Friday, June 24, 2016

Wisbech, Cambridgeshire

Deco memories

I quite often take photographs, intend to blog them, and then, such is the richness of English architecture – and such the breadth of my enthusiasms – pass on to another building that seems more enticing. Looking back through my pictures for something else, I came across just such a building, which I photographed about a year ago. It’s the office building of a canning factory in Wisbech and was originally built for the Smedley’s company in around 1923.

The flat roof line, gridded windows, and Art Deco detailing make it typical of a spate of industrial buildings put up in the period between the two world wars, although this one is rather early – most of them, in my experience, date from the late-1920s or 1930s. The Art Deco elements are confident but quite restrained compared to the Egyptian ornament of London’s Hoover Building or the feline extravaganza of the Carreras Black Cat tobacco factory, also in the capital. Here we have a stepped pediment, some more stepped effects on either side of the entrance, some diamond and rectangle motifs framing the facade at either end and picked out in red and blue, and some red saw-tooth pattern along the top of the frieze. There are more touches of red above the doorway.

True to the tenor of the times, this bit of modernistic display was laid on for the offices, the company’s public face. The working buildings are round the back and no doubt in the 1920s, as now, they were low utilitarian shed-like structures, with very little decoration to them. The building now belongs to Princes, who have inserted their company name where the sign previously said ‘Premier Foods’ and before that, according to the building’s listing text, ‘National Canning Company Ltd’.

I’d not associated this kind of building with food production. Most of the examples I’ve seen, on the outskirts of towns and along London’s arterial routes like Western Avenue and the Great West Road, have been engineering factories, electronics producers, firms making goods associated with the automotive industry, cosmetics companies, and so on. But there’s no reason why canning peas or baked beans shouldn’t be done behind a smart Art Deco facade, and the new owners have integrated the glowing red letters of their name rather well into the design. Can do.  


Peter Ashley said...

Love it. Must take a look the next time I'm in Wisbech. Could do with staring at Elgood's brewery too.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

We lived in Wisbech for some months in 1974-75, but have no memory of this! Canning not a subsidiary business in the Fens - everybody, it seemed, worked in "Smedleys" - but since it wasn't my business, I simply I had no reason to visit the site. Wonder how they'll ever get the strawberries and the other harvests in, if overseas workers begin to be excluded? They used to employ the Traveller families that came up from Kent, and parked in the big car parks in town. Traveller kids generally a delight to teach, amenable and polite.

Cara said...

Such a large amount of Wisbech high street is listed. The High Street is a vital part of the town centre, linking the Brink to the Market Place, and if restored will help to improve the look and the feel of the town, as well as having a knock on effect to other areas. Of course, there will be much going on to ensure all of the vital consents are in place and that the right repairs are carried out any real change is recognised.