It’s time to re-name The Gherkin

One Of the most strik­ing build­ings in lon­don has a lot more in com­mon with the cigar in­dus­try than many peo­ple know, writes si­mon chase

Virtuozity - - The Humidor -

Per­haps the most strik­ing build­ing to dec­o­rate the sky­line of Lon­don’s main financial dis­trict, known as the City, is uni­ver­sally nick­named the gherkin. Whether its ar­chi­tect, nor­man Foster, its de­vel­oper, the swiss re in­sur­ance group, or some jour­nal­ist im­pressed by the nov­elty of its de­sign, came up with the so­bri­quet is un­known, at least to me.

Liv­ing as i do in a house­hold where Pol­ish in­flu­ence is strong, i can al­ways find a jar of gherkins in the fridge. When i pick one out to eat, it of­ten strikes me just how lit­tle it re­sem­bles Foster’s in­no­va­tive ed­i­fice. gherkins are green, knob­bly and, al­most with­out ex­cep­tion, bent. thank­fully the sleek build­ing now sit­u­ated at no. 30 st. mary axe bears none of these at­tributes. st. mary axe is one of hun­dreds of small streets in the City with names like Cheap­side, Poul­try and Pud­ding Lane that re­flect a his­tory dat­ing back more than a mil­len­nium—longer if you in­clude the ro­mans. surely from such a rich back­drop it would be pos­si­ble to find a more suit­able name for such a land­mark.

From my re­cent re­search into the 225year his­tory of hunters & Frankau, the Uk’s ex­clu­sive habanos dis­trib­u­tor, i think i can of­fer a sug­ges­tion that fills the bill.

my first dis­cov­ery was that st. mary axe loomed large in the story of the hunters side of hunters & Frankau. no. 55, st. mary axe was the ad­dress the com­pany oc­cu­pied for longer than any other in its ex­ten­sive his­tory. it re­mained there al­most con­tin­u­ously for the 74 years from 1867 to 1941. i say al­most con­tin­u­ously be­cause, in 1893, the build­ing, along with much of the street, was de­stroyed by fire. But within 12 months, a new, state-of-the-art man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion hub was erected on the site.

amongst to­day’s glazed tow­ers hous­ing thou­sands of com­put­ers screens at­tended by am­bi­tious, white-col­lar ex­ec­u­tives, it is hard to imag­ine that the City was once a man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­tre. Con­tem­po­rary trade press re­ports de­scribe hunters’ new, light and airy, four-storey build­ing with each floor served by a hy­draulic lift. the top floor was for pack­ing, the third for dry­ing up to 800,000 cigars, the sec­ond was the sort­ing room with 50 sorters and the first was the rolling room, where 150 cigar mak­ers turned out some 3.75 mil­lion cigars per year. the trea­sure was kept on the ground floor, where a vast store of ha­vanas resided.

hunters’ ten­ure at “55”, as it was known

Wil­liam klin­gen­stein was a pow­er­house of the 19th­cen­tury cigar in­dus­try, and oc­cu­pied nos. 24 to 28, st. mary axe.

for short through­out the com­pany, was ended once more by fire; this time from the sky dur­ing an air raid on the night of 10 may, 1941.

Just up the street at no. 43 from 1903 up un­til that ill-fated night in 1941, an­other ha­vana cigar im­porter called Braden & stark could be found. this was the com­pany that, in 1916, bought J. Frankau & Co, the other com­po­nent of hunters & Frankau, from the Frankau fam­ily. otto Braden, its chair­man, was the man who un­der­took the long and tor­tu­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions in ha­vana to buy the h. Up­mann fac­tory and brand, which started in 1922 and fi­nally con­cluded in 1925. it was al­most cer­tainly from no. 43 st. mary axe that his jour­neys be­gan.

in his obituary, which ap­peared in the april 1930 is­sue of to­bacco magazine, Braden was de­scribed as “one of the lead­ing lights (sic) of st. mary axe, the ‘Wall street’ of ha­vana cigars.” if you haven’t re­alised by now which way i am head­ing, i am sure you do know.

at var­i­ous times dur­ing the late 19th and early 20th cen­turies, there were no fewer than six other cigar com­pa­nies trad­ing in st. mary axe with names like the

the Bri­tish im­porter for all of its brands.

In 1903, plans were afoot to con­struct a brand new build­ing in St. Mary Axe for one of the City’s ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions, the Baltic Ex­change. Klin­gen­stein’s site at Nos. 24 to 28 was cho­sen, so he had to leave. Prov­i­den­tially he was able to move lit­er­ally next door to No. 30, where his busi­ness grew to be­come the largest im­porter of Ha­vana cigars in Bri­tain.

Although the Baltic Ex­change sur­vived the 1941 air raid, Klin­gen­stein’s did not. The com­pany, de­prived by war-time restrictions of its sup­plies, was forced to merge with Hunters, trad­ing briefly as Hunters & WK.

Fast for­ward to 1992, when the Baltic Ex­change was ir­repara­bly dam­aged by an IRA bomb, and the decade-long saga of what to put in its place be­gan in earnest.

In 2003, with an ad­dress of No. 30 St. Mary Axe, there arose a build­ing which, if Wil­liam Klin­gen­stein, Otto Braden, Gus­tavo Bock or any of the other for­mer doyens of Lon­don’s “Wall Street of Ha­vana cigars” were alive to see it, they would deem a wholly ap­pro­pri­ate shape to recog­nise their con­tri­bu­tion to a noble trade that took place at the very same site, all those years ago. It is not a “gherkin”; it’s a beau­ti­fully tai­lored “Ha­vana cigar”.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.