Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Great West Road, London


Driving past the future

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Great West Road was the future. A row of factories, done out in the latest Art Deco style, lined the road, flagship premises for firms making what the people of modern England wanted: toothpaste, cosmetics, motor accessories, electrical goods. It was actually the frontages of these factories that were done out in Art Deco – these were the office blocks, the public face of the companies; behind were utilitarian, plain-vanilla factory sheds where the goods were actually produced. A number of these factory frontages – low slung blocks with white walls, strip windows, the occasional Egyptian detail (as on Perivale's famous Hoover factory in another part of West London), and tall towers – survive. As I drove along the road the other day, I resolved to come back and look at them properly, but photographed this one quickly by pulling on to a slip road and opening the car window.

It’s the former Curry’s electrical factory, but is now the headquarters of J C Decaux, the advertising firm whose posters and advert-festooned bus shelters are familiar in the capital and every other city in the land. It was designed in 1936 by F E Simkins and features the usual metal-framed windows, pale walls, and central clock tower. The combination of strong horizontals with the tower is typical of these factories, as are small details such as the step-topped buttresses, the three-section tower window, and the way the walls and windows curve in towards the tower. And what could be more 1930s than an octagonal clock face? Curry’s is not the showiest of the big Deco factories, but one of the best, and it’s good that it has survived and found appreciative new users. The building was restored by Foster and Partners in the late-1990s with this original office frontage preserved and a new warehouse replacing the original factory at the back.

18 comments:

Hels said...

Great building!

Since the Deco buildings had long runs of horizontal windows, extending the full length of the front wall, it would have been very suitable for the factory itself. Not just for the office block.

I imagine that factory workers loved the natural light streaming in, just as much as clerks and salesmen did.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Helen: Yes, and they did usually have plenty of natural light in the factory too, but not from strip windows. This was because the factories were huge buildings, and light from the outer walls would only penetrate so far, leaving the centre of the factory dark. So what they did was to create a roof with a 'sawtooth' profile, with a series of pitched sections and clerestory windows running along the whole length of each one. So daylight came in from above.

Edith Hope said...

Dear Philip, I am delighted to have found you in the labyrinth which is the Blogosphere.

I do agree that this Deco buiding adds a certain panache to the Great West Road and it is pleasing that it has been saved for us all to enjoy and to be transported from the horror that is the Great West Road!

I love the Hoover building especially when gaudily lit at night!

The Vintage Knitter said...

I love these industrial buildings and its wonderful to see them being sensitively restored. It would be interesting to see how much of the interior fittings are original, such as the boardroom and stairways.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Edith: I too like the Hoover Building at night. One of these days I must take the time to put the camera on a tripod and photograph it lit up.

Vintage Knitter: I've seen one or two pictures of the restored interior, but they were moistly designed to showcase the work of Fpster + Partners and so look more modern and glam than Art Deco. But I'm sure there are some original features in there too.

Peter Ashley said...

Ooh now you're talking. I love seeing what's left of this era along the elevated section of the
M4. Particularly the Beecham's monolith. And also, have you noticed how many car dealerships are on these arterial roads west of London? Successors to garages that would have let you take test runs of sports cars out to Slough or Denham and back. "Watch the bend at Harmondsworth sir".

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: The idea of watching the bend at Harmondsworth for some reason also reminds me of that film Hell Drivers. 'Watch out for mad lorry drivers sloshing loads of gravel everywhere too.'

Wartime Housewife said...

I love this building and I was brought up in Stanwell which is not far away and used to pass it all the time. Another similar building nearby always had a fantastic display of Christmas trees all along the top which looked absolutely magical. The other building I love is the one further up the road, nearer to Chiswick which has the Lucosade bottle constantly pouring out a stream of golden fizziness into a glass. It used to use it old slogan "Lucosade Aids Recovery" but the 1980s put paid to that and it now says something else. My sisters and I genuinely thought the world would end if that bottle ever disappeared.

Encouragingly, several new buildings have gone up in Staines, just up the road, which definitely lean towards the Art Deco and they look great. Staines of course, being the home of Linoleum and there's a brilliant statue to it in the High Street.

Glen / Kent Today and Yesterday said...

I like to see art deco buildings preserved. Too many of them end up demolished with no regard to their history.

You may be interested in a post I wrote about the W T Henley factory in Kent which is currently being "redeveloped". I managed to take pictures of some of the art deco buildings before the demolition gangs moved in.

http://kenttodayandyesterday.blogspot.com/2009/11/w-t-henleys-aei-cable-works-northfleet.html

Glen

Philip Wilkinson said...

Wartime Housewife: I like the Lucozade bottle. I think it did disappear for a while, and came back a few years ago - it now says 'Lucozade replaces lost energy' I think.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Glen: Many thanks for the interesting link. Sad to see such interesting buildings going. Especially as the Henley's factory was also part of a fascinating historical story.

historo said...

I really liked your mention about the octagonal face tower clock. It inspired me to write an article about an Art Deco tower clock in Bucharest set within a multitude of octagonal shaped elements: http://historo.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/art-deco-octagonal-tower-clock/
Valentin

Steerforth said...

My father once told me that Lord Haw-Haw regularly delighted in unnerving his British listeners, by telling them that the Hoover factory clock was a minute fast or slow.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Steerforth: And how like him to choose what was no doubt an electric clock, and therefore supposed to be highly accurate, the intention being to cause maximum alarm to listeners.

paul jennings said...

I have a book entitled "The making of Modern London. " There was also a t.v series by the same name some 20 years ago. When I first moved to london in the late 1970s I remember passing what was then "Hoover Factory." It was very original then (but probably not in the best condition.) I was more impressed with this indescribable building than the likes of regular tourist London (Parliament/Tower/Buckingham Palace etc.) I was aged 19 and had never seen an art-deco building before. What an introduction! Unfortunately I was the only one in my group to notice so no-one cared/ got excited about it the way I did. I hadn't discovered the Great West Road until it was too late so missed magnificent Firestone...but I did see it in all its glory around 1985 when Henlys, Trico were in their original state. The whole road should have had a protection order slapped on it. I joined the '30s Society in the late 1980s and remember being invited to view the Hoover building as it came to be known after Tesco had bought and restored it. I was pleasantly surprised. I just about remember seeing the interior of the canteen in 1982 when I asked for and was given a private viewing. All those years later I couldn't believe what a great job the supermarket chain had done. "I was sure you'd have made a mess of it," I quipped to one of the managers on opening day..
Another lovely building which should have remained intact as a power station museum was Battersea.What a disgrace to have left it in its current gutted condition.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Paul: Interesting to read how you got to know and like these buildings. If more people had responded to them in this way, more of the buildings might have survived.

the baggagetrain said...

Hi Philip, I am looking for plans or layouts of this type of building. could you give me a few pointers please.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hello Baggagetrain: I don't think there's much online. Are you in the UK? Can you get to the RIBA Library in London? They would be the people to ask. A lot of the factories were designed by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners, so any source about them might be useful. There was a book, Joan S Skinner, Form and Fancy: The Factory Buildings of Wallis, Gilbert and Partners - I can't remember if it contains plans, but it may well lead to other sources.