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Eastcheap, the road to the pyramids

I was standing on the corner of Eastcheap and Lovat Lane the other day, when I happened to see a Bedouin tribesman and his three camels heading in the direction of Dover, presumably enroute for Cairo.

Obviously I’m being economical with the truth, but I have seen stranger things in the area. Is a man wearing a six foot high donut costume handing out leaflets for a new take away any more of a surprise? Anyway back to the Bedouin and his camels. They can clearly be seen at this junction, and have been in place for nearly one hundred and forty years.

They stand on the corner of Peek House on Eastcheap and their inception dates back to when the entire south side of Eastcheap was demolished in 1882 to facilitate the excavation of the Metropolitan Line. A year later the firm of Peek Bros, Tea and Coffee Importers, opened their new office at No 20 complete with circular corner tower. To add a bit of excitement to what is quite an austere building they commissioned William Theed to carve an high relief or alto relievo depiction of their coffee being conveyed through the desert on the backs of three camels led by a Bedouin.

The company, started in 1810 were also listed as spice merchants, but as this invoice shows they traded in dried fruits as well.

Their founder, Richard Peak was a Devonian, who had come to London and made good. He certainly timed it right, setting up his own company just before the East India Company lost its monopoly on the importation of Tea.Peak became a Sheriff of the City of London and funded a missionary to visit inmates of Newgate Prison. He was also a committed Abolitionist and was on the founding committee of the 1840 World’s Anti-slavery convention in London and he was included in the painting of the convention that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. The company continued trading until circa 1970, under the name Peek, Winch and Tod Limited, although no longer involved in the tea trade, and described in trade directories as general provision merchants.

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