HBC in London
From 1668 – even before the granting of the Company’s Royal Charter – until 1970, when HBC became a Canadian corporation, London was the centre of the HBC’s business. Administrative offices, warehouses and auction rooms were located there. So too were suppliers, bankers, customers and shareholders. But visitors to the modern metropolis have a bit of a challenge ahead of them in order to find traces of the Company’s long presence there.
Hudson's Bay House - Fenchurch Street, a watercolour by Thomas Colman Dibdin.
The original shareholders typically met at one of Prince Rupert's various residences at one of London’s many coffeehouses, such as Garraway’s, to conduct business. But it soon became clear that official premises were needed. HBC's London offices were housed in what was usually referred to as Hudson Bay House. Offices with this name are first mentioned in the Company minutes of 1682 and were, at that time, the leased premises of the Scriveners’ Hall at the corner of Noble Street and Oat Lane. Over the next several hundred years these offices occupied various locations including nos. 3 and 4 Fenchurch St. and no. 1 Lime Street.
Beaver shaped weathervane atop Hudson Bay House, Bishopsgate, London, England.
The last incarnation of Hudson Bay House, at 60-62-64 Bishopsgate, was designed by Mewes and Davis and built in 1926. Ornamented with carvings “of North American design”, and sporting a weather vane in the shape of a gold beaver on top of its cupola, this building survives today. Completely gutted and rebuilt behind its heritage facade, modern Hasilwood House provides premium office space in the heart of the city.
In 1925, to mark the 255th anniversary of the Company, HBC opened Beaver House in Great Trinity Lane on Garlick Hill. Beaver House originally combined administrative offices along with the fur auction rooms and warehouse. In 1940 Head Office was relocated to Beaver House from Hudson Bay House. Hudson Bay House itself was sold about 1948. Beaver House remained the official headquarters of the HBC until the relocation to Canada in 1970. Beaver House was torn down and the site redeveloped in the mid 1980s by Hudson Bay Company's real estate subsidiary, Markborough Properties.
Portion of the Beaver House façade preserved in the atrium of The Royal Bank of Canada Centre, London, England.
Now known as The Royal Bank of Canada Centre, the new complex was completed in 1987 and consists of two connected office buildings. A special feature is the atrium, which incorporates planted areas and lets light into the inward-facing office space. The atrium also houses the original facade of Beaver House, which formerly occupied the site. The public does not have access to the atrium, but interested visitors should contact the main security desk and ask for permission to enter and view both the façade and commemorative plaque, installed in 1987.
At the foot of Garlick Hill, at the corner of Skinner’s Lane and diagonally across from the Royal Bank Centre, sits St. James Garlickhythe, the parish church.When Beaver House was demolished, the Company donated two memorial tablets which honour employees who lost their lives in both world wars. The porch of St. James features a framed memorial recording the donation. The tablets themselves have been installed in the church tower. Visitors can make a request to the Church Warden to arrange for a viewing.
Nearby is Skinners’ Hall, home of the Worshipful Company of Skinners one of the most ancient of the City Guilds. In times gone by it governed the use, production and sale of furs used for trimming garments for people of exalted rank. It also controlled the conditions of apprenticeship in the craft. Today it is primarily a charitable organization.
All of these places are very near to one another in the eastern part of what is referred to as "The City". One can spend an interesting day wandering its streets and alleyways. Why not visit the Bank of England – which has a wonderful small museum – and the Royal Exchange former home of the stock exchange – to get a feel for commercial life in the 18th and 19th centuries? Although HBC has not had an official presence in England since 1970, the traces of its history are there for those who care to look. A good London map, a comfortable pair of shoes and some imagination are all you’ll need.