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  • Writer's pictureLondon On The Ground

The Victorian Splendour of the Hop Exchange in Southwark

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

The Victorian building is a striking link to Southwark's brewing and trading past.

The Hop Exchange in Southwark

Built in 1867 to the design of architect RH Moore was a speculative project, it was intended to be an exchange for hop merchants and hop factors to trade with each other.

 

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For centuries Southwark had been an important centre for the buying and selling of hops, grown in Kent. A crucial ingredient in the brewing of beer, hops act as a preservative and give a bitter taste to balance the malt.


Hops were brought to Southwark from Kent via what is now the A2, the Old Kent Road, Great Dover Street and Borough High Street, or by boat up the Thames. After nearby London Bridge became London's first railway station in 1836, hops also arrived in Southwark by rail.


In addition to a number of beweries, the area was home to many hop factors (traders) and merchants a long time before the Hop Exchange was built.


The grand new facility offered a large galleried atrium as an open outcry trading floor and 100 offices on the floors around it.

The Hop Exchange 1867 (left) and 1874 (right). Source: Hop Exchange Heritage Statement by Edwards Hart for Peer Group May 2021

However, the local hop traders were reluctant to relocate.

Former premises of WH & H LeMay, Hop Factors, at 67 Borough High Street

Most of the Hop Exchange's offices were initially empty and then let to other businesses. Within a few years of opening, the building was sold. There were more than 50 hop-related traders in 1878, but by 1920 there were only five.


For a long time in the 20th century the exchange was occupied by Lyons & Co and known as Central Buildings.


A fire in 1920 destroyed the top two floors and the original glass roof of the Hop Exchange. It also suffered bomb damage in World War II, but the building still has a significant amount of its original structure and details and was Grade II listed in 1970.


In 1983 it was acquired by property development company Peer Group, who restored it and turned it into a business centre renting office space to a variety of organisations.


The Hop Exchange entrance

The Southwark Street entrance to what was originally called the Hop and Malt Exchange contains elaborate wrought-iron portraying hop plants and the the initials H&ME.

Decorative wrought-iron at the entrance

The pediment over the entrance depicts hop pickers and other elements of hop production and brewing. An eagle stands proudly above it.

The pediment over the entrance

The interior balconies are decorated with more wrought-iron hop plants, here painted green.


They also display multiple examples of a red shield with a white horse depicted rearing (the heraldic term is forcene). This comes from the coat of arms of Kent, the county of hop growing (although Southwark was historically part of Surrey).

Wrought-iron hops and the horse of Kent

In the corners of the atrium, the balconies contain a monogram, now painted gold, with

the initials H&ME (Hop and Malt Exchange) .

H&ME monogram on the balconies

On display is a replica of the racing car driven by Graham Hill when he won the 1966 Indianapolis 500.

Replica of Graham Hill's 1966 Indy 500 car

The floor is decorated with black and red tiles in a geometric design.

The tiled floor of the Hop Exchange

Today there are no more hop traders or beweries in Southwark (but, thankfully, there are plenty of good pubs). However, the Hop Exchange is still there as a connection with an important theme of the area's past.


The Hop Exchange remains a splendid example of neo-classical Victorian architecture. If you are in the area, you can admire the long stuccoed facade on Southwark Street and look through the front door into the hall.

The long stuccoed facade of the Hop Exchange

If you ask nicely, the charming and knowledgeable receptionist might even let you in to marvel at the magnificent interior.

 

London On The Ground tours available for booking

For the schedule of forthcoming walks and events, please click here.

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