 

  5. LT: Ancestry: POD: OS: LMA, LMA/4673/D/01/004/002; CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/540/1178738; /513/1076632; /297/451961; District Surveyots Returns (DSR) 

  6. The Times, 9 Nov 1825: Jacob Andrade, A Record of the Jews in Jamaica, 1941, p.145: POD: LT: www.londonroll.org/event/?company=clw&eve nt_id=CLEB2135: LMA, CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/424/730015; /443/834592: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), P/PAG/1/4/2: TNA, PROB11/1698/238 

  7. DSR: POD: TNA, IR58/84828/4541: Jewish Chronicle (JC), 17 Dec 1897, p.26 

  8. 4s£: LMA, CLC/521/MS09211; CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/336/516511: TNA, PROB11/1833/56; PROB11/2008/169: POD: East London Observer, 17 March 1860, p.4 

  9. 4s£: LMA, CLC/B/055/MS08674/084/70698: POD: Census: TNA, IR58/84828/4544: DSR: JC, 23 Nov 1900, p.3; 13 Sept 1901, p.35; 6 Oct 1911, p.2 

  10. Morning Chronicle, 2 Sept 1816, p.4: LT 

  11. Leeds Mercury, 29 Aug 1840, p.8: Lancaster Gazette, 2 Oct 1841, p.2: POD 

  12. London Gazette, 20 Jan 1863, p. 347: POD: Census 

  13. Ancestry: LT: LMA, CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/480/951472; /530/1136972: Morning Advertiser, 27 May 1854, p.11: DSR 

  14. London Evening Standard, 7 May 1898, p.12: LT: Ancestry: Census: POD: DSR 

  15. JC, 24 June 1870, p.15: Ancestry: LT: LMA, CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/514/1074036: TNA, PROB11/1889/308: POD: OS 

  16. LMA, LMA/4673/D/01/004/002; CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/506/1058313; /463/897005: POD: Sun (London), 27 May 1835, p.3: Morning Advertiser, 29 Nov 1834, p.1; 23 June 1835, p.1; 9 Feb 1836, p.2 

  17. 20 June 1873, p.202: Morning Post, 1 July 1874, p.8: London Evening Standard, 14 Feb 1876: LT: TNA, PROB11/941/390 

  18. The Builder, 12 Sept 1891, p.217: JC, 11 March 1892, p.21 

  19. DSR: OS: TNA, IR58/84828/4549 

  20. LMA, LMA/4673/D/01/004/002: POD: Census: OS 

Social, political and cultural activity in the Co-operative Wholesale Society's premises in and around Leman Street
Contributed by Rebecca Preston on March 29, 2019

From its early days the Co-operative Wholesale Society organised social and educational activities for its staff and hosted meetings and other events, and later on leased property to co-operative and other organisations with whom it shared interests and values. At the suggestion of Mrs Benjamin Jones, wife of the London Branch manager, the first meeting of the Women’s Co-operative Guild took place at Hooper Square on 15 April 1886, attended by over seventy women and chaired by co-operative worker Catherine Webb.1 Representatives from Toynbee Hall had been present at the opening of the new headquarters building in 1887 and from at least 1885 the settlement had put on lectures for CWS workers at Hooper Square and also held classes for co-operators at Toynbee Hall.2 A library for employees was formed at the London Branch, not long after the fire had destroyed the premises in late 1885, when board meetings were transferred temporarily to Toynbee Hall.3 When Prof Sedley Taylor started a class in economics at Toynbee Hall, CWS staff were said to have formed the nucleus of his students.4 The Wholesale considered itself a beacon in the East End, its architectural presence drawing attention to its work in the promotion of co-operation, and provided office space for kindred organisations. Thus in the late 1880s and 1890s, 99 Leman Street was the address of the Co-operative Aid Association, the Tenant Co-operators Society, and the People’s Co-operative Society. No. 99 Leman Street also hosted public lectures on co-operative and related themes. A course of twenty university extension lectures was offered on the life and duties of the citizen on Saturday afternoons in 1893, held after the working week had finished at 4 o’clock on Saturdays in the Conference Hall. These were free to co-operators and 5s (or 2s 6d for the half course of ten) to the general public.5 In 1901, the Countess of Warwick presided at a conference at London Branch headquarters on London School Board Evening Continuation Classes.6

During the Co-operative Wholesale ‘tea girls’ strike’ over piecework at the tea department in 1904, Canon Barnett offered the women a room at Toynbee Hall while he opened negotiations between the CWS and the Women’s Trade Union League.7 In the 1930s, Toynbee Hall organised for parties of undergraduates and public school children to be taken around CWS premises locally.8 By the 1920s, in addition to the various departments and bank, 99 Leman Street was also home to the CWS Financial Propaganda Department, CWS Social Club, the Co- operative Press Agency and the Russo-British Co-operative Information Bureau.9 London Branch employees’ activities on site included a fine art club, with ‘notable exhibits of painting and sculpture from Leman Street’ being shown in the 1930s at the East End Academy in the Whitechapel Art Gallery.10 An Ethiopian Exhibition organised by Sylvia Pankhurst on behalf of the Princess Tsahai Memorial Hospital Fund, of which Pankhurst was the honorary secretary, was displayed during 1948 in the Boot and Shoe Showrooms at 99 Leman Street. Ancient Ethiopian traditional dress, embroidery, leather- work and illuminated books appeared alongside examples of modern textiles. This formed part of a project to form closer relations with ‘the brave Ethiopian people whose struggle against the aggression of Mussolini aroused sympathy and interest in this country’. A film, ‘This is Ethiopia’, was shown in the CWS film theatre at the Tea Office across the road in Prescot Street.11

  1. Catherine Webb, The Woman with the Basket: The History of the Women’s Co-operative Guild, 1883–1927, 1927, p. 28. 

  2. ‘Opening of new Co-operative Premises in Whitechapel’, East London Advertiser, 5 November 1887, p. 7; Asa Briggs and Anne Macartney, Toynbee Hall: The First Hundred Years, 1984, p. 45. 

  3. National Co-operative Archive (NCA), CWS Minutes, 29 February 1886. 

  4. London Branch of the CWS, 1933, p. 30. 

  5. Co-operative Union Southern Section, A Course of Twenty University Extension Lectures…, 1893, [p. 1]. 

  6. ‘Knowledge or Ignorance’, Sunday Times, 24 March 1901, p. 8. 

  7. ‘Co-operative Wholesale Girls’ Strike’, London Daily News, 12 October 1904, p. 8. 

  8. Correspondence with the Co-operative Wholesale Society, Leman Street, re visit by Toynbee Hall students, November 1937, London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), A/TOY/015/002/047–048. 

  9. Daily Herald, 1 January 1921, p. 6; CWS Annual, 1918, p. 289; People’s Yearbook, 1921, p. 377; The Producer, July 1925, p. 266. 

  10. New History of the C.W.S., 1938, p. 506. 

  11. ‘Ethiopian Exhibition’, The British Journal of Nursing, July 1948, p. 85. 

The Co-operative Wholesale Society around Leman Street and its beginnings in London
Contributed by Rebecca Preston on March 29, 2019

The Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) opened its first warehouse in Whitechapel in 1881, on a plot on the north side of the present Hooper Street, just to the east of Leman Street. Very quickly, as CWS business expanded, the organisation bought up and built on neighbouring plots and by the 1930s this corner of Whitechapel was home to a series of impressive warehouses, offices, factories, showrooms and a bank, which flanked Leman Street and surrounding roads. Designed by CWS architects and engineers, many of the buildings in what became a Co-operative Wholesale colony have now gone and what remains has mostly been converted to apartments. Of the original warehouse built in 1879–1881, only the stair tower survives, a yellow-brick column to the rear of the CWS London Branch headquarters building at 99 Leman Street, which opened in 1887. That and some of its CWS successors still dominate the vicinity, not without a degree of architectural spectacle.

The Co-operative Wholesale Society – now The Co-operative Group – was founded in Manchester in 1863, to supply basic foodstuffs and daily necessities wholesale to Co-operative retailers. The wholesale society was a federal organisation, owned by the retail societies it traded with, and sought to integrate production and distribution in order to lower costs. As is well known, the co-operative principle of mutual benefit was established in 1844 by the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers’ Society, many of whose members had backgrounds in earlier co-operative, communitarian and socialist ventures.1 From around the mid-century, efforts were made to set up a central wholesale agency, culminating in what became the CWS.2 It began as the North of England Co-operative & Wholesale Industrial Society Ltd and expanded rapidly to serve the growing number of retail societies in England and Wales. When it became impossible to serve these from Manchester alone, subsidiary wholesale branches were set up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1871 and in London in 1874. 3 London was considered difficult terrain, a ‘co-operative desert’ in need of irrigation and the story of the struggle to gain a foothold in the capital was characterised in 1913 as ‘the attack on London’.4

The CWS aimed to procure unadulterated goods at low prices, by ‘eliminating the middle-man and his profits’ rather than economising on labour.5 Beginning with butter, which accounted for a third of sales in the first decade, the CWS built a network of buyers, suppliers and, crucially, depots, which facilitated bulk purchasing and centralised processing in order to secure the best prices and quality.6 The co-operative principle of avoiding middlemen also underlay the Society’s policy in London of, wherever possible, purchasing the freeholds of its premises, ‘for co-operators, being prudent men, have a righteous horror of the short leasehold system’.7 Thus the CWS and a little later the English & Scottish Joint CWS (E&SCWS) became significant landowners in Whitechapel.

The first London Branch premises opened in 1874 at 118 Minories, a warehouse backing onto America Square on the eastern edge of the City of London. This was convenient for the docks and for markets, in particular Mincing Lane in the City, which was the centre of the international tea trade from the 1830s. The London Public Tea Auction, held in the London Commercial Sale Rooms at Mincing Lane, was established in 1834 after the dismantling of the East India Company monopoly.8 Tea fit with the temperance beliefs of many early co- operators and from the foundation of the Wholesale Society formed an important CWS commodity; it remained so as consumption of tea increased nationally, only levelling off in the 1940s.9 Within a few years of opening in London the business had outgrown the space available and the CWS began to look for larger premises. ‘Great difficulty was found in selecting a freehold site which would be at once convenient for the various markets and the railways’ but by the end of the 1870s a site in Whitechapel had been decided upon and in 1881 new London Branch premises were opened near Leman Street, less than half a mile east of the Minories.10 As the Society consistently pointed out to its members, Leman Street was both the highway to the docks and ‘conveniently adjacent’ to bonded tea warehouses.11 The premises were also keenly positioned within the railway network and bordered on the site of the future London, Tilbury & Southend Railway (Commercial Road) goods depot and its vast warehouses, which, when it opened in 1886, provided a link to the East & West India Dock Company’s new dock at Tilbury.12

  1. Lynn Pearson, Architecture of the Co-operative Movement, draft Chapter 1: Laying the Foundations: Retail Societies, 1844–1890, 2018, p. 2. We are grateful to Lynn Pearson for help with this account. 

  2. Pearson, Architecture of the Co-operative Movement, draft Chapter 2: Pioneering Production: CWS Depots and Factories, 1863–1897, p. 2. 

  3. Anthony Webster, ‘Building the Wholesale: The Development of the English CWS and British Co-operative Business 1863–90’, Business History, 54(6), 2012, pp. 883–904, p. 894. 

  4. Co-operative Wholesale Society Limited, London Branch, Opening of the New Premises and Cocoa Works, 1887, p.54; Percy Redfern, The Story of the C.W.S. The Jubilee History of the Co-operative Wholesale Society Limited, 1913, p.83; Webster, ‘Building the Wholesale’, p. 885. 

  5. A. D. Harrison, ‘Review of The Story of the C.W.S. by Percy Redfern’, Charity Organisation Review, New Series, Vol. 35, No. 205 (January 1914), pp. 46–8, p. 46. 

  6. Pearson, draft Chapter 2, p.1. 

  7. Opening of the New Premises and Cocoa Works, p. 70. 

  8. Markman Ellis, Richard Coulton and Matthew Mauger, Empire of Tea: The Asian Leaf that Conquered the World, 2015, p.249. 

  9. Bishnupriya Gupta, ‘The History of the International Tea Market, 1850–1945’, EH.Net Encyclopedia, ed. Robert Whaples, 16 March 2008: https://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-history-of-the-international-tea- market-1850-1945/

  10. Opening of the New Premises and Cocoa Works, 1887, p. 9 

  11. ‘CWS: Tea Growers, Blenders, and Packers II’, The Wheatsheaf, February 1908, p. 120. 

  12. Tim Smith,‘Commercial Road Goods Depot, Whitechapel’, Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society, 1979,re-typed with annotations, January 2000: http://www.glias.org.uk/journals/2-a.html

The Co-operative Wholesale Society estate in 1968
Contributed by Helen Jones