Charles Brooking

Major rescues from the Cutler Street

Warehouses (near Petticoat Lane)

London E1

Charles Brooking

Charles Brooking is a fascinating and knowledgeable collector of architectural detail, The Brooking Collection of Architectural Detail, and as Surveyor we find his lifelong quest to collect British building details unique, informative and valuable and a collection that must be kept intact for years to come. If you need help and advice with regard to building surveys, structural surveys, structural reports, engineers reports, specific defects report, dilapidations or any other property matters please free phone 0800 298 5424.

The following is one of a series of interviews with Charles Brooking, Historic and Listed Buildings Detail Expert, The Brooking Collection of Architectural Detail and a Surveyor where we have recorded his comments and various aspects that have affected windows and doors and other collectibles. The interviews outline how his collection started and built over the years and gives an insight into the amazing architectural features housed in his fine collection.

Surveyor: Did you rescue any architectural items from the Cutler Street Warehouses?

Charles Brooking:

Rescue defined

Charles Brooking defines a rescue as saving a window or door or staircase that would be doomed.

Charles Brooking was a pioneer in the rescue of architectural detailing as many years ago it was very much considered a strange and an unusual past time to want to rescue old parts of buildings with everything new and shiny being so important.

Charles Brooking

Yes, another important rescue, which I realise now I should have taken more and kept more, was at the Cutler Street Warehouses, which was built by the East India Company.

Surveyor: Just explain what area that is, for people that don't know London.

Charles Brooking: Cutler Street, which is really near Petticoat Lane, and was built for the East India Company as their major, sort of, warehouse complex, bonded warehouses with two/three houses for the warehouse men to live in. Designed by Henry Holland and Jupp and later Cockerel. The Bengal Warehouse of 1769/71 designed by Richard Jupp is in New Street . Then they extended it in 1792 with another block of warehouses, designed by Jupp and Henry Holland, and then in 1800 there were more extensions by Henry Holland. In 1796 they built two lovely houses, as you went in on the left, and then in 1800 another house opposite. These were all very secret because they weren't open to the public, because it was Port of London Authority.

Charles Brooking

When they sold the site in 1978 there was a great concern about the future of this very untouched warehouse complex, which still maintained all its Georgian interiors, Crown glass sash windows. Untouched, thousands of original panes of Crown glass, wrought ironwork on the doors.

Surveyor: Please explain a bit more about crown glass.

Charles Brooking:

Crown Glass Defined

Crown glass is the main form of glass used in the 18th Century and it's made, I think you've seen in my notes how it's produced with a bullion and it's spun, but that needs to be explained in detail, but basically it was spun into a balloon and then spun into a disc plate, crown plate and the sheets of glass were cut from this plate of glass, if you can imagine. 

Now they are trying to remake it but they can't but suffice it to say that the panes of glass were of varying quality and these were from the sort of medium Newcastle quarries; a great deal of the original sash windows survived with this Crown glass.

Surveyor: Please explain a bit more about Cutler Street.

Charles Brooking

Charles Brooking: Cutler Street, which was on the edge of the City of London, near Petticoat Lane was, basically, this amazing group of warehouses for the East India Company and later owned from the 1850's, I think, by the Port of London Authority . It was purchased by a developer and Colonel Seaford & Partners were the architects. They had a scheme of virtually rebuilding the warehouses, losing the amazing walls, boundary walls, to Petticoat Lane, which were dramatically Georgian, with Portland stone cappings and brickwork, stained black all very dramatic and part of London scene.

Dan Cruickshank and other people ran a campaign to save them, but, of course, it went through.

Charles Brooking

I actually discovered they were demolishing it I think when speaking to someone at LASCO (London Architecturals Office Company) and found out that they were demolishing it. I spoke to the demolition contractor, London Demolition to let them know I was interested in reclaiming architectural details then they started demolishing these warehouses in, I think it was around about early January 1979. 

I was working at the Ironbridge Gorge Museums and I managed to get time off, saying I was getting bits for them, which I did. When I went round, it was just a gold mine, all this amazing material and, of course, I had this taxi driver friend, driving up there recovering these Crown glass windows and cast iron circular windows from the 1790's etc.

The Ironbridge Gorge Museums

The Ironbridge Gorge Museums are in Coalbrookdale, Telford and are a series of museums along the valley next to the River Severn spanned by the world's first Iron Bridge . The museums celebrate the birthplace of industry where visitors can learn about the Industrial Revolution with demonstrations from fashioning china and glass to tile decorating.

Surveyor: Have you still got the windows?

Charles Brooking: I've got one, massive cast iron windows , very heavily cast.

Surveyor: What sort of size is massive?

Charles Brooking: Well, I suppose the size of a tractor wheel. I say massive in their construction, sort of about five inches deep, the actual window, four inches deep, and then thinning down to where they held the wall with hold fast into this brick built opening from the earliest part of the warehouses on that site, not the 1770's bit because that's been preserved, but the 1792 bit.

I also got staircase balustrades, designed by Henry Holland, simple wrought iron ones, a picture of it was in a Financial Times article. The wrought iron was beautifully conceived, joinery details.

I wish I could have rescued more from the Henry Holland houses, which were ruthlessly gutted; all the sash windows were ripped out.

Surveyor: What happened?

Charles Brooking : Well, sadly much ended up in a land fill site on a bonfire, because I wasn't able to rescue much and it all happened so quickly. I got a few bits.

Surveyor: What else did you manage to rescue?

Charles Brooking

Charles Brooking : There were two houses that were the foreman's houses, or the managers houses, as you went in on the left and there was another house on the right, which was 1800, also designed by Henry Holland , but they were gutted, all of them. I did find, get a very good sash window from the house opposite of 1800, which I'm going to restore.

I always have this problem looking back and thinking what I missed, because it was once in a lifetime. There was a complete kitchen range in the basement, 1796 with everything still there. I've got colour slides of it, with the winding mechanism. The whole thing was all there, just boarded up. When you think about it, that was lost - it's just frightening.

I have a splendid hob grate made by Smith from 1796, a duck nest grate, but an awful lot was lost. It made me realise and, of course, very anxious about trying to get up there and do more, but I had the usual problems: no space, a father who was worried about my future and the museum's future and it wasn't an easy time as we were in recession.

Charles Brooking

It was a major rescue, I'm glad I managed to actually get in there and rescue some items back in 1980.

A bit more about glass

As with most things Romans were fairly proficient at glass making, although not glass as we know it now, and are credited with removing the greenness from glass by adding manganese oxide.

Charles Brooking

Glass has come a long way since this time and is something that started with just about letting light through but certainly due to its unevenness and globules within it and impurities and cloudiness could not be seen through to the modern clear glass.

Broadsheet glass

We have used many different methods to produce glass from the broadsheet glass, often glass found in Tudor leaded light windows which were first manufactured in Sussex in 1226 (and popular until the late 16th century) and was a blown glass balloon, which was chopped at both ends with the remaining glass cylinder being cut and flattened as best they could. It is said that the early Tudor windows had much if not more lead in the windows than glass, which did stop viewing through the window.

Cylinder glass

Cylinder glass was also a blown glass but it was cut and then unrolled to produce a flat plate of glass.

Crown glass

Crown glass was the popular glass of the late 17th century although still not glass as we know it now as it was formed from a flattened disk of glass and was often uneven with thicker sections, which were usually put into the window with a thicker end at the base.

Interestingly, it is said that this thicker glass at the base has fed the myth of glass windows that the glass in windows is not solid and moves.

Plate glass

1773 St Helens Lancashire is the date plate glass was first manufactured and is said to be a French invention and was much thicker than glass that we had seen previously but this did mean that it could be polished and ground to remove any problem areas.

Sheet glass

1838 saw sheet glass which improved upon plate glass as it was thinner and more economical.

Machine manufactured glass

Machine manufactured glass moved completely away from the traditional hand blown glass and is drawn through a cylinder and is polished and rolled giving a clear, thin glass.

Many would say that we have now lost the magic of the different textures and shimmers that we get in older glass.

Pilkington Glass

Pilkington glass developed float glass in 1957 which is now all but taken over.

Daylight robbery - Another window myth or is it?

It is probably a myth that daylight robbery came about from a Window Tax as the Window Tax of 1696 when those with above ten windows in a house paid tax with amendments until in 1825 to eight windows far below the Oxford English Dictionary's first mention of the term in 1949.

However, we have heard accounts of how the blocked up windows or blind windows that you sometimes see in older properties have resulted from the tax on light which in turn has been said to be termed daylight robbery which we think is a lovely story even if not true!

Interestingly we have also read that the Window Tax was helped to be abolished by the medical profession who argued that lack of windows tended to create dark, damp areas which were a source of disease and ill health.

In 1851 the Act was finally replaced by the House Tax which many would say was just as controversial.

If you found this article on The Brooking Collection of Architectural Detail interesting you may also be interested in the following articles on our website:

Rescuing, including donations from St Paul's Cathedral

The Woking rescues and The Brooking Collection

Roof windows, roof lights, sky lights and light tunnels

Building Regulations

Buying a House at Auction

Close Boarding

Chimney Issues


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