As I propelled my unco-operative wheelie suitcase from Monument Underground Station, down Eastcheap to the Premier Inn, I noticed a peculiar Gothic Revival building on the opposite side of the road.
Indeed, I couldn’t help noticing it. It shouted at me.
I’m indebted to two well-researched blog articles by Katie Wignall [About Look Up London Tours – London History Blogger & Blue Badge Guide] and Metro Girl [33-35 Eastcheap | This former Victorian vinegar warehouse is far from sour | Memoirs Of A Metro Girl] that showed me the depth of interest of this remarkable façade.
33-35 Eastcheap was designed by a rogue Victorian architect, Robert Lewis Roumieu (1814-1877) and built in 1868 for the Worcester-based vinegar manufacturers Hill & Evans.
Alongside the mostly serious Gothic Revival architects of the nineteenth century from A W N Pugin and George Gilbert Scott to George Frederick Bodley, the occasional “rogues”, such as Samuel Sanders Teulon and R L Roumieu, are more fun.
Architectural writers’ comments about 33-35 Eastcheap range from “remarkable and dramatic” (the English Heritage Grade II* list-description), to Nikolaus Pevsner’s “one of the maddest displays in London of gabled Gothic”, “the City’s masterpiece of polychromatic Gothic self-advertisement” (Gavin Stamp and Colin Amery) and “the scream that you wake on at the end of a nightmare” (Ian Nairn).
The riot of arcades, canopies and dormer windows is further enlivened by carved heads and animals, including the winged lion of St Mark and a boar’s head.
The boar’s head is significant, because it’s a reminder that this is the site of the medieval Boar’s Head Tavern, which William Shakespeare frequented and immortalised as the setting for the scenes between Prince Hal and Sir John Falstaff in King Henry IV, Part 1.
This connection links with two of the carved heads which represent King Henry IV and his son, King Henry V.
The inn that Shakespeare knew perished in the Great Fire of 1666, and its much-altered replacement was demolished in 1831 to make way for a widened approach to John Rennie’s new London Bridge.
Roumieu’s jazzy façade captures this history in the details of this fortissimo office and warehouse that most of us would miss.