Urban landscape — 02 June 2017
Site Unseen: WH & H LeMay

Every month CabbieBlog hopes to show you a little gem of a building that you might have passed without noticing, in the past, they have ranged from a modernist car park; a penguin pool; to a Hanoverian gatehouse.

The old offices of W. H. & H. LeMay at 63 Borough High Street are not so much a gem of a building, but just an ornate (if deceptive) frontage of a bygone age on a very prosaic building.

The market for hop trading was originally centred around Little East Cheap in the City, gradually the traders moved to the Borough as queues to cross London Bridge with their waggons of hops became prohibitively tedious.

In 1868 a hop exchange was built along the newly constructed Southwark Street, laid out by Sir Joseph Bazalgette and which was the first street in London with water and gas pipes laid down the middle of the road.

It was reasoned traders could lay out their crop for inspection alongside other dealers. The scheme was not a success. Mr LeMay, giving evidence before a Select Committee told of the objection the brewers had of buying in an open market, preferring to purchase through merchants in private.

The report of the Select Committee in 1890 concluded:

The Hop Exchange was started with the idea of having an open market for hops, that the brewers should come and buy off merchants in the open market. The reason why it failed was because the brewers objected to buying off the merchants in the open market: they preferred to buy through the ordinary channels through the merchant. All the stands were let: the small merchants took their samples and exhibited them but no customers came to buy them. The market lasted for something like 18 months . . . the thing simply collapsed.

Individual traders set up shop within the locality boycotting the exchange of which the LeMay’s is still in evidence.

LeMay

An extra incentive for trading within the Southwark region was that before the STD codes arrived their telephone numbers were prefixed with HOP (0207 467). But in World War II 25 out of the 35 warehouses were destroyed by German bombing. The surviving businesses moved to Paddock Wood in Kent which is now the centre for England’s hop trade.

In conclusion, Messrs LeMay’s premises are not constructed, as one may reason, in red sandstone. The highly decorated Grade II listed frontage is just coloured stucco.

An excellent article of the exchange can be found at London Details.

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