I love to discover buildings in London where the exteriors are decorated with illustrations of the work that goes on inside. They often show workers doing things related to the site.
The Hop Exchange in Southwark is a good example –
Opened in 1867 and designed by R.H. Moore it served as the centre for hop trading for the brewing industry.
The purpose of the Hop Exchange was to provide a single market centre for dealers in hops. There were many similar outcry floor exchanges across London, such as the Coal, Metal and Stock exchanges, but wartime bombing, fires, redevelopment and modernisation have left the Hop Exchange the only one still standing. However, a fire in 1920 led to the top two storeys being removed, and the Hop Exchange was then converted into offices.
From the very beginning Southwark has been an industrial area. The Romans based their major manufacturing here. Archaeological work at Tabard Street in 2004 discovered a plaque with the earliest reference to ‘London’ from the Roman period on it. After the Romans left Britain in the late 400s the area was abandoned for 400 years, being resettled in 886 during the period of King Alfred the Great.
Southwark was a logical place to house the Hop Exchange – the London area closest to Kent where hops are traditionally grown. The main ingredient for flavouring beer, hops were dried in oast houses in Kent and then transported to London by river or rail.
The pediment on the Hop Exchange shows the story –
The traditional oast houses are shown on the new Adelphi Building on John Adam Street off the Strand.
A nearby building on Borough High Street was built to house offices of W.H. and J. LeMay, Hop Factors.
The terracotta relief shows a man and woman harvesting hops. They represent a tradition in 19th and early 20th century England when whole families, including small children, from east and south-east London would immigrate to Kent to work in the annual hops harvest. They would travel on Hop Pickers Specials, trains put on to take pickers at the beginning of the season; they would live in temporary hoppers’ huts while working. I have actually talked with people who remember going down to Kent for the hops harvest.
The final chapters of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and a large part of George Orwell’s A Clergyman’s Daughter contain vivid descriptions of London families participating in this annual hops harvest.
Another building that has decoration that shows the work being done inside – the Doulton building on Black Prince Road in Lambeth, on the south side of the Thames, not far from the Houses of Parliament. The complex of buildings was built in 1878 for Doulton potteries which originally produced bathroom wares for the rapidly expanding population of London. They soon expanded into art pottery which decorated the fireplaces and the homes of the new middle class. An enormous building by R. Stark Wilkinson was built in 1878 to be headquarters, studios, factory and advertisement for the products.
At Liberty of London, above the entrance on Great Marlborough Street, a lovely little carved wooden relief shows craftsmen at work. In the 1890s the store worked closely with Arts and Crafts designers and producers of fabric, clothing, glass, furniture and decorative items in the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles – and here they are.
This building off Bishopsgate has a charming set of ceramic plaques that show it was built as a bakery.
The shop of Thomas Goode & Co. on South Audley Street was built in 1845 to sell the best porcelain and china wares, and here are the potters at work:
The London College of Fashion on Oxford Street at John Prince’s Street has a large mural with scissors cutting fabric.
A building at 107 Charing Cross Road originally housed classes and offices of the St. Martin’s School of Art and the College of Distributive Trades. Panels on the façade showed various skills that were taught within –
In London you can also find statues of people at work –
All photos taken by Cathey Leitch @Cathey Leitch, 2015