Flats 1 to 45 Christopher Court, 97 Leman Street

2006–8 flats, on the site of CWS premises and the south end of Rupert Street | Part of Co-operative Wholesale Society buildings

The first premises of the Co-operative Wholesale Society at Hooper Square (mostly demolished)
Contributed by Rebecca Preston on March 29, 2019

In 1878 the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) began negotiations for the freehold of a former sugar refinery and associated property, which occupied the corner site between the east side of Leman Street, Hooper Square (now Street) and the west side of Rupert Street (later Goodman Street). Three of the earliest Co-operative Wholesale Society premises in Whitechapel were housed in former sugar refineries. Following the decline of the sugar industry locally, large refineries came on the market, and advertisements stressed their suitability for other purposes, as businesses went bust or moved out. Two other former sugar houses were occupied by the CWS at different times – the coffee & cocoa works and bacon stoves at 116 and 118 Leman Street and a short-lived furniture warehouse on the south side of Chamber Street.

Emanuel Goodhart, Son and Co., sugar refiners, had been insured for a site at ‘Hooper Square, bottom of Rupert Street, Goodmans Fields’, since at least 1841.1 By 1846 the business was known as Messrs E. Goodhart, Son & Patricks, Hooper Square.2 The partnership between W. and W. B. Patrick and Charles Emanuel Goodhart, sugar refiners and merchants of Limehouse and Hooper Square, was dissolved in 1855, when the business continued as Messrs Goodhart, and a furnace chimney shaft was approved in 1862.3 C. E. Goodhart became a director of the Lebong Tea Company Limited in that year and may have been branching out into other provisions.4 In 1865 he was among many London merchants and sugar refiners petitioning the directors of railway companies for equalizing the mileage rates for the conveyance of sugars, and gave his address as 97 and 98 Leman Street, where he was listed until at least 1868.5 These houses (renumbered 101 and 99 in 1879) were the southernmost in a terrace of nine, on the Leman Street front of the refinery site. In 1814, when they were advertised for sale, the three plots on this corner site, which correspond broadly with the land later acquired by the CWS, formed part of William Strode’s Leman Street estate.6

In June 1876, C. E. Goodhart leased a sugar refinery on the west side of Rupert Street (that had previously been a pair), together with the house at 98 Leman Street to Quintin Hogg for fourteen years.7 Almost exactly two years later, in June 1878, the CWS began considering the purchase of the same site, measuring 1,700 square feet, from an unknown party, and the Society’s offer of £18,000 was accepted in November.8 If Hogg played a role in the CWS’s acquisition of the premises this has not come to light. He had begun in the tea trade at Mincing Lane before becoming a sugar merchant and would probably have been aware of the Co-operative movement through his philanthropic work in funding ragged schools and the Regent Street Polytechnic.9 Joseph Woodin, of the Co-operative Central Agency (CCA) and the CWS tea buyer from 1869 to around 1881, is another possible link. In 1852, the catalogue of the CCA had praised the quality of Goodhart’s sugar and the refineries at Hooper Square and Limehouse, and Woodin, who contributed to the volume, may have known of the premises.10 A notice of February 1879 for the auction of the ‘capital building materials of a large sugar refinery and other buildings at Hooper Square and Leman Street’ probably relates to this site.11

The foundation stone of the new CWS warehouse was laid on 19 July 1879, by Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays and advocate of Co- operation, and the building opened formally on 12 January 1881.12 Abutting on the south side of the sugar refinery, the warehouse initially rose six storeys from a roughly square plan, with a canted corner angled so as to face Hooper Square, and an entrance in the stair tower, which survives, projecting to the south. It was described in 1886 as measuring about 90ft by 50ft13 and externally resembled the first CWS warehouse at Balloon Street in Manchester.14 The pair of shields above the door, now misleadingly painted black and white, appear to represent the crests of the City of London and the City of Manchester. Works evidently continued on site, for the ‘refinery warehouse’ was concreted and asphalted in September 1882.15 This was presumably the ‘roomy and extensive tea warehouse’ converted under the supervision of architect and CWS London Branch committee member, J. F. Goodey, for the ‘new tea and coffee department’, which commenced production on 1 November.16 It was reported a little later that the department’s first home was in a converted warehouse that had been used as a sugar refinery, or perhaps a warehouse associated with it.17 The tea department, and the boot and shoe department, which also opened in 1882, joined the existing grocery and provisions department.18 Ben Jones, a former CWS buyer who had been sent from the Manchester headquarters to take charge at the Minories warehouse in 1874, was retained as the manager of the London Branch in Whitechapel.19

By late 1882, the CWS had acquired the Brunswick Arms in Rupert Street and sought to let it as a German Beerhouse.20 The following year, negotiations were underway to rent a warehouse adjoining on the north side of the CWS’s existing premises in Rupert Street from B. H. Heather and by mid-December Goodey had made ninety-one attendances while superintending the alterations at the existing and new warehouses.21 Within a few years these premises proved too small for the expanding business and so the ‘dilapidated old houses, whose leases were expiring’ which, together with the Brunswick Arms, occupied the remainder of the site, were cleared to make way for a more substantial warehouse and London Branch headquarters.22 Such incremental additions of large and small plots were characteristic of CWS property acquisition in and around Leman Street in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as land was purchased with a view to immediate or future expansion. Surplus capital was invested in land adjoining CWS premises, and from 1884 to the late 1930s warehouse extensions were ‘almost continually in progress’ in London and elsewhere.23

In March 1885 Goodey was asked to prepare detailed plans and specifications for the new buildings to be erected ‘on our land’ in Leman Street.24 The plans were ready by May, at which time the Leman Street site, which presumably also included the land fronting Hooper Square and Rupert Street, was ‘being cleared for the erection of suitable additional warehouses’.25 Goodey (1834–1910) was born in Halstead, Essex, and was first secretary and later president of the Colchester Co-operative Society, and secretary of the Colchester Mutual Permanent Building Society. Elected to the CWS branch committee in 1878, he resigned from the position during 1885–1889 in order to take up his appointment as architect for the new London Branch.26

A new storey to the original warehouse at Hooper Square was authorised in May 1885 but it is not clear if this was executed before or after a fire that broke out on the night of 30 December 1885.27 This gutted the tea warehouse and destroyed its roof; the smaller warehouse, in use as stores and offices, survived with damage to stock by heat, smoke and water.28 Overall, the damage to buildings and stock amounted to £35,000, of which about £18,000 was the value of the tea stored on site.29 Its neighbour to the north, Tudor, Nash & Co.’s white lead factory, and the tenements opposite were evacuated but escaped the blaze.30 The business of the tea warehouse was transferred immediately to premises leased temporarily at 116 Leman Street, on the other side of the road, and by May 1886 the warehouses on Hooper Square and Rupert Street were being rebuilt.31 Board meetings were shifted to the new Toynbee Hall, with whom the CWS maintained a long association, until the works were completed in 1887.32

  1. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), CLC/B/192/F/001/MS11936/574/1363270, 7 September 1841. 

  2. German Hospital Dalston, 1846, p. 82. 

  3. Perry’s Bankrupt Gazette, 7 April 1855, p.273; East London Observer, 18 June 1859, p.2; Minutes of Proceedings of the Metropolitan Board of Works, 17 October 1862, p. 774. 

  4. The Money Market Review, 13 December 1862, p. 517. 

  5. Royal Commission on Railways, Appendices to evidence taken before the commissioners, Vol. 1, London HMSO, 1865, p. 250; London PO Directory, 1868. 

  6. Plan of part of the Leman Estate, the property of the late Wm. Strode, 1814, LMA, SC/GL/PR/S3/WHI/p7491610. 

  7. Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives (THLHLA), P/GLM/1/5/1. 

  8. National Co-operative Archive (NCA), CWS Minutes, 29 June, 31 July, and 1 November 1878. 

  9. Ethel M. Hogg, Quintin Hogg: A Biography, second edn, 1904. 

  10. Central Co-operative Agency, Catalogue of teas, coffees, colonial & Italian produce, and wines, &c., [1852], pp. 101–8. 

  11. ‘Sales by Auction’, The Times, 14 February 1879, p. 16. 

  12. Story of the C.W.S., 1913, pp. 90–1. 

  13. Morning Post, 1 January 1886, p.5. 

  14. Lynn Pearson, Architecture of the Co-operative Movement, draft Chapter 2, p. 4. 

  15. NCA, CWS minutes, 15 September 1882. 

  16. Opening of the New Premises and Cocoa Works, 1887, pp. 9, 26: NCA, CWS Minutes, 2 December 1882, 7 September and 14 December 1883. 

  17. Opening of the New Premises and Cocoa Works, 1887, p. 9: ‘Opening of New Co-operative premises in Whitechapel’, East London Advertiser, 5 November 1887, p. 7. 

  18. NCA, CWS Minutes, 2 December 1882, p.104; CWS,21st Anniversary of the Opening of the London Branch Programme, 1895, pp. 13–14. 

  19. Story of the C.W.S., 1913, p. 88. 

  20. NCA, CWS Minutes, 15 September 1882 and 15 December 1882. 

  21. NCA, CWS Minutes, 14 December 1883. 

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

  23. Percy Redfern, The New History of the C.W.S., 1938, p. 50. 

  24. NCA, CWS Minutes, 20 March 1885. 

  25. NCA, CWS Minutes, 15 May 1885. 

  26. Story of the C.W.S., pp. 379–80. 

  27. NCA, CWS Minutes, 15 May 1885. 

  28. Morning Post, 31 December 1885, p. 5 and 1 January 1886, p. 5; NCA, CWS Minutes, 5 March 1886. 

  29. Opening of the New Premises and Cocoa Works, 1887, p.28. 

  30. Morning Post, 31 December 1885, p.5. 

  31. NCA, CWS Minutes, 28 May 1886. 

  32. See NCA, CWS Minutes, 5 March 1886–21 January 1887 and 28 January 1887–18 November 1887. 

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