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At Time For Tea

April 6, 2015
by the gentle author

Johnny Vercoutre

I had always assumed the words ‘Time for Tea’ emblazoned upon the fascia of a narrow building in Shoreditch High St indicated that it was an occasional tea shop. But when I enquired the meaning of this sign from Johnny Vercoutre, who has lived there for the past twenty years and who painted the text in question, he gave an unexpected reply. “It’s my philosophy of life,” he declared with a swagger and a smile, brushing his languid moustache with a forefinger as a mischievously pleasurable thought popped into his mind, “I’d like to drive a long truck with a line of dancing girls into the middle of the street and stop all traffic, and serve tea to everybody.”

Johnny came to the East End as child to buy a tortoise at the erstwhile animal market in Club Row. He likes to brag of his early prowess at splayed brickwork, which was a matter of pride to his father who was a builder in Kilburn and proved to be an invaluable asset in the restoration of his eighteenth century house. Originally constructed as the London Savings Bank, it served as the premises of Andrews the Clockmakers who supplied the timepiece to St Leonard’s Shoreditch next door, before becoming a pawnbroker and finally Clarkes the Stationers, when Johnny first visited to purchase envelopes.

The upper floors had been unoccupied since the forties when Johnny moved in twenty years ago. He has preserved the eighteenth century fabric and reinstated lost panelling, using vintage doors and windows in the restoration, yet pursuing a pre-war style of interior design with an Eau-de- Nil and black colour scheme that would make the last residents feel at home if they were ever to return, transported magically through time.

At street level, one door opens into an ancient flagged alley that once led through from Shoreditch High St to the Old Nichol, the notorious slum which was replaced by the Boundary Estate at the end of the nineteenth century. A side door here retains its metal grille from when the building was a pawn shop and a narrow staircase winds up through three storeys. A series of curious intermediary spaces are lit by skylights with stained glass and, at the first floor, the kitchen leads onto an attractive yard enclosed by age-old railings and overlooked by iron fire escapes. In the living room at the front, a box protrudes from the wall containing the mechanics of the clock on the exterior, installed by Andrews the Clockmakers.

Johnny boasts the last of the Nicholls & Clarke Eau-de-Nil ceramic suites in Shoreditch, imparting an underwater atmosphere to his third floor bathroom. Up above, the attic resembles the weavers’ lofts of Spitalfields with long windows granting views towards the City on one side and over the rooftops of Shoreditch on the other. Names painstakingly carved upon the beams and an elaborate anchor motif marked out in nails upon the a floorboard bear witness to those who passed through here in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

Johnny’ s labour over past decades has brought this unique building back to life and every inch speaks of the history of old Shoreditch. Yet such are the changes in the neighbourhood in recent years – now that Shoreditch has grown rich – he can no longer afford the upkeep and has to sell. Developers are circling and, since the building is not listed, they would be free to gut it to maximize their return on the property and destroy its historic fabric. But perhaps there is someone out there who would like to buy it and cherish it for what it is? If so, Johnny Vercoutre would like to hear from you

I was concerned how Johnny will occupy himself in future without his house to renovate. “I have a motor yacht that once belonged to Donald Campbell,” he confessed to me. In response to my exclamation of wonder at this information, he revealed it was sunk. “Oh dear,” I exclaimed. “I still have the pieces,” he reassured me, stroking his moustache thoughtfully, “I can put them back together again.”

One of Johnny’s collection of veteran vehicles

The first floor living room

The attic bedroom

The hidden eighteenth century alley with its original flags

A grille from the building’s days as a pawnbroker

An eighteenth century house in Shoreditch High St

You might also like to take a look at

An Old House in Whitechapel

At Malplaquet House

At The George Tavern

13 Responses leave one →
  1. April 6, 2015

    Would quite be the right city residence for me. It has style — just as Johnny Vercoutre has!

    Love & Peace

  2. Ian permalink
    April 6, 2015

    Oh to win the lottery and to be able to save all the places you highlight. It’s unbearable to think of these places, each a work of art and the product of love and dedication, being lost.

  3. Helein permalink
    April 6, 2015

    I too wish I would win the lottery and save this property and many others from greedy developers.

  4. jenn permalink
    April 6, 2015

    I always wondered what this place was! I have walked by it so often and it was never open or anything.

  5. April 6, 2015

    S’pose it’ll be around a millyun ? Sigh.

  6. Neville Turner permalink
    April 6, 2015

    An interesting story for me if it is the same building as I recall it as a savings bank in the 1950’s where my mother opened her one and only bank account,I remember when it closed and ceased as a bank going with her to close the account,the manager was friendly and very polite.Johnny Vercoutre has done this little gem of a building a credit in showing us inside,good luck to you and Time For Tea.

  7. April 7, 2015

    I can’t quite believe how enchanting this article is. I wish I were wealthy so I could assist the gent in staying there. Everything from the signage, furnishings and green tub are marvelous.

  8. Michelle permalink
    April 8, 2015

    This makes me so sad. It’s awful to think of developers destroying this amazing place that has been so obviously cherished by this truly individual gent.

  9. Johnny vercoutre permalink
    November 12, 2018

    Thank you for a wonderful article and for the touching comments and yes a lot of the original features have be thrown in a skip !!;(

  10. March 7, 2019

    So glad to find this article! My band shot a music video almost entirely in Time for Tea back in 2009. Johnny was a lovely host, and his house was amazing.

    Sadly, it looks like the building has now become a Lavenham retail shop. Rural gentleman clothing marketed to hipsters. Sigh.

  11. Andrew Atkinson permalink
    July 15, 2021

    I used to go to Brick Lane/Clubrow in the 1990’s and early 2000’s to look for old tools mainly, I’ve always been a bit too good at ‘wasting’ time. One time, I think it was after I had finished at the markets and was idling around pushing my bicycle away from the market and I saw this lovely old big, very rounded car, an Austin Somerset. After a while the friendly owner appeared and we had a chat that I still remember. I told him I liked his car as I thought it was like a big Austin A30 (my favorite car if I had ever learned to drive!)
    The car was parked outside his house which had “Time for tea” painted on it and he said something to the effect that he thought that in the ever moving modern world it was important that we should have” time for tea”. I used to look out for the Time for tea house and the big round car if I was in the area and i remembered until I moved back up North in 2005
    I hope the friendly man I met that day is still making time for tea, I am

  12. March 17, 2022

    I must admit : I don’t miss snoreditch at all as it’s become so cool and contrived ….

  13. November 29, 2022

    Thank you andrew it’s lovely to hear you memories and by the way it was a Austin Hereford .. I’d like to move to the north one day ? Such wonderful folk

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