Plantation House - London Tea Auctions

This iconic building was built in the 1930's and financed by visionaries like J J Bunting who wanted all plantation companies to operate from a single building in The City.

Plantation House thus came to be ,and was the 2nd largest office block.

It was so large that there were 4 main streets on each side.  Plantation House was also where all the tea auctions took place and this was on 3 days of the week. 

The building housed tea plantation companies, the brokers, the shipping companies and even allied industries like sugar , timber and rubber.

Plantation House is remembered by old timers as being the most elegant building in the City. It's warm atmosphere built up several business relationships & friendships amongst the tea people working in this iconic building. It will be always remembered as the Mecca of Tea.


The London Tea Auction was a 'candle auction' - meaning that a lit candle was marked and bidding started - after the candle burned for 1 inch - the hammer was dropped. 


Auctions ran from 1679 to 1998 - the last being on June 29th 1998.  


The East India Company held the first auction in Leadenhall Street and then in 1834 auctions were held at the newly built London Commercial Salerooms on Mincing Lane. It was called the "Street of Tea".  


Plantation House was built in 1935 especially for commodity auctions - tea and rubber. It was home of the London Metal Exchange until 1994.


It was demolished in 1991 and was replaced by Plantation Place. 


The last London Tea Auction held was on June 29, 1998. The twentieth and final lot was a single chest of Ceylon Flowery Pekoe from the Hellbodde Tea Estate. The bidding opened at £10 per kilogram and quickly reached £225 per kilogram as Twinings and Taylors of Harrogate dueled for the honor of purchasing the last check of tea.


American Thomas Eck, owner of Upton Tea Imports was present and recorded his observations ‘More than once the bidding war appeared to be over, but just before the third strike of the gavel, the stakes would once again be raised… accompanied by resounding support from the crowd of observers… until the final bid of £555 per kilogram secured the tea for Taylors of Harrogate. Applause and enthusiastic shouts finally broke the tension.’ The winning bid, going to charity, was the highest price ever paid for any tea at any auction. The 44 kilogram chest sold for over $40,000 or $2.10 per cup!


Excerpt from A Social History of Tea by Jane Pettigrew & Bruce Richardson, Benjamin Press, December 2013


British Pathe has many recordings of tea auctions in London - this webpage takes you to their website - Some film of the tea auctions - click here 


Listen to a recording in October 1936 of a Tea Auction 


Independant newspaper article - click here for The End of the London Tea Auctions 


East India House


The London Tea Auction was a grand tradition that lasted 300 years. From the very first event in 1679, until the last sale on 29 June 1998, the London Tea Auction was a regular event that made London the centre of the international tea trade. The first auctions were held by the East India Company, which at the time held the monopoly for the import of tea (and other goods) from China and India. They were held at the headquarters of the Company on Leadenhall Street. The building was decorated with reliefs of ships, sailors, fish and a large coat of arms, and swiftly became known as East India House.


By the candle


Auctions were held roughly quarterly, and tea was sold 'by the candle'. This meant that rather than allowing bidding to go on for an unlimited length of time, a candle was lit at the beginning of the sale of each lot, and when an inch of the candle had burnt away, the hammer fell and the sale was ended. In the late seventeenth century tea was not always the star of the show, as the auctions sold other goods, primarily fabrics, which the Company had brought back from the East. But by the early eighteenth century, tea was so popular that the London Tea Auction came into its own.


It was something of a riotous affair. An anonymous tea dealer, writing in 1826, described the noise and confusion of an auction taking place at East India House: 'To the uninitiated a Tea sale appears to be a mere arena in which the comparative strength of the lungs of a portion of his Majesty´s subjects are to be tried. No one could for an instant suspect the real nature of the business for which the assemblage was congregated...'