Gothic Hall once stood on the north side of Dundas Street between Talbot Street and Richmond Street. Built in 1845, perhaps after the fire that devastated much of London’s early downtown, the building’s façade took a decidedly Gothic appearance. Pointed arch windows with tracery could quickly distinguish the building from its more Georgian neighbours with their stoic, multi-paned windows and square headers. A wooden sign, affixed above the second floor, identified the building as “Gothic Hall” for any of those in question of its architectural origins.
The original occupant of Gothic Hall, T. Winer & Company, a wholesale drug firm owned by John Norval, went bankrupt soon after the building’s construction. Bosom Ashford Mitchell (1825-1912) purchased the building and its stock in 1846. Mitchell maintain the building’s name, and opened B. A. Mitchell Chemist and Druggist.
B. A. Mitchell was born and received his pharmaceutical training in England. At the age of 20, he enlisted as a sailor and was dispatched to Sierra Leone and soon after contracted yellow fever. He returned to England, and then set sail for Canada arriving in 1845. He spent a short time in the Simcoe, Hamilton, and Dundas areas before settling in London and purchasing Gothic Hall.
Not surprising that an Englishman would choose Gothic Hall as his place of business; the architectural style offered a small taste of his homeland. Following Charles Barry’s design for the British Houses of Parliament (1836) and A. W. N. Pugin’s The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (1841), Gothic Revival decidedly became a very English architectural style. The application of this style was undoubtedly chosen for the Middlesex County Court House and St. Paul’s to provide these symbolic associations; associations that Gothic Hall was certainly trying to achieve as well.
With the benefit of a strategic location on London’s main street and in close proximity to the Court House, the Covent Garden Market, and London’s hospital near York Street and Thames Street, B. A. Mitchell Chemist and Druggist became a successful business establishment. London’s most prominent families, including the Harris, Carling, Becher, Leonard, and McClary families, could be found in Mitchell’s prescription books. Mitchell also served as alderman during the tenure of Mayor Cornish in 1861.
Gothic Hall was remodelled under the supervision of George Watson (1812-1907) and John Constantine (1839-1913), architects, in 1878. Their remodelling of the landmark location maintained the Gothic styling of the building which had certainly become part of its calling card. The large storefront windows were Perpendicular (or Decorated) Gothic Revival windows with elaborate detailing below a canvas awning. B. A. Mitchell Chemist and Druggist could also be easily identified by the mortar sign hanging from its façade – a sign to those less literate and a visual landmark on Dundas Street in a time even prior to gas lights.
Following the death of B. A. Mitchell, his daughter, Florence, continued the business. With the assistance of the noted London architectural firm of Watt & Blackwell, Gothic Hall was remodelled again in 1916. John MacLeod Watt (1878-1954) and Victor Joseph Blackwell (1885-1965) maintained the Gothic style of the B. A. Mitchell Chemist and Druggist shop, but upgraded to a grey stone façade. The style of Gothic Hall’s new façade drew more heavily on Collegiate Gothic influences. This style was becoming more popular in academic institutions in North America. Less emphasis was placed on the very pointed Perpendicular style of the earlier façade, with Watt & Blackwell drawing on more characteristic medieval-inspired details: the engraved Gothic Hall plaque at the cornice, the ribbed detailing of the jams, the shields in the frieze, and the hood moulds above the windows. The earlier divided storefront windows were replaced by larger plate glass windows angled to draw shoppers inside.
After the Mitchell family operated B. A. Mitchell Chemist and Druggist for 108 years, the business was sold in 1954 to Walter Deeley who changed the name to Deeley Pharmacy. He continued to operate the business until 1965. In the following years, businesses began to vacate Dundas Street for the newly completed “Eaton’s Mall” (later known as Wellington Square Mall, Galleria and Citi Plaza) in 1960. Several hair stylists operated out of Gothic Hall, including Gabriela and Pietro Coiffeurs and Simons.
The property was purchased in the late 1980s by Truscan Realty Limited, a subsidiary of Canada Trust. Gothic Hall had long been recognized as a place of historic and architectural interest by Londoners, but no formal heritage protection had been put in place. In 1989, Truscan applied for a demolition permit for Gothic Hall to construct a new four storey office building for Canada Trust. Norman Kroetsch, Truscan’s architect, estimated that incorporating the Gothic Hall façade into the new office building would cost $200,000 – an amount that Truscan felt too great.
Despite efforts to protect the historic Gothic Hall’s façade in situ, City Council voted against its designation under the Ontario Heritage Act on December 4, 1989. City Council took Truscan’s “compromise” of removing the façade and storing it. The stone façade of Gothic Hall was photographed, catalogued, dismantled and stored on pallets in 1990.
But where is Gothic Hall now? It has [hopefully] been in storage for 27 years, but no one is entirely certain where’s it’s located. One rumour is that the Gothic Hall façade is still in the vaults of Canada Trust (now TD Canada Trust). Another story is that it’s stored in a brick yard once owned by Mayor Gosnell. With the resurfacing of the Marshall Brothers Tea façade (to soon be installed at the Central Branch of the London Public Library through the initiative of the Architectural Conservancy Ontario – London Region), there is hope that Gothic Hall won’t become London lore and could finally rejoin the ranks of London’s Gothic landmarks.