Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Strand, London

Tea up the Strand

I’d worked in the Covent Garden area of London for years before I noticed this doorway on the Strand. It’s a bit of architecture – small in scale but grand in conception – that celebrates one of the most famous brands of the quintessentially English drink. Twining’s tea has a long history. The company was founded by Thomas Twining, who was born in Gloucestershire and came to London make his fortune when his family’s business – they were weavers – took a downturn. In London he worked for an East India merchant who bought and sold tea and made enough money to set up in business in his own right, buying Tom’s Coffee House in the Strand in 1706. Tom’s became a coffee house with a difference – tea, a beverage that had been made fashionable by Queen Catherine of Braganza, was sold there and although it was costly it proved popular.

In the 18th century, coffee houses usually served only men. But women liked tea too, and many upper-class ladies wanted to serve it at home. So they’d turn up in the Strand in their carriages and send a footman in to buy tea leaves. Word soon got round that you could buy tea here and Twining’s were made: they expanded the business, acquired a royal warrant, fulfilled orders using horse-drawn vans, and, by the end of the 19th century, were using the tea clippers – famously fast sailing vessels – to import tea from China.

Throughout their history, Twining’s stayed faithful to their original premises in the Strand. The company still occupies the building and you can still buy tea there. The street frontage is not large, but the entrance is magnificently decorated. It is topped by an array of ledges and panels supported by a pair of columns topped by acanthus capitals. This arrangement stretches classical architecture to its limits. The ledges provide a place for a pair of sculptures of Chinese gentleman, to remind customers of one source of the precious leaves. A royal coat of arms and a gilded Coade-stone* lion complete the picture. This delightful if eccentric collection of sculpture and ornament was reconstructed in the 1830s – the columns and capitals were apparently moved here from another building. The result, architecturally, is a memorable mixture of classicism and Chinoiserie, with a twist on the classical orders provided by the unusual acanthus capitals. The lion belongs to neither tradition but is very much part of Twining’s history: Thomas Twining was already using a lion as his shop sign in 1717. The brand’s heritage shines on. 

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* For some background on the use of this artificial stone, see my post on a Coade stone royal arms in Bath

1 comment:

bazza said...

I've walked past there many a time, looked at it but not seen it! It's one of my favourite area of London. Not far from there, in Adam Street, is the replica of 10 Downing Street.
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