Friday, February 12, 2016

Desborough, Northamptonshire

Writ large

‘Follow me. I’ll pull in at Desborough. There’s something there you’ll like,’ said Mr A. So I followed the Jaguar’s tail, knowing my friend’s unerring instinct for buildings and interesting bits of England, and soon the car turned into a small hardstanding. I was confronted with the long brick elevation of the former Co-op Corset Factory.* Mr A knew that I’d admire the restrained brick facade (even though the window frames have been replaced), the neat vents along the roof one, and, above all, the lettering.

I have an enduring fascinating with the different styles of lettering on buildings, and the different methods used to create it. Here, the letters have been built up out of white bricks or tiles, with special corner pieces to make the curves of the C and O, parallelograms for the sloping legs of Rs and As, and even tiny triangles to create the ends of the hyphen in ‘CO-OPERATIVE’.  The lettering is not perfect. I suspect that those for whom God is in the details would have refined that E, for a start. But it’s clear and legible and part of me finds the informality refreshing. It stops the lettering being as tight-laced as the factory’s original products, after all.
* Lingerie is still made there, but the factory is no longer owned by the Co-op.

Later update: I should perhaps have added that this lettering is very similar to that on the Co-operative Bakery in Kettering, which I spotted a while back. The Desborough factory is from 1905, five years later than the bakery, and the design is attributed to an in-house Co-op architect.


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Such a bold naming of the business is poignant when the business ceases to be and the factory stands empty, or is used for something else. One of the numerous empty factories in the centre of Bradford, Yorkshire, with the windows out in all 5 or 6 storeys, had a sign fixed over the original name in, I presume, stone letters, and the corners had peeled off, revealing at least 5 or 6 changes of use. In the other Bradford, in Wiltshire, an imposing huge building had the desk and some chairs of the present user in the far corner of an enormous empty space. This kind of thing reminds us of all the job losses of massive industrial decline: the big, bold letters just emphasise the point, which personally I find rather painful, however quaint.

Philip Wilkinson said...

I agree. It's painful to see buildings that once held scores or hundreds of workers now lying empty. Industrial decline has brought misery to many and has damaged many parts of the country deeply. The multiple changes of use are telling too – of numerous attempts, probably unsuccessful, to bring about a recovery. At least the corset factory in my post is still functioning, albeit not in the hands of the Co-op. (And what has happened to the Co-op is sad too – a noble movement led astray, in my opinion, by poor management. But still not beyond the pale in my book and still doing good work in fields from retailing to the arrangement of funerals.)

Stephen Barker said...

The Co-op is interesting is that one tends to think of it as a monolithic enterprise when in reality in it's hay-day it was a fragmented organisation of local co-operative societies. It was probably the fragmentation that meant that the Co-op was slow in reacting to the growth of supermarket chains and their purchasing power, thereby losing it's dominance in the grocery trade. The vertical nature of the Co-op being a manufacturer as well as being a retailer probably made it harder for it to re-act to changes in the retail world. It must have been hard for the co-op to change its business model.
No doubt the lack of effective management as recently displayed at the Co-op bank where the lack of suitable experience and training did not prevent individuals being selected to senior positions hampered the Co-op movement.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, absolutely, these are good points about the Co-op.

Peter Ashley said...

Having looked at this building for years (probably blushing at the word 'corset' from the back seat of my dad's Ford Pop) this is the first time I've noticed that whoever worked on the white tiling decided to link the 'Co' and 'Op' in imitation of their contemporary logo. Shame on me. Blush.

Philip Wilkinson said...

There's always something different to notice – even when you're distracted by corsets!