History Behind The Eastcheap Camels on Peek House
Have you ever noticed the Eastcheap camels on Peek House?
Looking up along Eastcheap provides plenty of interesting things to spot. From the juxtaposition of old (St Margaret Patterns) and the new Walkie Talkie,
to one of London’s most intriguing (and tiny!) sculptures
But the camels deserve some attention too, as their story is an interesting one.
History of the Peek Brothers
Around 1810 William Peek launched W Peek and Company, tea merchants and then his brother; Richard joined the company ten years later and the name became Peek Brothers.
Although they were mainly involved in the tea trade, the also imported coffee and spices along with cocoa and chocolate.
Things get a little complicated in the 1830s because William moves to Liverpool and launches a new business with a Mr Winch. Later William’s son (Francis) and Winch’s nephew establish Francis Peek, Winch and Company which in the 1860s moves back down to London to directly compete with the original Peek Brothers business.
It seems that a bit of healthy competition actually worked in their favour because both companies thrived and then merged in 1895.
The Peek Brothers headquarters was Peek House, 20 Eastcheap, built in the early 1880s. The location was apt, the street name a reference for the City’s Eastern shopping hub; ’cheap’ being the Old English word for market.
Although the company stopped trading after the 1970s and was dissolved in 2004, the frieze by William Theed the Younger on Eastcheap is a reminder of their thriving business.
The train of three camels was a trademark of the company’s ‘camel’ brand of tea and is supposed a reference to the three main products they sold; tea, coffee and spices as well as the three Peek brothers; William, Richard and James.
William, as mentioned above, retired to Liverpool but it’s interesting to trace the other brothers and their impact on London.
Richard would go on to became a Sheriff in the City of London in 1832 and while in office he funded charity work inside Newgate Prison.
He was also on the organising committee for the 1840 World’s Anti-Slavery Convention, appearing in the painting which is held in the National Portrait Gallery.
As for James Peek, he married Elizabeth Masters and the couple had 8 children. In the 1850s, with two of his sons not keen on entering the family tea business, James encouraged them start a complementary trade. And what could be the best possible partner to with tea?
Biscuits of course!
In the end it wasn’t James’ sons who started the bisucit business, but rather his niece; Hannah Peek who had recently married George Hender Frean a ship’s biscuit maker in Devon. Peek, Frean & Co registered their business in 1857 in Bermondsey, the beginnings of the area becoming known as Biscuit Town and we have them to thank for the Bourbon!
As part of Open House London 2021 I visited the former factory site. Read about the visit (and more highlights like a tour of the Old Bailey here)
More Camels in the City
I’ve previous written about the many animals you can find in the City here. But if you’re specifically looking for camels there are a few close by to look out for!
Where Adam’s Court meet Threadneedle Street you can find these carved spandrels, a reminder that the Oriental Bank Corporation was based here between 1845-1892.
Almost opposite is the Merchant Taylor’s Hall, an institution that’s been based here since the mid 1300s. One of the City’s Great Twelve Livery Companies, the Merchant Taylors were originally tailors but repositioned themselves as merchants trading in fabric. Their coat of arms contains two camel supporters, a nod to trade with the East but also perhaps a reference to John the Baptist and his camel skin coat, original yet company was known as the Fraternity of St John the Baptist of Tailors and Linen Armourers.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post, it just goes to show that from a little detail – spotted when looking up – you can really go down a rabbit hole of London’s history!
If you’re interest in the history of Biscuit Town it’s something we talk about on the Bermondsey: Off the Beaten Track walk.
And if you want to know more about the symbols and quirky history in the City of London you can join the weekend walk here.
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