Gothic Fright on Eastcheap

33-35 Eastcheap is very striking. It is hard to ignore as you walk by, demanding attention in a way few buildings in the vicinity do. Its origins lie the production of vinegar. In 1868 the Worcester firm of Hill & Evans decided on a new London depot, to function as a warehouse and office. The company was at the time the largest producer of vinegar in the world, though it had diversified into producing fruit-based wines as well as the trading of wines of the more conventional grape variety, as well as port and sherry. Hill & Evans employed the architect RL Roumieu, who was also responsible along with his then partner Alexander Dick Gough for the design of Milner Square in Islington, and the building which is now the Almeida Theatre.

33 – 35 Eastcheap. Photo by Ian McDiarmid

33-35 Eastcheap is done in a Gothic style with high gables, pointed arches, and is crowded with decorative details. These include stone panels running between the ground-floor arches, foliage running between the first and second floors and a band of tiles in dark red and blue under the central window. But it is not just that there is plenty to look at. The colours and proportions of the building create an unsettling effect. The red and blue bricks, alongside the cream stone of the windows stand out in odd contrast to one another. The facade is full of arches. It has main gables over the two sides of the building, and these fronts are then filled with further triangular arches. The centre is then composed of two main arches, with a strange column running from the second-floor arch up through the third floor to the roof where there is a small set of windows with their own blue/grey roof crowned with elaborate iron-work.

It is all rather hard to take in. However, it is the strange symmetry of the building that really goes to work on the mind of the passer-by. The facade looks as though it has been squashed in from the sides with its tall narrow windows set in their very deep recesses. The building has divided critics with it being described as Roumieu’s masterpiece, but with also much attention being paid to its unhinged character. Although sinister, everyone seems to like it, grateful for a building of real character in a financial centre full of much that is forgettable.

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