The Last Sailmakers’ Loft In The East End
I am grateful to Paul Talling of Derelict London for permitting me to republish his recent photographs of the Caird & Rayner building in Limehouse, the last sailmakers’ loft in the East End
“Built in 1869 as a sailmakers’ and chandlers’ warehouse, 777 Commercial Rd was occupied by Caird & Rayner from 1889 to 1972 and never substantially altered, retaining its original cast-iron window frames and loading doors that open onto the Limehouse Cut. The building is the only original sailmakers’ and ship-chandlers’ warehouse surviving in the East End. A few years ago, a housing association tried to destroy it to build flats and even attempted to overturn the listed status of the property but this was blocked by English Heritage. Neighbouring derelict shops and small business units have already been demolished to make way for a large housing development. Yet, after various changes of ownership in recent years, there are no immediate plans for 777 Commercial Rd which remain vacant, apart from some live-in security and some very ferocious guard-dogs. This building is very dangerous and has some surprises for intruders.” - Paul Talling
“The company produced water treatment plant, often for naval use, and they were regarded as a strategic industry during the war. Due to the risk of being bombed out of London, the wartime government decreed that Caird & Rayner should have a shadow factory to which business could be transferred if the need arose. A property was located in Watford and taken over by Caird & Rayner ‘for the duration’ but remained in the company thereafter. During the sixties, when business declined and it was decided to relinquish the Commercial Rd site and concentrate on Watford, our family moved in about 1967 to a place in Hemel Hempstead.
The move out of Commercial Rd had it’s ‘moments’ – the building was a constructed as a sailmakers loft, which meant the main part had just a ground floor and a full height space in which to hang and manage sails, with a gallery round the insider perimeter at first floor level. In the building’s use as an engineering works, machine tools had been installed on the gallery – lathes, milling machines, drills and the like. As machinery came out for transport, the weights were tallied up, but only until the company got scared when they realised the place should have long ago collapsed under the load.” - John Kirkwood whose father worked at Caird & Rayner until his death in the eighties
Photographs copyright © Paul Talling
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