The Modest Wonders Of Hackney Wick
As you descend from the Greenway into Dace Rd, leaving Victoria Park behind you and with the Olympic Park looming up ahead, you are aware of entering another territory altogether. In this atmospheric corner of Hackney Wick, a few narrow streets lined with dignified Victorian and early-twentieth century brick structures survive to tell the story of East End industry, revealing a hidden heritage of rubber clothing, fancy chocolate, dry-cleaning, spectacles and more.
Although these buildings are protected within the Fish Island & White Post Lane Conservation Area, the Swan Wharf Stable Block is currently under threat from developers, challenging the nature of the entire Conservation Area. So I took this opportune moment to make a photographic survey of some of the modest wonders of Hackney Wick, and historian Tom Ridge kindly agreed to supply background architectural and industrial information.
Main entrance to the courtyard in eastern part of Bernard Birnbaum’s Wick Lane Rubber Works built 1886-89 on Smeed Rd with adjacent four-storey waterproof clothing factory which is the now Bridget Riley Studios. This building is London’s and possibly England’s only surviving nineteenth century rubber works.
Bernie Birnbaum’s rubber works started off in Spitalfields and, at first, he was getting his rubber solution from other countries to spread onto the fabric. But here, in this huge factory in Hackney Wick, raw rubber could have come by canal to Old Ford Lock and then been hand-carted to the back of works where they processed it, turning balls of raw rubber into a solution to spread on fabric.
Former of Percy Dalton Peanuts, Dace Rd – another company that began in Spitalfields. The building beside the gate was 1898-99 gatehouse for Britannia Works which extends westwards in matching cottage style 1902, 1907 and 1910. Four storey building on right built 1882 as a waterproof clothing factory as part of Bernard Birnbaum’s Wick Lane Rubber Works.
Britannia Works, Dace Rd, seen from the west with surviving eastern part built 1898-99 for the Britannia Folding Box Company Limited (formerly of Leonard St, Finsbury). The company were also printers and lithographers, and moved to Hackney Wick when they needed space for steam-powered print works.
Algha Works at corner of Smeed Rd and Stour Rd, built 1908 as a printing works for Waterlow & Sons Ltd of Shoreditch, taken over in 1932 by Max Wiseman & Co as a spectacle factory, where gold-rimmed glasses were manufactured for the National Heath Service, including those worn by John Lennon and Mahatma Ghandi.
Swan Wharf multi-storey stable block, 60 Dace Rd, was built 1906-12 by and for cartage contractors trading as Henry Crane, while the loading doorways were probably inserted around 1929 for twine manufacturers.
Crown Wharf was formerly engineering workshops and a forge built in 1904 for Safety Tread Syndicate Ltd
Surviving western part of Broadwood’s Piano Works built 1902 with tapering square stock stock-brick chimney shaft with blue-brick ornamental cap. This end of the works included a saw mill for imported timber brought by barge to the company’s timber yard on the nearby Hackney Cut.
1899-1900 circular red-brick chimney shaft with blue-brick cornice on Roach Rd, built by J Chessum & Sons for their builder’s yard on west bank of the Hackney Cut. Subsequently occupied by the timber yard and cabinet works of Abraham Younger. The shaft bore the name Younger until 2000.
Clarnico’s 1913-14 six storey chocolate factory, now Mother Studios and The White Building from the east side of White Post Lane bridge. The steel plate girder bridge over the Hackney Cut was built 1899-1901 but the original stone capped piers were replaced in 2013. The two storey white building was built by Clarnico circa 1897 for the roasting and processing of imported cocoa beans, brought from the docks by barge.
Clarnico’s from the west with White Post Lane rising up to cross the bridge over the Hackney Cut. It has yellow stock brick walls with a blue brick base and curtailed blue-brick piers. The south-west corner was rebuilt following damage in World War II as was the roof of the cocoa factory but all the other Clarnico buildings in Queen’s Yard were damaged beyond repair.
Former Achille Serre Ltd dyeing & dry-cleaning works, 92 White Post Lane. This photograph shows the back part of the 1904-05 building on White Post Lane seen from the south. Both buildings here have transverse pitched roofs between parapetted gables, but the southern buildings’ roofs also have lanterns for extra daylight on the top floor ‘spotting room,’ where dry-cleaned and pressed clothes were inspected before being sent back to the shops for collection by customers.
Doorway at Achille Serre, White Post Lane
Everett House, 43 White Post Lane built in 1911 as offices for Achille Serre with transverse pitched roofs between parapetted gables. This western part of Queen’s Yard was the first of Achille Serre’s three works and was established in the mid-eighteen seventies as the first dry-cleaning works in England.
Achille Serre, Britain’s first dry-cleaning works
Central Books, 99 Wallace Rd. Clarnico’s printing works and cardboard box factory built around 1900. Chocolate boxes were probably made here for the Clarnico chocolates manufactured in Queen’s Yard.
The former Lord Napier public house built circa 1865 on the corner of White Post Lane and Hepscott Rd – is to be restored and reused under the London Legacy Development Corporation’s Hackney Wick Central Area Masterplan.
Portrait of Tom Ridge by Lucinda Douglas Menzies
TOM RIDGE WRITES
The Fish Island & White Post Lane Conservation Area was designated in 2014 by the London Legacy Development Corporation, who also identified thirty-two non-designated heritage assets in the Conservation Area – mostly late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century industrial buildings which according to its Local Plan are to be “restored and reused.”
These are now the only large group of historic industrial buildings surviving in the Lower Lea Valley, which is the capital’s largest waterside industrial area, dating from when London was the both largest industrial city in the world and the greatest port.
Between 1880 and 1920, the best multi-storey industrial building were being built there, with brick load-bearing walls and internal metal frames of cast iron columns and steel beams or steel stanchions and steel beams. There are thirteen industrial buildings with such ‘transitional structures’ in the Conservation Area, which is probably the largest group of these buildings in London.
Should the London Legacy Development Corporation allow Constable Homes to simply retain the Swan Wharf stable block’s three-storey walls facing on Dace Rd and build a five-storey building on the site behind, a planning precedent will be established. In time, this precedent would almost certainly result in the loss of all the other historic industrial buildings in the Conservation Area, replaced by new buildings with just a few retained facades.
Please help me fight to save this unique industrial Conservation Area and ensure that the London Legacy Development Corporation and developers observe the relevant local and national policies.
You may like to read my profile of Tom Ridge