Monday, 27 February 2017

Hoover building

 Travelling West out of London on the A40 you might have driven past The Hoover building, a wonderful example of Art Deco. The design is not one we think of when looking at a factory. Built by Wallis, Gilbert and partners between 1931 and 1933 as a vacuum cleaner factory.  

1600 people worked here producing vacuum cleaners most of which were sold by door-to-door salesmen.

During WW2 the building was camouflaged and made not only vacuum cleaners but also parts for aircraft.

After the war business boomed and the factory was employing 3000 people.

By the 1970s business was down until eventually the factory closed in 1982. Tesco supermarkets bought the site in 1989, restoring the building before reopening it at the rear as a supermarket.
The inside of the supermarket is the same as any other Tesco supermarket.

Next to the main building is this later addition which was the canteen. This has also been restored and is now an Asian restaurant, Nawaab.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Ace Cafe

Out walking last week, a closure of the tow path on the Grand Union Canal meant I had to divert through an industrial estate which brought me out onto the very busy North Circular Road. A bit fed up as I couldn't find a way back to the tow path I came across a cafe. Perfect timing for a sit down and cup of tea. I expected this to be the usual transport cafe or 'greasy spoon' as we call them. I couldn't have been further from the truth. It turned out to be a very well known motorcycle venue which had started life  in 1938 as a roadside cafe for the new North Circular Road.

 After the war with the increase in traffic, the cafe really took off. Being open 24 hours it attracted young motorcyclists. It was also the age of Rock 'n' Roll which originally was not being played on radio stations so the only place it could be heard was at fairgrounds or from jukeboxes at transport cafes.

It was in this environment that the 'Ton -Up-Boys' appeared on the scene. Their goal seemed to be to achieve 100mph on their bikes without killing themselves. It was here that the  legends of record racing were born. Using the jukebox they would  'Drop the coin into the slot' and race to a given place and back before the record finished!

There were many articles in the press about the cafe and its attraction to the trouble makers of the day. It was a place where 'decent people didn't go'. With the opening of the M1 motorway and Scatchwood service station the cafe began to lose custom and eventually closed in 1969. The ground floor of the building became a tyre sales and fitting shop with the first floor taken over by a delivery company.

It reopened on the original site in 1997. It is still a cafe but you could not describe it as a 'Greasy spoon'.  Freshly cooked large meals filled the menu.  There were only a few bikers there when I visited but that was a mid week lunch time. The place was full with a variety of people from office workers to tradesmen. I think I was the only walker there judging by the astonished looks on the faces of the couple of men I was chatting to. They couldn't believe that you could get to the cafe without a vehicle!

The cafe is a meeting place still for bikers, music events as well as a stopping off place when travelling on the North Circular Road. You will be pleased to know I did eventually find my way back onto the tow path to continue my walk back into London.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Quantum Cloud

This is the Quantum cloud sculpture by Anthony Gormley which is situated by the side of the River Thames. The 30m sculpture is dwarfed by the side of the Emirates Cable car structure.

The sculpture is formed from 1,5m long lengths of steel which seem randomly arranged. However in the centre you can clearly see a 20m high human body. At the time of construction in 1999 this was the tallest sculpture in the UK.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Clerkenwell pubs

I could only find one other pub in Britain with this unusual name. I have found it impossible to discover the origin of the name. The only possible explanation I read was that a landlord may have moved from one pub to another taking the name from his first pub and adding it to the second. Moving from the Fox to the Anchor.

The Bleeding Heart pub was named after the broken heart of the Virgin Mary after the Crucifixion of he son Jesus Christ.

 Another Clerkenwell pub is named after the Priory of St John of Jerusalem founded in 1140. The tavern dates back to the 14th Cent and has occupied different sites in the area. This current building was originally a merchant's house and then a watch and clock workshop. The present shop front dates to the early 19th Cent.

It has a small and intimate interior.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Whitechapel Bell Foundry

This press statement caught my eye in December:
Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd announces, with regret, that by May 2017 it will cease its activities at the Whitechapel Road site that it has occupied since its move there in 1738.
 The Foundry is listed in the Guiness Book of records as Britain's oldest manufacturing company, having been in continuous business since it was established in 1570. Having never been inside, I was desperate to see if I could get on one of the few remaining tours. Needless to say they were fully booked so I went along to look at the outside of the building

This is the entrance on Whitechapel Road. The building is Grade II listed and may not be altered in any way.
This is the view from round the corner and shows where the bells enter and exit the foundry.

I went inside and spoke to the receptionist and as luck would have it she had just had a cancellation on one of the tours. Definitely my lucky day.

Early one Saturday morning a couple of weeks later, I returned to join a tour. The tours can only take place at the weeekend when the foundry is not in use.Although this site has been in existence since 1738, they have discovered that there has been a bell foundry in this area since 1420, so it was with some sadness that I entered the foundry, knowing this would be the last time.

Some of the most famous bells cast here include the original Liberty Bell (Philadelphia), the Great Bell of Montreal and, of course, Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster. Big Ben is the largest bell cast at this foundry weighing over 13 tons. A cross section of the bell surrounds the entrance door.

Many, many others have been exported around the world including a set of bells to St Petersburg, Russia in 1747, St Michael's, Charleston, South Carolina in 1764. In 1964 the National Cathedral in Washington DC received a ringing peal of ten bells. In fact bells made here can be found in churches around the world. The 9/11 bell was cast on July 26th 2002 to commemorate the first anniversary of the terror attack on New York on the 11th September 2001. The bell was dedicated on 9th September 2002 at Trinity Church Wall Street.


The tour began in this tiny courtyard which is used to store the smaller finished bells before they leave the foundry. All old bells are recycled by being melted down and recast which helps to keep the cost down for the buyer. Bells are made from bronze  in exactly the same way as they have been for 600 years. The one that Alan is pointing to above is from Thailand and came in to be melted down but it was so beautiful they decided to keep it.

Inside the foundry Alan, the foundry manager explained how bells are made.

This is the loam, it is made up from sand and clay, horse manure and goats hair mixed with water.

 To strickle means using a template with a bevelled edge of a definite contour to sweep the loam into the correct shape.

Here are some of the letters used for the inscription. This is a very skilled job and the inscription is checked before any metal is poured into the mould.

The next stage is the casting. Bell metal (bronze), is an alloy of 23% tin and 77% copper melted to 1170 deg centigrade and poured into the space between the two moulds and left to cool.
When the the bell is cool, the cope is removed. The core must be dug out and the loam cleaned off before tuning the bell can begin.

The final stage is tuning the bell. The bell is placed on here and tiny fragments of the metal are scraped away from the inside until it rings true. The tuning is done by hand but nowadays is checked electronically.
The metal scrapings are not wasted but are used again as the bell metal

Lots of different kinds of bells are made in the foundry. These are cup bells which are not rung but struck.

Hand bells are also made in the foundry.

This is the largest size of hand bell they make.

At the top of the building are these memorial plaques to those workers who have died.  Most workers stay here for the whole of their working life, often alongside other members of their family. Eventhough the building has been sold these plaques will remain here due to the building being Grade II listed.

It is not yet known whether or not the foundry will continue in new premises. It is so sad that in a few months,  bells will no longer be cast in Whitechapel.