London Unveiled

great places to visit off the beaten path.

Devonshire Square & The East India Company Warehouses

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The covered Western Courtyard of the old East India Company Warehouses

At its height, the East India Company was one of the largest and most successful companies in the world.  With its own private army it controlled much of India and brought back to England a wide variety of goods and produce.  These items needed to be stored somewhere, and the East India Company amassed substantial property holdings in London.  Among these holdings were warehouses – several of which have been restored and repurposed as office, retail and residential spaces known as  Devonshire Square.  Located in the area between Leadenhall and Spitalfields, Devonshire Square with its 12 Grade II listed buildings is worth a visit for both its historical significance but also for its calm courtyard, food choices and shopping.

Devonshire Square Historic Image

East India Company warehouses when owned the the Port Authority

History:   In the 1700’s this area around New Street (across the street from Liverpool Street Stn) was covered with tenements, craft workshops and small industries.  In 1768 The East India Company bought this land and built its first warehouse to store raw silk, piece goods and textiles from Bengal.  This building was named Old Bengal Warehouse. The East India Company continued buying land in this area and building warehouses until 1820.  By now these warehouses covered the area occupied by Devonshire Square Estate today.

When the East India Company’s monopoly on trade with China ended in the 1830’s, the warehouses were sold to the St Katharine Dock Company.  In 1909 they were sold to the Port of London Authority (PLA) which was at that time the largest owner of warehouses in the world.  These warehouses around New Street and Cutler Street were used by the PLA to store their most valuable items – including ostrich feathers, china ware, oriental carpets, cigars, silks, spices, perfumes and tea.  As the tea business was transferred to the docks in the 1950s these warehouses started storing bonded alcohol, such as wine & sherry.

Warehouses away from the ports lost their significance by the 1970s and the complex was sold to Standard Life Assurance Company.   Redevelopment retained the facades of the warehouses, though the interiors were upgraded. Original features were retained including stone stairs, iron columns and even the original East India Company clock case.

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A peaceful fountain in the Western Courtyard

Today:  In 2006 the property was sold again and a more cohesive complex of buildings, offering offices, housing, shopping and dining emerged.  A new high level roof was installed over the Western Courtyard creating a peaceful usable space year-round.  An archway from the Western Courtyard allows you to view the other main portion of the development around the Central Courtyard.  New landscaping and lighting have improved the overall feel of the area.  New Street was pedestrianised and leads you through an archway into the campus environment.

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The Magpie Pub on New Street

A pub of note in New Street is the Magpie which has its own unique history – perhaps the subject for another post – but in brief it used to be an ambulance station.  In fact at the beginning of the 20th Century it housed the only ambulance that served the whole City of London at nights and on weekends.  It was also founded by a family that were gin makers on Three Mills Island – so worth a visit.

These original East India warehouses along New Street are now called the Bengal Wing and the Tapestry Building.  They have shops and dining with housing above.  Each building in the complex has a theme that links it to the East India Company’s past.  So if you walk into the lobby of any of the buildings visual cues will connect you with silks, spices, teas and feathers.

Devonshire Square Western Courtyard

For a full list of all the dining, shopping and drinking spots, visit their website at: http://www.devonshiresq.co.uk/

Located at:  Devonshire Square (best entered by walking down New Street from Bishopsgate), London EC2M 4WQ

Closest Tube:  Liverpool Street Stn.

12 comments on “Devonshire Square & The East India Company Warehouses

  1. LonSton
    October 17, 2013
  2. Chris
    October 26, 2013

    My first job on leaving school in 1972 was at no. 13, Devonshire Square. I was working for a Naval charity, Greenwich Hospital, who had offices there, although the majority of the building was occupied by the Coopers Company. This was somewhat fitting as I had spent the previous six years attending the Coopers Company school (although it was pure coincidence that I was sent to work there!).

    My husband and I met at 13 Devonshire Square in 1974, and we always make the point of taking a little nostalgia trip there whenever we’re in London. The changes to the Square are vast since the days that we were working there, although it’s always gratifying to see that no. 13 is still standing and looking good!

    • LondonUnveiled.com
      October 26, 2013

      Chris, thanks for your comment. Its always great to get a personal story that links to these places. I appreciate you reading the blog, Ian.

      • William Highley
        April 23, 2015

        I have just come across your website.

        My 4xGreat Grandfather Charles William Steer was living at 10 Devonshire Sq. in the early 1800s. He died in 1810 and the house was sold in 1811. He was a silk Merchant . I went to Devonshire Sq. a few years ago to see where he lived but couldn’t see no 10. I wonder if it had been knocked down and warehouses built on the site of the house? If anybody knows I would be grateful to hear from them. Kind Regards, William Highley

      • Margaret Makepeace
        April 27, 2015

        The India Office Records at the British Library has some deeds and other records for Devonshire Square listed in the online catalogue http://searcharchives.bl.uk.

  3. Margaret Makepeace
    November 5, 2013

    You can read about the East India Company labourers who worked in these warehouses here: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/untoldlives/2011/10/east-india-company-london-workers.html

    • LondonUnveiled.com
      November 5, 2013

      Thank you for your comment and for reading my blog. I appreciate it, Ian.

  4. And so says Sierra
    November 12, 2013

    I’ve been to Devonshire Square so many times after work for a drink and had absolutely no idea of its rich history! Funny to think that The Magpie used to be an important ambulance station, now it’s full of pervy brokers on a Friday afternoon! The churches in the City are also fascinating, St Sepulchre-without-Newgate is one of my favourites.

    • LondonUnveiled.com
      November 12, 2013

      I always think a little bit of history makes the places around us more interesting. Thank you for commenting and reading my blog. ATB, Ian

  5. Pingback: The East India Company ~ new beginnings for this historically important company. | London Unveiled

  6. David Dyson
    December 31, 2015

    Interesting blog. My father was for many years the cellar manager for the very traditional wine firm of Cockburns of Leith, whose cellars were in the old PLA warehouse. I used to work there in school/college holidays in the early 1960s, and well remember the Dickensian atmosphere, which was totally unchanged from Victorian times, dirty, damp, with filthy brickwork and cobbled yards – and absolutely wonderful! We bottled wines there, which came in hogsheads, sherry butts and port pipes, in the days before most wine was chateau-bottled. Naturally the wine had to be tasted, to make sure it was okay…. The firm had a shop in Cutler Street with wood-panelled tasting and boardrooms, (most definitely not a wine bar).

    Other firms, above the cellars, were occupied by oriental carpet merchants, and there was a highly secure warehouse for opium and similar goods for the pharmaceutical industry, whose deliveries were made with police escorts. In fact the whole place was highly restricted for access, and seemed a world away from the busy City streets.

    There was a story, probably apocryphal, that the warehouses were used for housing French prisoners of the Napoleonic war. Have you come across that?

    • LondonUnveiled.com
      January 1, 2016

      Thanks for your interesting comment. I’ve not heard about usage during the Napoleonic Wars so will leave that to any other readers to comment on.

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This entry was posted on October 17, 2013 by in City of London, Historic Buildings, Pubs of interest, Restaurants, Shopping and tagged , , , .
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