Esoteric London

No. 491: West Smithfield, EC1

Posted in Churches, Drink, Lettering by esotericlondon on January 16, 2012

West Smithfield, London, EC1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011.

On the wall of 9 Gilston Road, SW10 is a Blue Plaque commemorating the fact that Robert Fortune lived in the house from 1857 to 1880. Whilst working for the Horticultural Society in London in 1843 Fortune was chosen to lead an expedition to China which had only recently been opened up to Westerners by the Treaty of Nanking. This trip was the first of many that he made to the country and over the years he brought back many exotic plant specimens. On his 1848 expedition, disguised as a Chinese peasant, he managed to steal some tea plants,(a crime that was considered so grave at the time that if caught he would have faced execution), and smuggled them into India thereby paving the way for development of one of the sub-continent’s major industries. Cockneys would therefore refer to him in their rhyming slang as the original tea leaf. R.D.

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