A short history of the Shoreditch Tea Building in London

A short history of the Shoreditch Tea Building in London

The Tea Building in East London's Shoreditch is one of the locations pinpointed on our Hackney Type Map, authored by London-based type and technology designer Lilly Marques. Find it opposite Shoreditch High Street Overground Station, you can't miss it. If you're curious about its history, read on.


The iconic Tea Building in the heart of Shoreditch was designed by New Zealand-born architect Hal Williams and served as a tea packing plant in the 1930s. The Lipton family had established the site in the 1890s as their warehouse and distribution centre, yet Williams designed the building we see today. The Tea Building has lived many lives; in the 1950s, voids were cut into the floor plates to make space for smoking bacon. Then in the 1980s, it was used as a storage warehouse for Hayes department store, originally founded in 1920.

The 21st century saw a new era for the building begin. Architecture practice AHMM was enlisted to renovate the building into a mixed-use hub for offices, restaurants and a hotel. To preserve the history of the building, the architects were commissioned to redesign with a 'light touch', retaining as much original fabric and complementing the existing fabric with appropriate industrial and durable materials. A 'street' flows through the ground floor of the building with a cobbled floor. It opened in 2007 and various work across the vast building continues to this day as its role evolves with changing needs of the neighbourhood and requirements for better sustainability.

The style of the very striking rooftop sign is derived from French metal stencil lettering, similar to ones that were used to mark the wooden tea crates arriving here from overseas, when this was still a tea warehouse. Its prominence within the design district makes it a point of reference, not only by its name but by its sign, and makes it a modern representation of lettering as a historical guide. Adjacent lettering, like this, happily cohabitates with the building’s architecture for real public display. It invites attention by its size and the choice of stencil style – ‘do it yourself’ nature like its new inhabitants, creatives. The Tea Building is a must-see for any visit to Shoreditch.

Take a walking tour of locations on the Hackney Type Map with author with Lilly Marques here and find out more about another location on the map The Egg Stores here.


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Find it on our Hackney Type Map available to buy here 

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1 comment

I have found the information about the Tea Building very interesting, as my grandfather worked there as a meat packer, and in the 1950’s we used to go to a childens’ Christmas party there, and we remember walking through an area on the ground floor where meat carcasses were suspended from the ceiling. It’s lovely to see this beautiful building has been preserved.

Gill Byford

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