100 Leman Street (Minet House)

1974–8 insurance company offices, on the site of the Co-operative Wholesale Society's Tea Department | Part of Co-operative Wholesale Society buildings

The Co-operative Wholesale Society's London Tea Department (demolished)
Contributed by Rebecca Preston on March 29, 2019

From 1869, the Co-operative Wholesale Society acquired its tea on the London market in an arrangement with Joseph Woodin, a merchant with Co-operative sympathies, who had been in the tea business since about 1830.1 Following an exposéof the adulteration of food by The Lancet in 1851–54, Woodin founded the Co-operative Central Agency, a forerunner of the CWS, to supply pure foodstuffs including tea and sugar to local Co-operative suppliers and in 1856 he advised Parliament on the adulteration of tea.2 When the price of tea fell in 1878, the CWS reconsidered the arrangement and in 1879 gave him three years’ notice with a view to entering the tea trade in its own right. After plans to employ Woodin’s sons and other staff fell through, Charles Fielding, a broker and dealer with twenty years’ experience in the tea market, was engaged as the manager of the new tea department at Hooper Square.3

The Tea Department premises opened on 1 November 1882 in one of the original CWS warehouses near Hooper Square, fitted out with packing benches and manned by a staff of ten.4 This was a joint operation between the CWS and the Scottish CWS, with a committee formed to manage the English and Scottish Joint Co-operative Wholesale Society Tea (E&SCWS) Department in London. It was, as the CWS acknowledged, difficult to separate the two enterprises and the arrangement was not formalised until 1923.5 From 1882 to 1894, the revenue from tea sales was easily the largest after grocery and provisions, amounting to £255,849 in the year ending 1882, and had more than doubled to £527,308 by the end of 1894.6 Such was its success that the tea department had already outgrown the space in the new London Branch headquarters when it opened in 1887, which was credited to Fielding’s management.7

By 1890 Fielding was the highest-paid Wholesale employee in Britain, with the same annual salary of £1,000 as the CWS manager in New York.8 At this date the CWS supplied 350 different blends of tea and employed 300 people.9 Fielding had opposed the acquisition of tea plantations in 1892 on the grounds that the range of tea required could not be supplied from a few estates but changed his mind when private tea suppliers began increasingly to sell to co- operative customers.10 The investment shortly to be made in the new tea warehouse at Leman Street underscored the need for the CWS to go into production and thereby maintain its position in a competitive market.11 Thus in 1898 he accompanied a deputation to India and Ceylon to view tea gardens and in 1902 the first of a series of plantations was purchased in Ceylon.12 A ‘flotilla’ of CWS steamers carried the tea back to England and ran to and from the Wholesale branches and depots in Ceylon, America, France, and Denmark.13 Tea from the E&SCWS estates at Nugawella, Weliganga and Mahavilla was taken to the new warehouse in Leman Street, which was close to bonded warehouses used by the Society in the Pool of London.14 By 1914 the tea gardens amounted to more than 4,600 acres and at the end of the First World War a further 13,871 acres had been purchased at eight estates in India.15 Tea cards, given away free with E&SCWS tea, graphically demonstrated the Wholesales’ involvement at all stages of the supply chain,16 and the ‘filling the nation’s tea pot’ series included a view of the tea warehouse in Leman Street.

Meanwhile in 1886 a large piece of land had been purchased by the E&SCWS for £22,000 at the junction of Leman Street and Great Prescott (now Prescot) Street, opposite the CWS London Branch headquarters.17 Twelve houses were demolished on the site, which included the Golden Lion public house at the corner with Prescot Street, with whom the CWS had settled a rights to light claim in 1887.18 In October 1891 designs were prepared by Phineas Heyhurst for a large new tea blending and packing warehouse on this spot.19 Heyhurst worked for the CWS building department in Manchester, and later became its manager. He was educated at the Building Trades Technical School in Bradford, becoming a joiner before his promotion to building manager.20 He was assisted in the building of the London tea department by Isaac Mort (1854–1925), as clerk of works, and who acted as Heyhurst’s representative in London.21 The two had recently collaborated on the CWS Wheatsheaf Boot and Shoe Works in Leicester, then the largest footwear factory in Britain, which opened in 1891.22 Mort was the first manager of the London Building Department and at his election to the CWS Committee in about 1904 was succeeded by E. W. Chicken.23

The new tea department faced a series of hurdles. Heyhurst’s plans of 1891 were amended due to LCC objections to the unobstructed floors, which ran end to end within the warehouses. The Council insisted upon six fireproof sections, which ‘still [made] the branch interiors the despair of the photographer’ in 1913.24 Further delays were caused by leases that had yet to expire and, as already noticed, by the multiple claims of neighbouring property holders for rights to light and air.25 A series of six warehouses of six and eight floors was agreed in March 1894 and in April drainage plans submitted by Isaac Mort were passed by the Board of Works, only to be stopped later in the year while the claims were assessed.26 Jasper Keeble of Wynne- Baxter, Rance and Meade, solicitors to the Tea Department and the London Branch since its establishment in the Minories, advised the committee, attended by Mort and Heyhurst, that the height of the building should be reduced on its Prescot Street elevation, to match the width of the street, but that afterwards they should ‘endeavour to treat for carrying the buildings to the height shown on the original plans’.27 When a further injunction was threatened by the tenant of 90 Leman Street in 1895, Arthur Beresford Pite submitted plans to the tea committee to show the alterations which must be made to avoid interference with ancient lights in two directions, presumably at Keeble’s invitation. Pite was an early member of the Art Workers’ Guild and president of the Architectural Association in 1896–7, and appears to have had connections with both Keeble and the co-operative movement. In 1898 he was called as a witness in defence of the Co-operative Printing Company, whose solicitor was Keeble, and whose building in Blackfriars (designed in 1895 by Goodey’s practice Goodey & Cressall) was the subject of a successful injunction by the Christian Herald against interference with ancient lights.28 At around the same time Pite also designed new branch premises at Plaistow for the Stratford Co-operative Society, a forerunner of the London Co-operative Society.29 His new design for the London tea warehouse ‘cut into’ the original planned by the building department, creating a more distinctive stepped frontage to Leman Street and a courtyard that hollowed out the building to the rear, alterations which represented a loss of more than 1,000 feet of floor space.30 The committee then agreed to proceed with an extra storey in the centre of the Leman Street elevation, creating an even more dramatic sloping front, and also to purchase the freeholds of 88 and 90 Leman Street and their premises adjoining in Tenter Street to the rear of the building, presumably with a view to expanding the footprint.31 Goodey, who had resigned from the CWS branch committee in order to act as architect to the new branch headquarters, resumed his position in 1889 and for a short time from around 1891 he, and from 1892, Goodey & Cressall, kept offices in London at 20 Bishopsgate Street in addition to Colchester, which gave him easy access to both Whitechapel and Liverpool Street Station.32 By at least the mid-1890s Goodey took a close interest in the development of the new tea department, attending committee meetings and inspecting the building’s progress, together with Isaac Mort and the tea department manager, Charles Fielding.33 Just as Goodey had been involved with the acquisition and development of property for the new headquarters building in the 1870s Fielding was now engaged in negotiating for the acquisition of plots for the tea warehouse and its future extension and both men attended committee meetings to discuss amendments to its design. It seems very likely that, in addition to the formal designs made by Heyhurst and Pite, these men, who steered the building through its various alterations to meet the requirements of building control and ancient lights, contributed in no small measure to the shape of its final design. The tea warehouse was similar to CWS buildings in Manchester, while the central bay in particular echoed that of Goodey’s 1887 headquarters building opposite.

In 1895 the CWS reported that the ‘huge new building’ of the tea department was in the course of erection on the ‘best side of Leman Street’.34 Designed and erected by the CWS Building Department with the engineering work supervised by the Engineer’s Department, the five-storey warehouse (plus basement) opened on 22 March 1897 and Fielding presented a golden key to the chair of the Tea Committee as 2,000 Co-operators gathered in Leman Street to celebrate its completion.35 In addition to his role in the development of the site and the supervision of the building and its equipment, Fielding managed the staff and possessed ‘the chief and deciding tongue’ of the four expert tea testers.36

The new tea warehouse occupied the sites of 94, 96, 98 and 100 Leman Street and was henceforth known as 100 Leman Street.37 With a 170-ft frontage in Leman Street and 100-ft in Prescot Street, and elevations in Leicester facing bricks with ornamental panels and Derbyshire stone dressings, the Tea Department was heralded as ‘something more than a mere warehouse’.38 The few photographs to survive offer a glimpse of what Co-operative supporters insisted was a ‘magnificent and imposing building’, quite possibly in response to criticisms of its bleakness.39 Its basement floor extended beneath the Leman Street pavement and a subterranean passageway, 4ft 6in wide, connected with the London Branch opposite.40 At the rear, abutting on Tenter Street, and lined in white glazed bricks that were most probably supplied by the Ruabon works in Wales, was the loading yard (100 feet by 33 feet) for the delivery vans bringing tea from the London Docks.41 This was enclosed by two ‘bold iron gates’, which lay close to the ‘workpeople’s entrance’. An exterior hydraulic lift – ‘an innovation to the tea trade’ – carried the tea chests to the fifth floor, where 450 different varieties of Chinese, Indian and Ceylon teas were stored. From here they descended via the milling, blending and other processes to the ground floor, packeted and ready to be despatched to their destination.42 For the supply of water an artesian well was sunk 1,300 feet deep in order to be free of ‘the bad old East London Water Company’.43 Siemens Brothers had the contract for the electric lighting and also the dynamos installed in the generating room, which supplied the power via five electric motors for all the machinery used in packing and blending.44 As a Co-operative newspaper announced, ‘we know of no progress so striking and so gratifying to the student of social progress as the development from the small chest of tea with which the great Co-operative system of distribution was inaugurated to the palatial warehouse from whence the wholesale agency now transacts about a twenty-fifth of the tea trade of the United Kingdom. What a change in less than sixty years!'45

The tea warehouse was extended upwards and outwards by F. E. L. Harris in 1908–10, with new top floors and additions at ground level in Leman Street and Prescot Street,46 which were said to occupy the sites of a gambling den and an equally notorious sweating den.47 The main expansion was on the north side of the building fronting Leman Street. The CWS had bought the freehold of 88–90 Leman Street in 1895 (having previously taken it on a lease) and this property would later make way for Harris’s new three-bay wing for the tea department. By August 1908 the ‘houses lately numbered 88 & 90 Leman Street’ had gone.48 These ‘houses’, a three-storey building, had until recently served as the German Artisans’ Home – established at this address in 1889 – run by Wilhelm Muller, who applied to extend the premises in 1897, prior to his summons for running an illegal lodging house in 1904.49 At the time of the 1901 census forty-seven men of mostly German and Austrian birth were staying at ‘the Christian Home for Christians’.50 In 1881 88 Leman Street had been a Scandinavian Home and a decade later No. 90 was a German YMCA.51 .

The tea warehouse now rose seven storeys above its basement and was 95 feet high at its tallest point.52 There were 470 people employed in the new building, of which 280 were women, and the rest men and boys. The white-clad women worked mostly in the packing departments, while the men were engaged in both the higher-paid sales and tasting departments and on heavy work. When interviewed in 1895 for the poverty series of Charles Booth’s Survey of Life and Labour in London, Fielding said that he paid ‘higher wages than those in the trade’ and that ‘Lipton especially is a sweater’ and thought it unlikely that he would agree to an interview.53 In the wake of the Tea Girls’ Strike in 1904 (when 150 CWS tea packers walked out of Leman Street in protest at the proposed switch from a weekly wage to piecework) and the formation of the Tea Packers’ Union, ‘the Leman Street girls’ were said to ‘have practically “run” the union’, and about one-third of all workers were members of the Anchor Co- operative Society, which was then based at 37 Leman Street. Piecework was being abolished in 1908, and most workers were on the staff.54 The warehouse was billed as the largest in the country and at the close of 1912, thirty years after its opening in Hooper Square, the department was annually supplying English and Scottish co-operators 25,000,000lb of tea.55 Nearly 400,000lbs of this quantity came from the CWS’s own estates in Ceylon and the rest was supplied via the public auction at the Commercial Sale Rooms in Mincing Lane.56 The tea passed through the Tea Clearing House, just to the west of Mincing Lane, at 16 Philpot Lane, the central City office for public bonded tea warehouses in the Port of London, and which served as an intermediary between the wharfingers and the trade.57 From here it was delivered to Leman Street. The ‘all-electric tea factory’ was held by the CWS to be ‘the world’s best in buildings and mechanical equipment’.58 The auction itself moved across Mincing Lane in 1937 to the new Plantation House, which was purpose-built for commodity auctions and expanded in 1951. Such was the growth of the tea department that, during the First World War, ‘trumped up charges’ of over-buying were broadcast on the market, ‘with the aim of discrediting the co-operative movement’, but when Board of Trade officers arrived at Leman Street with search warrants they found that the co-operative stocks were below normal and thus the ‘slanders’ were exposed.59

  1. Percy Redfern, Story of the C.W.S., 1913, p.92; Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Select Committee on Adulteration of Food, &c., 4 April 1856, p. 285. 

  2. John Burnett, Liquid Pleasures: A Social History of Drinks in Modern Britain, 1999, p. 62; John Burnett, Plenty and Want: A Social History of Food in England from 1815 to the Present Day, 1966, 1989 edn, pp. 219, 226; Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Select Committee on Adulteration of Food, &c., 4 April 1856, pp. 270–87. 

  3. Story of the C.W.S., pp. 120–1; John F. Wilson, Anthony Webster, Rachael Vorberg-Rugh, Building Co-operation: A Business History of The Co- operative Group, 18632013, p. 82; ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre’, The Wheatsheaf, September 1897, p. 54. 

  4. ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre’, The Wheatsheaf, September 1897, pp. 54, 56. 

  5. 21stAnniversary Programme, 1895, p. 10; Wilson, Webster, Vorberg-Rugh, Building Co-operation, p. 131. 

  6. 21stAnniversary Programme, 1895, pp. 13–14. 

  7. Opening of the New Premises and Cocoa Works, 1887, p. 42; 21stAnniversary Programme, 1895, p. 10. 

  8. Building Co-Operation, p. 83. 

  9. Anthony Webster, John F. Wilson, ‘Going Global. The Rise of the CWS as an International Commercial and Political Actor, 1863–1950: Scoping the Agenda for Further Research’, in Mary Hilson, Silke Neunsinger, Greg Patmore, Eds, A Global History of Consumer Co-operation since 1850: Movements and Businesses, 2017, p .578. 

  10. Building Co-operation, p.130. 

  11. Ibid

  12. Ibid., p. 131. 

  13. Economic Review, April 1903, pp. 242–6. 

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

  15. Wholesale Co-operation in Scotland, 1918, pp. 426–7. 

  16. Building Co-operation, p.448. 

  17. National Co-operative Archive (NCA), CWS Minutes, 23 July 1886; Story of the C.W.S., p. 162. 

  18. ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre (continued)’,The Wheatsheaf, November 1897, p. 72: London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), 7 May 1869, renumbering plan no. 901; NCA, CWS Minutes, 28 January 1887. 

  19. ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre’, The Wheatsheaf, September 1897, p. 56; Story of the C.W.S., p. 214. 

  20. Ancestry, baptismal record and censuses for 1851–1911; Journal of the RSA, 7 June 1872, p. 604; Bradford Observer, 9 July 1874, p. 8. 

  21. NCA, E&SCWS, Tea Committee Minutes, 17 December 1894, 1 August 1895, 29 November 1897, 9 January 1899. 

  22. Story of the C.W.S., p. 171; Lynn Pearson, Architecture of the Co- operative Movement, draft Chapter 2, p. 3. 

  23. ‘Co-operative Building Enterprise’, The Producer, May 1921, p. 204 

  24. ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre’, The Wheatsheaf, September 1897, p. 56; Story of the C.W.S., p. 214. 

  25. Ibid

  26. LMA, District Surveyors Returns serial no. 1894.0163-8: Leman Street drainage plans, 92–104 Leman Street, 18 April 1894, Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), L/THL/D/2/30/80; NCA, E&SCWS Tea Committee Minutes, 17 December 1894. 

  27. NCA, E&SCWS Tea Committee Minutes, 17 December 1894. 

  28. ‘The Tudor-Street Ancient Light Case’, The Builder, 2 July 1898, p. 16. 

  29. W. Henry Brown, A Century of London Co-operation, 1928, p. 91. 

  30. NCA, E&SCWS Tea Committee Minutes, 1 August 1895. 

  31. NCA, E&SCWS Tea Committee Minutes, 21 November 1895. 

  32. Story of the C.W.S., pp. 354, 379–80; Essex Standard, 27 June 1891, p. 8; The Builder, 4 June 1892, p. 449. 

  33. NCA, E&SCWS Tea Committee Minutes, 12 November 1895, 15 February 1897, 1 May 1897, 12 July 1897, 20 June 1898. 

  34. 21st Anniversary Programme, 1895, p. 10. 

  35. ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre (continued)’,The Wheatsheaf, January 1898, p. 104; ‘The Wholesales’ New Tea Premises’, The Co-operative News, 27 March 1897, p. 326. 

  36. ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre (continued)’,The Wheatsheaf, December 1897, p. 87. 

  37. Deeds of covenant, 1897, THLHLA, WBW/11/8. 

  38. ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre (continued)’,The Wheatsheaf, November 1897, p.72. 

  39. ‘Progress of Co-operation’, Evening Star, 23 March 1897, p. 3; ‘The Wholesales’ New Tea Premises’, The Co-operative News, 27 March 1897, pp. 325–7. 

  40. LMA, DSR serial no. 1897.0306-7; THLHLA, WBW/11/8, Deeds of covenant, 1897; ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre, continued’, The Wheatsheaf, November 1897, p. 74. 

  41. NCA, E&SCWS Tea Committee Minutes, 1 August 1895; ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre (continued)’, The Wheatsheaf, December 1897, p. 88. 

  42. ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre, continued’, The Wheatsheaf, December 1897, p. 88; ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre (concluded)’, The Wheatsheaf, January 1898, pp. 104–5. 

  43. ‘CWS: Tea Growers, Blenders and Packers, III’, The Wheatsheaf, March 1908, p. 137. 

  44. ‘The Co-operative Tea Centre (continued)’,The Wheatsheaf, November 1897, pp. 72, 74. 

  45. ‘Co-operative Tea Centre’, The Wheatsheaf, September 1897, p. 54. 

  46. ‘CWS: Tea Growers, Blenders and Packers II’, The Wheatsheaf, February 1908, p. 121; ‘CWS premises extended during 1909’, The Wheatsheaf, January 1910, p. 109; THLHLA, building control file, 22355, 84–100 Leman Street. 

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

  48. NCA, E&SCWS Tea Committee Minutes (date obscured),c.12 November 1895, 21 November 1895, 12 July 1897; THLHLA, Building Control file 22355. 

  49. LMA, DSR serial no. 1897.0284; ‘What is a Common Lodging House?’, London Daily News, 28 March 1904, p. 8. 

  50. The National Archives (TNA), RG13/306 folio 67, pp. 59–62. 

  51. TNA, RG11/446 folio 13, pp. 20–21, RG12/282 folio 24, pp. 8–9. 

  52. ‘Packing Tea in East London’, The Wheatsheaf, April 1913, p. v. 

  53. Notebook: Grocers, Greengrocers and Oil Colourmen, c.1895, London School of Economics, BOOTH/B/134. 

  54. ‘CWS: Tea Growers, Blenders and Packers’,The Wheatsheaf, March 1908, pp. 136–8. 

  55. ‘Packing Tea in East London’, supplement to The Wheatsheaf, May 1913, pp. i–ii; Story of the C.W.S., p. 219. 

  56. ‘Round the Tea Department’, The Wheatsheaf, January 1913, p. 103. 

  57. William H. Ukers, All About Tea, Vol. II, 1935, pp. 45–6. 

  58. New History of the C.W.S., 1938, p. 343. 

  59. ‘The New Warehouse in Pictures’, Co-operative News, supplement, 6 December 1930, p. 7. 

The expansion of the CWS Tea Department to the sites of 80–86 Leman Street
Contributed by Rebecca Preston on March 29, 2019

The Co-operative Wholesale Society had considered purchasing the freehold of 86 Leman Street in 1895 but apparently did not do so immediately.1 By 1910 it owned the cleared sites of Nos 84–86, adjoining the tea warehouse to the north, with joint frontages of 61ft 6in on Leman Street and 64ft 8in on Tenter Street, which were then occupied by temporary iron sheds built for the CWS by W. Whitford & Co.2 From 1886 84 Leman Street was leased by the trustees of the Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter, a property which in 1893 was advertised as a ‘well-built’ four-storey house with a large yard and workshop together with a small house at 18 Tenter Street East comprising a total of 2,100 feet.[^3 ]By 1906, when a new shelter was built to its north at 82 Leman Street, the old shelter was ‘dilapidated’;4 it was empty by at least 1914 and remained so in 1921.5 No. 86 Leman Street had been the Whittington Club and Chambers for Working Youths from 1886; this was a descendant of the East London Industrial School and Shoeblack Society, which had occupied the same building from about 1874, and both institutions were run by William Tourell.6 In 1901, 86 Leman Street was home to ninety-six men, many of them shoeblacks.7

In 1912 E. W. Chicken, new manager of the CWS building department, had applied successfully to make openings in the division walls on the north side of the tea premises on Leman Street, presumably in readiness for a further extension. However, perhaps on account of the First World War, the temporary iron building was still standing in 1925 and the new development did not take place until 1928–30, when a seven-storey steel-framed bonded tea warehouse with a neo-classical front was built to designs by L. G. Ekins.8 To mark the opening of the newly expanded tea department, a celebratory lunch ‘with an oriental flavour’ was held at the Connaught Rooms in Mayfair, the entrance disguised as an Oriental warehouse in which waiters ‘dressed as coolies’ with darkened faces served Ramsay MacDonald, the Prime Minister, among the 700 guests.9

In 1935, the bulk of the tea supplied by the E&SCWS came from northern India – Darjeeling, Assam, the Dooars, Cahsar, Sylhet and the Terai, and the remainder from Ceylon, Java and Sumatra, with smaller quantities imported from Nyasaland (Malawi) and China.10 After tasting and selection, the tea was delivered from Mincing Lane to Leman Street, where it was blended to suit local water types and preferences across the United Kingdom before packing and distribution.11 ‘Whether it is the Assam favoured in Ireland, or the green tea beloved in Derbyshire; whether for the hard water of Northumberland, or Thirlmere water in Manchester; or for Scotland, where quite dissimilar tastes prevail, the right tea is blended for the whole United Kingdom’;12 in order to test this, samples of water were sent to Leman Street so as to ‘meet the necessities of any county in the country’.13 The packing and labelling was now managed by ‘one uncanny monster of steel’ and could, with the attention of ‘one girl’, turn out 24,000 packets a day.14 Increased mechanisation had greatly reduced the female labour force in the preceding decades, which was achieved ‘without hardship’ through the policy of employing only single women who left when they married.15 In the 1930s the E&SCWS held the largest share of the tea market at thirty per cent.16 According to its own statistics the tea department was now ‘India’s biggest customer’, and was the ‘greatest grower, importer and distributor of tea in the world’.17 As the Co-operative News put it in 1930, Britain had become a nation of tea drinkers and there were now nine million people drinking co-operative teas.18 In 1956, the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission reported that the CWS was, with Brooke Bond, Lyons and Ty-Phoo, one of the ‘big four’, but since none held a one-third share, this did not constitute a monopoly.19

  1. National Co-operative Archive (NCA), E&SCWS Tea Committee Minutes (date obscured), c.12 November 1895. 

  2. The National Archives (TNA), IR 58/84831 plot nos 4801–2: London County Council Minutes, 21–22 June 1910, p. 1360. 

  3. The Globe, 25 May 1893, p. 8. 

  4. Leman Street drainage plans, 82 Leman Street, 1905, Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), L/THL/D/2/30/88; Aubrey Newman, ‘The Poor Jews’ Temporary Shelter: an episode in migration studies’, Jewish Historical Studies, Vol. 40, 2005, pp. 141–55. 

  5. Ancestry, Whitechapel Land Tax records, 1914, 1921. 

  6. The Justice of the Peace, 21 March 1874, p. 185. 

  7. TNA, RG13/307 folio 127, pp. 1–6. 

  8. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), District Surveyros Returns serial nos 1925.059; 1929.0055: Leman Street drainage plans, 82–84 [sic] Leman Street, 1928, THLHLA, L/THL/D/2/30/88. 

  9. ‘A Novel Celebration’, The Scotsman, 23 April 1931, p. 10. 

  10. E&SCWS Ltd., The Romance of Tea, 1935, p. 15. 

  11. Romance of Tea, p. 17. 

  12. ‘Round the Tea Department’, The Wheatsheaf, January 1913, p. 105; Romance of Tea, pp. 17–18 

  13. ‘Packing Tea in East London’, supplement to The Wheatsheaf, May 1913, p. ii. 

  14. Romance of Tea, p. 18. 

  15. ‘Packing Tea in East London’, supplement to The Wheatsheaf, May 1913, p. ii. 

  16. Burnett, Liquid Pleasures, p. 65. 

  17. ‘India’s Biggest Customer’, Northampton Mercury, 15 May 1936, p. 12. 

  18. ‘The New Warehouse in Pictures’, Co-operative News, supplement, 6 December 1930, p. 3. 

  19. Burnett, Liquid Pleasures, p. 67. 

Expansions on Prescot Street for the tea office and coffee works (demolished)
Contributed by Rebecca Preston on March 29, 2019

In 1925 L. G. Ekins designed a small, shallow two-storey extension to the tea department warehouse, extending two bays from the main building along Prescot Street with a third reaching over the original entrance to the yard.1 By 1934 he was planning three much larger steel-framed blocks, a coffee works and separate tea offices on the sites of 62–64 Prescot Street and 65–69 Prescot Street and a furnishing and hardware warehouse directly opposite at 9–14 Prescot Street.2 The plans for these were certified in 1935 and 1936, at which time some or all of the houses and workshops at 62–69 and 9–14 Prescot Street and the properties on the north side of the block at 32–44 South Tenter Street were in CWS ownership. Some were already demolished by 1935 but the Co- operative Union Ltd still occupied the ‘top floor offices and warehouses’ at Nos 66–69.3 Unlike Ekins’s furnishing warehouse, which in mass and style was a continuation of his Administrative Offices and Bank, the tea office and coffee works had the more utilitarian character of his interwar warehousing in Goodman Street and Lambeth Street to the east. Less immediately impressive than his Expressionist work (see below), these streamlined buildings, all now demolished, perhaps demonstrate his response to Modernism as well as the functional demands of the departments they housed. Work started on the tea office in about 1936 and both it and the adjoining coffee works were opened in about 1938.4 The tea office was square in plan with an open area at its core and rose seven storeys above a granite plinth, faced in dark red or brown bricks between bands of metal-framed windows, with a central entrance in Prescot Street. Within were display rooms, offices, a boardroom and, on the fourth floor, the publicity department and cinema.5 The coffee works, which abutted on its west side, was a smaller rectangular-shaped block of four storeys that completed the run of E&SCWS buildings west from Leman Street.6 The two buildings shared a granite plinth but above this the coffee works differed from its neighbour and was more obviously functional in design, with equal bands of glazing and dark brick running end-to-end on the Prescot Street and St Mark’s Street frontages, broken up with columns clad in white-glazed bricks.7 This block contained areas for coffee roasting and preparation, offices and a saleroom, while the basement was designed for bean and root storage.8

  1. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), GLC/AR/BR/17/077204. 

  2. LMA, GLC/AR/BR/17/077326/02; District Surveyors Returns (DSR) serial no. 1935.0333. 

  3. Metropolitan Borough of Stepney Valuation List, 1935, p.95, Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), L/SMB/C/1/3; LMA, DSR, serial nos 1935.0333, 1936.0491, 1936.0154, 1936.0093: 110–20 Leman Street plans (large), 1929, LMA, GLC/AR/BR/19/3339. 

  4. LMA, DSR serial no. 1936.0491, 1936.0093; ‘Changing the Skyline at Leman Street’, The Producer, June 1936, p. 182. 

  5. ‘Changing the Skyline at Leman Street’, The Producer, June 1936, p. 182; LMA, GLC, AR/BR/07/2914, E&SCWS tea offices. 

  6. THLHLA, Building Control file 23306, 62–64 Prescot Street; Great Prescot Street drainage plans, THLHLA, L/THL/D/2/30/119. 

  7. LMA, SC/PHL/01/396/73/10916 and SC/PHL/01/396/73/10917, photographs, 1973. 

  8. THLHLA, Building Control file 23306, 62–64 Prescot Street; L/THL/D/2/30/119, Great Prescot Street drainage plans: ‘Changing the Skyline at Leman Street’, The Producer, June 1936, p. 182. 

Redevelopment of the London Tea Factory, 100 Leman Street and associated Co-operative Wholesale Society property
Contributed by Rebecca Preston on March 29, 2019

Expansion of Co-operative Wholesale Society premises had stopped by 1955 when permission was granted for a roof over the tea warehouse yard at 84–100 Leman Street.1 In May 1967 production at the London Tea Factory was winding down, following a decision to cease altogether by September that year and to concentrate operations at CWS factories outside London.2 When approached by the directors of a company regarding the purchase of 66–69 Prescot Street in 1969, the CWS would agree only on condition that it was sold together with the ‘dilapidated and unused tea warehouse’ at 86–100 Leman Street, and in a complex arrangement which eventually landed the directors in the High Court, two sites were purchased:3 the tea factory at 100 Leman Street and Ekins’s Prescot Street tea office extension of 1935. It subsequently transpired that the vendors did not acquire the adjoining premises, meaning, presumably Ekins’s coffee works building at the junction with St Mark’s Street. The freeholds were then sold to insurance brokers, Minet Holdings Ltd, which coincidentally had been based from 1937 at Plantation House in the old centre of the tea trade in Mincing Lane. In October 1970 Minets moved their headquarters into Ekins’s Prescot Street tea office, after the building had been gutted and given new entrance doors, side windows and a canopy bearing the name Minet House.4 This was now renumbered 66 Prescot Street, rather than 65–69 (or 66–69) as previously used. Prescot Street was ‘not as well situated as Plantation House, but it was nevertheless just within reasonable walking distance of Lloyds’ – a requirement for Minets as a Lloyds underwriter. The company probably also already had its eye on the much larger site at 84–100 Leman Street in order that the whole operation could be moved out of Plantation House, which the business had outgrown. Land in this part of Whitechapel was presumably much cheaper and more readily available than that in Mincing Lane.5

To provide for expansion, Minets began negotiations in 1971 for additional space in neighbouring buildings.6 Meanwhile the former Tea Factory at 100 Leman Street and associated premises at 70 Prescot Street and Tenter Street had been demolished down to basement level during 1970 and the site was in use temporarily as a car park.7 The GLC initially refused permission for the Office Development Permit sought by Minet Holdings Ltd in January 1972 on the site of the Tea Factory because it fell within a newly designated Community Development Area, which sought to restrict the number of office developments locally. The decision, which had been supported by Tower Hamlets, was overturned on appeal on the basis that the development would – like Beagle House, which was cited in support of the appeal site – increase employment and contribute to the export drive.8 R. Seifert & Partners’ planning application on behalf of Minets in July 1972, for redevelopment with a new office building at 100 Leman Street, was eventually granted and the acquisition of the site was completed in February 1973.9 Evidence presented in favour of both parties depicted an area in decline. The three-quarter acre plot of the former tea factory was described as being located in a mixed-use area, which had ‘suffered in recent years from dereliction caused partly by the decline of the docks in the last few years and partly from war damage’. As a result, many sites were undeveloped and the appeal site was itself ‘an island comprising vacant land surrounded by road frontages and modern office development’, including the new police station immediately to its north.10 The GLC however insisted that the declining commercial and industrial area was already undergoing some positive change, as the private sector extended Central London offices eastwards from the City and local housing associations sought land for housing.11 The tea factory site had frontages of 84.2 metres (approximately 276 ft) in Leman Street and 51.1 metres (approximately 168 ft) in Prescot Street, which included the former tea office extension already occupied by Minets.12 It also included a two-storey building at 70 Prescot Street, with vehicular access under to a yard at the year, which in 1974 was in use by Minets as a staff canteen.13

In 1978, shortly after permission was granted to Seiferts for the erection of two flagpoles on the roof, 100 Leman Street became the new company headquarters and was renamed Minet House.14 Clad in dark red brick with steeply raked upper storeys on its Leman Street front, the building is between seven and nine storeys high with a tenth floor stepped back from the Prescot Street front to house the plant. In scale and materials it echoes Ekins’s 1 Prescot Street opposite and has a cascade of differently angled projecting bays on the Prescot Street elevation. Lister Drew Haines Barrow sought permission for an extension to the seventh-floor dining room and reconstruction of the roof garden in 1991, shortly before the practice was bought by W. S. Atkins, which was granted in 1992.15 A new ground-floor entrance, with steps, paviours and planters, was completed in 2000 by MCM Architects in consultation with Nicholas Burwell of Burwell Architects.16 No. 100 Leman Street was acquired by Standard Life Investments on behalf of a segregated client in 2014 and remains in use as offices.17

In the 1970s and ’80s Tower Hamlets negotiated with the CWS for redevelopment of several other sites with the aim of keeping the organisation and its employees in the borough.18 The CWS undertook to refurbish its old butter store in Fairclough Street for use as industrial workshops as planning gain on three office schemes at 86–94 Chamber Street and 17–19 and 63–65 Prescot Street.19 The GLC contested the latter scheme, Ekins’s former coffee works, because it was not in a Preferred Office Location and would in its view have led to an unacceptable increase in office accommodation locally, but this was overruled after an inquiry in 1984.20 In 1982 plans were lodged by Architecture + Interior Design Group on behalf of the CWS for the uniting of the basements of the two former Ekins warehouses on Prescot Street (the former coffee works and the tea office, which later became Minet House, 66 Prescot Street), for the purposes of transferring the bank department from the present 1 Prescot Street to the coffee works site.21 It is not clear who owned the former coffee works at this date, the CWS or if Minet Properties had acquired them yet, or even if the works were carried out.

  1. Tower Hamlets planning applications online (THP), PA/55/00828, PA/63/00647. 

  2. Letter from E&SCWS to GLC Architect, 23 May 1967, Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), Building Control File 22355. 

  3. Reports of Tax Cases, Vol. 55, HMSO, 1980, pp. 467–8; Chilcott and others v Commissioners of Inland Revenue(1) (1980–1984) 55 TC 446: High Court of Justice (Chancery Division), 6, 7, 8 and 30 July 1981. 

  4. The Times, 7 May 1970 p. 30; J. H. Minet & Co. Ltd: Town Planning Appeal, pp.11–12, London School of Economics Archive (LSE), SHORE/19/100: London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), SC/PHL/01/396/73/10917, photograph, 1973. 

  5. J. H. Minet & Co. Ltd: Town Planning Appeal, pp.11–12, LSE Archive, SHORE/19/100. 

  6. Ibid., p.12. 

  7. Memorandum to the superintending architect from the Dept Chief Officer of the LFB re 100 Leman Street, 2 June 1970, THLHA, Building Control file 22355; THP, PA/69/04161; Local enquiry, 22 May 1974, into the Appeal by J. H. Minet & Co. Ltd. against the refusal by the GLC of permission to erect an office building on the site of 84–100 Leman Street and 70 Prescot Street, p.1, LSE Archive, SHORE/19/100. 

  8. ‘Planning Gain’, p. 142. 

  9. Ibid., pp. 141–2, 336; J. H. Minet & Co. Ltd: Town Planning Appeal, p.12, LSE Archive, SHORE/19/100; THP, PA/72/00844; PA/78/00851; THLHLA, Building control file, 22355, 84–100 Leman Street. 

  10. Application for Office Development on the Site at the Corner of Prescot Street and Leman Street by J. H. Minet & Co. Ltd., Appeal under Section 37 of the T&CPA 1971, Proof of Evidence of I. M. Collinson, p.2, LSE Archive, SHORE/19/100. 

  11. Local enquiry, 22 May 1974, into the Appeal by J. H. Minet & Co. Ltd. against the refusal by the GLC of permission to erect an office building on the site of 84–100 Leman Street and 70 Prescot Street, pp.11–12, LSE Archive, SHORE/19/100. 

  12. Ibid

  13. Proof of Evidence given to Local Enquiry, 22 May 1974 by G. M. Jones for Tower Hamlets Council in support of the GLC, p.1, LSE Archive, SHORE/19/100. 

  14. THP, PA/72/00844; PA/78/00851; THLHLA, Building control file, 22355, 84–100 Leman Street. 

  15. THP, WP/91/00157. 

  16. THP, PA/99/00315; https://burwellarchitects.com/work/100-leman-street. 

  17. http://europe-re.com/standard-life-investments-acquires-100-leman- street-41-million-uk/46688. 

  18. ‘Planning Gain’, pp. 485–6. 

  19. ‘Planning Gain’, pp. 253–4. 

  20. Ibid., pp. 252–4. 

  21. THLHLA, Building control file, 23306, 62–64 Prescot Street. 

Early demolished buildings at 86–104 Leman Street
Contributed by Survey of London on May 7, 2020

A large three-storey double-fronted house at No. 86, possibly rebuilt in 1769, survived until 1910 when it was acquired by the Co-operative Wholesale Society. Thomas Harris (d. 1750), a citizen silkthrower, lived here and the property was described as ‘The Great House’ when Naphtali Hart Myers (1711–1788), a prominent American-English merchant, purchased the freehold in 1777. By 1812 the house had passed to his son, Dr Joseph Hart Myers, physician to the Bet Holim London hospital, but from at least 1814 it was leased to Judah Cohen, a West India merchant who held several plantations in Jamaica and over 200 enslaved people. In partnership with his brother Hymen Cohen, he used the Leman Street property as secondary to the firm’s base at 51 Mansell Street; David A. Lindo also used this address in the 1830s. Like neighbouring houses, No. 86 fell to use for cigar-making . A stable and coach-house onto the Tenter Ground were replaced by a large warehouse over nearly all of the rear garden. From 1874, the East London Industrial School, founded in 1854 as the East London Shoeblack Society, used the house. The school moved to Lewisham in 1884, and No. 86 was altered to accommodate the Whittington Club and Chambers for Working Youths, a descendant of the school and a social initiative from Toynbee Hall that aimed to benefit working boys and men aged sixteen to twenty, many of them shoeblacks, with discipline and recreation. In 1901 ninety-six males, many of them shoeblacks, were housed. Over one of the ground-floor windows a low-relief carving or cast of unknown date depicted Dick Whittington and his cat with a ship sailing towards the shore with figures in the clouds blowing trumpets.1

A comparably substantial house on the site of Nos 88–90, perhaps also rebuilt in the 1770s, had been held by Thomas Umfreville, who died in Connecticut in 1738. It was later occupied until 1808 by Peter Ainsley, a merchant, coal factor and Fishmonger, in partnership with his brother Joseph Ainsley. Barnett Moss, a looking-glass maker and glass merchant, present at different addresses on Leman Street from the 1830s, was the last occupant in the late 1850s. Around 1860 the house was replaced by a mirrored three-storey pair. John Jacobs, a builder and almost certainly responsible for the rebuild, lived at what became No. 90 into the 1880s. No. 88 was first inhabited by Thomas Stones, an importer of cheroot cigars.2

No. 88 housed the Scandinavian Sailors’ Temperance Home, a mission begun in the 1870s by Agnes Hedenström for the Swedish Free Church, from 1880 to 1888 when it moved to larger premises in Poplar. By 1890 the house had been put to use as the German Artisans’ Home and Christian Hotel, a branch of the German YMCA, overseen by William Muller, Secretary. A thirty-six bed capacity increased to sixty-three when Muller took over No. 90 in 1891. He had a five- storey rear addition built in 1897, and in 1901 forty-seven men of mostly German and Austrian birth were recorded staying at ‘the Christian Home for Christians’. The CWS had purchased the freehold to Nos 88–90 in 1895 and had cleared the houses by 1908 for enlargement of its tea warehouse.3

No. 92 was another comparably substantial double-fronted eighteenth-century house, claiming four rooms on each of three floors and vaulted cellars, with ‘a handsome entrance hall … [and] a geometrical stone staircase’.4 William Hawes was resident here by 1733 and in the years around 1760 Edward Hawkins, the son of Samuel Hawkins, lived here. By 1830 the household goods included a ‘fine-toned piano-forte on turned legs’.5  Thereafter into the 1860s the house was the private residence of Charles Berry, a flour factor. It was then acquired by Dakin and Bryant, sugar refiners, who around 1868 redeveloped the entire plot – house, garden, coach house and three-stall stable, with five- storey sugarhouse premises. This use was short-lived and a Hebrew academy run by Nehemiah Ginsbury was based here in the 1880s. Thereafter a period of disuse followed.6

At Nos 94–102 there was a short terrace of more standard-width houses, also of three storeys, basements and attics, probably built in the late eighteenth century, in part replacing two large houses of 1684–5 built by Thomas Cole and John Hanscombe, a brewer, at the Prescot Street corner. In the second half of the nineteenth century these houses were predominantly inhabited by cigar merchants and tailors of East European Jewish origin, though John, Thomas and Henry Baddeley, solicitors, were long-standing tenants of No. 98.7 From at least 1788, the Golden Lion public house (No. 104) stood at the corner of Leman Street and Prescot Street, overseen by Samuel Silvester, a victualler, until his death in 1806. It comprised a bar, sitting room, and tap room on the ground floor, with an extensive cellar and a large club-room on the first floor. The second floor and attics were domestic quarters.8 For most of the nineteenth century, the pub was run by a series of landlords of German extraction, who incorporated upper-storey lodgings for sugar-bakers. In 1853, the Golden Lion was the flashpoint for an attack by Irish sugar-bakers on their German counterparts, the former claiming that the latter were unfairly filling positions with their countrymen, squeezing the Irish out of work. The disturbance in the pub led to ‘serious rioting’ on Leman Street which became a ‘battlefield’ before peace was restored.9  The Golden Lion was a meeting place for the Society of United Friends of Poor Germans in the 1860s, when a lease advertisement claimed it as ‘one of the best and most respectable houses … certainly the most commanding position in the neighbourhood’.10

The English and Scottish Joint Co-operative Wholesale Society purchased Nos 94–104 in 1886. This precipitated demolition and replacement by the CWS’s London tea department.11

  1. Daily Advertiser, 25 Nov 1777: The National Archives (TNA), PROB11/778/232: London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), LMA/4673/D/01/004/002; A/ELI/003; Tower Hamlets Commissioners of Sewers ratebooks (THCS): District Surveyors' Returns (DSR): Ordnance Survey maps (OS): Richard Horwood's maps: S. Massil, ‘Naphtali Hert Myers (1711–1788): New Yorker and Londoner’, Jewish Historical Studies, vol. 43, 2011, pp. 97–124 (123): Post Office Directories (POD): www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/firm/view/553857610www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/14235: C. Hall, N. Draper, K. McClelland, K. Donington, R. Lang, Legacies of British Slave-ownership, 2014, p. 57: Census: The Justice of the Peace, 21 March 1874, p.185: S. A. Barnett, ‘University settlements’, in W. Reason (ed.), University and Social Settlements, 1898, p.26: www.chil drenshomes.org.uk/EastLondonIS/?LMCL=gPo_ndEast London Advertiser (ELA), 14 March 1903 

  2. Sun, 10 Aug 1808, p. 1: LMA, Land Tax Returns (LT); LMA/4673/D/01/004/002;COL/CHD/FR/02/1242/050; THCS: East Sussex Record Office, SAS/AB/1098: OS: Horwood: Census: POD 

  3. Census: POD: B. W. Hildebrandt, It Can be! 150 Years German YMCA in London, 1860–2010, 2010: Stephen Porter (ed.), Survey of London, vol. 43: Poplar, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs, 1994, p. 403: DSR: London Daily News, 28 March 1904, p. 8: postcard, 1901: National Co-operative Archive (NCA), E&SCWS Tea Committee Minutes, 12 Nov 1895, 21 Nov 1895, 12 July 1897: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), Building Control file 22355 

  4. LMA, LMA/4673/D/01/004/002: Morning Chronicle, 16 Aug 1820, p. 4 

  5. Morning Advertiser, 16 March 1830, p. 3: LT 

  6. LMA, LMA/4673/D/01/004/002: OS: DSR: POD: Bryan Mawer's sugar database: Census: East London Observer, 26 Aug 1865 

  7. LMA, LMA/4673/D/01/004/002: TNA, C10/544/6: OS: POD: Census 

  8. TNA, PROB11/1445/219: LMA, LMA/4673/D/01/004/002: Morning Advertiser, 3 Feb 1807, p. 4: Morning Chronicle, 29 July 1812, p. 4 

  9. Bells New Weekly Messenger, 22 May 1853, p. 5: Morning Post, 29 Dec 1856, p. 7: ELA, 26 Oct 1861, p.3: THLHLA, P/RIV/1/15/20: Census 

  10. Morning Advertiser, 1 Nov 1866, p. 8 

  11. NCA, Co-operative Wholesale Society Minutes, 23 July 1886: THLHLA, WBW/11/8 

Guest at the Jews' Temporary Shelter (82-84 Leman Street, now demolished)
Contributed by Simon Walters on May 23, 2017

Yehuda (later changed to Judah and then to Lewis) Karbatznick was my maternal great-grandfather. Coming to East London from Russia in 1903, Yehuda initially stayed at the Jews’ Shelter in Leman Street. However, he had the address of his wife Leah’s sister Blooma, who was living in Old Montague Street in Whitechapel with her husband and son, so that’s where Lewis settled. It’s not known whether he lived with them or nearby, but Whitechapel became his home.

It took several years of hard work for Lewis to save enough money for one-way tickets for his wife and children. Their passage to England might have been affected by 1905’s Alien Immigration Act, which allowed the UK government to deny entry to people who appeared unable to support themselves, a direct response to fears about the flood of Jewish immigrants. I still have the boat ticket for the 1906 journey taken by my great-grandmother and my three great- aunts.

Follow more of their story on Chicksand Street here: https://surveyoflondon.org/map/feature/242/detail/

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

Prescot Street facade, looking east, August 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Entrance canopy, from Prescot Street looking towards Leman Street, August 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Elevation to Leman Street, looking south west
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Co-operative Wholesale Society Tea Warehouse from the south-east c.1930
Contributed by Rebecca Preston

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