Historical piece of Dundas streetscape now back on display

Visitors to the Central Library in London can now go back in time to explore a piece of Dundas Street from the Victorian era.

Façade of the Marshall Brothers Tea Company graces the third floor of the Central Library

Part of the facade of the Marshall Tea Co. now on display on the third floor of London's Central Library (Gary Ennett/CBC News)

Visitors to the Central Library in London can now go back in time to explore a piece of Dundas Street from the Victorian era.

Pieces of the façade of the Marshall Brothers Tea Company, established in 1873, are now prominently displayed on the third floor of the library. The new exhibit was unveiled earlier this week.

"It's probably one of the oldest store facades in London," says Dorothy Palmer, of the local branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario. Visitors can get a "real look at what a little shop looked like in that time of Victoria."

The permanent exhibit includes several of the uprights, the door surround and some of the signage. It also includes an intriguing life-size photograph of Ernest Marshall, the son of one of two brothers who founded the business, which survived for over 100 years.

A thriving business

Ernest took over the business in the late 1880s right out of high school and was the owner for more than 70 years.

"It was a thriving business. A lot of people of a certain age definitely remember it. War brides mentioned how they were thrilled to see it when they came to town. It supplied tea right across Southwestern Ontario," said Palmer.

The store, which was located at 67 Dundas Street, imported tea from India. It stood just steps from the present day Budweiser Gardens.

Historians believe the building was likely constructed in the early 1850s, a boom time for London.

Facade saved from demolition

In the mid-1980s, the streetscape was being demolished and Julia Beck, an active heritage activist,  and Museum London got permission from the developer to save the façade.

"So they literally pulled it off the building, stored it in the old PUC substation on Carling for a while, and then it went over to Museum London, " Palmer.

It was displayed at the museum for a while but eventually went into its vault and wasn't seen by anyone.

Library welcomed the facade

About two years ago, Museum London decided it deserved more exposure and it approached Architecture Conservancy London for advice.

Palmer said that's when they approached the library.

"They welcomed us with open arms. So we gathered all the bits that we still had and got them installed."

"When you come up the stairs to the third floor (of the library), you'll see what very much looks like the original façade. We don't have the original door, but aside from that, we have a lot to suggest exactly what it looked like."

Palmer loves the huge photo of Ernest Marshall, the long-time owner. "He's sitting there in his tweed vest having a cup of tea."  The photo was taken in 1968 but it has a 19th century aura.

With tea back in vogue, Palmer believes the Marshall Brothers Tea Company would have been a popular spot today, had it survived.

"I think people would love having a store that had been there for generations, and going in and connecting , and having a wonderful cup of tea again."

About the Author

Gary Ennett

Morning News Editor

Gary Ennett is a veteran editor and reporter. He’s been with CBC since the opening of the London bureau in 1998. His email address is gary.ennett@cbc.ca